Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Bennani's Tenor Sax and the Swallowed Note

When I first started taking a look at notated transcriptions of jazz solos, I observed that a certain note in a phrase might sometimes have parentheses placed around the ball of that note. I found out by reading the commentary and listening to the original solo against the transcription that these were parts of the phrase where the particular pitch was implied but the attack on the note utilized unconventional technique. The note was fingered and mouthed in such a way that either harmonic overtones or a kind of underblown sound was produced.

Coleman Hawkins, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane. . . they were masters of this sort of phrasing. It helped the phrases swing, gave the sound a forward momentum, made the directly articulated notes contrast with the swallowed sound and pulled the ear forward toward the end of the phrase.

Abdelhai Bennani, a relatively unknown (to me, anyway) tenor saxist who appears in a new trio recording with Benjamin Duboc on bass and Didier Lasserre on drums (Bennani/Duboc/Lasserre In Side, Ayler Download Series), swallows notes. In fact he swallows so many of his notes that one starts thinking of some musical pie eating contest. Though I say this in jest, my point is that he emphasizes the obliquely articulated musical phrase, in a musical and interesting way.

In other words, Bennani's playing is radical. His phrases consist almost wholly of those notes that Coleman Hawkins would play in passing. They are half-articulated, muttered, sounded with a blend of harmonics, in short, swallowed.

In Side gives you around 50 minutes of Bennani's playing, and it is a fascinating document. The trio itself is well-oiled. But it's Bennani's remarkable sound that stays in the mind.

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