Foltz/Oliva/Chevillon: Soffio di Scelsi (RJAL 397005)


Soffio di Scelsi

Jean-Marc Foltz clarinets, percussion
Stéphan Oliva piano, percussion
Bruno Chevillon double bass, percussion, vocals
Recorded April 28/29, 2004 at Studios La Buissonne by Gérard de Haro
Mixed December 2006 at Studios La Buissonne
Mastered by Nicolas Baillard
Steinway prepared and tuned by Alain Massonneau
Coordination: Manuela Vincendeau
Produced by Gerard de Haro and RJAL, Jean-Marc Foltz, Stephan Oliva and Bruno Chevillon for La Buissonne
Release date: June 1, 2007

Inspired by the mind and music of Giacinto Scelsi (1905-1988), this set of 14 freely improvised pieces, each of which deepens an encounter with the Italian composer that could never be, merges the shoe impressions of clarinetist Jean-marc Foltz, pianist Stéphan Oliva, and bassist Bruno Chevillon in the same wondrous mud.

The droning qualities of the opening put me in mind of Scelsi’s onetime confinement in a psychiatric hospital, where he incessantly played an A-flat on the piano until his personal style emerged. In parallel, the music compresses itself until outer edges crack to reveal an encroachment. Such borders between inner and outer realms are what make this listening experience so self-aware. All the musicians play percussion as well, adding splashes of surprise, tactile drama, and color to an otherwise monochromatic landscape. If anything, we are made privy to a sound in which the details of our lives transform from solid to liquid to gas, and in that process wish themselves out of existence.

Contrasts abound in this intensely focused session: between a prayer bowl and an arco double bass at its most growling register, between a piano and the abandoned home throughout which it seems to echo, between the regularity of a spontaneous motif and the uncertainty of its denouement. But at the center of their wingspans beats a heart that unifies them by blood and call to flight. Other organs of this metaphorical body make their functions known. Chevillon’s bow has the quiver of a compromised lung, Oliva’s piano the struggle of an aging brain, Foltz’s reed the contraction of a throat too parched to speak. In the midst of such guttural ciphers, it is all we can do to piece together messages from whatever shreds of gloom are afforded us.

The sounding of drums is a wakeup call to every conductor to have ever lifted a baton in a dream, only to find that the orchestra plays not as expected, instead moving at a snail’s pace toward consonance. And as the curtain falls at half-speed, as if in morose accompaniment, the weight of time becomes apparent. The effect is so lulling that when a voice breaks from its cage in the penultimate vision, it can only signal a breaking dawn. Or so we think as the moon, setting again, leaves us stranded on the leaky vessels of our own expectation, paddling with tired hands.

Thus, Scelsi’s spirit lives on in a most tangible way, as if trickling through the fingers of musicians intent on catching as much inspiration as they can before it seeps into the dank earth, never to be touched anew.

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