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Sylvie Courvoisier: Abaton

Kurt Gottschalk By

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It's a testament to pianist Sylvie Courvoisier's fine trio that the second half of her new two-disc set is as strong as the first. Violinist Mark Feldman, cellist Erik Friedlander and she have certainly logged plenty of hours together in different settings. The pianist's ear for composing for them shows through on the first disc and their shared sense of improvising shines on the second. Her scoring hand is so transparent and the trio so communicative, in fact, that the discs are surprisingly similar.

The line between composition and improvisation, however, might not be so hard for the Abaton trio. In an onstage discussion with Jazziz editor Larry Blumenfeld after the trio's performance at Merkin Hall last month, Courvoisier said that the compositions are about 20 percent improvisation and that the improvisations were recorded immediately after the scored pieces and in some sense were guided by them. They are, in other words, opposite sides of the same coin.

Courvoisier is a classically trained pianist whose improvisational work retains much of that early influence. Although she moves primarily in the improv world now, she relies on the sparse, elegiac language of 20th century classical music much more than jazz phrasings and structures. And while she is best known for her preparations of her instrument, here she stays almost exclusively on the keyboard and uses the trio with a beautiful openness. At any point she might put the strings in tandem or let an instrument fly alone, then drop brief unison statements or single notes atop. Disc one contains three nice trio pieces and a fascinatingly linear string duo in which quick melodies are delivered in alternating and overlapping arco and pizzicato fragments. It's a lovely piece.

Courvoisier's compositions are perhaps distinctly 21st century in the way they fit into a continuum of composed chamber work. They reflect without being ironic, refer without being referential. All in all, a refreshingly post-postmodern approach.

Track Listing: CD 1: Ianicum, Orodruin, Poco a Poco, Abaton. CD 2: Nineteen improvisations.

Personnel: Sylvie Courvoisier, piano Mark Feldman, violin Erik Friedlande, cello

Title: Abaton | Year Released: 2003 | Record Label: ECM Records

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