This release is particularly welcome as Potlatch Records has not released an album since Infra by Pascale Criton, in September 2017. As the label issued its first album—No Waiting, by Derek Bailey & Joëlle Léandre—in 1998, this is an opportunity to mark the ground-breaking label's twentieth anniversary, and send congratulations to proprietor Jacques Oger. It is fitting that an album featuring Bertrand Denzler marks the occasion, as he has been a Potlatch regular, in various guises.
Recently, saxophonist Denzler has gradually been transforming from performer (as on his 2011 Potlatch solo album Tenor ) to performer/composer (the 2015 Confront release Morph with ONCEIM) to composer (the 2018 Confront Collector Series album Basse Seule, written by Denzler, performed solo by bassist Félicie Bazelaire).
Although the cover of Arc credits Bertrand Denzler / CoÔ, its music was written by Denzler and performed by the seven-member CoÔ, which consists of the bowed strings from ONCEIM (l'Orchestre de Nouvelles Créations, Expérimentations et Improvisation Musicales, incidentally), including the septet's founder Bazelaire as one of its three double basses, alongside a cello, a violin and two violas. So, after writing for one bass on Basse Seule Denzler has now written for seven strings. The music here consists of the eighteen-minute "Arc 1.1" and the twenty-three minute "Arc 2.1."
Straight from the start of "Arc 1.1" it is clear that we are not in conventional string quartet territory, nor in that of improvising string ensembles such as Stellari String Quartet or Barrel. Having seven stringed instruments, in particular those three double basses, gives a rich, bottom-heavy soundscape which resembles that of an orchestra more than a quartet or trio. Denzler's compositions exploit those characteristics to the full. Although Basse Seule consisted mainly of a series of short études for bass, with a couple of longer pieces, the two Arc tracks have the same composer's fingerprints on them. Both make extensive use of long arco bass notes which never approach drone territory, but serve to underpin the music.
"Arc 1.1" consists of eighteen pieces ranging in length from thirty to seventy-five seconds, most being around fifty seconds long. The pieces are separated by breaks and so stand alone, although employing similar sounds. They are not particularly melodic, sounding as if they were written for dramatic effect, occasionally employing extended playing techniques to achieve this. The overall impression is like a cinematic soundtrack where short bursts of music fit particular scenes; in this case, given the album cover's beautiful spacey images, the appropriate scenes might involve the aliens' mother ship hovering just above a terrified city while the inhabitants anxiously wait to learn their fate...
In contrast, "Arc 2.1" consists of two extended pieces of about eleven minutes each, separated by a short break. Their lengths give the composer and performers a larger canvas to work with and they fully exploit that; in particular, the violin, violas and cello are far more in evidence, their parts being well-framed by the ever-present basses. As before, long arco notes prevail and merge together to amply fill the soundscape, creating rich, relaxing music in which it is very easy to drift off and lose oneself; this would be the ideal musical accompaniment to lying on one's back on a warm summer's evening and gazing up at the heavens, free of alien mother ships, of course. Exquisite. (Try it as you listen to the YouTube sample of the piece, below.)
On this showing, we must hope that Denzler continues to expand his composing activities... without abandoning his playing, of course.
John Eyles l All About Jazz l June 2019