Bordelais d'origine, membre du quintette Hubbub, fondateur de l'association
Clac-sons et de l'étiquette La Belle du Quai, habitué
(trop rare) des Instants Chavirés et d'autres structures
spécialisées, Frédéric Blondy s'inscrit
dans une mouvance généreuse et dynamique de l'improvisation
(généralement qualifiée, par paresse critique,
de "post-taylorienne") dans laquelle s'engouffrent pêle-mêle
(dans des registres divers) des instrumentistes comme Fred van Hove,
Marilyn Crispell, Misha Mengelberg, Christine Wodrascka, Irène
Schweizer, Agusti Fernandez, Sophie Agnel, Paul Plimley, Alex Schlippenbach
ou Matthew Shipp.
Comme ses aînés, il est également attiré
par l'exploration des possibilités sonores de l'instrument
à l'aide d'un jeu direct (frotté, frappé) sur
les cordes, les touches, la table de résonance. Confronté
ici à la verve impétueuse (et cette sorte d'écologie
sonore due à la nature même de ses ustensiles) du percussionniste
toulousain Lê Quan Ninh, Blondy semble privilégier
une puissance retenue et un phrasé tout en finesse et contrastes
- voire une belle épure presque aride jusqu'à la fascination
- évocateurs d'un certain piano romantique et surtout un
souci de ne pas "encombrer" la matière sonore.
C'est précisément dans la fluidité de ce lyrisme
sobre et attentif au détail que Blondy donne le meilleur
de son art, en affichant clairement ses intentions à mi-chemin
entre l'enseignement de compositeurs du siècle dernier, (Cage,
Ligeti...) et l'improvisation totale.
Gérard Rouy l
Certes, il faut y croire. Ce disque échappe à
la saturation persistante et ultra-périssable dans l'impro
spécialisée, et il suffit de se prêter au jeu,
à l'hypothèse du hasard aveugle suggérée
par son titre pour franchir de nouveaux territoires sonores. Deux
mondes, piano et percussion, et une collaboration entamée
depuis la fin des années 1990. Ces ultimes aventuriers sont
unis par une alchimie complice, avec alternance refléchie
du silence et de la fureur impure, où tous clapotis, cordes
pincées procurent la sensation de l'éphémère.
Lê Quan Ninh n'est plus à présenter dans son
exploration des éléments dont les plus belles traces
subsistent avec le Quatuor Hélios ou Michel Doneda. Frédéric
Blondy, lui, a expérimenté les possibilités
soniques du clavier, marqué par l'impact de Cecil Taylor,
puis s'est penché sur l'aspect pIus méditatif des
pièces de Cage ou Feldman. On pense à la poésie,
au nom d'une continuelle et infaillible expansion... Rien d'hermétique
à tout cela, le hasard est une main plus sûre (troisième
morceau).Les frottements des cymbales et de la peau des toms, tous
les ajouts d'objets que l'on cherche à discernel produisent
quelque chose de curieusement pondéré. Bref, c'est
l'équilibre de l'irrationnel. Tous les éléments
usuels, dégradés, oscillants du quotidien le plus
trivial parviennent à créer la merveille chaotique;
une anarchie enfin concevable, ponctuée par un silence strident:
un cosmos. A terme, iI faut l'avouer, cela vaut la peine de chercher
the longest time, Lê Quan Ninh has held a place as my favourite
percussionist. Ever since his days with Idiome 1238 (whose concerts
were an absolute blast!) and his involvement with the new music
ensemble Quatuor Helios (whose concerts were less of a blast, but
maintained an interesting edge to them), he's been convincingly
good to great. His recent show at the Guelph Jazz Festival turned
out to be a festival highlight. On-going involvement with improvising
musicians (everyone from Michel Doneda, Günter Müller,
Daunik Lazro, Mari Kimura, Paul Rogers, Butch Morris, Kazue Sawai
to Dominique Regef) makes him ideal as the percussionist of choice.
This doesn't mean that he is everyone’s ideal, but his far
reaching sense of the learned application of percussion makes him
a definite asset.
