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WPB3: Nusch Werchowska / Mathias Pontévia / Heddy Boubaker
A Floating World
MIKROTON CD 9 | 2011

Edition of 500.

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1. Liquicy Ride
2. Deep South, White Heat
3. No Difference Between A Fish
4. The Wrinkles Of The System

Nusch Werchowska piano, objects
Mathias Pontevia horizontal drum, percussion
Heddy Boubaker alto saxophone, bass saxophone

The French WPB3 trio explores areas between abstract minimalist contemporary concrete instrumental improvised music and energetic noisy free jazz with an uncompromisingly totally free approach.

Nusch Werchowska has been involved in improvised music since she met Barre Philips in 1993. A pianist who is able to translate a conversation between Debussy and Cecil Taylor as well as John Cage using all kinds of prepared techniques. She played with numerous musicians in the field of improvised music such as Eddie Prevost, Margrit Rieben, Bertrand Gauguet, Christine Sehnaoui, Mathieu Werchowski and others.

Mathias Pontevia plays drums in different contexts: rock, improvised music and cross-platform meetings with dancers. He made himself his drum kit with horizontal bass drum, snare, cymbals, gongs and all kinds of scrap metal. His collaborators included David Chiesa, Frederic Blondy, Fabrice Charles, Bertrand Gauguet, Barre Philips, Jerome Noetinger, Martine Altenburgeer, Bertrand Denzler, Michel Doneda and many others.

Heddy Boubaker is one of the prominent and original saxophonist on the French improvised music scene. He started playing music on electric guitar, with time he switched to alto and bass saxophone. He played with numerous collaborators and at numerous festivals. He is very active in organizing concerts in Toulouse area. He also run his Un Rêve Nu label. Unfortuntaly since 2011 he had to stop all his saxophone practice and started playing analog modular synthesizer and electric bass.

The new WPB3 record, A Floating World, is the resulting product of one week of residency in Bordeaux in France. The goal was to have an intensive work, rehearsals and reflexion period on our music and to produce high quality recordings. This latest was achieved thanks to Benjamin Maumus which was not only the sound engineer — from GMEA Albi — but, for all that week, the 4th member of the band. He brought his personal perspective, a new external, personal point of view about the sound and the music and by the way he put in place the forest of microphones in the wide space of the OARA theater, the playing/recording/listening process permitted us to feel accurately all sounds, all nuances from the quietest to loudest one, in the natural resonant acoustics of the place.

One of the particularities of our trio is to highly take acoustics of the place into account bringing deepness, perspective and sharpening contrasts of our sound. In our previous record Poverb where a live recording in a Hamburg church, the natural reverberation of this huge space added a new dimension to the sound of the band and could have been considered as a 4th member.

WPB3 strongly claims an unconditional freedom of creation, an appropriation of the improvisation that does not freeze on a single existing aesthetic, which confidently and adventurously sits on deep and intense listening and based on sound archeology of each musician of the trio: Heddy Boubaker on saxophones, Mathias Pontevia on drums and on prepared piano Nusch Werchowska. WPB3 is an assembly of those radically free components, running on the improv sonosphere for the past six years, a rare length for a free improvisation band.

Reviews

Squid's Ear, Dave Madden:
In his Twentieth-Century Music: An Introduction (a book every fourteen year old kid who independently expresses interest in music should absorb), author Eric Salzman describes Charles Ives' musical stamp as something that "had to find its starting points in some kind of expression that was at once personal, free and spontaneous, close to 'natural' expression...he wanted a speaking kind of music, a music that could be jotted down to convey fresh impressions and thoughts..." Being that Ives hoped for this in the late 19th century, his frustration with getting these ideas on paper (he was often vague, at times allowing an aleatoric slant), blending them with his penchant for tonality and asking performers who probably lacked even Debussy as a reference point should have deterred him with frustration; judging by his output, he did just fine.

As years have passed the evolution of less — if any — notes on a page with a supplement of inventive improvisation and genre-bending is something to be reckoned with. However, though the "fresh impressions" approach is precedent, much of this music still eventually exhibits ties to Classical, Jazz and / or 20th Century techniques. This can be fine, but hearing a primal communication is refreshing.

