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Tom Chant & Sharif Sehnaoui - Cloister

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Artist: Tom Chant & Sharif Sehnaoui

Album: Cloister

Label: Al Maslakh

Review date: Apr. 11, 2007

One of the most welcome developments in free improvisation has been the desire to let the textures of sound suggest new structures and new ways of playing. This is partly due to necessity, for the gesture of throwing out the rule book no longer holds the same radical power, and partly due to the fact that improvisers don’t have to make everything sound like a fight anymore, as the astringent sounds of free improv’s first generation are now familiar. So now improvisers like the soprano saxophonist Tom Chant and the guitarist Sharif Sehnaoui can produce these three 20-minute meditations using only the extended techniques of their instruments. Their sound is not deconstructive but constructive, they sound purposeful rather than merely aggressive.

When they hit upon a new sound combination they don’t run from it, they dive into it, work it over, set it aside and often return to it. This way each piece finds a base. “Four Sputnik” revolves loosely around a muted passage where Chant overblows gentle harmonics or falls into microscopic percussive tones and Sehnaoui brushes and scrapes out responses, utilizing what sounds like the entire body of his guitar. Various directions emerge from these passages, and eventually the pair finds their way back.

Chant and Sehnaoui use only acoustic instruments, with absolutely no effects, and they still produce a document that views the world from inside the hard drive, so internalized are the moods and so alien the sounds. But this digitalness, this ability to atomize and break down their ideas while retaining a sense of the whole, also shows up in how the duo have channeled their ideas into coherent statements, 20-minute excursions that aren’t only about some mercurial being-in-the-moment but welcome a narrative – however abstract the elements – that has a beginning, middle and end. “Us Three” opens with both creative fluttering and forward motion, which halfway through becomes a metallic drone of feedback-high pitches from the sax and scraping motion on the guitar, then fragments into a terse exchange while retaining the essential attack, only to come full circle to the opening. This circular quality is what ultimately lets a listener in to the pair’s inner world and encourages one to return.

By Matthew Wuethrich

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