Lê Quan Ninh’s best work is heard in small ensembles
though in a powerhouse group like Idiome 1238 and in Butch Morris'
ensembles, he was still a force to be reckoned with. His duet with
pianist Frédéric Blondy is another example of his
fine style. Though he is in full prowess on this recording, he never
comes across as an over-powering individual. In fact, he is more
keenly listening for cues given off from Blondy than in pursuing
a selfish timetable for himself. Blondy is an articulate player
himself, choosing to stick to striking single keys at a time, rather
than creating a full onslaught. Ninh responds in turn with vibrant
scrapes against a cymbal and some mallet work on his tom-tom. His
metallic percussion work is still heard up front. The sections I
like best are ones where Blondy is busy concentrating on the inside
of the piano (mostly striking the strings and sides of the piano),
while Ninh strikes up a medium-tempo storm with his bare hands on
the skins. Many open spaces are left behind to allow the listener
to recoup and listen with extreme care. Both players have perfected
the art of listening with intimate care and share a common language
which only these two understand.
Live Music Report
Quan Ninh is certainly no stranger to the twin endeavors of creating
pine cone cathedrals of ethereal clatter and filling them with Gregorian
hoomph from his well-rubbed bass drum. Regrettably, for those of
us who prefer Pentecostal glossolalia to Latin masses, though, exaltatio
utriusque mundi, his duo album with pianist Frédéric
Blondy, spends half its time engaged in dialogical improvisation.
The four-minute La Verticale Reposée could preach
its lugubrious bowed-piano and bowed-water-tower sermon to the converted
- me - for ten times its duration, and Vater Aether compares
the sins of the flesh to a slowly rusting Citroën convincingly
enough to make me desire a convertible. During the morally uplifting
yet slightly familiar free-music hymns, though, one would certainly
be forgiven for sneaking to a back pew and reading a Chick tract.
Alessandro Moreschi III
expect this record to be so combative and rambunctious. No longer
will I associate Ninh only with the kind of ambient improv Morton
Feldman would be proud of. Don't get me wrong, l've been quite impressed
by Ninh both in concert and on his other recordings, but these experiences
in no way prepared me for the whipcracking slingshots of percussion
found on the opening cut of this recording. He still bows cymbals
with meditative care-check out the glistening scrapes on la
verticale reposée - but he also beats them and shakes
them, making them crack and slash into the furrowed strokes of Blondy's
prepared piano, as on exaltatio utriusque mundi. The duo
rise and fall, accelerating and decelerating rhythmic particles
like so many blanched sonorities. Ninh's bass drum has become a
mighty device worthy of pounding on its own, not just a resonating
chamber for dragging struck cymbais. These deep thumps during
la nuit est conciliante are studded with sharp, tinkIing hammerstrikes
from Blondy's piano. The textures throughout this recording should
be required study for anyone interested in the pursuit of a material
science education. Thugh often confounding, the textures are so
distinct and evocative that they completely envelop the mind's space
as they voyage into the ear. The ooze-like tempo of vers la
septième solitude proceeds with crumbles of pianotones
that hang in the air, large pauses swallowing the echoes. Snaps
and crinkles from the percussion wash up as periodicaliy and irregularly
as a rising shoreline: the combination is tranquil and eerie. The
six tracks on exaltatio utriusque mundi cover more musical
ground than the marathon seasons of any big-city symphony orchestra.
musings that build emphaticelly form the basis of the piano/percussion
duet on exaltatio utriusque mundi. Blondy initiates the
conversation with singular stabs at the piano, and from there he
builds momentum with hearty runs over the keys. From tinkling abstractness
to pronounced demonstrativeness, he explores a plethora of conceptive
thought processes. Blondy consistently reverts to a staccato style
of playing where short intervals of space integrate with the piano's
output He continues to enlarge the scenario as it moves into rampaging
waters of treacherous dimensions. The music ebbs and flows in these
unpredictable phases as dynamic explosions melt into serene reveries
and then return to turbulent seas. Blondy ends the recording as
it began by utilizing space and silence as equal partners with his
Ninh is an extreme colorist using a wide range of percussive tactics,
he engulfs the aural spece with varying nuances that enlarge and
expand into more pronounced examples of aggressiveness. Rattles,
cymbals. and numerous other objects of sound become the vehicle
for his sonic embellishment of the music. Broken and interrupted
patterns emerge from his instruments consistent with the tonal qualities
rising as misty waves from Blondy's piano. As Blondy enters into
a more agitated state, Ninh matches the action with volatile interchanges.