That brings us to A Floating World and a few things it does not do: Nusch Werchowska 's fidgety piano preparations and nail scrapes will not suddenly turn into lightning-fast runs up and down the keyboard; saxophonist Heddy Boubaker will not jump from subtle whistle sounds that, performed at a distance from his reed, barely register to a blazing hard bop sprawl; Mathias Pontévia, supplied with a horizontal drum kit and junk metals, will not push aside his myriad ticks, mutes, thumps and arrhythmic surveys in favor of a Tony Williams bombast. Instead, the album is an arrangement of sonics and a frolic with time, this acoustic trio working at both the micro and macro levels with building block sound modulation parameters (attack, delay, sustain, release). How fast and for how long does Pontévia have to press before a drum head vibrates uncontrollably against a cymbal pushed with a drum stick? How much variation is needed before the listener tires? Werchowska drops chains onto the soundboard, pinches and pulls on strings and rocks her piano until it creaks while Boubaker sputters and purposefully strains without producing pitch. Is this enough? Once you get past the idea that harmonic union and melodies are not going to pop out (the latter occasionally appear, but they serve more as rhythmic devices and red herrings when spread out over 75 minutes), and the extended techniques are not the tension before the release, the disc is hypnotic and utterly engrossing; move past that and relish in three musicians at work on a dialect of the improvisation language.

Le Son Du Grisli, Guillaume Belhomme:
La troisième des quatre pièces improvisées consignées sur A Floating World évoque l’interrogation incomplète qui occupa jadis Keith Rowe, Urs Leimgruber et Michel Doneda : No Difference Between a Fish, affirme ici WPB3 – soit : Nusch Werchowska (piano, objets), Mathias Pontevia (percussions) et Heddy Boubaker (saxophones alto et basse). La question serait donc celle, posée à nouveau, de l’affirmation d’une présence ou de plusieurs sur un exercice improvisé de genre délicat, voire discret. Y réussir tiendrait de l’adéquation mystère ; tout perdre serait le risque encouru à chaque intervention.
Les dosages du trio en question engendrent le plus souvent des morceaux de vaillance – écouter avec quelles façons il arrange les différents modules (rumeurs ombreuses, incertitudes inspirantes, dérives légères, répétitions étouffées, échappées mélodiques même) de Liquicy Rice – quand ce n’est pas, certes à de plus rares occasions, de tendres plages vaines – regretter cette fois l’échange virulent auquel se livrent, en fin de Deep South, White Heat, aigus de saxophone, emportements percussifs et accords impétueux.
Afin de trancher, retour à No Difference Between a Fish. Werchowska croulant sous les graves, Pontevia concédant à ses cymbales l’expression de clameurs animales, Boubaker, enfin, vrillant de cascades miniatures en dérapages ascensionnels. La pianiste à l’intérieur de son instrument, les rumeurs décideront dès lors du sort de l’improvisation : les dernières minutes d’A Floating World seront soufflantes. Après avoir affirmé leurs présences avec un art au final convaincant, les musiciens profitent d’un autre savoir qu’ils ont en commun : celui de bien disparaître.

