Dominique Pifarély: Time Before And Time After (ECM 2411)

2411 X

Dominique Pifarély
Time Before And Time After

Dominique Pifarély violin
Recorded in concerts in September 2012
at Auditorium Saint-Germain, Poitiers (France)
and in February 2013
at Cave Dimière, Argenteuil (France)
Engineer: Gérard de Haro
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: August 28, 2015

Here is a place of disaffection
Time before and time after
In a dim light: neither daylight
Investing form with lucid stillness
Turning shadow into transient beauty…
–T. S. Eliot, “Burnt Norton”

After leading a string of caravans across the sands of ECM, Dominique Pifarély enchants on this set of solo recordings taken from French concerts in 2012 and 2013 at Auditorium Saint-Germain (Poitiers) and Cave Dimière (Argenteuil). Although nearly everything is improvised, the violinist dedicated each piece in retrospect to a certain poet, from whose verses he also chose a title. More than highlighting personal connections between literature and music, this artistic decision reveals an agency of spontaneous creation.

The Near Eastern quality of “Sur terre” (for Mahmoud Darwich) makes for a poignant introduction to this border zone where motifs converse for want of being equally heard. Every color and texture is like the seed of a new community, touched by horizons yet to be unfolded, and in this respect shares kindship with “L’air soudain” (for André du Bouchet). The latter’s robust yet plaintive cry yearns to be acknowledged in a place uninhabited except by its own singing. Arid climates are evoked in the rasp of a bow: a gargantuan tongue scraping along the earth in search of nourishment but finding only dust and ruins.

“Meu ser elástico” (for Fernando Pessoa) and “D’une main distraite” (for Henri Michaux) are both jagged wonders, wherein leaping suggestions of dance are constantly pulled back to origins, while the masterful“Gegenlicht” (for Paul Celan) shows us thefull scope of Pifarély’s technical and artistic capabilities. Like a prisoner who succeeds in digging his way through a wall with bare hands, he peels away the barrier to freedom one granule at a time. But before he inhales fresh air again, he must pass through “Violin y otras cuestiones” (for Juan Gelman). A struggle that is as political as it is personal, it finds temperance only in the sul ponticellosalvations of “Avant le regard” (for Jacques Dupin) and “L’oubli” (for Bernard Noël).

If shades of the Baroque are present, they’re no illusion, as even Pifarély admits: “[O]f course Bach is in the air because Bach is polyphonic, and the violin is polyphonic.” Bach also informs his decision to close his solo performances with a standard—in this instance Victor Young’s “My Foolish Heart”—to assert the violin’s autonomy. His interpretation thereof looks in the proverbial mirror, hoping to recognize itself but instead finding awe in what it has become.

Dominique Pifarély Quartet: Tracé Provisoire (ECM 2481)

Tracé Provisoire

Dominique Pifarély Quartet
Tracé Provisoire

Dominique Pifarély violin
Antonin Rayon piano
Bruno Chevillon double bass
François Merville drums
Recorded July 2015, Studios La Buissonne, Pernes-les-Fontaines
Engineers: Gérard de Haro and Nicolas Baillard
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: June 3, 2016

In the immediate wake of his solo album Time Before And Time After, violinist Dominique Pifarély returns to ECM leading a fearless quartet with pianist Antonin Rayon, bassist Bruno Chevillon, and drummer François Merville. The album’s title, which translates into English as “Provisional Layout,” is at once accurate and a misnomer. Accurate because Pifarély’s stoic humility allows no leeway for ego. Misnomer because this music is anything but provisional, archived as it is for posterity in this crisp recording.

The album is mostly populated by three diptychs, each split throughout the program. “Le peuple effacé” opens the ears to an honest exploration of space, Pifarély’s bow trembling like the feeler of an insect. Its second part extends a steadier hand, hennaed with designs and motifs that, despite having lost their original meanings, take on new ones by virtue of clinging to flesh. With rhythmic acuity in spades, Pifarély navigates every twist without so much as grazing his instrument along the way. Just as forthrightly, he settles into a lethargic meditation.

DPQ
(Photo credit: Jean-Baptiste Millot)

The title dyad abides by an even more exploratory grammar, wherein orthography is found lurking in every pause. The groovier settlement into which once-nomadic impulses find themselves collapsing is as haunting as it is energizing. The rhythm section is on point here, transitioning from robust to delicate maneuvers with nary a blink to be sensed. Part II is Rayon’s realm. Here the pianist diverts attention to shadow with light, and vice versa, before leaving the other three to dance until their bodies disappear.

“Vague” is a rich soundscape of breathy violin and percussive details, a progression from womb to tomb that consumes philosophies as if they were food. This leaves two standalones. Where “Le regard de Lenz” is an exploded geometry of pent-up force, and as such is the album’s fulfillment of rupture, “Tout a déjà commencé” is a thirteen-and-a-half-minute mosaic of elegiac and celebratory influences. Chevillon ups the bassing quotient significantly, leaving room for a ripple effect to sing. In this regard, the band’s willingness to go as deep as they need to in order to unearth what it is they’re searching for is admirable, and leaves us feeling filled to the brim.