The music at times has eerie qualities resulting from Ninh's creative
percussion technique. Blondy and Ninh are of one mind and body on
this demanding program. They thlnk as indivlduals but interrelate
as an inseparable unit during this exacting set.
The French percussionist Lê Quan Ninh is a sight to behold
live: his instrument of choice is a bass drum turned on its side,
and he’s adept with both virtuosic rhythmic figures and otherworldly
textures, which he creates by exciting his instrument with pinecones,
cymbals and bows. On Exaltatio Utriusque Mundi (“The
Exaltation of Two Worlds,” an appropriate title if there ever
was one), his excellent new collaboration with the young French
pianist Frédéric Blondy, Ninh showcases both of those
skills. About half of the album consists of conversational free
jazz, and nearly as much features droning, Keith Rowe-esque improv.
The dramatic contrasts between these styles might be off-putting
if Ninh and Blondy weren’t excellent in both of them.
When Blondy plays the keys of the piano, as he does on Exaltatio
Utriusque Mundi and Le Hasard est une Main Plus Sûre
his touch is exquisite – he sprints in a dozen contradictory
directions at once like Cecil Taylor, but does so without Taylor’s
aggression, allowing the listener to appreciate the nuances of each
tumbling run. Ninh’s playing behind him is similarly busy,
but musical enough to complement Blondy’s polite style.
Elsewhere, however, the duo’s playing is decidedly different
– on La Verticale Reposée and Vater Aether,
Ninh and Blondy are less argumentative. Both focus on creating sustained
sounds: Ninh rubs his bass drum, rather than striking it, while
Blondy excites the strings inside his piano. The album ends with
Vers La Septième Solitude, which features lovely,
spare piano playing reminiscent of John Tilbury or the late works
of Morton Feldman.
These pieces have nothing in common with Exaltatio... or
Le Hasard..., meaning that Exaltatio Utriusque Mundi
can be tough to listen to from beginning to end despite the
excellence of the pieces it contains. In the future, perhaps Ninh
and Blondy will try to find common ground between the two main idioms
explored here. While narrative free jazz and texture-based improv
share common ancestors, most improv discs usually feature one or
the other. Ninh and Blondy clearly have the skills to do both, and
the combination of rumbling, sustained bass drum sounds and Blondy’s
keyed, splintered piano lines might be exciting indeed.
Hands down the most impressive percussionist who moves between the
twin poles of improvisation and New music, Lê Quan Ninh is
as unflappable in a solo situation as in collaboration.
Perhaps it's because the emblematic array of objects that can be
hit, caressed or manipulated with which he performs allows him to
be self-sufficiently musical. Yet, as this CD, recorded in 2001
shows, with the right partner, he has no need to be a one-man band.
Other sessions have featured the Vietnamese-French innovator exchanging
ideas with nearly every progressive European improviser extant,
not to mention modern dancers and experimental filmmakers. Plus
he mixes percussion and new technology as part of the Quatuor Hêlios.
His partner on exaltatio utriusque mundi is Bordeaux-born
pianist Frédéric Blondy who concentrated on the study
of jazz and formal music at a local conservatory, after studying
mathematics and physics at university. Since that time he has worked
with improvisers like Swiss saxophonist Urs Leimgruber and German
drummer Paul Lovens, as well as recording with the Hubbub quintet.
Be aware that its links to conventional piano-percussion duets are
about as distant as the films of experimentalist Stan Brakhage are
from those of Western mythmaker John Ford.
