Jean-Luc Cappozzo & Géraldine Keller - Air Prints

Ken Waxman, JazzWord

Reviewed along with Cappozzo/Bennani's Sun Dance/Earth Laugh

Although background as a band musician, playing folkloric and classical march music may not lead to a prominent career in improvised music, it certainly has worked for Luzillé-based trumpeter Jean-Luc Cappozzo. Someone who has partnered sonic innovators ranging from clarinetist Louis Sclavis to bassist Joëlle Léandre, Cappozzo has the power and stamina of a bandsman, yet, having spent the past 20 years immersed in improv, his playing brims with ideas that he brings to specific occasions.

Take the discs here, Sun Dance/Earth Laugh finds the trumpeter matching wits on a Parisian May Day with Abdelhaï Bennani, the veteran Moroccan-born tenor saxophonist who has been one of France’s most consistent, if under-recognized, improvisers for years. Air Prints is a different matter entirely. Recorded in Poitiers, approximately seven months later, it’s a seven-track catalogue of the creations and reactions collectively created by accomplished musicians of almost completely different backgrounds. Unlike Cappozzo’s Jazz-Improv-Folkloric roots, vocalist-flutist Géraldine Keller is a Strasbourg-born, classically trained soprano, whose experience includes interpretations of works by Scelsi, Berio and Cage and others. She is also a member of ensemble ]h[iatus, an international nonet which also includes improvisers such as synthesizer player Thomas Lehn and clarinetist Joris Rühl.

Animated and versatile throughout this disc, her tonal qualities, vocal chords and tessitura appear also almost plastic, allowing her to growl, retch, shriek or yodel with equal dexterity and assurance. Throughout she adapts mouth, lip and throat strategies to fit any narrative. Some of her verbalizations refer to French-language texts, and their nuances are lost on non-French speakers. More generically though, the fascination of this material lies in the interactive call-and-response or parry-and-thrust unspooled by both participants.

As early as the first, almost-18 minute track, dual perimeters are set up. Keller’s peeping moderato flute sounds are given added power when blended with her vibrating yelps, bel-canto squeaks and witch-like cackles. For his part Cappozzo concentrates on the lower reaches of his horn, guffawing and expelling timbres that sound as if he’s harshly stroking a balloon. Excitement is further engendered as the vocalist’s emotional shaking syllables are subsumed into a cooperative arrangement by trumpet tones. Ending with parallel tremolo tones from both that are near-accordion-like, the key to “Autour, tout autour” is how “around all around” Cappozzo’s bird call-like whistling becomes to accompany Keller’s distinctive tones. Similar double counterpoint affinity exists throughout the rest of the CD.

In comparison to the trumpeter’s bell-clear tone that give his improvisations a lyrical quality, Keller’s pitch-sliding and pressurized tones swirl and spiral above the rhythmic rattle and shakes from so-called objects which both utilize. If he’s a master of chromatic color, then she scores with hocketing vocal inflections that subdivide into sound shards during performance.

The definitive performance may be the final and title track since each musician’s skill appears to be implanted on the air. With the trumpeter revealing a Jazz-orientation as mouthpiece osculation gives way to silvery blues-based phrasing, a zestful climax is achieved. That’s because the singer matches the brass a vocal output partially American scat and partially European plainsong.

As well matched as Keller and Cappozzo, the trumpeter and Bennani neither venture into excessive jazziness nor bring any suggestions of chanting to their meeting. Instead the three-track CD could be termed absolute improvisation, with both men dedicated to wrenching a multitude of extended and unusual patterns from their respective horns. Ending up in most cases with a mutual climax, sequences are built out of buzzes, breaths, oscillations, mutters and flutters, all of which eventually realign into chromatic narratives.

A half-hour improv, “Rain is the Sea” demonstrates this at the greatest length. Mercurial and inventive, each player expresses his own view, but leaves the fissures unbroken. Occasional harmonic concordance appears – usually in the guise of tongue flutters – but dissonance from both sides puts it to the side after a short while.

Bennani’s strategy revolves around lower-pitches which are oddly accented, irregularly burbled and at points stentorian; while Cappozzo concentrates on capillary breaths, bites and brays that often appear static. Finally the piece is resolved rhythmically and polyphonically as the saxophonist’s tone weighing winds down following a Gabriel-like tattoo from the trumpeter. From then on brass and reed tones slowly encircle one another in various guises before the ending.

Without doubt both CDs demonstrate the versatility and adaptability in elevated circumstance not only of Cappozzo, but Keller and Bennani as well.