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Jean-Luc Guionnet & Toshimaru Nakamura - Map

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Artist: Jean-Luc Guionnet & Toshimaru Nakamura

Album: Map

Label: Potlatch

Review date: Mar. 31, 2008

When Toshimara Nakamura first unplugged his guitar from his mixing board, jacked the board’s output into its input, and started playing the resulting feedback, he metaphorically threw his musical map out the window.

He’s been defying ruled boundaries ever since. While he’s proven his mastery of the instrument by shaping electronically generated resonance into placid expanses, banging loops and filament-thin lances in the company of such diversely motivated improvisers as Keith Rowe, Jason Kahn, Gene Coleman, and Axel Dörner, even his own past playing is an uncertain predictor of what he’ll coax out of his no-input mixing board. In general his playing has become more austere, and such is the case on Map, but even so his playing doesn’t sound much like anything else I’ve heard him do.

Map is a set of four duets with Frenchman Jean-Luc Guionnet, a saxophone and organ player who tends to gravitate towards electronic contexts, albeit ones with methodologies which range from laminal (Hubbub) to concrete (Phéromone). Although he plays alto, the player of whom he’s most reminiscent is soprano and tenor saxophonist John Butcher. Like Butcher, he’s taken modern classical and early electronic sounds and forms into the realm of instant creation. And like Butcher, he’s mastered a broad range of utterances that fall outside what you’re supposed to play on a sax. However, he’s more reticent, less prone to melody and density, more towards lean severity.

On the three unnamed pieces he and Nakamura recorded in Montreuil, he sticks to the saxophone and punches out high twitters and long, attenuated tones that seem to thin and flake like sheet metal thrust heavily against a grindstone. Nakamura’s contributions gather mass and presence, moving from sparse pops to purposeful rattles to a big blank wall of hiss. Neither man makes any concessions to prettiness; the music binds an enormous and thrilling tension. Even at its emptiest, it is full of suspense; when it’s full on, it’s an impressive array of textures that morph and melt from one to the next with obscure yet impeccable logic.

The last piece, recorded at Collegiale Sainte-Croix in Parthenay, wrings drama from a couple drastic switches. Guionnet swaps his saxophone for a church organ, which he uses to place clusters like swollen sasquatch footprints across the chill soundscape. Nakamura inverts the relationship between the volume the instruments output and the space they displace; his portable black box sounds much more massive than Guionnet’s stationary keyboard, and certainly more forceful than anything I’ve heard him do since the first Repeat album. He erects fuzzy screens of static that strive to block Guionnet’s creeping chords, only to have the Frenchman flank them or simply slink slowly under their flickering screens. Unphased, Nakamura lets loose with a blizzard of dancing, but still pitiless noise. The organ retreats, only to creep back as soon as Nakamura’s attack splinters. I’ve never heard anything quite like it before – how often can you say that nowadays?

By Bill Meyer

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