Jean-Sébastien Simonoviez: Crossing life and strings (RJAL 397006)


Jean-Sébastien Simonoviez
Crossing life and strings

Jean-Sébastien Simonoviez piano
Jean-Jacques Avenel double bass
Riccardo Del Fra double bass
Barre Phillips double bass
Steve Swallow electric bass
Quatuor Opus 33
Marie Lesage
Anne-Céline Paloyan violin
Marie-Anne Hovasse viola
Nesrine Belmokh violoncello
Recorded on May 21 and 24, June 8, August 3/4 and mixed on September 6/7, 2007 at Studios La Buissonne by Nicolas Baillard and Gérard de Haro
Mastered by Nicolas Baillard at Studios La Buissonne
Steinway prepared and tuned by Alain Massonneau
Coordination: Manuela Vincendeau
Produced by Gérard de Haro and RJAL for La Buissonne
Release date: February 21, 2008

Following the atmospheric integrity of his La Buissonne debut, pianist and composer Jean-Sébastien Simonoviez teams up with producer Gérard de Haro, conceiver of this new project involving three double bassists (Jean-Jacques Avenel, Riccardo Del Fra, and Barre Phillips), Steve Swallow on electric bass, and the Opus 33 string quartet. Simonoviez pairs with each bassist in duo settings throughout, with occasional support by strings, before finishing with a tripartite suite for the roster in full.

The ache of Phillips’s bow is impossible to mistake for that of anyone else. Whether squealing unaccompanied into flowering strings in “Om #2” or fashioning a veritable Rorschach test in Stanley Myers’s “Cavatina,” he renders underwater songs for landlocked souls. His deftest passage is a balanced reading of John Coltrane’s “Welcome,” in which loving gestures and rougher interpretations swap stories.

Del Fra intersects with an equally diverse set of tunes, from the honeymoon feel of “Leonor Theme” to the poise of “My Ship” (Ira Gershwin/Kurt Weill). The only slight misstep is his soloing on Keith Jarrett’s “The Prayer,” which starts off tenderly before dipping into some derivative playing, even if it does emphasize the integrity of its surroundings. Some of his best playing is on “Om #1,” for which he unravels a colorful introduction into tasteful pulsing.

Swallow dialogues with Simonoviez on two occasions. Where “It Changes (The World)” finds both musicians tilling mineral-rich soil, touching the harmonic core of things as easily as breathing, Léo Ferré’s “A Une Passante” lays its balladry on thick: the sonic equivalent of a sommelier-poured glass of wine.

For me, however, Avenel is the star among them. The resonance of his arco arpeggios in “Leonard” glide across a river that flows in full assurance of its melodic destiny. And in “Diaguily Song,” his buoyancy and percussive flavor show us a player in total control of his instrument.

All of these idiosyncrasies come together in “Le Cosmos.” This sonic depiction of order from chaos actualizes a shift in time for all to hear, and remember, the origins we all share.

Jean-Sébastien Simonoviez: Vents & marées (RJA 397001)


Jean-Sébastien Simonoviez
Vents & marées

Jean-Sébastien Simonoviez piano
Recorded on February 22, 2000 and January 9, 2003 at Studios La Buissonne by Gérard de Haro
Mastered by Gilles Olivesi and Thomas Verdeaux at Studios La Buissonne
Release date: May 30, 2003

Vents & marées (Winds & tides) is the flagship release from the La Buissonne label, named for the studio of Gérard de Haro, famed engineer of many recent ECM productions and a soulful seeker of sound (ECM now distributes the label on its website). Appropriate, then, that de Haro should begin with the quintessential studio instrument: the solo piano. At the hands of Jean-Sébastien Simonoviez, its keys glisten like photographs just old enough to show patina but fresh enough to reflect the light just so under the lamp of interpretation.

The program shuffles together four distinctly different decks in a stack of magical proportions. A selection of standards stands out for its poise. An air of suspension permeates every molecule of “I Wish I Knew,” which Simonoviez plays as if unbound to time or place. “My Favorite Things” comes across with especial tenderness, and finds him enhancing the subtle balance of melancholy and joy that make the song so coniferous. And the way he shifts from reverie to glorious reality and back again throughout the course of “If I Should Lose You” is nothing short of exquisite.

Two John Coltrane tunes, “Naïma” and “Lonnie’s Lament,” showcase not only fearlessly self-reflective playing but also soulful engineering. Two dips into Bernard Herrmann’s film score to Fahrenheit 451, “The Bedroom” and “The Road,” are equally visual and flow with the precision of method actors who embody the power of every moment.

But the most substantive deck of all is comprised of Simonoviez’s own writing, which spans geographies and climates in a most organic way. The personal vibes of “Lumières (Pour Duke)” put in mind a bird flying for no other reason than to enjoy the sensation. The high clusters of “Tacha” fall like snow into happy memories, while “See” brings gentle urgency to the fore. “Winds & Tides” is the thesis statement and drips like candlewax into the abyss of time. Its gestures are palpable. Finally, “Paix” embraces us with thick harmonies and rolling waves.

As can be expected by anyone who has kept tabs on de Haro’s behind-the-scenes presence at ECM, the sound quality is impeccable—spacious without whelming, distant yet close enough to touch, and emotional without ever feeling ungenuine. Let this new journey begin, continue, and leave its mark.