Sylvie Courvoisier Trio
iPhone snap by Alison Bentley
Schaffhauser Jazz Festival, (Kulturzentrum Kammgarn, Schaffhausen, Switzerland, May 22-25 2019. Round-up by Alison Bentley)This is the second part of Alison Bentley’s three-part round-up of the 2019 Schaffhausen Festival: Sylvie Courvoisier Trio (23 May); idée manu (24 May); AKSHAM (25 May)
“Where are the women in Swiss jazz?” asked a series of talks and discussions at the Festival. One answer: onstage. Swiss-born, NY-resident pianist Sylvie Courvoisier was playing the last night of her European tour with her US trio. She opened with pieces from her latest album d’Agala. Performing with her back to the audience, she almost seemed to have become part of the piano. The piano sound was impassioned, arpeggios building structures across the funky groove and intermittent dark swing, and a rich, arco, blues-edged bass solo from Drew Gress. Courvoisier has been influenced by Monk, as well as the stride piano her father played. At times, crashing chords sounded like footsteps; in one piece, she played wonderfully misshapen lines, then dusted the bass and drums with speedy, delicate notes. She’s also been influenced by the unsettled tonalities of Schnittke and Ligeti, as well as free jazz. In a slower piece for her mother, Courvoisier seemed to be catching notes as they flew by, while drummer Kenny Wolleson’s brushes were as delicate as moths’ wings. A piece for her cat had Courvoisier’s bass lines and jumping right hand hunting for a tonal home. In the encore, she pulled and slid along the piano strings, creating sound pictures in almost telepathic sympathy with bass and drums.
Zurich pianist Manuela Keller has arranged compositions by 20th Century Berlin composer Boris Blacher for her band idée manu (tonight sans drums.) There was a tightly-arranged formality alongside imaginative improvisation. Time signatures were intricately written, and the mood as restlessly playful as Satie. Nick Gutersohn’s trombone could laugh happily like a human voice and chatter conversationally over meditative piano. Jan Schlegel played electric slap bass, or created evocative sounds, using a drumstick like a bottleneck. He soloed high on the neck, like a classical guitar. Gutersohn blew cries and whispers into a conch shell, Steve Turre-style. As Keller pulled strings eeriely through the inside of the piano, the piano seemed to be breathing out dry ice in a misty cave, before easing into an elegant jazz waltz and fine trombone solo. Dugong from their album Oktopus had bluesy trombone, rock bass and watery layers. Oktopus itself had hints of the Rite of Spring, using bass and trombone to give particular weight to certain notes, both virtuosic and fun.
AKSHAM with Elina Duni (centre)
Albanian-born Swiss resident singer Elina Duni, barefoot in white dress, fronted the Swiss-French quintet AKSHAM (Evening Prayer.) They played their compositions from their eponymous new album. One of the most striking elements from the start was the interplay between voice and David Enhco’s trumpet; high obbligato over deep tones reminiscent of Nina Simone and French chanson, created elegance and mystery. Florent Nisse’s bass and Fred Pasqua’s drums seemed to enhance the melody rather than driving it. Marc Perrenoud’s sensitive piano sounded sometimes like a Purcell song, as in XVII, then would break into Jarrett-like jazziness.
Mon amour imparfait, inspired by James Joyce, was delicately funky, with delicious long vocal and trumpet harmonies. The vocals became bluesier in L’Automne, with the gentlest of backbeats; the voice was pitched higher alongside trumpet in the strong chorus and dramatic vocal improv. The setting of Verlaine‘s Soleils couchants brought out an earthier vocal timbre (Björk, Sidsel Endresen.) Rondeau’s uplifting jazz-rock groove unleashed the band’s power as well as sensitivity.