Jean-Luc Guionnet Credit: Kevin Luna

Jean-Luc Guionnet’s relationship to music is complicated, and it shows. As a youth, he drew while his father played saxophone, and he didn’t much like what he heard. When he changed his mind during his teens and started making his own music, his first instruments were keyboards, spliced tape, and drums; he only came around to playing saxophone himself because the horn was easy to carry. Since the late 1990s, Guionnet has contributed to more than 80 albums, coming at music from a variety of angles: he’s used recordings of people talking about their listening environments to craft a meditation upon space and memory, employed church organs as vast sound generators, and improvised on alto saxophone alone and in small groups. For years Guionnet has been playing solo saxophone concerts, but he’s never released an album of that music until now. The double LP L’épaisseur de L’air (“The Thickness of Air”) reveals that while Guionnet has mastered the instrument, his relationship with it remains conflicted. He defies the horn’s conventional vocabulary, challenging both its physical limits and his own. Sometimes he uses circular breathing to play unbroken, minutes-long ribbons of translucent sound that form shapes so slowly you can barely perceive them; at other times he spits out masticated notes as though they were unexpectedly bitter seeds. Guionnet’s music expresses extremes of sound and form, and the intensity of his efforts betrays an undercurrent of powerful emotion. The gorgeous severity of the LP’s gatefold sleeve, whose images he drew and etched, also gives a primary role to the visual art he used to make while he wished his father would stop playing.   v