Sylvie Courvoisier Trio - D'Agala

Label: Intakt Records, 2018

Lineup - Sylvie Courvoisier: piano; Drew Dress: double bass; Kenny Wollesen: drums and percussion.

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Swiss-born, Brooklyn-based Sylvie Courvoisier is an outstanding pianist whose style falls under the avant-garde and free improvisation. She recurrently performs in duo and trio formats with names such as Mark Feldman, Ikue Mori, Evan Parker, Erik Friedlander, Nate Wooley, and more recently Mary Halvorson. 
On D’Agala, her eleventh record for Intakt, Courvoisier dedicates the nine originals to people (musicians or not) she admires and was influenced by. Her textures find sustenance in the effortless rhythmic work delivered by two long-time associates, bassist Drew Dress and drummer Kenny Wollesen. The trio had already teamed up before on the pianist’s Double Windsor (Tzadik, 2014).

Imprint Double" (For Antoine Courvoisier), a piece with an irresistibly galloping pulsation that allures and transfixes, was love at first listen. The work of the pianist is remarkable, not only on the lower register, from where the main rhythmic force arrives, but also while designing the main statement with scientific precision. After the stimulating ecstasy of the first minutes, the trio embarks on a meditative journey that includes a bass solo over demure ambiances coordinated by the bandleader. Comfortably striding the keyboard from end to end, she adorns with dreamy classical progressions, occasional atonal scintillations, and subtle crescendos, before repossessing that initial throbbing cadence.

An unfettered funky groove laid down by the bassist and corroborated by the drummer establishes the foundation of “Bourgeois’s Spider" (For Louise Bourgeois). Here, Courvoisier goes for more sound exploration, employing prepared piano and string piano techniques. Sometimes massive and turbulent, the tune feels energetically compressed, never eschewing the groove, but fluctuating between the explosive, the tense, and the untroubled.

The vivid “Éclats for Ornette" (For Ornette Coleman) is a worthy stretch fueled by intricate melodies over a swinging flow, frequently interrupted by aesthetic rhythmic accentuations. Following the pianist, who delivers an infectious marriage of angularity and exuberance, Wollesen makes his refined chops shining.

Pierino Porcospino" (For Charlie) and “D’Agala" (for Geri Allen) have nothing but a bass solo in common. While the former is an extrovert hectic dance, the latter was penned with mournful introspection, having Wollesen’s subdued rattlings and creaks running in the background. 

Fly Whisk" (For Irene Schweizer) starts off with widely sparse phrases uttered timidly on the piano. They are the beginning of a story that also leans on shimmering brushes and hummed arco bass to compose the whole. As the time advances, the pianist rushes her narrative by intensifying the conversational flow, while the bassist veers to a restless pizzicato with occasional pedal sustains, having the encouragement of several sly twists put up by the drummer. 

The trio warmed my heart with “South Side Rules" (For John Abercrombie), where Gress shows off a sterling control of his instrument through incisive, full-bodied plucks that have in Wollesen’s tasteful cymbal work a faithful ally. On one hand, Courvoisier infuses some obscurity with low-pitched strikes enforced by her left hand, but illuminates on the other, as intriguing harmonies and clear-sighted melodic lines are appended. Driven by true emotion, this piece exudes sadness, yearning, and exultation. 

D’Agala maintains a strong bite throughout and comes dressed with ingratiating sonorities that are a joy to explore. Much more can be said about it, but the best thing to do is to let the music spin, so it can speak for itself.

        Grade  A

        Grade A

Favorite Tracks: 
01 - Imprint Double ► 03 - Éclats for Ornette ► 09 - South Side Rules


Corsano / Courvoisier / Wooley - Salt Task

Label/year: Relative Pitch Records, 2016

Lineup - Chris Corsano: percussion; Sylvie Courvoisier: piano; Nate Wooley: trumpet.

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Drummer Chris Corsano, pianist Sylvie Courvoisier, and trumpeter Nate Wooley are three inveterate improvisers who joined forces in Salt Task, another hallucinating trip into arduous avant-garde galaxies.

All the members of the trio have been very active lately, participating in a variety of recordings and performing live with regularity. The versatile Corsano, whose collaborations can range from Bjork to Evan Parker, is a member of the powerhouse quartet led by the Portuguese saxophonist Rodrigo Amado, which also features American saxophonist Joe McPhee and bassist Kent Kessler. Besides recording with the avant-rock trio Rangda, he keeps on teaming up with saxophonist Paul Flaherty, a longtime collaborator.

Wooley launched great records in duo with multi-reedist Ken Vandermark and released Argonautica (Firehouse 12 Records, 2016) with a hot sextet that includes cornetist Ron Miles, pianist Cory Smythe, keyboardist Jozef Dumoulin, and drummers Rudy Royston and Devin Gray.
Last year, Courvoisier put all her musical passion in Miller’s Tales (Relative Pitch, 2016), an avant-jazz delight cooked in partnership with her violinist husband Mark Feldman and featuring saxophonist Evan Parker and electronics wiz Ikue Mori. This year, she could be heard in Crop Circle (Relative Pitch), recorded in duo with the nonconformist guitar sensation Mary Halvorson.

Salt Task opens with the revolutionary title track, a 20-minute-piece that erupts with dense contrapuntal cogitations simultaneously driven by the trio. After the opening section, the musicians usually interact two by two, exploring different sonic possibilities and moods until reaching the final section, where the trio strikes again. Depending on the setting, one may float serenely over idyllic landscapes, march at the sound of a military trumpet, startle with ominous low-pitched piano vibes, revolve around cyclic ideas, or become energized through piano-drums sweeps and thunders.

Eminently percussive, “Last Stat” displays extra alternative textures with Corsano in the spotlight. He reproduces the sound of a plastic trashcan rolling down the street while Courvoisier strums the piano strings to make it sound like a stale harp. Wooley contributes with airy sounds and rapid attacks that often uncover playful melodies.

Tall Stalks” conveys admiration through Wooley’s muted phrases on top of Corsano’s combustible rhythm flows and Courvoisier’s unflagging textures. She creates tension by continually hitting the same key with her left hand.

The gently atmospheric “Stalled Talks” finishes the album with a circumspect narrative flow, probing techniques of meditation that feel intense on one side and tranquilizing on the other.

The inventive trio wisely plays with textural agitations and composures, arranging them with freedom, responsibility, and an evident musical insight that makes them first-rate avant-gardists. 

         Grade  A-

         Grade A-

Favorite Tracks: 
02 – Last Stat ►03 – Tall Stalks