Une Chance Pour l'Ombre

Une Chance Pour l'Ombre Kazue Sawai (koto), Kazuo Imai (guitar), Tetsu Saitoh (doublebass), Michel Doneda (soprano & sopranino saxophones), Lê Quan Ninh (percussion)

Une Chance Pour l'Ombre (22'03). A Chance For Shade (27'51")

Recorded Live at the 20th Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville on May 17th, 2003 by Espace Musique for the radio show Le Navire Night

Victo CD 094

Reviewed by: John Woodard.

This momentous world premiere meeting took place during the 2003 Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville. There were noisier, more blustery concerts and higher profile musicians in town that week in late spring, but few shows had such a high degree of quiet strength and empathetic grace.
Reviewed by: Yoshihiko Nonomura in Improvised Music from Japan 2005

The mutual respect between Saitoh (contrabass) and Doneda (soprano sax.); the long time duo collaborations of Saitoh and Sawai (koto) and Doneda and Ninh (percussion); and the fact that Saitoh and Imai (guitar) had a common mentor in Masayuki Takayanagi - these things meant that when they all played together for the first time at the Victoriaville festival, the ensemble was alrready as intense as a regular, experienced unit. Each performance of their 2003 tour can be characterized from the standpoint of Sawai, who plays the only non-Western instrument in the unit. At Victoriaville she often used traditional koto phrases, and Saitoh accompanied her by imitating the koto or shamisen. The other three played as distantly as possible from Saitoh and Sawai, resulting in a divergent ensemble. Nine days later, in Lorgues, southern France, noisy sounds by Doneda and Ninh stood out, and the koto - as a string instrument - united with the guitar and the contrabass to fill the vacancies in the sound space. In contrast, the next set was filled with silence. These two sets represented, respectively, the dynamic and static aspects of this intense ensemble. These invaluable documents show that in true improvised music, each performance is completely different.
Reviewed by: Matthew Sumera on the site : One Final Note in April 2005

Billed as a summit from the 2003 Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville, this variegated performance features Kazue Sawai on koto, Michel Doneda on soprano and sopranino saxes, Kazuo Imai on acoustic guitar, Lê Quan Ninh on percussion, and Tetsu Saitoh on contrabass. While Sawai sets the scene with a downward sweeping chord, and certainly takes up the most physical space due to the sheer size of the koto, this is a group affair, with all musicians contributing assiduously as needed.

Sounds pour forth, sometimes in isolation, oftentimes integrated into the larger group, throughout the 50+ minutes of this performance (divided into two sections on the CD) and at various times each instrumentalist takes the lead. Highly non-idiomatic in approach, the musicians concentrate their collective energies on timbral, dynamic, and rhythmic exploration, almost entirely eschewing any “straight” sounds from any of their instruments. Doneda focuses heavily on air and breath sounds—sometimes piercing—on his two horns. Imai’s guitar resonates throughout as he pulls forth single plucked notes, sometimes in rapid succession, but seldom in chords of any kind. Sawai ranges across her koto, her sounds often blurring with those of Imai, using a variety of methods while looming over the instrument. Bassist Saitoh and percussionist Lê Quan Ninh approach their instruments from the others’ more “typical” vantage—Saitoh here plays exceedingly percussively while Lê Quan brings his bowed, scraped, rubbed, and sustained notes to the proceedings.

What is most intriguing about the recording is the patience which all exhibit as the piece develops gradually. Taken in isolation, any moment of Une chance pour l’ombre will inevitably confuse, perhaps even frustrate, a listener. There is an immense resolve, though, on the parts of all involved that this music-making process extends beyond preconceived notions of improvisation—even as that approach in and of itself has become dogmatic—to find unique ways of moving throughout a freely improvised space. Thus tension and release, in many regards as formalized in free-improvisation as functional harmony is in Western Classical music, is reinvigorated here through the avoidance of simple density of notes followed by relative space. Instead movement is achieved both thematically—through shared examination of common timbres, dynamics, and rhythms—and through individual statements or moments in which individuals step out to lead the group, sometimes lasting no more than a few seconds.

It is to the latter that concentrated listening especially reaps benefits. One is richly rewarded, for example, by following the development of line in the second half of the piece, beginning with Imai as the lead voice, bending each note he sustains, slurring the rest, generally remaining in constant, agile motion. Accompanied most obviously by Doneda blowing through his horn and a sustained rattle from Lê Quan, Imai slowly is overtaken in the proceedings as Sawai, in particular, steps out with a much weightier line, the scraping of the koto strings an integral part of the sound she develops. In response, Lê Quan moves to his own version of expanded abrasion, while Doneda joins Imai in a frenetic, yet tightly controlled and quiet, blur of notes. Saitoh, for his part, negotiates the two competing voices, quick and lively on the one hand, slow and scoured on the other, switching back and forth between the two. In this way, the piece develops throughout its running time as the focal point is passed from one musician to the other. There are moments of sheer beauty, such as the sustained engagement in silence following the movement mentioned above, as well as times of such overwhelming concentration that one can’t help but feel suffocated.

It’s a rarity that a group of musicians can successfully nourish a piece for as long as this group manages without leaning on well-trodden ways. By intelligently avoiding a blowing session while also successfully negotiating a simple pluck, strike, and wait aesthetic that can quickly get bogged down in its own sort of excess, Sawai, Doneda, Imai, Lê Quan, and Saitoh display astounding musicianship and provide for a welcome, and rarely navigated, chance for shade.