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 phil minton
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sophie agnel & phil minton - tasting
                                                                                              

“Recorded live at the June 2006 Jazz à Poitiers festival this little gem features the work of two truly extraordinary musicians,  both of whom are giants from a technical and creative point of view: Phil Minrton and Sophie Agnel, an unusual and very welcome pairing in that ceaselessly changing world which is the improv scene.  The former is well-known, and has the weight of many years’ experience on his shoulders, but refuses to give up and continues indomitably to explore the outer possibilities of the human voice.  He is now plumbing its most hidden depths, often gratingly, but perhaps necessarily so, regressing to the  most basic instincts from which he can ultimately progress and evolve.   Sophie Agnel is no less powerful, one of the most  interesting and original voices on today’s scene, though largely still undiscovered, given that her discography is small (for  myself, I remember a noteworthy cd on Potlatch with Lionel Marchetti and Jerome Noetinger).  Her approach to the piano is  really surprising, a mysterious and fascinating mixture of inside and outside piano.  Resonances, mictrotones, noises, dizzying cadences, squeaking strings, little hammerings and other sounds which I can’t find the words to describe; all very measured,

melancholic yet incisive, like markings traced on the living flesh of the spirit.

                 Listening to the first track on the cd, which is a kind of dance on the edge of a razor-blade, it’s hard to know what the sounds are.  The vocalist creates a whole dictionary of breaths and stammerings, and it’s difficult to believe that  the instrumental sounds are being produced solely by a pianist.  Though it’s not immediately obvious how they are being played,  the strings of the piano are resonated (I imagine) by a small bow, while at the same time on top of this chords are produced,  sometimes intense, sometimes steeped with nervousness, so that you’re left puzzled as to how all these sounds can be  produced with only two hands.  Agnel is certainly a musician whom I would like to see live so that I can see with my own eyes  just how she produces these sounds.  It’s fantastic, and I wouldn’t want it any different.  In a way that logically seems  impossible, and which few others could certainly achieve, Minton’s singing blends easily into this dialogue with a pianist who seamlessly combines harshness and fragility.  Sobbing, writhing, purring, blethering, always in his own particular style, though  here he seems more introspective than elsewhere.  Those who have heard him often may know what to expect, but the  combined effect of the two musicians is really powerful.

                One thing that helps the disc succeed is the unexpected variety of the music, in which every track seems self-contained and sufficiently different from the others, unlike on many cd’s where the division into tracks seems merely for  convenience.  Thus, for example, the opening track is followed by something completely different, a piece built from refuges  and pauses, in which the piano strings squeak and resonate luminously, while Minton, Janus-faced, is part avant-garde lyricist  and part meditating monk.  While the third track, different again, combines the mewing lamentations of Minton’s voice with  Agnel’s emotive, dampened hammered chords.  Like a drama of the absurd, lacerating, torturing and moving.”                                   -   Alfio Castorina - Kathodik webzine


“Subtle and fragile aren’t adjectives you’d usually use to describe the taproom brawl of grunts, gurgles and growls that usually makes up a Phil Minton performance, but these six untitled tracks are certainly that.  The precision and delicacy of Sophie Agnel’s prepared piano work make for a fine contrast with the energetic bravura of Minton’s longstanding sparring partner on the 88 tuned drums, Veryan Weston.  It’s often hard to believe that such a wide range of sonorities could come from just one instrument, let alone be produced by one pair of hands in real time.  The woefully under-recorded Agnel is at her most impressive in the third track, whose intricate shimmering polyphony of bowed, plucked, strummed and struck timbres is as complex as it is haunting.  British performer Minton is such a distinctive voice in improvised music that he tends to shine out in whatever ensemble he performs in, but here he’s often content to hum and flutter discreetly behind Agnel’s glistening curtain of harmonics.  For the first six minutes he contributes little more than tiny gasps and whimpers, finally producing recognisable notes only at the beginning of track two, many the result of his trademark wheeze that allows him to produce - and, amazingly, control - two pitches simultaneously.  At high volume this can sound as dangerous as a wounded lion, but here it’s as forlorn as a kitten trapped in a cupboard.”                                                                -  Dan Warburton,  The Wire


“It’s not a given that the pairing of a voice and a piano will provide interesting results, but “Tasting” is definitely on another  level.   I’m firmly convinced  that this is one of the best piano/vocals duos that I’ve ever heard.  While Phil Minton’s poetry of the  unexpected gratifies via large quantities of systematically  fulfilled expectations - featuring monstrous technical expertise, irony  and drama a go-go, providential multiphonic nefariousness and hair-splitting precision - it must be told that Agnel is the true  revelation here.  The pianist is gifted with a unique style that fuses the inside and the outside of the instrument into a  provocative communion of fermentable sketches, mixing abrasive rubbing and soft hammering and plucking of the strings  with Minton’s overtone singing in masterful fashion, respecting the dynamic palette with few  touches and scarce chords,  building cathedrals of emotional intensity and harmonic suspension with effortless ingeniousness.    The six tracks are  examples of a creativity that can be fresh-sounding and cinematic at one and the same time, sort of a documentary about the secret life of an uncommon kind of creature inhabiting the obscure sections of this vocal- /instrumental microcosm.  No  assertion can really express the wealth of minute details and the stunning reciprocal reactivity that identifies this splendid  record.”  

