NoSax NoClar, Watermill Jazz Club

Graham Thomas heard the curiously named French duo, indeed featuring clarinet and saxophone, range from Celtic to Berber folk via NO jazz

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Julian Stella (left) and Bastien Weeger at The Watermill, Dorking, 29 May 2024. Photos © Brian O'Connor

Watermill Jazz have a commendable policy of occasionally booking unusual acts, and the French saxophone/clarinet duo NoSax NoClar certainly fits this description.

On their only UK appearance, the duo played their own compositions, with Julien’s bass clarinet providing powerfully rhythmic bass lines, while Bastien’s saxophone wove melodic lines around it in the upper register.  

At times the music achieved a surprising intensity, with both players firing off streams of notes in rapid circular patterns which created a strong groove, with interlocking complex rhythms. Occasionally circular breathing techniques were used to play continuous lines. Sometimes the players used slap-tongue techniques to create percussive staccato sounds which punctuated the music rhythmically. At other times they played what Bastien called their “soft tunes”, with two clarinets harmonising gently together.

Each tune evoked a different atmosphere – sometimes a Celtic folk melody, sometimes New Orleans jazz, sometimes Balkan or Berber music.

On one piece, Julien removed the mouthpiece from his bass clarinet and blew into the neck to produce an eerie imitation of a Middle-Eastern flute. (He told me afterwards that this was derived from a technique used to play the Turkish flute.)

There was a good turnout for the concert, showing that the audience trusted the judgement of Watermill Jazz in presenting this unusual duo, and we were rewarded with some great music as a result.

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NoSax NoClar, Watermill Jazz Club, Dorking, Surrey, 29 May 2024. Bastien Weeger (as, ss, cl); Julien Stella (cl, bcl).