Hélène Breschand

Sombre

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Sombre is an unlikely pairing yielding unexpected results. The classically trained harpist Hélène Breschand meets the maverick avant rock guitarist Jean-François Pauvros. She plays an electro-acoustic harp, which -- unlike Zeena Parkins' electric harp -- is a traditional harp retrofitted with pickups and is hooked to electronics. It produces a sound palette surprisingly compatible with Pauvros' electric guitar (also plugged into a number of pedals and electronic devices). Even though the attack of the harp often remains perceptible (which helps to distinguish between each player's contributions), the main sonic component here is noise -- beautifully shaped noise, interspersed with thoughtful silence and quiet single notes, plucked out of the ether. As for Pauvros' playing, it ranges from soft drones and fragile bowed notes to crushing walls of sound. Not the result of a one-time meeting, Sombre was recorded in the studio over a number of sessions and accompanied by live performances -- hence a deeper level of collaboration that can be heard from the first second to the last. Harp and electric guitar mesh, reinventing each other's language. When quiet, the music is downright beautiful -- with its bowed guitar and acoustic harp, "L'Étoile Renversée" is the album's most enrapturing piece. When loud, it moves you at a different level, painting vivid pictures in little time (six tracks out of eight are under five minutes long). These two improvisers are little known outside of France, which makes Sombre an album even regular listeners of Victo's releases may be tempted to pass on. That would be a shame, since it is the most unique CD the label has put out in years.

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