Saturday, September 15, 2007

Chamber Music/Extended Technique/Creative Improvisation Synthesis @ An Die Musik

Vincent Courtois/Sylvie Courvoisier/Ellery Eskelin Trio @ An Die Musik, Baltimore, MD
September 14, 2007

Vincent Courtois: cello
Sylvie Courvoisier: piano
Ellery Eskelin: tenor saxophone

From the first deliberate sound of the opening set - a natural harmonic from a piano string with one hand muting the node and the other bringing the hammer solidly against the string from the keyboard - Sylvie Courvoisier
possessed an aggressive and uncontainable creative edge that had her springing from the piano bench. Even the idiosyncratic creaks and squeaks from that very bench were seized upon as a coherent answer - and brilliant accompaniment - to Courtois's amplified micro-sound explorations on the cello.

The convergence upon the similarities of bow scrapes, tenor keypads and a piano bench is just one example of the reactive approach toward improvisation that marks the textural territory mined by this fantastic trio. These master improvisers fill the sonic canvas by matching one another and making transitions through subtraction and addition as they tastefully withdraw their own contributions to expose duos and solos before finding a new texture to match. Vincent Courtios made his own "perfect pitch" abundantly clear several times as he answered several gestures with an exact match of his own.

Ellery Eskelin has made a career out of crafting and creating situations that allow these kinds of textures to emerge and transform. Much of this is well documented (and quietly emerging as a point of fixation at HurdAudio) as he has developed an approach toward weaving his own sound and impulse into an astonishing range of situations. Here, his linear contributions and deft pointillistic exchange made for a nice counterbalance to the elastic timbral explorations of the piano and cello. The moments of piano and tenor saxophone duos that emerged from time to time within these free improvisations took on beautiful, Messiaen-like hues.

The use of amplification brought out an interesting dimension to Vincent Courtois's cello sound. As the only amplified instrument on stage, it wasn't used to "compete" with the piano and saxophone volumes. It did bring out the micro-sounding world of cello string and body sounds as scrapes and percussive taps were brought into sharp focus. The dynamic use of the volume pedal had me wondering how such technique might be employed for the extended piano sounds. And in a moment of improvisative generosity, Courtois angled his cello so that the contact microphone would pick up Eskelin or Courvoisier's playing, adding the resonance of the body of the cello and the emanation from the amplifier to the overall sonic image. This worked particularly well.

Sylvie Courvoisier has impressively integrated extended techniques into her overall approach. Each movement toward the inner guts of the piano was a natural part of her sound. With mallets, gaffer tape, metal balls and picks within easy reach she shaped the piano sounds with an even consistency no matter what method was employed to vibrate the piano wire. There was a period of strummed chords across the strings with the harmonic tones silently depressed from the keyboard - a technique reminiscent of Henry Cowell's Aeolean Harp - that unfolded with fantastic spontaneity and textural logic. The restlessness of constantly folding new material and timbres into her playing combined with an unfaltering deliberateness that made the live Courvoisier experience a revelation.


Mwanji Ezana said...

I saw this trio back in January, it's really free music. Nice review.

Devin Hurd said...

Thanks. Given what these players are capable of, "really free" is a good way to go. Plenty of substance for the ears to chew on.