Improv Sphere, Julien Héraud:
A floating world, publié par le label russe Mikroton, réunit pour la seconde fois le trio WPB3, composé de trois explorateurs sonores français radicaux et extrêmes. Mathias Pontevia, comme son camarade Sébastien Bouhana, se situe dans la droite lignée de Lê Quan Ninh, à ses côtés, la pianiste rennaise Nusch Werchowska explore l’intérieur d’un piano préparé à l’aide d’objets, pendant qu’Heddy Boubaker déploie de nombreuses techniques étendues au saxophone, techniques riches et jamais gratuites.
Au total, plus d’une heure d’improvisation libre répartie en quatre pièces; quatre pièces minimalistes où les interventions sont réduites au minimum, où l’écoute atteint une attention sensible et extrême. Que ce soit pour un solo, un duo ou un trio, le silence est toujours présent, l’espace est aéré et ouvert à toutes sortes d’interventions : soniques, dynamiques, énergiques, rythmiques, voire silencieuses. Personne ne domine, la hiérarchie et le fonctionnalisme instrumental sont anéantis au profit d’une musique horizontale, à l’image des percussions de Pontevia. Différentes sortes de dynamiques musicales se succèdent et surgissent les unes des autres, de la masse sonore compacte et homogène à la répétition de cellules, en passant par des explorations timbrales où chacun se démarque de l’autre en adoptant un son bien spécifique. Toujours est-il que le principal atout de ces enregistrements réside dans l’attention portée à l’autre, dans l’écoute concentrée et les réponses justes qui forment une musique toujours très sensible, parfois pleine de délicatesse (envers les musiciens, ou envers le son), quand elle n’est pas d’une énergie débordante et agressive.
Qu’elles soient fortes et tendues, ou délicates et légères, ces improvisations sont toujours intenses et puissantes grâce à l’attention débordante dont fait preuve le trio WPB3 envers chacun des membres ainsi qu’à l’attention et la sensibilité portée au son lui-même en tant que phénomène sonore parfois indépendant de l’artiste lui-même et de sa volonté. Car le son paraît parfois surgir seul des instruments, et c’est à ces moments que, paradoxalement, la virtuosité des instrumentistes est la plus impressionnante, il n’y a pas vraiment autonomisation du son, mais un effacement volontaire de la personnalité devant la potentialité émotionnelle du timbre. Je me suis retrouvé complètement émerveillé, voire envouté, devant la richesse et la profondeur des sonorités et des timbres déployés durant ces improvisations qui, en plus, varient constamment dans leur dynamique et leur énergie. La musique n’est pas noyée dans l’abstraction même si elle est souvent abstraite, il y a une forme de chaleur toujours présente due à l’interaction, une interaction très sensible et délicate où attention et concentration permettent aux individualités d’émerger collectivement et horizontalement sans se fondre dans le son. Une chaleur également due à un refus radical certes, mais aussi flexible, de la tradition: au piano comme au saxophone, des phrasés plus classiques peuvent émerger en-dehors des triturations du cadre, des souffles et des slaps; seule la batterie reste l’élément le plus abstrait, conformément à son usage traditionnel dans la musique occidentale.
Quatre pièces qui s’équilibrent dans les dynamiques, les timbres et les interventions en forme de chaise musicale. A l’image de la pochette, les trois musiciens forment trois couchent qui émergent, disparaissent, se succèdent, et se superposent les unes en fonction des autres; où présence et absence, son et silence, sont sur un terrain d’égalité et ont autant d’importance l’un que l’autre. Trois strates autonomes en apparence, où l’individualité reste présente, mais dont l’évolution reste toujours dictée par le tout des strates, par la musique elle-même. A floating world nous amène dans un territoire sonore très riche et profond en timbres, en processus d’interactions, comme en dynamiques, où l’écoute et l’attention sont d’une délicatesse et d’une sensibilité émerveillante.

Monsieur Délire, Journal d'Ecoute / Listening Diary, François Couture:
Un trio d’improvisation libre composé du saxophoniste Heddy Boubaker, du percussionniste Mathias Pontevia et de la pianiste Nusch Werchowska. Tous trois utilsent beaucoup de techniques étendues. Dans le cas de Boubaker, on parle ici de techniques microsoniques; chez Werchowska, de préparations et de jeu intra-piano; pour Pontevia, de “tambours horizontaux” frottés sur la peau et grattés sur le cadre, entre autres choses. A Floating World offre quatre longues improvisations enregistrées en trois jours consécutifs, quatre écoutes intenses même si la densité sonore est plutôt faible. Une superbe mise en commun d’improvisateurs, une synergie approchant la perfection. Particulièrement, le jeu de Boubaker et de Pontevia se rejoignent dans certains sons d’une manière confondante. Recommandé.
A free improvisation trio consisting of saxman Heddy Boubaker, percussionist Mathias Pontevia and pianist Nusch Werchowska. All three are using lots of extended techniques. Boubaker goes for microsonic and breathing techniques; Werchowska is using preparations and inside-piano techniques; Pontevia plays “horizontal drums,” rubbing their skins and hitting their sides, among other things. A Floating World offers four long improvisations recorded over three consecutive days, four intense listens, although sonic density is rather low. A splendid sense of sharing, a synergy that borders on perfection. The playing of Boubaker and Pontevia parallel each other on certain sounds in a confusing way. Recommended.

