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Zed Trio - Lost Transitions

Ken Waxman, JazzWord

Rosa Luxembourg New Quintet - Night Asylum (NotTwo MW 832-) / Zed Trio - Lost Transitions (Ayler Records aylCD-102)

Unfortunately a serious health problem means that Toulouse-based Heddy Boubaker is now going to express himself on other instruments than the saxophones he has been playing for the last decade or so. More’s the pity, since these recent CDs demonstrate that his sonic experimentation adds an eclectic focus to two different projects.

A concert organizer as well as a player, Boubaker’s collaborations have stretched from duos with committed improvisers such as trumpeter Birgit Ulher to those with spoken word artists, plus membership in electric Rock-oriented and even Arabic-styled bands. The heavy electric overtone exist again with Zed Trio, where his alto and bass saxophones are partnered with guitarist David Lataillade, who composes for dance and theatre companies, and percussionist Frédéric Vaudaux, associated with video, dance, sound poetry and sound painting. Vocal sounds as well as a larger number of participants distinguish Rosa Luxembourg New Quintet from the Zed Trio. That mixture of scat, mumbles, warbling and a metaphoric laryngoscope investigation come from Françoise Guerlin. Luxembourg’s guitarist/electric bassist Marc Perrenoud and percussionist Fabien Duscombs are part of the Phat trio with Boubaker; while on this CD the horn counterweight to Boubaker is Piero Pepin, a trumpeter, who elsewhere plays Jazz, fanfares and backs-up dancers and marionnette theatre.

Recorded a year before Lost Transitions, Night Asylum’s interpretation appears to play on both meanings of asylum. Certainly Guerlin’s Bedlam-styled vocalese on tracks such as “Don't Look Down” or “Fröhlich Kamerad” may be mistaken for field recordings from a mental institution. Swooping and screeching her timbres range from crone-like cackling angling upwards to aviary squeals on the former. In contrast “Fröhlich Kamerad” is taken super largo, giving ample space for the vocalist to duplicate another concept from those on the cusp of insanity: mumbling to oneself using nonsense syllables which in cadence sound like regular conversation until exposed by intent listening.

Countering this mixture of scat, speaking-in-tongues and onomatopoeia is a double counterpoint response from both horns on “Don't Look Down”. Pepin’s extended brassy slurs come from the Donald Ayler school of heraldic timbres, while Boubaker’s alto saxophone licks including honking flatulence and tongue pops. On the first tune, as Guerlin’s output reaches a climax of repetitive words and syllables, the saxophonist matches her lick-by-lick with hardening glossolalia and vibrating reed bites. Meanwhile Duscombs contributes rolls and clanking shuffles, and Perrenoud a sequence of electric bass licks. Resolution comes in the form of Pepin turning a short tremolo interlude into an obbligato, with the exposition completed by roughened overblowing from Boubaker, slaps and ruffs from the drummer and a conclusive buzzing from the bass. The other piece is distinguished by the pummelling, scraping and chiming from a group of small percussion instruments, with moderato flute tones harmonized with trumpet flutters, so that mumbled dialogue interjections become almost chromatic.

However “In The Night Asylum” appears to be the most affecting tune. That’s because the contrapuntal friction created by the instrumental parts suggests such an air of melancholy that Guerlin’s vocalization is put in the context of both refuge and unpredictability. With the trumpeter’s rough plunger tones and the saxophonist’s masticating lines vying for supremacy alongside parlando chirps and echoes from the vocalist, themes seem to criss-cross and oppose one another. However, when Pepin’s hand-muted bell slurps lead to what could be a punk-rock version of some national anthem, Guerlin’s repetitive “nos” are finally matched with a burbling version of what could be “Taps” from the hornmen.

Excerpt for one lyrical intermezzo that arrive late in the program, the emotions associated with “Taps” are banished from Lost Transitions. The only musical transitions heard would describe “Reveille” or “To the Colors” if translated to military brass band music.

Consider tunes such as “Lost Transitions” and “Acid Voodoo Dancing” for instance. On the later the guitar amp crackles as if involved in flanged synthesis, as Boubaker counters with pressurized runs and snorts that get harder and thicker as Lataillade’s flat-lined finger pops turn to subterranean slurs and Vaudaux adds hearty smacks on cymbals and drum tops. Finally the guitarist’s microtones help merge every player’s multiphonics into a climax of slowly subsiding passing tones. As for “Lost Transitions”, the contrapuntal showcase pits Lataillade’s staccato finger picking against diaphragm-forced bass saxophone lows. As Boubaker’s textures shatter into guttural burps and altissimo squeals it seems as if both his alto and his bass saxophones are in use. Eventually the reed actions drift away, revealing the guitarist’s sharp, twanging riffs.

Despite its sardonic title, “Hysteric Meditation” initially provides the tempo change that distinguishes it for the other tunes. So lyrical – in this context – that Boubaker could be Stan Getz and Lataillade Jim Hall, the saxophone’s treble tone and single-note string sounding sets up an almost-soothing harmonic interchange. That is until the later part of the piece explodes with intense false register vibrations on the saxman’s part met with equally aggressive twangs roaring from wah-wah pedal and slurred fingering from Lataillade. A finale of ragged shrills redefines the piece as Boubaker ends his solo with a medley of Aylerian-Dolphyesque altissimo screams, as ragged and frenzied as the exposition was smooth and relaxed.

From the evidence here, it would appear that Improvised Music may be losing an original, committed and exciting reed stylist if Boubaker’s diagnosis is final. Hopefully he’ll soon be able to express himself with equal facility on another instrument. Stay tuned.