By Dan Sorrells
Double-Basse is the duo of Benjamin Duboc and Jean-Luc Petit. We’ve heard from this duo before on Duboc’s Primare Cantus, but here Petit trades his saxophones down to contrabass clarinet. Needless to say, This is Not Art dwells resolvedly in the lower registers.
Without regular exposure, it’s easy to forget how powerful contrabass clarinet is in the hands of a musician like Petit—at times massive and woody, like creaking sequoias, more fluid in others, the rippled surface of a pitch black pool. Duboc is just as versatile a bassist, and he and Petit work around the edges of their instruments, sounding against the timeworn arcade and into the vault of Eglise Saint-Martin. This is Not Art is most effective in its quieter moments, such as the opening and closing minutes of “Craftsmen, Pt. 1,” which loses much of its nuance when the volume increases. Perhaps surprising are Duboc’s vocalizations about halfway through—if not homage, then certainly the quiet influence of Léandre. “Craftsmen, Pt. 2” is a little more consistent in mood than the first piece, rumbling and percussive to start, with tongues slapping reeds and bows slapping string.
The album and track titles, as well as Julien Palomo’s liner notes, make it clear that This is Not Art is a paean to the craft of the instrumentalist: reclaiming music through improvisation, pulling it down from the lofts of culture and back into the hardworking hands of music-makers. A title like “This is Not Art” is to some extent tongue-in-check, but the underlying critique is sound. Double-Basse’s free improvisation is well-positioned to argue that the abstract concerns of aesthetics often side-step the more fundamental—even ontological—pursuit of craftsmanship. We all do well to remember that improvisation is bleeding edge musicianship. Risky. Physical. A product of the will, talent, and passion of musicians toiling in a precarious present moment. This is Not Art emphasizes the doing over what has been done, the act of making, rather than the idolatry of what has been made.