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Iva Bittova: Knowing, Feeling...

Ian Patterson By

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In a nice piece of symmetry, Bittová also joined the prestigious label when her solo ECM debut, simply titled Iva Bittová was released in 2013.

For many years, Bittová has enjoyed a degree of fame throughout much of Europe, but it wasn't until her first American release on Nonesuch Records in 1997 that she began to make major inroads into the country that would later become her home. The record was a combination of songs from Bittová's first solo recording and Ne nehledej (BMG, 1994). The CD came to the attention of Evan Ziporyn, the innovative American clarinetist who has collaborated with the likes of Ornette Coleman, Philip Glass, Brian Eno, Terry Riley, Meredith Monk, Nik Bärtsch, and Don Byron.

Of Bittová's early music, Ziporyn recalls: "I connected with it immediately. I felt I understood what she was doing on a very intuitive level. There was something very natural about the way she approached her music—the combination of how simple it was and how avant-garde at the same time. It didn't seem to be forced or artificial in any way. I immediately felt like I knew her, or understood her."

Ziporyn had been closely involved with the famously genre-bending New York ensemble Bang on a Can since 1987, and the group asked Bittová if she would be interested in a collaborative project. The music she subsequently wrote, inspired by a poem by Czech poet Vera Chase, debuted on the recording Elida, a beguiling work which marks a highpoint in Bittová and BOAC's respective discographies.

Live dates followed the recording. Recalls Ziporyn: "The music morphed, at least for some of us, in a more improvisational direction. We were all just getting to know each other, and with Iva it's all about personal connection and intimacy. To me, that's the essence of her music and playing with her. That's how she connects to the audience and that's how she connects to the other players. That, frankly, is what draws me to working with her, because it's very important to me also. When you feel that way of making music it's very hard to not want to do more of it. I find working with her incredibly pleasurable and stimulating and part of that is always being challenged. She just makes you want to play better."

Ziporyn began doing side projects with Bittová (as did BOAC's pianist Lisa Moore) and arranged some of her pieces for the group. Around this time, Zipory had met guitarist Giyan Riley (son of minimalist composer Terry Riley) and an idea began to ferment in his head: "I felt a similar connection to Giyan that I felt to Iva, so I just asked the two of them to meet with me. I just felt this was going to be a really nice combination, or at least a combination that I would want to be in. So we all went to Iva's house in upstate New York and spent a day together, but really within about an hour we knew we had a band."

The three began writing, rehearsing, and gigging. The trio's name, Eviyan, is an amalgam of their names, a simple but effective metaphor for the close symmetry at play within their music as well as the confluence of influences that makes the music impossible to hang a name on. "What draws us together is that all three of us are somewhere between genres," says Ziporyn. "You can't really call it jazz, you can't really call it New Music, you can't really call it World Music. It's somewhere in between all those things."

Eviyan is quietly making waves. It has played at the Lincoln Center and the Festival of Experimental Music in Quebec. Summer festivals and European tours are lined up and public and critical acclaim has been glowing: "Our live sets are a combination of composed and improvised music," Ziporyn explains, "but there's fluidity between those things and sometimes I think it's hard for a listener to tell which is which, and that's the way I think we all like it. It's all about the spontaneity."

Bittová is the perfect fit for Eviyan's fluid idiom, one that embraces discipline and freedom, but for Ziporyn she is much more than just an intuitive playing partner: "What I like about playing with Iva is that she reminds me to be absolutely present and absolutely honest. When I'm playing with her, I never think about anything other than wanting to make the sounds we make together really amazing. I don't think "this is how the tune will go" or "what will the audience think of this?" The strength of her musical persona reminds me what music is all about."


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