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Sbatax: Spires

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Sbatax: Spires
On their third album the Swiss-French pairing of saxophonist Bertrand Denzler and drummer Antonin Gerbal dishes up a double helping of fiery free jazz. While Denzler revels in the exquisitely sparse detail of outfits such as the electro-acoustic Trio Sowari, he also has a track record in weightier realms—witness his contributions to Neuköllner Modelle with veteran drummer Sven-Åke Johansson and bassist Joel Grip— which serves him well here. Gerbal too has a broad resume which includes Peeping Tom, Ism and the Umlaut Big Band, but perhaps it is his tenure in Ahmed, the quartet which takes the works of bassist Ahmed Abdul-Malik as the jumping off point for some brain-melting minimalist bombast, which is most pertinent here.

Gerbal's hyperactive tattoo sets the pace on "Spires," the first of two 20-plus-minute excursions, and barely lets up for the duration. Denzler adds squalling bursts of tenor saxophone in short bite-sized fragments, hammering home repeated motifs in a stream which parallels the drumming. They bring a fearsome focus and intensity, with never a hint of loss of control. As with minimalism, the smallest change—dropping to a lower register, or emphasizing the crash cymbal rather than the snare—assumes disproportionate significance. Occasionally, Denzler pauses but Gerbal will not be deflected from his path.

With such endeavors, the endings also become important. How will they conclude this satisfactorily? On the first cut it is by locking into an insistent unison figure which adds an exclamation mark to what has passed before; on the second, with an extended drum coda before Gerbal too decides it is job done. Both pieces are cut from the same cloth. One where they mine a narrow seam with utter assurance. While the patterns may subtly differ, the overall effect of unrelenting raw excitement is the same. Yet, although they sustain a relatively unchanging onslaught, the variations are sufficient to maintain interest.

This is music which makes a statement, and perhaps throws down a challenge. It demands feats of endurance from the musicians, and perhaps from unsuspecting listeners as well, but the rewards are spectacular.

Track Listing

Spires; Azimuths.

Personnel

Additional Instrumentation

Bertrand Denzler: tenor saxophone

Album information

Title: Spires | Year Released: 2023 | Record Label: Umlaut Records


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