Vital Weekly, Frans de Waard:
The other new release on Mikroton goes out all the way into improvised music without any use of electronics. Here we have Heddy Boubaker (alto and bass saxophones), Mathias Pontevia (horizontal drums, percussion) and Nusch Werchowska (piano, objects). They played together in succession for three days in November 2008 and the results span four lengthy tracks on this CD, between fifteen and twenty-three minutes. I must say I have some trouble with this. At times it goes way out into free-jazz land, which is simply not my cup of tea. Things work best for me when they are quiet here, and an exploration of instruments takes place along with interaction between the three musicians. It would mean however I would have to copy all tracks to my computer and take out all the bits I don’t like, which of course is something I won’t do. Throughout this is not a bad CD however, don’t get me wrong there, but its all very long and going directions which I simply don’t care for. Perhaps too traditional for my taste.

Just Outside, Brian Olewnick:
I rather enjoyed the previous disc from WPB3 I’d heard, on Herbal International. It struck me that, at times, they approached an AMM-like sound world and accomplished this better than most. This effort, recorded in November 2008, doesn’t quite get there for me. Nusch Werchowska (piano, objects), Mathias Pontevia (horizontal drums–I still don’t know what differentiates them–, percussion) and Heddy Boubaker (alto and bass saxophones) seem to clearly intend to exist in that world–though perhaps they’re sick of hearing it–but it’s a tough row(e) to hoe. The use of space or, too often, the occupation of space, feels uneasy to me, as does the teetering into (forgive the overuse of the term) efi-y way of playing, the jazzy references (for example, the Cecil-ish piano at the beginning of the second cut. Indeed, this may be one of those bands where I’d rather the wholeheartedly went the avant-jazz route. Boubaker has a good tone, especially on bass sax, Pontevia seems to be a fine drummer out of the Lovens tradition–when they go all out in that direction, as they do later on in that same trac k, they’re fine. It’s that middle ground that’s uncomfortable and hesitant. Perhaps I’m being too picky. Listened to in a more relaxed frame of mind, “A Floating World” is fine, cohesive and varied. It’s just those damned glimmers of something more that gnaw at me….

The Watchful Ear, Richard Pinnell:
Very late writing tonight after a long day at work, a couple of hours sleep in the afternoon and then some time subjecting Julie to my “cooking” this evening. Its now half past midnight as I begin to write this, but I’ve committed myself to a review every night this week so I’m sticking to my word!
The past couple of days I’ve spent a little time with a new all-acoustic improv disc on the Russian based Mikroton label by the WPB3 trio of Heddy Boubaker, (alto and bass sax) Mathias Pontevia (those mysterious horizontal drums again, and other percussion) and Nusch Werchowska (piano and objects). I wrote about a previous release by this group some time ago here, and essentially described them as a decent, skilled, thoughtful group playing a somewhat standard strain of free improv. While this new CD, named A Floating World doesn’t really change that viewpoint, I should add that I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this CD turned up reasonably loud, immersed in all that is going on, following the musicians’ interaction, musical taunts, discussions and tussles. There are four pieces here, all quite lengthy, witht he briefest still clocking in at over fifteen minutes. The album is nicely recorded and very nicely mastered, with an appealingly dry finish to it that works well with the many textural sounds going on here.
The four pieces each have their own character, with the first; Liquicy Ride full of a softer, grainy feel, with dry breathy sax and bowed and rubbed percussion mixing with lightly caressed piano notes. Deep South, White Heat is a more broken up and aggressive piece that mixes white space with sudden flurries and a lot more attack. The brilliantly titled No Difference Between a Fish is maybe the nicest track here, a mix of the first two approaches, with some beautiful colours and timbres folded together but with an undercurrent of tension and several small eruptions of activity bursting through the surface. The Wrinkles of the System is maybe the most tightly cohesive of the tracks, almost slipping into drone mode once or twice as a more laminal approach is taken.
All of the pieces here easily fall under the banner of free improvisation however. There are absolutely no surprises or innovations here, not that there needs to be for any reason. A Floating World has been prepared to an old recipe, but that’s not to say it doesn’t taste really good. The playing here is top notch, with Pontevia’s percussion in particular really standing out as his work here has really impressed me again. He uses a wide range of sounds, but crucially his choice-making and placement is excellent here as it has been on several recent discs I have heard. I have a new solo release from Pontevia awaiting my attentions here as well right now, I very much look forward to that one.
So a solid, strong and highly enjoyable seventy-plus minutes of music that should definitely appeal to those with a taste for good tight acoustic improv that twists, flows and evolves actively without dripping in adrenalin. A really nice one to sink deep into and wallow about in.