Bertrand Denzler – tenor saxophone
Dozens of solo concerts in Switzerland, France, Lebanon, Greece, England and Italy.
Between 2004 and 2006, six concerts under the name Split sharing the stage with Jean-Luc Guionnet and performing two separate saxophone solos in a row.
Simultaneous solos with Marc Baron and Jean-Luc Guionnet, as well as with Pierre-Antoine Badaroux and Antonin Gerbal.
Performance of pieces for solo saxophone composed by Pierre-Antoine Badaroux and Antonin Gerbal.
Festivals, Series and Venues (selection)
Gamut Series (Zurich), Festival Errichetta (Istituto Svizzero, Rome), Fragment (Metz), Hundred Years Gallery (London), Archipel (Geneva), Imec (St-Germain-la-Blanche-Herbe), Muzzix (Lille), Atlantique Jazz (Brest), WIM (Zurich), 2:13 (Athens), NPAI (Parthenay), Irtijal (Beirut) a.m.o.
Other published recordings
Recording for Tomaž Grom’s project «IMstrument» (2018)
Recording for the play «L’Ogrelet», music by Jean-Christophe Camps (2017)
«Tenor Reboot» for Onceim’s website (2015)
Tenor puts me in mind of Axel Dörner, for commonalities in approach rather than similarities in sound. As the German trumpeter does in his solo work, French saxophonist Bertrand Denzler presents ideas, then dissects them with a clinical rigour. But where Dörner’s methodology can sound dry and juiceless, Denzler’s reed investigations wring a variety of moods and registers from a finite – and surely predetermined – range of sounds. “Filters” wanders purposefully: Denzler stretches variations of an individual note, holding them for relatively consistent durations, repeatedly worrying them, gradually introducing a range of textural treatments and manipulations, then after a quasi-climax finishing back where he started. “Signals” likewise begins from a fixed point and deals with a limited set of sounds – notes are sustained into drones, hums, or worked into arpeggio-like patterns, all of which are used as component parts of a f1uid structure which Denzler cleverly shifts and doubles back on itself. The more volatile and fragmented “Airtube” concerns itself with depth of field, alternating rattling blasts with rhythmic pops stuttering in the background. An unexpected segue into a passage of granular, breathy howl provides a pleasing element of instability in a disc which balances compositional smarts with efficient use of a restricted sound palette.
– Nick Cain, The Wire
Denzler’s record is much more loud, full-bodied and startling than many wispy puffs I’ve heard in this genre, and I like the way that his “purpose remains mysterious” as he executes these near-ceremonial exhalations. I’d like to think that our primitive ancestors approached a hollowed-out bone with the same mixture of awe and uncertainty as Denzler.
– Ed Pinsent, The Sound Projector
As a member of the groups Hubbub and Trio Sowari, Bertrand Denzler is one of the saxophonists breathing new life into his instrument. He’s used to playing with musicians who are idiomatically a long way from jazz, or even ‘traditional’ (i.e. the Bailey/Brotzmann generation) free improvisation, and his approach centres on the huge range of unorthodox sounds his tenor saxophone is capable of making. Here, on Tenor, he’s taking a note for a walk. Yes, just that. The three lengthy tracks on the CD explore a single note played over and over again, with only a brief pause for breath in between each iteration. Everything else you hear is the result of technique so extended that it provides, in effect, a set of variations on the chosen note. Although there’s nothing new about extended technique, Denzler’s approach is particularly rigorous, and it becomes apparent, as he works through the programme from “Filters” to “Signals” to “Airtube”, that considerable thought has gone into the structure and presentation of the material (the recording of which, by Christophe Hauser, is exemplary). Melody is, of course, nixed, but the textural range is extensive, and there are rhythmic elements in the shifts of airflow in Denzler’s saxophone that produce beatings, pulses and waves of sound. On the final track, “Airtube”, Denzler blows through different parts of the saxophone to bring new qualities to that one note he has so lovingly addressed throughout the programme. Denzler is as much a tone scientist as a musician, but these saxophone solos aren’t clinical and dry, nor are they austere. It’s a surprisingly undifficult music, and if I’ve made it sound boring, I apologise, it’s not.
– Brian Marley, Signal To Noise
Denzler stays close to the improvisation music with his playing technique and its just how he plays that, well controlled, never riding a wrong course, and thoroughly exploring what he sets out to explore. I am known not to be the biggest lover of the instrument, but if there is more like this, I like to have it.
