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Benjamin Duboc - Primare Cantus

Dan Warburton, The Wire

It’s a bit early for a career retrospective for French bassist Benjamin Duboc, but this triple disc set gives a good idea of what he’s been up to lately. Originally known as a Fire Music bruiser ready and willing to go the distance with the likes of Henry Grimes, Jean-Luc Cappozzo and The Fish (his trio with Edward Perraud and Jean-Luc Guionnet), Duboc is now sailing away from the stormy seas of free jazz into the calmer but no less treacherous waters of stately, timbre-oriented improvisation.

So is his frequent playing partner, percussionist Didier Lasserre, scaling down his kit to just a snare drum and cymbal along the way. Their three duets form the austere centerpiece of the second disc of the set, bookended by Jean-Luc Petit’s fluttery baritone multiphonics sketching out the harmonic lines of force behind Duboc gloomily introspective low register pizzicato solos, and four brief duos with tenorist Sylvain Guérineau which come off as affectionate if rather despairing glances over the shoulder at the world of jazz left behind.

Duboc is at his best when he stumbles across a hitherto undiscovered seam of bass sonority and mines it for all it’s worth, whether underpinning Sophie Agnel’s prepared piano explorations and Christian Pruvost’s whispery, wheezy trumpet, or following the inscrutable scrapes and squelches of Pascal Battus’s guitar pickup into the outer darkness. The five minute field recording (of the wintry landscape that adorns the album covers?) that separates these two extended tracks on disc three provides essential breathing space.

The duo with Battus is raw, uncompromising stuff, but for sheer bloodymindedness pales into insignificance compared to the monumental single track that occupies the first disc of the set, which finds Duboc humming along with himself as he vigorously bows the tailpiece of his instrument for a full 42 minutes. Always different always the same, as John Peel said of The Fall, it’s an extraordinary tour de force of stamina for performer and listener alike, the ear inevitably drawn to the minute fluctuations of timbre and dynamic that occur with each change of the bow against the stable, woody pedal point drone.