Dominique Pifarély/François Couturier: Poros (ECM 1647)

Poros

Poros

Dominique Pifarély violin
François Couturier piano
Recorded April 1997, Festburgkirche, Frankfurt
Engineer: Markus Heiland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Dominique Pifarély—violinist and former co-leader of clarinetist Louis Sclavis’s acclaimed Acoustic Quartet—and pianist François Couturier—who since Anouar Brahem’s Khomsa has recorded a string of varied albums for ECM—team up for this unique collaboration. The resulting admixture of folk and modern classical influences finds the duo charting waters that might have otherwise remained glassy and still without the cut of their oars. The image is no mere metaphor, for the album’s title comes from French philosopher Sarah Kofman, who characterizes the concept in precisely these oceanic terms: a path through aquatic expanse that is just as vulnerable to erasure as it is to discovery. Its trailblazing implications rest on a blade of uncertainty, and therein lies their beauty.

One might be hard-pressed, however, to read any of this into the music in the absence of such a setup. The listener is instead confronted with a tantalizing, if restless, chain of events. “Trois images” awakens in a fit of pique, only to realize that the object of its scorn has already fallen away like the house of cards that is any dream. The musicians seem to run frantically trying to rebuild it before it gives up the ghost of reality. In other pieces like “Retours,” “Vertigo,” and the title piece we encounter an even more gnarled grammar. It is a dialectical assemblage of action and thought, of secrecy and exposition. The album is a constellation of references whose stars belie hues of the French modernists, free improvisation, and Bartók, among others. We therefore never rest for too long on one idea. The occasional locks stand out for their beauty, only to drown in a sea of cat cries prancing into blackout. What with the bubbling streams of “Labyrintus” and the grinding gears of “La nuit ravie” there is far more going on below and within, locked away behind a shell of almost ritual design. Pifarély brings the occasional jazzy inflection to the arc of his swing, most notably in Mal Waldron’s “Warm Canto” (from his 1961 album, The Quest), in which he blends tiptoeing pizzicato into explosive resonant chords in a chromatic whirlwind. “Gala” offers a pileated ending.

As on the album’s cover, the duo crosshatches incidentals in a knitted bruise. Pifarély trembles with the motion of a leaf obsessed with the fear of falling. His attention to detail and the precision of his agitations are thus remarkable. Couturier’s intricate astrology calls strangely from below, goading that leaf into decomposition. Only then do we see that the forest has been there all along, tilting, spinning, blurring into a looming mask of greens and browns. Traction is hard to come by, paths invisible. Our mind becomes the score, the stand on which its pages are turned, the sound dying to be released from within it. In thinking we believe, and in believing we know.

Louis Sclavis/Dominique Pifarély: Acoustic Quartet (ECM 1526)

Louis Sclavis
Dominique Pifarély
Acoustic Quartet

Louis Sclavis clarinet, bass clarinet
Dominique Pifarély violin
Marc Ducret 6- and 12-string guitars
Bruno Chevillon double-bass
Recorded September 1993 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

After debuting with his quintet on Rouge, reedist Louis Sclavis returned to ECM with French jazz violin phenom Dominique Pifarély to front this trend-setting session. Joined by guitarist Marc Ducret and bassist Bruno Chevillon, the so-called Acoustic Quartet snaps right into action with “Sensible,” the first of four pieces by Sclavis. It is, like every track that follows, an astute blend of composed and improvisatory elements that pairs instruments cleverly and with panache. Pifarély and Chevillon work particularly well together here, and Ducret’s jangly asides make a nice match for Sclavis’s clarinet. Ducret provides notable glue in “Elke,” in which bass harmonics cut through the darkness like a whale song, and elicits some oud-like tones in the playful “Rhinoceros.”

Pifarély delights with a handful of his own compositions. Of these, the guitar-propelled romp of “Abrupto” speaks loudest. The violinist strings a Christmas tree’s worth of ornaments across its conical surface, practically toppling it into the cutting lead of “Hop!” where he lays out the album’s most astonishing solo against a crunchy bass. Not to be outdone, Sclavis dots his every i and lends brilliant inflection to a substantial monologue in “Seconde.” The group also shines in its cinematic rendition of Alain Gibert’s “Bafouée.” Its nods range from Django Reinhardt to klezmer, each stretched and refracted behind a veil of sparkling melancholy.

Pifarély boggles the mind with his rhythm and slide in a group overflowing with virtuosity. Yet it is Sclavis who seems most comfortable in his skin, weaving in and out of narrow spaces with the grace of an eel. The composed material, while on the surface pedantic, provides a frame to see the fullness of every picture. The resulting Sturm und Drang atmosphere when the musicians discard prewritten material in favor of all-out storytelling makes for some intriguing music-making. All in all, a real gem.