If, gentle reader, your first thought of a collaboration between a vocalist and a reeds player is to imagine a John Coltrane / Johnny Hartman meet-up for the 21st Century, then possibly Abstraction is not for you. This is closer to a Phil Minton / Alex Ward hook-up, fully embracing all awkwardness and fractiousness that suggests. This isn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, an easy listen but it’s not without its rewards.
Chagas handles the instrumentation utilising, at various times, alto sax, bass clarinet, flute and oboe whilst Poirier vocalises a panoply of wordless sounds and noises. It is one’s response to Poirier that will govern the effect of the album; he uses his voice as an instrument but one that is much more flexible than those made by hand, sweeping from low gutteral barks to gasps and burbles in the mid-range all the up to high-pitched squeaks. It’s rare that one hears the human voice utilised in this manner; aside from the aforementioned Minton there’s only the likes of Maja Ratkje or Meredith Monk who ACL readers might be familiar with (and if I’m missing anyone, please put some suggestions in the comments box below).
The impression is that this recording is of two musicians trying things out, improvising rather than writing material although, bizarrely, the project is made from exchanging files rather than standing together in a room. One gets the impression that the first take was the one kept; sometimes it works (the gentler “Assproctayt”) and sometimes – like the belching sounds on “Abwtroction” – it doesn’t. Like many recordings of this ilk, eavesdropping in on the moment of creation is an initial thrill, and Abstraction is worth seeking out precisely for this experience. As difficult a listen as this album might be (and make no mistake, it is), there are moments that genuinely make one’s hair stand on end. (Jeremy Bye)