Sometimes one lives entire days with a record, inhaling its spellbinding fumes yet unable to find the right words to express feelings about music that absolutely refuses a classic description. It can even happen that the theoretical reviewer decides to set aside additional time for a suitable terminology to materialize, dedicating the attention to other things in the meantime. In the case of Vers L'île Paresseuse I still feel, after the umpteenth listen, that conventional terms are inadequate for a correct interpretation of what the musicians meant to convey in the first place.
The separate artistic personas, fully flourished during years of significant collaborations detailed in impressive curricula, coalesce magnificently in the five tracks of the CD. Altenburger (cello), Blondy (piano) and Gauguet (sax) are undoubtedly a trio of sensible COTV (Catchers Of The Vibration) able to seize the resonance of a thought, or the instantaneous deviation from a given expectation, and exploit a spontaneous gesture in contexts where the momentary abandonment of one's own personality is required to produce an emotional impact. When that feeling of uneasiness mixed with admiration appears – the room quavering with drones, or inert in near-hush – you know that something special is happening. This type of occurrence is practically constant here.
I could spend hours in telling how wonderfully the low strings of Blondy's piano resonate, or depicting the inexplicable pitilessness of certain decisions by Altenburger, always defined by her impeccable control of the arco. In comparison, Gauguet might at times look like the "regular guy" with his corpulent honks and clearly detectable flutters: but it is soon obvious that the human factor in the interplay is especially evident in the saxophonist's repudiation of formulas, either rooted in traditional styles or in the so-called freshness of worn-out EAI tricks.
Three voices generating acoustic materials whose high quality does not diminish for a minute over the course of an almost full hour. Magnificent sounds, exemplary coordination of the single parts, perceivable humbleness, admirable equilibrium between reverberating percussiveness, quiet collective percolations and abrasive dynamism. Substances spreading around without caring if you understand or not, but once the actual nature of the improvisation becomes a little clearer there's no looking back to weaker stuff. A masterpiece, that's what it is.
Massimo Ricci, Touching Extreme
Vers l'île paresseuse réunit trois musiciens aux origines et aux instruments variés: Martine Altenburger au violoncelle, Frédéric Blondy au piano et Bertrand Gauguet aux saxophones alto et soprano. Pour ces cinq improvisations publiées par Creative Sources, le trio s'efforce de déployer des interactions subtiles et délicates, de créer des espaces sonores variés, collectifs et poétiques.
Tout commence par une imbrication de strates qui s'intensifient plusieurs fois avant de brutalement s'interrompre. La tension monte à chaque fois, mais n'atteint véritablement son paroxysme que dans l'éclatement et la dispersion. L'énergie maximale est en effet atteinte lorsque les interventions se font très courtes, pointillistes même, et plutôt agressives. A partir de cette pièce, "La montagne ne porte pas les nuages", le ton est donné pour le reste de l'album: de longues nappes sombres et languissantes, de très courtes cellules à partir de techniques étendues parfois agressives, des sons stridents ou obscurs, harmoniques, percussifs, ou bruitistes, tout ceci se mélange, se succède, s'imbrique ou s'oppose selon de multiples configurations. Passé l'effet de surprise de la sonorité générale et particulière de cet orchestre de chambre, on trouve vite nos repères et il ne reste plus qu'à se laisser emporter à travers des paysages variés en compagnie de nos trois musiciens aussi inspirés qu'attentionnés. car l'écoute semble extrêmement intense, si intense qu'à chaque paysage composé, un seul désir smeble être à son origine.
Cinq esquisses naturalistes qui peignent à chaque fois un paysage nouveau et précis: qu'il soit sombre et serré; clair, ouvert et espacé; contrasté ou homogène; la convergence des intentions appuie la clarté et la précision de chaque couleur ou caractère désiré. La grande diversité des configurations et des structures permet une multiplicité des modes de jeu et de composition: bourdon, écriture cyclique ou cellulaire, jeu rythmique, textural ou timbral, etc. cette multiplicité déploie à son tour des couleurs et des reliefs variés, précis et originaux. Le voyage Vers l'île paresseuse, paradoxalement onirique (par sa nouveauté) et naturaliste (par sa précision et sa clarté), nous entraîne sur des territoires beaux, délicats et poétiques, parfois sombres ou languissants, mais en tout cas toujours intenses, riches, profonds et neufs.
