Moment's Notice

Reviews of Recent Media

Sylvie Courvoisier
Intakt CD 410

New York-based pianist Sylvie Courvoisier is an omni-present voice, whether playing solo, working with her long-standing trio along with bassist Drew Gress and drummer Kenny Wollesen, in collaboration with regular partners like Mary Halvorson, Ikue Mori, Cory Smythe, Nate Wooley, and Ned Rothenberg, or forging new partnerships with musicians like Wadada Leo Smith, many of which have been documented on the Intakt label. Add the new ensemble Chimaera to that list, which brings together Gress and Wollesen, the duo trumpets of Wooley and Smith, and the Austrian guitarist Christian Fennesz. The project was originally commissioned for the 2021 Sons d’Hiver Festival in Paris, and was inspired by the work of the late 19th/early 20th century French Symbolist painter Odilon Redon whose work moved from post-impressionism toward abstraction.

In the liner notes to the CD, Courvoisier explains “I wanted something super lyrical, super poetic, and super fragile. In Redon’s drawing and painting, I can imagine, see, and feel everything. Chimaera is a project that has more groove, where I stay a longer time with one musical idea. Much of the music is written, as always, but here I also allow myself to just vamp. That’s why all the pieces are really long, because of their slow, dreamlike development.” Pieces are built in diaphanous layers that stretch out with a measured melodicism built from soaring, translucent piano harmonies; Gress and Wollesen’s open, floating pulse; countering warmly burred, paired trumpet lines; and the shimmering timbres of processed guitar and electronics. Themes weave in and out of the collective flow, acting as anchors for the unhurried free lyricism of the expansive ensemble improvisations.

Kenny Wolleson, Nate Wooley, Drew Gress, Sylvie Courvoisier, Wadada Leo Smith, Christian Fennesz © 2023 David Breskin

The choice of instrumentation and musicians is integral to the success of the project. The leader’s crystalline piano playing melds luxuriant, harmonic voicings, inside-piano textures, and open angular lines. Wollesen’s understated drumming guides the underlying pulse to the pieces, often switching to vibraphone where the resonant, metallic sonorities serve as an effective complement to Courvoisier’s piano. The pairing of Wooley and Smith is distinctive. Wooley’s role is to stay closer to the compositions and his clarion tone and extended shadings ebb and flow, coalescing with Smith’s soaring, rounded exclamations. Gress’s bass playing is used to both fill out the bottom registers of the ensemble while providing a poised voice to the mix. The addition of Christian Fennesz is particularly inspired. His variegated electronics and processed guitar invest the lush voicings with glitched granularity, adding a strident edge to the improvisations. Where the playing of the other musicians is more linear, Fennesz’s playing provides changeable scrims of bristling layered activity.

This release captures an entrancing, ambitious project by Courvoisier. The amalgamation of disparate musical elements activates the leader’s verdant lyricism in electrifying directions. Over the course of the six pieces that span this 2-CD set, that combination of collective freedom within the context of music that is “super lyrical, super poetic, and super fragile” is a challenge the ensemble digs in to with considered dynamism throughout.
–Michael Rosenstein

Hat Hut Records

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