Kazue Sawaï

Une Chance pour l'Ombre

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Recorded at one of the most surprising and entrancing concerts of the 2003 Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville, Une Chance pour l'Ombre features an impressive French-Japanese cast performing free improvisation of the most demanding -- and rewarding -- kind. Most of the members of this quintet had previously played with each other in other groupings. Bassist Tetsu Saitoh is a regular collaborator with koto player Kazue Sawai, who herself has occasionally performed alongside saxophonist Michel Doneda (their trio recording Three Day Moon: Live at Hall Egg Farm is recommended). The latter and percussionist Lê Quan Ninh's musical paths have intertwined since the '80s. Kazuo Imai is perhaps the least-known figure of the ensemble, and his unamplified acoustic guitar playing provides the most peculiar voice in this two-piece set. Intermingling with the koto, the double bass and Ninh's sparse (but oh so inventive) percussion, the guitar is constantly reshuffling the deck. Doneda, Imai, and Ninh are known to foray into the quietest territories of the free improv realm, while Sawai and Saitoh are more generally perceived as "traditional" improvisers, but such a distinction is rendered useless here, as the five of them strike a wonderful balance between silence and sound, listening and playing, density and intensity. The music unfolds delicately, slowly enough to let the listener marvel at its details. The 22-minute "Une Chance pour l'Ombre" features a lot of interplay between koto and guitar, and a higher overall density level. "A Chance for Shade" (the literal translation of the first piece's title) is more subdued, sustained textures gradually stealing the show as the piece progresses toward its conclusion. The impeccable quality of the recording takes us into the heart of the music. Well worth your hard-earned money, even if you are not usually fond of quiet free improv.

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