Julien Héraud, improv-sphere
La référence à l'île baudelairienne (au moins échappe-t-on à celle dont Houellebecq avait en-visagé « la possibilité », dans l'océan du temps ; mais on loupe aussi l'archipel que Rabelais inventa dans le Quart Livre ) vers laquelle ce magnifique trio de chambre dit faire voile, pour amusante qu'elle soit, ne dit heureusement rien de la délicate musique ici disposée en cinq mouvements - dont les intitulés sont regrettablement imagés et bien peu poétiques - mais on voudra bien concéder que la métaphore insulaire puisse convenir à la découverte, sur l'horizon, de quelque littoral sonore surgissant... Bref.
Enregistré début 2009, le groupe captive dès les premières minutes : intensité de l'écoute mutuelle et évidence du son collectif débouchent sur une sérénité active que le trio a le bon goût de ne pas transformer en solennité austère. Les moyens sonores mis en oeuvre, cantonnés mais habilement renouvelés, se combinent, se transforment (et dans les durées et dans les dynamiques), sans craindre les éclats. C'est un équilibre vraiment magique qu'ont trouvé là Martine Altenburger (rare au disque - on se souvient du grand Grésigne -, la violoncelliste de l'ensemble]h[iatus brille), Frédéric Blondy (qui avoue ici ce que les pochettes des disques de Hubbub cachent chastement : il joue du piano ! et somptueusement) et Bertrand Gauguet (saxophones alto & soprano) ! En attendant de voir le trio sillonner les scènes, on se réjouira du très beau sillage qu'il laisse sur cet enregistrement.
Guillaume Tarche, Le son du grisli
Let's get to the point: Vers l'île paresseuse ("Toward the lazy island") is one of Creative Sources' finest productions. This Paris session from January 2009 is simply gorgeous. Pianist Frédéric Blondy and saxophonist Bertrand Gauguet have worked together previously and share a subtle form of chemistry. Cellist Martine Altenburger wedges herself between them with a high level of intelligence and feeling. The one-hour session consists of five free improvisations made of careful actions measured as much with the head than with the heart. You know it: this kind of improvisation project succeeds or fails following rules that depend more on the disposition of everyone involved - some called it magic. Well, the magic sure works on this superb album.
François Couture, Monsieur Délire
So this release, named Vers l'île paresseuse (Towards lazy island?) is a brand new edition from the Creative Sources label by the all French trio of Martine Altenburger, (cello) Frédéric Blondy, (piano) and Bertrand Gauguet (alto and soprano sax). Essentially, its a recording of the trio improvising acoustically at a Paris venue in January 2009. The actual recording is very nicely done, very resonant, suggesting to me that it might have been made in a church or similarly sounding place, though the exact site isn't mentioned. The focus across the five tracks is very much the combination of textures and colours as much as it is anything kinetically energetic, but the disc is yet another that floats nicely somewhere in the stylistic middle ground of improvised music, which isn't a criticism at all, rather that its a hard one to pigeonhole in any given direction. Although only the only shared instrumentation is the piano, the nearest comparison I can make is AMM, the fourth track Hypnotisé sur une arete in particular, as Blondy's gamelaneque prepared piano reminds me a lot of Tilbury, with Altenburger's cello vaguely reminiscent of Prevost's bowed metals. The music here does inhabit that kind of area though, a softly spoken sound that can suddenly cut loose without much warning, but with a refined sense of elegant beauty to it.
Blondy indeed is thoroughly impressive throughout this CD, shifting through techniques, mostly on the inside of his instrument at will, often driving the music rather than taking up the accompaniest's role. Altenburger and Gauguet are no slouches here either though, the sax mostly tonal, but far from jazzy, used mostly to apply soft colours over the other two, with only occasional shifts into more breathy extended technique. The cello is understated as well, but all together the group combine into some gloriously rich sounds that compliment each other very well.
My favourite of the five pieces is easily the closing six minute track Enclave nocturne et transitoire, during which the music slows right down to a crawl as it also strips itself back to the barest elements, just softly padded piano notes sat amongst short melancholic framing from the other two musicians. There is a beautiful stillness here, a warm sense of calm to close the album, but with no lack of tension as the gentle sounds emerge from the silence before gradually decay away. The final few minutes sound as of the last gasps of breath are being drawn by the music as it slips away, poignant and really very beautiful indeed.
The playing here is exceptional, and the musicians seem to know each other well, and appear to have set off with the general mood already settled, the palette and brushes in place and just the canvas to fill. I am reminded of the recent Looper album, not just because of shared instrumentation but because of the sense of melancholic, and yet thoroughly beautiful atmosphere. Once again, because it is on the Creative Sources label this is a CD that will possibly go unnoticed, but it would be a travesty if this was allowed to happen. Of the hundred or so discs on CS I have heard this one would make my top two or three. A beautiful hour of music.
