Open Paper Tree

Open Paper Tree Michel Doneda (soprano saxophone), Paul Rogers (doublebass), Lê Quan Ninh (percussion)

Variation on tree digression (18:08), Arborescence only (20:57), Variation on distinction (9:13), Variation on tree mutation (16:10), Open paper tree (8:31)

Recorded live by Holger Scheuermann and Jost Gebers during Workshop Freie Musik, on May 1st, 1994 in Berlin | Photograph by Helma Schleif, conception by Jost Gebers

FMP CD 68


Reviewed by: Chris Blackford for the magazine The Wire #141 (UK) - November 1995

Open Paper Tree is an album brimming with non-idiomatic invention, and proves my point (see my review of Doneda's Ogooue-Ogoway in The WIRE 138) that Doneda and Rogers shine very brightly when the percussionist(s) shows flexibility and plays sparingly. In this regard Le Quan is exemplary. Schooled in contemporary composition (a John Cage specialist), he knows the beauty of understatement, economy and silence. On "Variation On Tree Digression" and "Aborescence Only" (both around 20 minutes), his liquid cymbals and precise, sheet metal attack work up an equatorial humidity with Roger's tumid bass. In fact, Rogers is a revelation here, playing at his most texturally liberated, and demonstrating just how underemployed he's been in numerous free jazz groupings where rhythm section duties are still on the agenda. Doneda's soprano saxophone is as colourful and loquacious as one of Messiaen's exotic birds, as tremulous and windswept as a shakahachi. Like SOC before it, Open Paper Tree is a milestone European improv recording, as highly individual in the 90s as AMM's The Crypt and Peter Brotzmann Octet's Machine Gun were in the 60s.
Reviewed by: Thom Jurek for the site All Music

This is free improvisation at its best and at its worst. At its best because this trio of Doneda on soprano saxophone, Paul Rogers on bass, and Quan Ninh on percussion zoo all know what they're after; they'd been playing together long enough to find common ground quickly and move toward the margins to get it. By and large they get it. Doneda's short, clipped lines recalling the Steve Lacy of the 1960s; Quan Ninh's percussive boombastics using every splinter of wood, broken gong piece of metal, and plastic in the house; and Rogers being the only bassist aside from William Parker or Charles Mingus to dwarf a double bass. They communicate well in the circle, carrying ideas and languages back and forth between them with aplomb and even grace. Doneda, in particular, with his multiphonic approach to the horn, getting three tones from it at once echoing his own microtones and handing them freely to Rogers , who slides directly to the top of the register to answer and feed Quan Ninh. But this is also free improvisation at its worst for some of the same reasons. At this level, where the communication is so intrinsic, so instinctive and instinctual, the language spoken is totally free of conceptualization and therefore context. Without context there is no room for an audience to participate in that language; they can only "appreciate" it for the dynamics, the sense of drama, or the array of tongues seemingly spoken. And there's nothing wrong with this -- if the date is recorded properly. This one sounds like sh*t; half the gig is lost in whispers, ghostly textures, and feedback from the PA system, making a private language almost non-approachable as music. ( Rogers ' bass is played by sheer force; what you can hear of him is pure soul because his pickup wasn't working.) So in this case, the music gets impossibly high marks, but its presentation is basement-level quality.
Reviewed by: ? for the magazine Coda #39

On, then, to something less literal, with the improvisations of Michel Doneda (soprano saxophone), Paul Rogers (bass) and Lê Quan Ninh (percussion) in Open Paper Tree. Much of the sound in this 1994 Berlin date is defined by Lê Quan, who came to improvisation via the classical avant-garde. His metals are to the fore, from Asian gongs to - I'm guessing - metal sheets. About 10 minutes into the second of these five long improvisations, he becomes a stream engine.
Lê Quan's underspoken attitude characterizes the mood. Listening is as important as invention in group improvisation. With this trio, there's a constant though subtle shift between foreground and background voices, a thinning of the textures that promotes by turns, Doneda's innate understanding of his straight horn, and Roger's fluid (though under-amplified) bass. Engaging in its own right, Open Paper Tree is a valuable introduction to the art of spontaneous composition.
Reviewed by: ? for the magazine Ruberneck #61

This is effectively Mk II of the french based SOC Trio with British bassist Paul Rogers replacing hurdy-gurdy player Dominique Regef. Despite the loss of the hurdy-gurdy's strangeley archaic soundworld, the improvisations still deserve to be called 'other-wordly' for their non-idiomatic textures and atmospherics. Rogers is the revelation here, as he ventures much further than usual into a pensive, non-ryhtmic territory. Ninh plays like a percussionist, not a free jazz, eschewing obvious, pulse for a precise, spatialy aware use of metallic sheets, cymbals, gongs and rattles. Doneda's soprano is the prime exotic ingredient: he paints in sound colours we don't yet have names for - an absorbing blend of the futuristic. Only sopranoists of the calibre of Parker, Coxhill and Butcher can match the strangeness of his imagination. Open Paper Tree is phenomenal album; the brooding 16-minnute "Variation On Tree Mutation" its highest achievement. One of the great improv recordings of the 90s. Long may this trio stay together!
Reviewed by: Milo Fine

Rogers too, is a coarse stylist. But this description belies the sensitivity at work in this wide-ranging variations, which are ripe with extended and unorthodox techniques. And though the appears to anchor the proceedings at times with the interjection of easily defined patterns and riffs, these fleeting gestures are finally just that, motions only implying a sense of formality. Likewise the downright funky section on Ninh's solo on "Only" is refreshing for its unanticipated appearance. What the players bring to this music leaves no room for any consideration of patronization or concession. And while Ninh's overall style, like Zerang's, will be familiar to anyone with exposure to Lovens, Paul Lytton, Han Bennink, Tony Oxley, et. al., he, like Doneda, owes only a limited debt to his forebearers and contemporaries. Impacted by the "straight" classical avant-garde, his distinction lies in the shimmering, undulating quality of his execution, and the striking timbres of his Asian/western arsenal.
With three such notable individualistic players merging into a genuine equilateral collective, the scope and power of their music is not surprising. But, having found their voices, the ongoing struggle for them and Gustafsson as well, concerns nurturing, maintenance, development and refinement. The first stage of the journey is, after all, just that.