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St: Coincidences

John Kelman By

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Creating music to accompany visual arts is nothing new. Soundtracks to film often act as equal partners—just imagine Hitchcock's shower scene from Psycho without Bernard Hermann's piercing strings, for example. However, adapting music to literature is an altogether rarer concept. Film leaves little of the visual to the imagination, while writing often relies heavily on one's ability to create personal imagery. And so, music for film usually serves to enhance a director's specific vision, while a musician's interpretation of literature is inherently more personal to the musician's view.

French pianist Stéphan Oliva's Coincidences is quite possibly the most intimate inward look that he's ever recorded. Previous Oliva projects have interpreted music by jazz artists Lennie Tristano and Paul Motian, in addition to film music by Hermann, Krystof Komeda, and Nino Rota. In each case, while the interpretation is pure Oliva, there's a distinct reference from which Oliva's own re-imagining stems. Here, inspired by the writings of American writer Paul Auster, Oliva digs deeply, not only into the images and emotions that Auster's writing suggests to him, but the writing process itself.

The disc is cleverly bookended by two songs. The album starts with an ethereal "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, where bassist Bruno Chevillon—who guests on three of the disc's eighteen tracks—"plays an Olympic typewriter to create a kind of smoky ambience suggestive of Auster in a dark room, writing. Oliva's impressionistic "La Traversee follows—dark, spacious, and beautiful in a melancholy way. The order is reversed at the end of the disc, with a reprise of "La Traversée leading into a recap of "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, leaving us where we entered—with the author in a room, writing.

As an album of largely solo piano music, Coincidences draws you in from the first note and—like a good book—leaves you, after 47 minutes, reflecting on what you've just experienced. On this series of miniatures—some as short as one minute, none exceeding six—Oliva isn't afraid to exploit the barest of ideas, gradually letting them unfold and evolve like a character in a novel. "Portée Disaparue builds from a three-note motif, with Oliva using dissonance to effectively evoke an eerily unsettled feeling. "Annotations is more song-like and more innocent; while "Ghosts of the Stereoscope combines the unfailing beauty of the latter with the darker mystery of the former. Elsewhere, on tracks like "Olympia's Lullabye —with Chevrillon returning to the typewriter—Oliva uses Fender Rhodes to create a delicate sense of forward motion... the writer on a roll.

Oliva's discography offers plenty of evidence that he's an outstandingly imaginative and facile player. What makes Coincidences a contender for solo piano album of the year is its aversion of overt musical gesticulation. Instead, it's all about mood, ambience, and atmosphere. Through total submersion in his conceptual goal, Oliva has created an album transcending music alone—like the best film score—both a perfect adjunct to his imagination of Auster the writer and a strongly compelling work in its own right.


Title: Coïncidences | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Nur/Nicht/Nur


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