What images form in your mind when you read the word “saxophone”? Denzler and Koch’s sole instrumentation is tenor sax, bass clarinet and soprano sax. What kind of mental picture does that create?
You’re almost certainly wrong.
From the bio:
“Their duo playing reveals, beyond their qualities as instrumentalists, and understanding of how to position themselves, how to decode, and when to communicate — and when not to communicate — instantaneously.”
As with the majority of Ambiances Magnétiques, the remainder of Denzler and Koch’s bio continues in the same fashion, describing an aesthetic instead of offering hints regarding their actual sound. There isn’t really anyone to compare to them with — I think that’s the point.
For lack of a better term, Denzler and Koch work in the realm of jazz improvisation, but unlike many who hang this sign above their groups at Barnes and Noble’s cafe, Denzler and Koch are truly forging new works, never resting in the past or even the present. However, to say that they are simply doing what others aren’t — experimenting for the sense of being different — is an insult to their work.
Though Asymétries steps outside the bounds of what many would call “music”, the artists clearly know what they’re doing — substituting creativity for theory and leaving the Coltrane riffs at the door. Truly, there isn’t a trace of conventional “sax music” to be found here — none of the things for which the instrument is known: melodies, lightning fast runs, blaring brassy energy. Instead, the focus is on texture, color, tone and above all, sound. Asymétries explores breath, breathing, what it sounds like to pucker your lips on the reed of the instrument, to blow kissing sounds into the body, to slowly trill without involving pitch; it explores the difference between moist and dry attacks, what happens when you play the horn at different angles, how many colors of squeaks there are, and so on.
The lack of direction here is interesting. Typically, such “aimlessness” can be a huge problem; it would be so here, if the music actually “began”. That is, the music hovers around the idea of actually starting for… well, its entire length. The album’s delicate minimalism is a bit unnerving the first time around, and you’ll either sit in anticipation for it to “take off” (that’s what a sax is supposed to do, right?) or get up and fast-forward in an attempt to find a spot where the sounds actually progress from the developmental state. However, this is the point: it’s not going to develop, at least in any sort of traditional way, and like a meditative practice, patience is required to endure 37 minutes of otherworldly sounds. Then it leaves you as subtly as it began — no bang, no warning.
Again, the adventurous nature of this work makes it difficult terrain for most, but those who choose to really listen, and give time to understanding these works, will be rewarded with a truly sublime experience.