Over the years, Michel Doneda (b. 1954) has developed one of the most extensive musical vocabularies in free improvisation. A specialist of the soprano saxophone, he has gradually moved from left-field jazz to the fringes of free improv ever since he began to lead his own sessions in the early ‘80s. His playing can be at turns lyrical, playful, or raucous, and can switch from the liveliness of street melodies to circular breathing, microscopic sounds, or shrieking outbursts. His most frequent recording and performing partners over the years have included singer Beñat Achiary, percussionist Lê Quan Ninh, hurdy-gurdy player Dominique Regef, and bassist Barre Phillips.
Doneda made his first musical steps at age 15 in his hometown's wind band. He spent the next decade playing in dance and jazz bands, all the while keeping an eye on the French avant-garde, especially the activities of American expatriates like Steve Lacy and Alan Silva. In 1980, now based in Toulouse (Southern France), he formed his first group, Hic et Nunc, with Steve Robbins and Didier Masmalet, a trio that remained unrecorded. Around the same time, he got involved with street theater, co-founding the Institut de Recherches et d'Échanges Artistiques. Creative popular expression and exchanges with street performers, actors, and poets have remained one of his main interests, particularly throughout the ‘80s.
A tour with Louis Sclavis in the mid-'80s led to his befriending of Achiary and his first contact with the label Nato, for which he recorded his first sessions, including a quintet LP with Philipp Wachsmann in 1985. The Nato connection opened the doors of the British and German free improv communities. On a tour of Poland with the street intervention group Compagnie du Hasard in 1986, he met Daunik Lazro and Lê Quan Ninh. This trio remained active for a few years, toured Europe and Canada, and recorded an LP for Dominique Répécaud's young label Vand'oeuvre in 1989. Doneda released his first solo album, L'Élémentaire Sonore, three years later on cellist Didier Petit's In Situ imprint. This album pictures the saxophonist in a transition between jazz-based and non-idiomatic improv. Once he decided to move toward the pole of abstraction, his discography began to grow at a quick pace. In the ‘90s he has recorded with various groupings for NIL, FMP, L'Empreinte Digitale, For 4 Ears, and Victo. In parallel he has extended his circle of collaborators to include Japanese bassist Tetsu Saitoh, composer Alain Joule, poet Serge Pey (Les Diseurs de Musique), and bassist Barre Phillips. In 1998, Potlatch released his second solo album, L'Anatomie des Clefs, which shows how much ground he'd covered since 1992 and remains his most impressive recording. ~ François Couture, Rovi