Jean-Sebastien Simonoviez: Vents & Marées

John Kelman By

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Jean-Sebastien Simonoviez: Possibly one of the most difficult challenges that any aspiring musician faces is coming to terms with translating technique into musicality. Students practice scales, physical technique, rhythm and harmony—trying to make their hands as fluid as possible and their minds so aware that these concepts become second nature. But when it comes time to play, all too many young players feel the need to put everything out on the table, when the real end of learning the language and physicality of music should be to, in the words of many artists, "forget about it and play. And that means playing what's required—not necessarily all you've got. A kind of musical transcendence, and one that faces almost every musician at some point in their career.

Some artists never get past the belief that improvisation is a vehicle for displaying formidable chops. Speed becomes the end rather than the means, the end result being artists who fail to get truly inside the music, giving it the chance to breathe and become something more purely personal. Pianist Jean-Sebastien Simonoviez has made that leap from technical proficiency to sheer musicality. His solo debut, Vents & Marées is proof that less is often more, that interpreting material in a personal way doesn't mean losing its fundamental essence.

Vents & Marées translates to "Wind and Tide, and there's something elemental about the way Simonoviez approaches the twelve pieces, a mixture of originals, standards and a couple of obscure and intriguing choices. Simonoviez is an economical player with a delicate touch. Still, that doesn't mean he can't generate his own kind of heat, as he does on the softly dramatic "The Bedroom, one of two Bernard Hermann pieces that Simonoviez lifts from François Truffaut's 1966 film of the classic Ray Bradbury novel, Fahrenheit 451. Simonoviez colors Hermann's melancholy yet strangely romantic melody with subtle dynamics that, as understated as they are, remain deeply evocative.

Simonoviez knows not to overstay his welcome. He interprets John Coltrane's "Lonnie's Lament in a Satie-like approach of deceptive simplicity and brevity. "Naima is equally short but more abstract; yet the familiar melody never fails to find its way through Simonoviez's elegant impressionism.

The entire album has the feeling of a concert recital, one that makes demands on the listener despite being eminently attractive and gentle on the ears. There are times when Simonoviez forces the listener to lean forward and move towards the music, rather than laying back and having it wash over.

Simonoviez's own writing mirrors his interpretive approach. "Lumieres may mean "lights in a visual sense, but it's equally about weight. Simonoviez's touch is so feather-light that there are times where it seems he's breathing on the keys.

Refined in approach, and with an improvisational mindset that blends a jazz vernacular with an ethereal classicism, Vents & Marées is not about virtuosity. Still, Simonoviez's aesthetic sense makes Vents & Marées an album of rare beauty that couldn't succeed if Simonoviez were anything less than highly capable.

Track Listing: Lumieres; I Wish I Knew; The Bedroom (Fahrenheit 451); Tacha; My Favorite Things; See; Winds & Tides; If I Should Lose You; Naima; The Road (Fahrenheit 451); Lonnie's Lament; Paix.

Personnel: Jean-Sebastien Simonoviez: piano.

Year Released: 2003 | Record Label: La Buissonne | Style: Modern Jazz


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