“Experimental music” is the typical catch-all term for anything that wouldn’t likely be heard on a mainstream radio station, but another definition of experimental music likens it to a scientific experiment, where a scientist sets the parameters of an experiment and records the outcome; she may have a hypothesis regarding the result, but it’s not certain. Paris-based alto saxophonist and composer Pierre-Antoine Badaroux’s debut album, Composition No. 6, consists of a set of pieces notated in code, which is then deciphered by the performers, resulting in indeterminate outcomes and infinite possibilities for these sound experiments.
This approach has roots within ‘60s free jazz and also structured improv methods (such as John Zorn’s game pieces), and one thing to remember regarding such music that is often understated is that the musician selection is key. One can see the intrinsic artistic value of a piece from, say, Bach; however, in the realm of “instant orchestration,” the framework can lead the players to interesting results, but it’s ultimately dependent on their own styles and methods. Badaroux assembled a like- minded sextet of fellow Umlaut Records artists (including his bandmates drummer Antonin Gerbal and bassist Joel Grip in the Charlie Parker-via-Anthony Braxton influenced Peeping Tom), each with a flexible, restless spirit and spry enthusiasm that’s difficult to fake.
The album documents a live recording of a Paris performance from this year, and while the uninitiated may find it maddening, hardy listeners will be impressed by its fervor and intrigued by the ideas at play. Possibly the most distinguishing thread heard throughout the album is the asymmetry, particularly between Badaroux’s sax and Pierre Borel’s clarinet; it’s one thing to play tight passages in unison, but what’s heard here is a curious time-delayed separation between the two reedists’ notes, intentionally making it difficult for the listener to focus on one particular line. With a vibrant racket, including violent double-bass pizzicato notes, rapid piano glissandos and popcorn flurries, and even a few vocal outbursts, it’s like a rowdy orchestra without a conductor, with Badaroux’s composition itself serving as the ringleader.