Richard Pinnell, The Watchfull Ear
Incredible understated improvisation from the trio of cellist Martine Altenburger, pianist Frederic Blondy,and saxophonist Bertrand Gauguet. Using tension, timbre, and unusual tonality, these three create a moody set of improvistory journey, punctuated with raucous passages that resolve into darkness. Five exceptional journeys from these accomplished players, who's dialog describes the excellent communication and technical abilities of each.
In spite of its peculiar transgression against canonical academic rules and standards, improvisational music, particularly when performed by a group of musicians, entails a certain harmony between performers. It's quite clear since the first minutes of this recording that the blending between Bertrand Gauget (alto and soprano saxophone), Frederic Blondy (piano) and Martine Altenburger (cello) is not only working, but it borders on the mystical. Such an amalgamation has been fostered by the fact Blondy and Gauget know each other quite well, but it's astonishing Altenburger's cello manages to work as a glue while the sound bursting out from this combo rolls on, showing a great sensitivity and a noteworthy versatility - I particularly enjoyed the moments when her cello "wedges" itself into the bold experiments with breathe by Bertrand and obsessive and tenebrous hitting on very low tone's key by Frederic such as in the lovely "Dans les plis du vent" and those ones when she produces funny sounds through cello, which looks like a whistling tea kettle or a creaking door here and there -. In the initial track "La montagne ne porte pas le nuages", the rendering could sound quite fragmentary, but you will notice there's a gradual rising of tension: they reach some dramatic peaks adding layers and layers by following an imaginary disjointed path, during which the performers look like refining their "dialogue" in sketches which could be thought as frames of the same scene, till some brief moments when their instrument abruptly erupt. Beyond the technical aspect - arguably most of listenrs are going to enjoy Gauget's and Altenburger's as the "presence" of Blondy's piano has mainly the role to set the general tone, a difficult task, which has been accomplished by the musician -, what is remarkable of this combo is their cinematic skills as they are able to describe a sort of spontaneus journey towards an imaginary lonely dimension througout absorbing changes of mood, cromatic mutations kust like a poetry whose delicacy can easily turn into something abrasive by using a musical language which often sounds skeletal despite its erraticism.
Vito Camarretta, Chain DLK
Departures from the concentrated minimalism that characterizes the Hubbub quintet, his longest lasting musical affiliation, Paris-based pianist Frédéderic Blondy is involved with much different strategies on these releases.
Still in the Free Music zone, Vers L’île Paresseuse is atmospheric and wedded to acoustic drones, with Blondy’s styling inside and outside the keyboard, is put to good use alongside the abrasive alto and soprano saxophone vibrations of Mulhouse’s Bertrand Gauguet and the alternately dissonant and legato stokes of Toulouse-based cellist Martine Altenburger.
Undefined oscillations and drones which could arise from any instrument – or all or none – characterize the trio disc which exposes five tracks of polyphonic and phantasmagorical themes. Initially undifferentiated drones, as the pieces evolve the opaqueness gradually pull back to highlight individual instrumental textures. What seemed dense, concentrated and contrapuntal on “La montagne ne porte pas les nuages” for instance is eventually isolated as concentrated blows and pressurized plucking on minutely prepared internal piano strings; effusive shakes or wide kazoo-like blats from the reedist and wood-scratching as well as sul ponticello string swipes from the cellist.
Alternations between lyrical and jarring characterize the entire disc. On the climatic “Hypnotiseé sur une arête”, for instance, a continuum of carefully measured chording from Blondy turns into plucks and clanks on the strings as what was a delicate line from Gauguet becomes friction-laden, while Altenburger’s modulated bowing turns spiccato. At the same time a romantic undertone appears from the cellist’s mellow judders and the pianist’s legato keyboard note clusters. Only the saxophonist remains defiantly mercurial, with loud split tones, narrowed squeaks and final vibrating tongue slaps.
With the resonance on the final track barely-there, the trio’s definitive statement appears on the title track when concentrated sleight-of-hands leads the three to replicate electronic pulses acoustically. Made up in equal parts of reed whistles and metal rubs, angled string pulls from the cellist and rough rumbles and smacks against the piano’s wood by Blondy, at the end these faux oscillations give way to a cumulative rapprochement of balanced key clips, tongue stops and spiccato string swipes.
[…] Similarly, Vers L’île Paresseuse captures three experienced improvisers at the top of their respective forms creating notable sounds that can’t be repeated.
Ken Waxman, JazzWord