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Sylvie Courvoisier: Chimaera

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Sylvie Courvoisier: Chimaera
Even though pianist Sylvie Courvoisier has bassist Drew Gress and drummer Kenny Wollesen on hand for Chimaera, the six-piece band is a long way from being merely the storied threesome, which made Double Windsor (Tzadik, 2014), D'Agala (Intakt, 2018) and Free Hoops (Intakt, 2020), plus added guests.

As she explains in the liners, the music was originally commissioned for the 2021 Sons d'Hiver festival in Paris and was inspired by the surreal works of French Symbolist artist Odilon Redon. As such the six cuts avoid the precipitous switchbacks which characterize the book of Courvoisier's trio in favor of more expansive and impressionistic fare.

Courvoisier recruits A-list trumpeters Wadada Leo Smith and Nate Wooley and Austrian guitarist and electronicist Christian Fennesz to add their own haunting slant to proceedings. The pianist is well acquainted with the capabilities of the two brassmen, having performed in duet with Smith and waxed several albums with Wooley, notably his series of Battle Pieces on Relative Pitch Records.

While the trumpeters assiduously track the pianist's elliptical plots, they also mix the anticipated experimental gusts with surprisingly melodic breezes. By contrast Courvoisier gifts the guitarist a free rein which he fully exploits, deploying a litany of FX to color, underscore and counterbalance the charts. Just listen to the way his jagged attacks form an electrifying confluence with Smith's triumphant fanfare on "Annâo" for example.

However no matter how far out they go, the music retains directness and appeal. Nowhere more so than in the opening of "Le Pavot Rouge" where the lilting melody immediately soothes the ear. When she co-opts the bass register vamp lifted from Claude Thornhill's "Early Autumn," a favorite tune from her father's record collection, on "Requiem D'un Songe" from her trio's previous collection, it often stands out as one of the most tuneful moments. But when it also appears here the drifting refrain is just one among a sequence of lyrical episodes.

Perhaps that atmosphere affects Wooley too. Featured towards the end of the 20-minute plus cut, he starts in a typically experimental vein, evoking a chuffing loco, but veers voluble then blues-inflected before he hands over to Smith. He too shows himself to be a prime exponent of haunting melodic invention, conjuring shades of one of his touchstones Miles Davis.

Paradoxically Courvoisier features least prominently as a soloist. Instead, she devotes much of her time to demarcating her elusive structures, suggesting a dreamlike and inscrutable logic. It manifests in different and unexpected ways. On "La Joubarbe Aragnaineuse" scripted elements materialize from layers of electronic washes, in a piece which remains ultimately reflective and mysterious.

Then on "Partout Des Prunelles Flambolent" powerful forces are barely contained within the confines of the written material, forever threatening to bubble over, while "Le Sabot De Venus" juxtaposes sudden explosions of sound with a hazy drifting ambience. But whatever the gambit, Courvoisier's blend of ambiguity and shape actively feeds the imagination and draws accomplished and apposite performances from her starry ensemble.

Track Listing

Le pavot rouge; La joubarbe aragnaineuse; Partout des prunelles flambolent; La Chimère aux yeux verts; Annâo; Le sabot de Venus.

Personnel

Additional Instrumentation

Kenny Wollesen: vibraphone.

Album information

Title: Chimaera | Year Released: 2023 | Record Label: Intakt Records


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