On their fourth album, and the third on Matchless, saxophonists Bertrand Denzler and Jean-Luc Guionnet, guitarist Jean-Sébastien Mariage, pianist Frédéric Blondy and percussionist Edward Perraud deliver three more impressive examples of musical teamwork, recorded in February and April last year in Lille and Poitiers. It's not hard to see why Hubbub music appeals to Matchless MC Eddie Prévost: apart from AMM, I can't think of another outfit in improvised music that has worked so hard to forge a group sound, a musical identity that's more than the sum of its parts. Keith Rowe's remarks on the subject come to mind: "In AMM philosophy three is four: the three players plus the group itself makes four. It's like the Chinese story of the man drinking a glass of wine in moonlight whose shadow becomes the third member of the company." In which case you could call Hubbub a sextet. Though they've been in business for over a decade now, the five musicians don't get a chance to play together all that often – Perraud now lives in Tours, and the other four, though based in Paris, spend a lot of time on the road with other outfits – but absence makes the musical heart grow fonder. It's often impossible to tell who's doing what, and it doesn't matter: Perraud's exquisitely bowed cymbals and crotales combine wonderfully with Blondy's inside piano and Mariage's eBowed guitar, and the saxophonists' sustained tones, slightly scuffed by multiphonics and raspy flutters, blend in beautifully.
So much for the compliments, then. If I have any reservations, they're not so much criticisms of this particular album but of what it says about the current state of improvised music in general. It seems abundantly clear that Hubbub, like many improvisers today, are operating according to a clear set of rules regarding what can – or rather cannot – be done. Extremes of dynamics are studiously avoided (there are a few menacing thuds from Perraud but that's about as far as it goes), and even if the music is allowed to grow in intensity and density – "BUB 2" does so to great effect – it never gets loud. Similarly, there are no sudden shifts of texture and timbre, and no quick changes in direction. As such, Hubbub's music still conforms to the principles of early oughties lowercase – you might even argue it's the ultimate refinement of the "genre" – if you're looking for something "new" you might want to look elsewhere.
Now, whether that's a good or a bad thing depends on your point of view. Personally, I like my improv a little more confrontational and risky, more a question of "thou canst" than "thou shalt not", and the thought that much of today's improvised music seems to have settled comfortably into a kind of middle-aged stylistic orthodoxy is somewhat depressing. Not that that'll stop me enjoying this album next time I play it – but, knowing each of these musicians well, and knowing what exciting players they are, I'm keeping my fingers crossed that Hubbub's next outing (whatever they call it: looks like they're running out of homophones!) will thrill as much as it impresses.
PARIStransatlantic Autumn 2011