                                                                                                           -    Massimo Ricci, Touching Extremes


Tasting features the breathing, gasping and panting of Caliban himself, Phil Minton, the voice of the disallowed, the  untamed.  Alongside Sophie Agnel scrapes at the strings of her piano, knocking them straight as if they were crooked nails.    In the opening minutes she barely touches the keys, everything comes from the belly of the instrument, the keyboard giving  out only the dull thud of a blocked wire.  The 42-year-old Parisian seems to be employing a special electronic delay, otherwise I cannot explain many of the effects she produces.  Then she herself begins to buzz as though she is trying to calm Minton down.  But he is still splashing like a child in the rain, sounds which Agnel mimics with a distant roll of thunder.  Minton makes himself small, a squashed stammering being on the threshold of articulacy, a wolf-child who imitates the noises of the world and thereby creates a primordial counterpoint.  Agnel is ‘Nature’, ‘Mother’, Setebos [the god worshiped  by Caliban’s mother],  who is drawn to the echoing sounds of a singer who doesn’t seem to know himself whether he is the wind, a child or a cuttlefish. A more strange, delicate and astonishing music can hardly have been made.”

                 - Rigobert DittmannBad Alchemy     [NB Sophie Agnel uses no electronic manipulation of the piano]


“In Tasting Sophie Agnel and Phil Minton invite us to join a subtle pursuit; to taste, to touch, to palpate and to grasp.   At first with the greatest delicacy and then with a stylish confidence,  Agnel and Minton draw from piano and voice ephemeral flickering highlights which illuminate this nocturnal music. The listener is drawn on and absorbed into a music which is both serene and teeming with activity..... It is a joy to hear the soft murmurs and poetic touches of a music which seeks out other themes, explores living dreams and attempts new ascents.”                    

                                                                                                            -    Guillaume Tarche, Improjazz


Six unique improvisations for piano and voice, played by Sophie Agnel and the amazing voice artist Phil Minton.  Minton grunts, gasps, screams, whispers and growls, and is perfectly complemented by Agnel's precise and delicate attack on the piano.  These two exciting artists take us through complex and twisted improvisations with impressive results.  I always have a sense of excitement when I put on a new Phil Minton CD.  He is truly one of today’s greatest improvisers, and this CD is a fascinating release, which catches you completely, with its perfect mix of the raw and beautiful.”               -  Henrik Kaldahl,  Jazznet Denmark


“Agnel operates mainly inside the piano, where she put objects such as plastic cups, billiard balls and pieces of inner tube.    The results are high-pitched, crystalline tones or deep rumbles, while Minton wails, groans and babbles. The beginning of the album is particularly impressive, with Minton murmuring in an animal way.  This disc is well worth listening to, and is  the product of two improvisers who clearly understand each other well. “             

                                                                                                           -  Piotr Tkacz -  nowamuzyka75


“The unearthly wailing of the piano of Sophie Agnel and the percussive blurting of Phil Minton (or is it the other way around?)  combine to create a mysterious soundscape unheard anywhere else. Agnel has taken the prepared piano to the limit, in fact it  seldom is recognizable as that box in your parlour.  Minton has long plumbed the depths of the larynx, no surprise there, but  seems extra stimulated by the freakish sounds emanating from the 88 tortured souls under Agnel's control."                                                                 -    Brian Ritchie, Salamanca Arts


“Phil Minton’s explorations of vocalized abjection are some of the most hilarious and disturbing sounds in contemporary music.   His contorted, speaking-in-tongues demeanour at live performances only adds to the sense of someone channeling his inner goblins.   Sophie Agnel works directly with the piano’s innards to create precisely delineated sound-tableaus.  Tasting covers an extraordinarily wide emotional and textural range despite the generally sotto voce nature of the music.  The opening track, for instance, is virtually  a Mintonian etude on whispers and gasps (there’s not a sung note on the whole track), and Agnel supports him with string-sounds that split the difference between hurdy gurdy and a pot scoured with steel wool.   Some of the quietest moments are the most intense:   there’s one thrilling passage where Minton lays out and Agnel’s contribution narrows down to a juddering, toneless throb; on another  track Minton somehow uncorks a grandly melismatic Middle Eastern lament without raising his voice.   Agnel’s discography is still small, but this album suggests a player who should be more

widely known: she has an uncanny knack for making sounds shine out from the piano while still suggesting all the treacherous acoustic depths hidden away inside the instrument.”                                         -      Nate Dorward - Coda





 



at02     tasting


Sophie Agnel   piano

Phil Minton   voice





6 tracks, total time  45:48


recorded at the Jazz à Poitiers festival, june 2006




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