Known for her adventurous approach to her instrument, French pianist Eve Risser
takes a correspondingly maverick attitude to her first leadership vehicle, the White Desert Orchestra. Not that the two styles are in any way analogous. Rather Risser melds and translates disparate concepts into offbeat constructs which span jazz, improvisation, rock and contemporary classical, but remain beyond genre. Both the name of the ensemble and the cover images hint at the stimulation she draws from iconic landscapes in the western US. Her charts successfully evoke widescreen cinematic sweep and geological allusions.
Risser calls on a mainly young cast drawn from former classmates at the Paris Conservatoire, but now among the cream of the national scene. She favors a bottom heavy instrumentation, with bassoon, bass guitar, bass saxophone and bass clarinet all prominent. But nothing is as it seems and the acoustically generated resonances often emulate electronic timbres. Risser herself sets the template here through her preparations and attention to the strings and guts of the piano.
Noise and texture frequently rub alongside more conventional material, as in "Eclats." It opens with one of the least likely bass solos ever from Fanny Lasfargues, full of scratchy fuzz, what resembles breaking plastic and a revving motorbike, before being overlain by rippling piano and seesawing horns. Lasfargues shares the spotlight with Benjamin Dousteyssier 's bass saxophone bellows, both erupting from the ensemble lines which surround them.
A comparably recondite mixture holds sway in the stand out lengthy title track. Befitting the monumental inspiration, the work moves with tectonic restraint from a mysterious doomy start, assembled from knocking attacks, scrubbed piano strings, and electronic ticks and buzzes. Eventually the trilling saxophones and flute develop into a minor key processional reminiscent of a slowed down version of Michael Nyman's film scores. Melodic passages featuring soloists such as Eivind Lønning's languid trumpet and Sylvaine Hélary
's chirping flute alternate with crashing piano body scrapes, strange saxophonic shrieks and Julien Desprez
' abrasive guitar commentary, until finally the ensemble dissipates leaving Hélary alone, whistling in the dark.
Although the Orchestra numbers ten strong and can sound quite dense, at other times the sparse arrangements belies the numbers. "Fumeroles" illustrates the point, comprising droney reeds with percussive piano, eddying guitar, and steam-like exhalations. Then comes a melody delivered in a glacial sequence, while in one of Risser's inspired touches,Sophie Bernado's bassoon burbles, as the pianist explains in her liners, to channel a lagoon pool motor. Similarly in "Jaspe," while Risser set a series of prancing eighth note against Antonin-Tri Hoang
's bass clarinet moans, that's offset by insistent wavering humsa witty reference to the neighbor's building works going on while she was composing the piece.
As a soloist, Risser largely takes a back seat, and it's not until John Hollenbeck's "Shaking Peace" that she steps out, threading her piano through the minimalist prospect of shimmering horns and trembling sonorities, whether as sparking tremolos, grumbling interior manipulations or bright babbling forays. But that's almost irrelevant given how much of herself she invests in corralling the Orchestra to such impressive effect.
Les Deux Versants Se Regardent; Tent Rocks; Eclats; Fumeroles; Homme-Âge I; Shaking Peace; Jaspe; Earth Skin Cut; Homme-Âge II.
Sylvaine Hélary: flute, alto flute, bass flute, piccolo; Antonin Tri Hoang: alto saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet; Benjamin Dousteyssier: tenor & bass saxophone; Sophie Bernado: bassoon; Eivind Lønning: trumpet; Fidel Fourneyron: trombone; Julien Desprez: electric guitar; Eve Risser: piano, prepared piano; Fanny Lasfargues: electro-acoustic bass guitar; Sylvain Darrifourcq: drums, percussion.