Although percussionist Le Quan Ninh is a frequent collaborator with all sorts of instrumentalists, the idea of him performing in duo with a pianist seems odd. Somehow, the integration of his attacks on a horizontally placed bass drum, assaulting it with everything from cymbals to pinecones, with any kind of chordal instrument seems to risk a muddier outcome.
That Frederic Blondy by and large avoids this trap is in large part responsible for the general success of this disc. Things begin a bit shakily with Blondy in abstract, Cecil-ish territory and Ninh acceding to a mere supporting role, ending up as a diluted exposition of the talent of both. But the second track, "La Verticale Reposee," opens with some wonderful, resonant string-stroking (difficult to say who is responsible, but I'm guessing it's Blondy drawing something like a wire between the piano strings), gradually mixing in with blurred thunder underneath, evoking a rich and mysterious atmosphere. From here on in, Ninh appears to be setting the agenda, which is all to the good. He's his "usual" amazing self here, conjuring up an extravagant and otherworldly bunch of sounds from the supposedly limited resources at hand -- astonishing what an abused bass drum is capable of. He also listens superbly, filling in the ample spaces left by Blondy as well as prodding the pianist into unusual areas.
Even at the music's sparest, as on "La Nuit Est Conciliante," there's enough palpable, tensile strength in the silences to render a convincingly solid sound field. When Blondy introduces hitherto unheard delicate and romantic notes to open the final piece, it sounds entirely natural, like the final steps of an invigorating journey. Perhaps surprisingly, Ninh's scrapes and patters work exceptionally well behind a scrim of this type, a sweet and sour mixture of ideal balance. Exaltatio Utriusque Mundi (I won't attempt a translation) ends up being a nicely subtle release, one that may sneak up unexpectedly on the cynical ears of veteran listeners but which can also serve as a reasonable and enjoyable introduction to the worlds of these two intriguing musicians.
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