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Sylvie Courvoisier Trio: D'Agala

Troy Dostert By

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Swiss-born pianist Sylvie Courvoisier has spent close to twenty years in the states honing her distinctive approach to classically-inflected jazz improvisation. Along the way she's worked with a who's-who of leading-edge musicians, including veterans like John Zorn, Evan Parker and Ellery Eskelin, but also the younger generation of avant-gardists such as Mary Halvorson and Nate Wooley. Courvoisier draws from both her conservatory background and her work in the creative jazz world to produce music of a very broad palette. Whether tracing classically-inflected miniatures with precision and delicacy, delivering forceful fusillades of power, or generating a sinewy post-bop groove, Courvoisier can do it all: and she sometimes does it within a single piece of music.

On her current trio disc, D'Agala, Courvoisier is again joined by bassist Drew Gress and drummer Kenny Wollesen, her previous partners on 2014's Double Windsor (Tzadik). Gress and Wollesen are perfect in bringing the slightly off-kilter avant-jazz sensibility that allows Courvoisier's complex compositions to take shape while leaving plenty of room for freedom and surprise. Take the addictive opener, "Imprint Double," for instance: driven by Courvoisier's rumbling, boogie-woogie-like left hand, the trio gets the piece going with locomotive propulsion, only to then shift into a ruminative sequence with Courvoisier's right-hand filigrees floating over Wollesen's and Gress's spartan accompaniment. The beauty of this section is transfixing, but before too long Courvoisier comes back to the surging, shuffling momentum with which the piece began, reinforcing the piece's undeniable indebtedness to the jazz tradition.

All of the album's nine tracks possess this basic malleability, with departures that can branch off from the central mood and feel of each cut, allowing for a constant sense of discovery and exploration. "Bourgeois's Spider" weaves its web through a devious groove laid down by Gress and Wollesen, while Courvoisier makes use of the entire piano, slapping its insides or using palm muting to coax out a wide range of sounds, from miniature explorative tendrils to crashing waves of percussive potency. "Eclats for Ornette" is a deliciously swinging blend of freedom and structure, doing justice to the dedicatee's legacy through a complex tune that still manages to feel completely open and unconfined. And "Circumbent" undertakes a sprightly, dance-like excursion, with Gress's nimble basswork and Wollesen's gentle, steady pulse the ideal support for Courvoisier's graceful leaps and twirls. Even the record's closing track, "South Side Rules," although somewhat more abstract and less defined, still generates a subtle sense of momentum that pulls the listener into the music, casting its spell convincingly until the record finally comes to an end.

With music that is both expertly played and brilliantly conceived, this album reinforces Courvoisier's standing as a formidable presence in the current creative jazz scene. And it's a remarkable example of just how much life and wonder remain to be found in something as (seemingly) simple as a "piano trio."

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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