All types of creative music are populated with unsung heroes, no more so than Free Jazz. Never a popular exercise, experimental improvising by definition has attracted those who value discovery over fortune and fame and are unafraid to be mocked for not taking easier, better-paying path. Someone who is gifted with enough intestinal fortitude to stay true to himself is tenor saxophonist Sylvain Guérineau, 67, who lives in a Paris suburb and is also a painter and teacher. Someone whose initial recorded efforts were in the company of Free Jazz legends such as drummer Sunny Murray, trumpeter Jac Berrocal and others, since the millennium he’s often recorded with Paris-based engineers/electronics whiz Jean-Marc Foussat as well, as with younger sound experimenters such as Bordeaux percussionist Didier Lasserre.
Recorded almost three years apart but of a similar high quality, La Jungle du Douanier Rousseau and Quod extend the reedman’s catalogue in both directions, The second CD from 2010, features the Aliquid duo – Guérineau on tenor and Foussat using synthesizer and voice – in two intense improvisations alongside veteran American soprano saxophonist Joe McPhee, 74. Completely acoustic, 2013’s La Jungle du Douanier Rousseau is a live meeting among Guérineau, tyro tenor saxophonist Alexandra Grimal, now a member of France’s Orchestre National de Jazz, plus pianist François Tusques, two years Guérineau’s senior, who was also on hand for Free Jazz’s European genesis.
Happily the 10 live improvisations which are strung together to make up this program are anything but exercises in nostalgia. Tusques’ themes are knotted and elastic enough to spur unfettered ruminations from all three in a variety of combinations. If there is a misstep it’s in not identifying the reed soloists. One might figure that the strained, lighter sounds come from Grimal, and the deeper, Trane-like elaborations from Guérineau, but that supposition carries along with it the whiff of sexism. Essentially while it’s unclear whether both saxophonists solo on each track, when they do as on “Orgue A Bouche”, the cumulative effect is not unlike what would have happened if John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders had recorded backed by only McCoy Tyner or Alice Coltrane. Nonetheless Tusques’ technical command is such that while his percussive intensity is perfect foil for the two tenors, his playing is loose enough to also reference unforced swing.
Proving once again that the Free Jazz edifice was built on the architecture of existing Jazz, the pianist reveals other influences along with individuality as he plays. Besides the crab-like extensions whose source is given away by the title of “Dick Twardzick”, he ranges through balladic inferences and unfazed business to counter reed bites on “Don Cherry Blue”, and appends some Monkish double pulsing as the saxophonists harmonize on the final “Move The Blues”. More spectacularly on a track named for the legendary Paris club, “Au Chat Qui Pêche”, he responds to lipped extensions and reed bites with key clusters that put a modernist sheen on both pop song allusions and stride piano.
For their part both saxophonists acquit themselves admirably, especially on “Tout Est Possible” when they volley tongue twisting timbres back-and-forth atop rolling chords from the pianist; and “Srénité”, which isn’t anything like its title. As Tusques comps sympathetically, toothpaste-like, the reedists squeeze out gooey tones that harden into Ayler-like growling, downward slurs.
Guérineau is in a different set up on Quod as the trio buzzes judders and smears its way through two more than 20-minute improvisations. While Foussat has some moments of keyboard-like clatters and reveals a couple of split-second live processing of the reed textures, his fallback is processing machine-like oscillating sounds. Ranging from congested, almost opaque drones, canine-like yelps, backwards running flanges and blurry tones that sound like they’re sourced from an underground tunnel, he fills the tracks’ nooks and crannies.
Meanwhile as the tenor saxophonist often pumps out downward slurs in a deep, melodious tone when he’s not breaking the time with altissimo squeals, the soprano saxophonist uses reed bites and slide-whistle peeps to dart around the other’s timbres. With the sonic layering sufficient to aurally knit a multi-colored garment, the skill of all concerned ends up with something that’s organic as well as rousing. Following a cyclone of multiphonic tone alterations from the synthesizer, response circular breathing from the saxes solidifies into a finale.
Two reeds plus experimental improvising for those with no preconceptions, both CDs demonstrate the excitement of constant challenges, and latterly plus the rapprochement that exists between veteran, younger and very much younger players.
Track Listing: Jungle: 1. Dick Twardzick 2. Sérénité 3. A Tâtons 4. Au Chat Qui Pêche 5. Orgue A Bouche 6. Don Cherry Blue 7. Alexandrins Africains 8. Tout Est Possible 9. La Jungle Du Douanier Rousseau 10. Move The Blues.
Personnel: Jungle: Alexandra Grimal and Sylvain Guérineau (tenor saxophones) and François Tusques (piano)
Track Listing: Quod: 1. Le Désarroi du Cœlacanthe - The Forbidden 2. Le corps des larmes - The Forgiven
Personnel: Quod: Joe McPhee (soprano saxophone); Sylvain Guérineau (tenor saxophone) and Jean-Marc Foussat (synthesizer and voice)