These duo improvisations, with the palpable presence of a third, were recorded in Paris in the summer of 2005. Celebrating the birthday of sculptor Alain Kirili, these recordings were made in the artist’s studio, his sculptures serving as impetus for the music.
Totem is a seven-part suite whose multivalent environments, both literal and figurative, change and morph as the disc progresses. The two performers, Jerome Bourdellon on various flutes and Thomas Buckner employing his customarily fine and long-fostered vocal techniques, seem to change position relative to microphones as the timbral and melodic landscapes they conjure slowly unfold.
Over the course of about an hour, the two musicians examine the history of improvisation, from the contrapuntal antiquities of “Totem 1” to the futuristic close-up snaps, thwacks, buzzes and whistling winds of “Totem 3.” A rhetorical analysis of the proceedings would be fascinating, as readily identifiable topics are allowed to manifest themselves, sometimes with whiplash rapidity, as they often do in the finest improvised music.
Yet, there is nothing miniature about these pieces; listen to the opening of “Totem 5,” as Buckner articulates a slowly evolving four-note figure, Bourdellon’s flute skipping nimbly around each vocal utterance. It’s a grand gesture, embodying ages of development in a single sweeping motion, avoiding the crutch of superfluous compression. Even in the frantic interplay of “Totem 6,” nothing seems forced, one musician expounding on an idea while the other fires off four or five, a role reversal always around the corner.
Totem is a brilliant disc from two masters of extemporized form, often spanning culture and time in each gesture. While I have long admired Buckner’s work as both producer and artist, Bourdellon’s playing is a new discovery for me, and I look forward to hearing more from each of these artists - preferably in collaboration.
By Marc Medwin