Still if you take something like Le hasard est une main plus
sûre, badly translated as "a sure hand is luck,"
you can at least hear two instruments, although attributing some
of the scrapes on unyielding surfaces to either one or the other
is often impossible. This happens after Blondy extends his low frequency
piano tones with pedal action, then reverberates timbres from the
soundboard and the speaking length within the frame. Chiming, dampened
piano action recalls Ninh's earlier shaking of his bell tree and
pealing cymbal pressure. Keyboard phrases are foreshortened to such
an extent that even the few impressionistic chords and pounded arpeggios
appear as percussive as Ninh's focused rim shots and rattles and
clanks. At points the pianist appears to be burlesquing 20th century
atonality; at others his forward-moving syncopation turns to a glissando
of many treble notes, as bellicose as anything from Cecil Taylor
territory. Meanwhile the percussionist sounds as if he's gouging
metallic surfaces, rattling bells and other implements as if they
were aluminum pots and pans, and almost literally rendering wood.
Elsewhere it seems as if a moistened finger is being slid across
a drumhead and a violin bow pressed into service to saw on a ride
cymbal. As the horsehairs move across the lathed surface, the droning
buzzes and whistles take on the character of a circular saw. Alternately,
wooden flute tones -- produced by what means remains a mystery --
bloom into a noise miasma that's a combination of a fire engine's
siren and a freight train gearing up to exit the station. Fluttering,
cascading counter chords then arise form the piano.
This exercise in wood, metal, strings and skin reaches its climax
on the track, Vers la septième solitude ("towards
the seventh solitude"), which is likely pure silence since
this is the final track. Largo, Blondy creates an étude of
low frequency single notes that sail along on the surface of extended,
growling metallic scrapes that also appear on other tracks. Here,
though, in recital mode, the pianoman reaches inside to the keyframe
and soundboard to strum strings as if he was playing a large guitar.
He hits individual keys to extend their vibrations then ends on
a single emphasized tone.
The Exultation Of Two Worlds is actually a misnomer. Both musicians,
percussionist Lê Quan Ninh and pianist Frédéric
Blondy, inhabit the same territory of creative free improvisation.
Their manner of producing sound is even similar.
Frédéric Blondy a participant in the new French improvisation
scene is a member of the bands Ethos (with Xavier Charles and David
Chiesa) and Hubbub, which recently released Hoop Whoop
on Matchless. His sound tends toward percussive playing with a mixture
of melody for context.
Percussionist Lê Quan Ninh, a twenty-year veteran of the improvisation
scene, has played in combination with a who’s-who of creative
players. His recordings have included solo percussive works with
Quatuor Hêlios and as a member of Butch Morris’ Conduction
Ensembles. He has a penchant for utilizing a minimal drumkit and
The disc opens with the title track and Blondy’s cascading
piano notes over the dancing percussive playing on the sides of
Ninh’s drumkit. At least it sounds like the sides. I can't
be sure, because he tends toward new sounds generated on varying
musical and nonmusical utensils. The music sluices like a flowing
stream with trickles of energy and bubbling nuance.
Ninh’s cymbal raking/bowing opens La Verticale Reposée
sounding like a Jimi Hendrix electric solo in flight. His extended
technique, beautifully recorded, gives off a three dimensional feel
throughout. Like a guitar solo, it is absorbed by your chest. Elsewhere
Ninh’s playing sounds like a jet taking off and a horn section!
The pair interact throughout, alternating between playing on, around,
and with their instruments. Blondy is not shy when it comes to opening
the piano to expand the possiblities of its insides. I certainly
cannot tell you where all the sounds come from, but they are all
These worlds, anything but mutally exclusive, come together nicely
for a complete statement.
l October 2003
Although percussionist Lê Quan Ninh is a frequent collaborator
with all sorts of instrumentalists, the idea of him performing in
duo with a pianist seems odd. Somehow, the integration of his attacks
on a horizontally placed bass drum, assaulting it with everything
from cymbals to pinecones, with any kind of chordal instrument seems
to risk a muddier outcome.
That Frédéric Blondy by and large avoids this trap
is in large part responsible for the general success of this disc.
