For the past decade or so, French alto saxophonist Bertrand Gauguet has developed a reed strategy that involves hushed microtones, yet also uses amplifications to create a distinctive presence in group and/or solo situations. Following time in Japan studying the honkyoku repertoire, plus cementing links between improvising and meditation, Gauguet’s expanded agenda is exhibited here. Ironically, except for volume, novel reed techniques have become so internalized, that he can produce uniformly consequential work with or without electronic saxophone extensions. The differences among the eight solo tracks on Shiro for instance, lie more in what is being created rather than how. Consider, for instance the variances and consistency that exist between “Yügen”, where the saxophone is amplified with feedback; and “Sabi”, where the electro-augmentations come from a guitar amp; with “Jo-ha-kyü” and “Bloc noir” which are all-acoustic performances. Featuring loud, dissonant and disjointed timbres, the textures on “Sabi” could as easily have been produced by a guitar. But while that pumped-up program encompasses jet-plane-like buzzing and fuzzy oscillations, guttural reed tones may be non-specific, but preserve their identity. More crucially, thereʼs an emphasis on breath control and chromatics remains on “Yügen”, despite swelling flanges and intermittent pings take up most of the foreground. By the finale a secondary ghostly line plus buzzing feedback has been shoved sideways to create context for a distinct alto saxophone tone. Lacking plug-ins, the all-acoustic “Bloc noir” still manages to willfully inflate the alto’s sophisticated tone so that its parameters are undeniably established. The track also highlights Gauguet’s facility as an acoustic reedist. As expressive, but likely amplified by placing a microphone in the saxophone bell “Jo-ha-kyü” is bellicose and stentorian. As staccato asides swell into harsh whistles and fire-bell-like timbres a narrative strategy that is also magisterial is delineated. >> Ken Waxman, Jazzworld
Heigh alto saxophone improvisations, four acoustic, four with feedback and/or guitar amp. The language that Gauguet employs is not anything particularly new in this field but the combination of precision, delicacy and sensitivity of sound placement is unusually fine, making the disc well worth hearing. The tracks with electronic enhancement recall, of course, players like Butcher in terms of technical approach but Gauguet reaches different levels of sublety and layered interaction-not better, just different, exposing his own personality. “Yüngen”, the longest piece here at 14 minustes, is a superb, calm variation on tone, the pitches drifting in and out, steadily, beautifully held, Gauguet letting things linger enough that you have the impression of a quiet, night environment with just the occasional breeze floating through. This album was conceived during a residency in Kyôto and the legacy of the shakuhachi seems clear, though Gauguet is never at all imitative. On “Sabi”, he lets loose a bit, creating a work the listener might have attributed to someone working an electric guitar in Hendrix-feedback mode, resonating cavernously and very effective. But the larger portion of this disc contemplative, controlled and very strong, an excellent recording. >> Brian Olewnick, Just Outside
Before receiving the promo sheet I had already bathed twice in Shiro’s unpolluted waters. Perhaps influenced by the titles, my initial response was something around the lines of “this was probably recorded in a temple”. It’s not the case, but the quiet severity and the genuinely Zen attributes of this music are that persuasive. During a particular juncture I found myself sitting with the eyes naturally tending to closure, a sort of internal regrouping that developed autonomously as the sounds were flowing. No effort of excessive commitment to the act of listening was needed to join the vibrational current. It was just beautiful.
In two occasions, Gauguet employs a guitar amplifier (one of them – “Sabit” – results in the only relatively demanding segment, defined as it is by a substantial saturation). Elsewhere he produces feedback-grounded washes where adjacent partials generate superb aural luminescences; in that sense, the longest episode “Yügen” belongs to the “transcendental participation” category, provided that the mind is entirely delivered from thoughts of any kind. The whole album represents an authentication of the French reedist as one of the few rigorous researchers remained in an acoustic field characterized by extreme difficulty in coming out with something truly compelling. Simple ideas accompanied by profundity will always work wonders in this house, and Gauguet managed to let us reconsider values and methods that we believed archived forever in the “once-it-was- interesting-now-it’s-trite” section of our memory.
Let me suggest a double approach (headphone / speakers) to fully grasp the extent of this program. You need to hear the minute details to elaborate a correct idea of how the sonic propagations are born; on the other hand, pitches and harmonic derivations thereof need to fully resonate and hover around for a while, thus improving our transitoriness via the access to a further level of perception. >> Massimo Ricci, Touching Extremes
The Herbal International realise, by Bertrand Gauguet, who plays acoustic and amplified alto saxophone and works with the realm of improvisation. Here, however, solo, and in various pieces he offers a combination of both ends. In a piece like “Yügen” he keeps the feedback very much under control, humming neatly like sine waves, and on top Gauguet plays long sustaining sounds. It sounds very meditative ; it also reminds me of Alvin Lucier long string pieces. It’s followed by “Bloc noir”, a much shorter piece, but according to the cover “acoustic” but effectively along similar lines, which I thought was great. Gauguet creates something from both ends, acoustic and amplified, and unites them. When Gauguet uses a guitar amp, such as in “Sabi”, things become more noise based, and Gauguet is a one-man Borbetomagus. It’s the only loud bit on this realise, as the other seven pieces are much quieter and much more atmospheric. But such a noisy cunterpoint is actually quite nice ; it breaks up the release and avoids repetition too much. This is an excellent release of saxophone music. >> Vital Weekly – Frans De Waard
Saxophone acoustique et amplifié, avec ou sans feedback. Un travail débuté en 2011 lors d’une résidence à la Villa Kujoyama de Kyôto. Enregistrement réalisé au Couvent des Dominicains de Guebwiller. Une extension de la note dans la technique du souffle continu, un prolongement du son dans l’exploration acoustique du lieu d’enregistrement, une mutation du timbre dans les possibles de l’amplification, une transformation du souffle dans l’indomptabilité du feedback. Un très beau disque de ce saxophoniste qui sait se restreindre dans ses enregistrements. >> Metamkine