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Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Sylvie Courvoisier

Posted By on Wed, Nov 12, 2003 at 12:00 AM

How many classical musicians does it take to make new-music jazz? No, this isn’t the setup line for a joke dissing our elegant friends on the “serious music” end of the spectrum. The answer, folks, is “three.” This double-disc set of excellent world adventures brings together “Four Compositions” by Swiss pianist-composer Sylvie Courvoisier and “19 Improvisations” by her trio that also includes Mark Feldman (violin) and Erik Friedlander (cello).

Inspired by her early experiences with the music of Bill Evans, Paul Bley, Cecil Taylor, John Coltrane, Edgar Varèse and György Ligeti, Courvoisier writes pieces drenched in claustrophobic mists à la Schoenberg and minimalist poetry straight out of Webern. Intense without being melodramatic, chic but atonally funky, the Abaton players move through Courvoisier’s stark landscapes with a full tank of freshly squeezed, concentrated passion.

On the 53-minute “19 Improvisations,” the trio stretches out into wider expanses and sexier vistas. Each of these musicians has a significant jazz résumé, Feldman having played with Muhal Richard Abrams, Lee Konitz and Dave Douglas, among others; Friedlander counts John Zorn, Fred Hersch and Courtney Love’s Hole among his past collaborators; and Courvoisier has worked with the likes of Zorn, Fred Frith and Susie Ibarra. Here “improvisation” means a spontaneous rendezvous of sounds recalling Middle-Eastern music, Morton Feldman, Ali Akbar Khan, Terry Riley, György Kurtág and other forays into the sublimely sensual. The rhythms are mostly intuited, rarely metronomic, and the pulse is so intercut with darkly soulful meditations that it all feels like Charles Ives out for a ride in the universal unconscious, with a yellow rose in his lapel and a flask of something bracing in his pocket.


Sylvie Courvoisier and violinist Mark Feldman perform Saturday, Nov. 15, at Kerrytown Concert House (415 N. Fourth Ave., Ann Arbor). Call 734-769-2999.

E-mail George Tysh at


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