Things begin a bit shakily with Blondy in abstract, Cecil-ish territory
and Ninh acceding to a mere supporting role, ending up as a diluted
exposition of the talent of both. But the second track, La verticale
reposée, opens with some wonderful, resonant string-stroking
(difficult to say who is responsible, but I'm guessing it's Blondy
drawing something like a wire between the piano strings), gradually
mixing in with blurred thunder underneath, evoking a rich and mysterious
atmosphere. From here on in, Ninh appears to be setting the agenda,
which is all to the good. He's his "usual" amazing self
here, conjuring up an extravagant and otherworldly bunch of sounds
from the supposedly limited resources at hand - astonishing what
an abused bass drum is capable of. He also listens superbly, filling
in the ample spaces left by Blondy as well as prodding the pianist
into unusual areas.
Even at the music's sparest, as on La nuit est conciliante,
there's enough palpable, tensile strength in the silences to render
a convincingly solid sound field. When Blondy introduces hitherto
unheard delicate and romantic notes to open the final piece, it
sounds entirely natural, like the final steps of an invigorating
journey. Perhaps surprisingly, Ninh's scrapes and patters work exceptionally
well behind a scrim of this type, a sweet and sour mixture of ideal
balance. Exaltatio utriusque mundi (I won't attempt a translation)
ends up being a nicely subtle release, one that may sneak up unexpectedly
on the cynical ears of veteran listeners but which can also serve
as a reasonable and enjoyable introduction to the worlds of these
two intriguing musicians.
l September 2003
Le Quan Ninh is a Vietnamese percussionist whose specializes in
the "surrounded bass drum". He tickles and tortures his
ax with a wide variety of both household and otherworldly implements
to produce an incredible array of sounds from something that was
once used exclusively for the low- or un-pitched boom boom boom.
(In those days, people swirled marbles around their drum heads only
at home for fun.) His palette is broad and his sensitivity, dexterity
and expressiveness are now well known around e-ai circles. I’m
particularly fond of his masterful work with Gunter Muller on La
Voyelle Liquide. On Exaltatio utriusque mundi, he
is teamed with rising-star avant-garde pianist Frederic Blondy.
Together they weave a very satisfying pointillistic web that, in
its early stages, brings to mind Boulez’s piano sonatas and
Structures. Like La Voyelle, it’s busy,
jittery, splashy and electrifying. The improvising pianist of whom
Blondy reminds me most is fellow Boulezian Steve Lantner, but the
Blondy work I’ve heard may be a bit less uncompromisingly
serioso than Lantner’s. With Blondy, there’s a bit of
high-energy Borah Bergman-style skittering mixed in with the kontra-punkte.
Percussionist and pianist mesh beautifully here, and the disc is
a fine one. As you are engulfed by this music, you’re sure
to say (at least seven times) "How the hell did they do that?"
The results range from anxious burbles and jangles to something
that sounds (on Water Aether) like a softly singing ensemble
of sirens and baby whales. Best of all is the tender, Feldmanesque
final track, with its lingering single tones, ominous growls and
questioning, two-tone bell chords. Gorgeous.
"The Exaltation of Two Worlds": it makes a lot
of promises for a title, starting with an encounter between wildly
different elements and a certain amount of excitement. Exaltatio
Utriusque Mundi actually works on a much subtler level and
its rewards are more subdued. Pianist Frédéric Blondy
is best known in free improvisation circles for his tenure in the
quintet Hubbub. His mate for this two-day studio session is Lê
Quan Ninh, one of the avant-garde's most thoroughly surprising percussionists.
His art generally consists of deliberately choosing minimal physical
means (for instance, one floor tom and cymbal) and, through the
use of unorthodox techniques, squeezing out of them a maximum of
sounds and mental images. His resourcefulness and creativity are
endless, and this recording proves it once more. Blondy's approach
to the piano is also very percussive and encompasses keys, strings,
and wooden frame. But he can also play gracious spontaneous melodies
(Exaltatio Utriusque Mundi). Despite the appearance of
many unusual sounds, it remains easy to separate the improvisers'
individual inputs. In fact, in a couple of these six pieces, they
remain camped in their positions, developing parallel but separate
vocabularies. But things gel marvelously in La Verticale Reposée
and the closing Vers
la Septième Solitude ("Toward the Seventh
Solitude," a beautiful title), the latter Feldman-esque in