Ilex by Xavier Charles x Jacques Di Donato

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Xavier Charles & Jacques Di Donato
Ilex (Protagoniste; CD/DL)

This is the clarinet duo of Xavier Charles and Jacques Di Donato (with addtl helicopter + lawnmower for good measure) and Ilex is a collection of fourteen tracks all under six minutes or so. Moreso than most instruments I can appreciate wind instruments for the apparatus and its extension of the body. These two find ways in which to make their playing sound at times like the throaty ribbit of a frog in the wild, or like bamboo, looped and angular, soft and dreamy as well as determined and full throttle. On wisteria they spit out staccato breaks alongside a meandering lil’ melody. The clarinet also is an extension of the actual voice to a certain extent – so as a conversation the duo has a lot to talk about. They invent a hypothetical space that is warm and weird.

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And incoming, like the screetch of metal on metal at a train depot, comes comme l’ébène. They use the flap of lips to evoke snoring, random grunts and the whole atmosphere is completely animated, like a British 60’s spy theme throughout acer. The two improvise with a knowing ease, looping over and through each others’ playful phrases. They unify for a queasy, uneasy, vibratory feel on the short cerisier then inhale/exhale and pop on the abstract tropicalismo of acacia. It’s a fine hybrid between stylized neo-classical, hints of world music and liberal experimentation that these gentlemen players are wielding. râle has a jungle feel (the place, not the sub-genre of mid 90s popular music), here they have certainly incorporated some type of cymbal to parse the listening experience in a relatively silencing way. For this reason their tiny, random actions they make have a strange intensity. On the record’s finest cut, multi-tond with its faded bird chirps are the foil for mirroring, by way of their own circular breathing exhalations. They include fine static, and other rustling that puts them (and us) in the center of a wild kingdom of sorts.

And in their last breaths via clarinettes sous les pales they cut through a unique set of quick movements that sound like water running through bamboo edited in quick motion with a passing aircraft. It’s a breathtaking conclusion that ends with the solitude of crickets. Ilex is chock-full of signature surprises, reinventing the whole concept of what a contemporary clarinet duo can be.

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