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Sylvie Courvoisier: D'Agala

John Sharpe By

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Swiss-born, NYC-based pianist Sylvie Courvoisier reconvenes the crew which waxed the wonderful Double Windsor (Tzadik, 2014) for equally rewarding results. As one of the most highly sought after improvisers on the New York scene, Courvoisier has been able to pick her collaborators from the cream, making particularly adept choices in bassist Drew Gress and drummer Kenny Wollesen. Her bandmates bring to bear a wealth of experience, not only of the outside territory that Courvoisier so often prospects, but also from the cutting edge of the modern mainstream. Consequently they add soulful warmth and streetwise downtown swing to her nine often enigmatic constructions.

That first session arose from John Zorn's suggestion that she tackle the piano trio. Now with D'Agala it's clearly a format she thoroughly owns. But as always with Courvoisier there are several twists in the tail. Her charts contain space for odd suspensions and miniature sideways digressions as well as allusions to contemporary classical forms. Nowhere is that better heard than in "Imprint Double" where she surrounds a rumbling piano vamp with a soundscape of restrained drama and tinkling melody. In an example of the detail which embellishes every cut, a lovely passage occurs which finds the pianist working the opposite extremes of the keyboard before returning to the initial lope.

Courvoisier often contrast her exploratory leanings against more conventional rhythmic impulse, which makes those episodes when she falls in line all the more striking. On "Eclats for Ornette" the sprightly bounce of its namesake heralds one of the most straightforward selections, but even that is illuminated by key-spraying runs and unexpected shifts of meter, as well as a tuneful drum feature for Wollesen. She turns the tables on the title track dedicated to the late pianist Geri Allen where Wollesen's indeterminate rustles, clatter and squeaks (presumably the Wollesonics referred to on the sleeve) subvert the heartfelt balladry, and evoke a ramshackle cart creaking off into the distance at the close.

Courvoisier integrates preparations into her playing more seamlessly than almost anyone. Listen to the mysterious "Bourgeois's Spider" with its lop-sided rhythm where she juxtaposes plucked strings, poltergeist knocks, and a thunderous crescendo against the shimmer from the unmodified section of the keys. Similarly after a spectral theme "Simone" opens into a textured improv of string swipes, drum rubs, hushed patter and lyrical fragments. While neither Gress nor Wollesen showboats, they both enjoy occasional turns in the spotlight, like the bassist's surefooted solo during the furtive "Fly Whisk" with its Cecil Taylor inspired flourishes and his tightly coiled pizzicato counterpoint in the darkly ominous "South Side Rules."

But it's as a unit that they excel, marrying the avant-garde with the piano tradition through the medium of Courvoisier's idiosyncratic compositions.

Track Listing: Imprint Double; Bourgeois’s Spider; Eclats for Ornette; Simone; Pierino Porcospino; D’Agala; Circumbent; Fly Whisk; South Side Rules.

Personnel: Sylvie Courvoisier: piano; Drew Gress: bass; Kenny Wollesen: drums and Wollesonic.

Title: D'Agala | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Intakt Records

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