François Couturier: Un jour si blanc (ECM 2103)

Un jour si blanc François Couturier
Un jour si blanc

François Couturier piano
Recorded September 2008 at Auditorio Radio Svizzera, Lugano
Engineer: Stefano Amerio
Produced by Manfred Eicher

After a handful of collaborative efforts (most notably with oudist Anouar Brahem) at last we encounter François Couturier unaccompanied, feeling his way through an artful selection of 17 (mostly) improvised vignettes. Although nominally distinct from his first leader date, Nostalghia – Song for Tarkovsky, it is in fact the continuation of that very project, the second in a trilogy completed in 2011 by the self-titled Tarkovsky Quartet. Continuing with the cinematic theme, Un jour si blanc takes its title from a poem by Arseny Tarkovsky, as recited in the 1975 film The Mirror, directed by son Andrei. Drawing from a distilled yet no less vivid palette, Couturier pursues themes spanning the robust and the fleeting across an ever-shifting terrain. The album traces a diurnal arc, waking in the soft hues of “L’aube” and “Un calme matin orange” and drifting off to sleep in the shadows of “Par les soirs bleus d’été” and “Moonlight.” Between them runs an elemental cross of fertility and fantasy. Couturier treats every note carefully at these outer margins, cradling it like a blown eggshell primed for his delicate scrim. Within that frame stretches a vast pond, the surface of which quivers with the raindrops of an oncoming storm. Reflections of trees are lifted like decals by his right hand in “Lune de miel” and stuck to sky in the highly charged “Le soleil rouge.” Yet despite my own vivid associations, the music is for the most part earthy and unmasked. In this regard, the program’s three homage pieces are clearest in their expressivity. Bearing dedications to Arthur Rimbaud (“Sensation”), J. S. Bach (“L’intemporel”), and Andrei Tarkovsky himself (the title track), each embraces a different fragment of the mirror, much like the film it honors, as if it were the cell of a larger, divine body. They harbor scents of memories, of places soon to be reduced to ashes…

The Mirror

While connections to certain images may be clear, also clear is that this is no soundtrack. Rather, it is a tracking of sound in a way only synaesthesists might fully appreciate. Much of it feels aquatic, for example, but only the subtlest of changes tells us whether we are floating in fresh or swimming in salt. Of the former flavor, we have the four-part “Colors,” which, unlike the piano on which it is played, echoes with the hymns of an amphibian cloister. Of the latter, the diptych “Clair-obscur” grinds a tangier brand of jazz against the crags. This intriguing album—one of ECM’s most intimate solo piano recordings to date—reveals an artist sensitive to the personal science of adaptation. Like the track “Voyage d’hiver,” it sails on waves of depth magic and brings forward a profound realization that, although experience and memories may be ephemeral, the past is infallible. (To hear samples of Un jour si blanc, click here.)

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