– Frans de Waard, Vital Weekly
Tenor is a lovely album. It is clearly a work with a lot of thought behind it, a study of the width that a saxophone might have, perhaps a reversal of the instrument’s traditional role as a melodic instrument designed to play a series of notes in one standard manner. if the sax was ‘meant’ to be played straight, and for it then to produce a series of notes, so Denzler takes the opposite route, playing one note but departing from the ’straight’ in as many ways as he knows how.
– Richard Pinnell, The Watchful Ear
For those looking at an album like this foremost from the angle of a demonstration of performance techniques and sound exploration, Tenor undeniably has some fascinating propositions on offer. Denzler is equally capable of creating calm, bass-heavy sheets of undulation as well as roaring multiphonics; simple, dotted one-note lines and complex textures simultaneously made up of inner rhythms, turbulent air currents and harmonics; abrasive metallic colours and tender reed sounds; ricocheting effects, electric razor-like buzzes and wild, aggressive oscillations. At times, he will repeat the same passage twice in a row, merely blowing his horn with a tad more force in the second instant, but creating an entirely new and surprising effect – testimony to the intense physical action taking place here. To direct all attention towards these sonic aspects, Denzler has, save a handful of instances, barred melody from the album. Driving this point home most insistently is opener „Filters“, on which, for the entire duration, Denzler is working with just a single pitch. And yet, each repetition sounds fresh. By means of nothing but breath and pads, he is giving birth to microtonal fields, a wide palette of timbres and constantly shifting accents. Seventeen minutes may seem like a long time for these operations, but already a couple of seconds into the music, one has lost count completely, hypnotised by nothing but the sheer force of his inventivity.
– Tobias Fischer, Tokafi
In the score of section III of his composition Burdocks, Christian Wolff’s only instruction to each musician is to play 511 different sounds on their instrument. Not a straightforward instruction on any instrument, and on a saxophone, it requires considerable inventiveness with the variables that shape the sound of a note – attack, breathing, embouchure, tonguing and so forth. Enter tenor saxophonist Bertrand Denzler, best known as a member of the quintet Hubbub, the saxophone quartet Propagations and Trio Sowari with Burkhard Beins and Phil Durrant. Tenor is his first solo album, and in keeping with recent Potlatch releases, it combines bold experimentation with a satisfying listening experience.
The album consists of three very different tracks, on each of which Denzler only plays one note – or, more accurately, maintains the fingering of only one note. The first, “Filters”, opens with a series of repeats of the note, each held for the duration of one breath. Initially, each version seems to be played as cleanly as possible, until Denzler gradually introduces subtle modulations into his playing of it. The closer one listens, the more details and variation become apparent, achieved by breath control and use of the tongue. At times, you think he could be playing a different note, as changes in timbre create the illusion of changes of pitch. It would be fascinating to see him play this, live or on video, to know exactly how he achieves all these variations. As the complexity increases, the track builds to a storming climax before subsiding again, to end as simply as it began. It’s one of those pieces that demands to be heard again as soon as it has ended.
Next up is “Signals”, the longest of the three tracks at over 19 minutes. Denzler’s methods here immediately contrast with those on “Filters”. At first he barely blows hard enough to stir the reed, creating a fragile breathy sound. Once he’s in full swing, notes are not held for the duration of a breath but are shorter or consist of a series of pulses of varying lengths. One wonders if the title of the piece could literally refer to real signals and whether Denzler is actually playing Morse code! He deploys a range of methods, not necessarily exhaustively exploring one before introducing another, and the gradual evolution of the piece makes for edge-of-the-seat listening. The concentration and rigorous exploration are as admirable as the music.
Finally, on the 11-minute “Airtube”, Denzler diverges from the methodology of the first two tracks and employs an extensive range of extended techniques. The title reminds us that we’re listening to air being blown through a metal tube – trumpeter Axel Dörner’s playing comes to mind – as popping key pads create resonances in the instrument body, and metallic clatterings and scrapings, alternations of sucking and blowing, and sudden explosive expulsions of air combine with unorthodox embouchures. It’s a tour de force of exploration. Tenor‘s greatest strength is that it’s truly compelling listening, and never sounds like a laboratory experiment. 511 different sounds? There are many more here, easy.
– John Eyles, ParisTransatlantic