Oliva/Tchamitchian/Jullian: Stéréoscope (RJAL 397008)



Stéphan Oliva piano
Claude Tchamitchian double bass
Jean-Pierre Jullian drums
Recorded on May 5/6 2009, except songs 1 and 2 (recorded on November 3, 2008)
Mixed on May 28/29, 2009 at Studios La Buissonne by Gérard de Haro, assisted by Nicolas Baillard
Mastered by Nicolas Baillard at Studios La Buissonne
Steinway tuned and prepared by Alain Massonneau
Produced by Marc Thouvenot, Gérard de Haro and RJAL for La Buissonne
Release date: October 22, 2009

It was La Buissonne director Gérard de Haro who discovered pianist Stéphan Oliva’s trio with bassist Claude Tchamitchian and drummer Jean-Pierre Jullian back in 1990, before his studio came to be known under its famed name. Since then, de Haro has engineered 13 of Oliva’s albums as leader, in addition to side projects with other musicians. In 2009, these four brothers in creative sound slipped easily back into their old groove to produce Stéréoscope. The resulting decalogue of Oliva originals, some new and some well-traveled, pays tribute to the 19 years of collaboration and life experience that have spun out from that initial point of contact.

It’s worth noting that quite a few La Buissonne releases open with their title track. An appropriate tendency, as the label’s recordings are often multi-versed poems, and like poems organically take names from their opening lines. The introductory feel of this one is the equivalent of a wide establishing shot, inclusive of a landscape far bigger than the characters on whose lives we will soon zoom in.

A more energetic system of transportation guides us through memories short and sweet in “Labyrinthe” and “Cercles,” and all with an ecumenical style. “Neuf et Demi” is another example of the trio’s geometric interplay, swinging and gone too soon. Likeminded triangles roll across the backdrops of “Cecile Seule” and “Hallucinose,” content to offer a lullaby in shadow to “A Happy Child.” As bass and piano joining in chorus over a splash of brushed drums, we understand the value of unbroken chains.

Still, there are moments when specific talents dominate our vision without force. Jullian’s drumming, for instance, is evocatively spotlighted in “Portée Disparue,” an examination of cymbals as windows into missed opportunities. Tchamitchian’s bassing is likewise the focal point of “Bangkok,” shifting from abstraction to traction without so much as a bump in the road (I would point also to his arco playing in “Nostalgia”). And Oliva’s pianism, at times wonderous, flows through “Cortege” like a river without end. This leaves us to behold the mountains of “Sylvie et les Americains” and “Illusion Desillusion.” In both, the inevitability of life is turned into a song without words.

Fans of ECM’s most lyrical piano trios, such as those of Stefano Battaglia and Bobo Stenson, will feel right at home here. If that’s you, then don’t hesitate to open the door (it’s unlocked), sit right down, and warm yourself by the fire.

Stéphan Oliva: Coïncidences (RJA 397004)


Stéphan Oliva

Stéphan Oliva piano, Fender Rhodes
Bruno Chevillon double bass, typewriter
Recorded on April 4/5 and mixed on June 16, 2005 at Studios La Buissonne by Gérard de Haro
Mastered by Nicolas Baillard at Studios La Buissonne
Produced by Gérard de Haro and RJA for La Buissonne
Release date: November 10, 2005

“I had jumped off the edge, and then, at the very last moment, something reached out and caught me in midair. That something is what I define as love. It is the one thing that can stop a man from falling, powerful enough to negate the laws of gravity.”
–Paul Auster, Moon Palace

Where most albums of such beauty as this would be considered gifts to listeners, in Coïncidences pianist Stéphan Oliva offers something for readers. Indeed, this largely solo program of self-styled “book music” takes its inspiration from the writing of Paul Auster, whose clear-cut prose draws Oliva’s responses beyond the delineation of a mere soundtrack, constituting instead their own form of textual appreciation.

The album is framed by an arco sketch, via guest bassist Bruno Chevillon, of Jerome Kern’s “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes,” replete with the sound of a typewriter. The writer’s classical instrument makes further appearances in “Olympia’s Lullaby,” which evokes reading under lamplight, and an aphoristic improvisation called “Fuite–Poursuite–Suite.” In both we find ourselves awakening within as the world without falls asleep.

With the exception of a few appearances by Fender Rhodes (e.g., the nocturnally inclined “Levitation”), the album opens the piano itself like a book. The physical properties of literature are keenly explored across its keys. Given the studio in which he was recorded, Oliva takes full advantage of the space afforded him, wherein intimacy can be cultivated like a vocabulary. In “La Traversée,” which makes two appearances, we nearly expect a voice to sing, but the only words available to us are implied by movement over speech, melody over meaning. Such lyrical extensions of the printed word swirl around us in “En Aparte” and “Ghosts Of The Stereoscope.” Like a face turning to glance at something that would otherwise be forgotten, each is willing to let the details of another scene creep into the foreground.

Such actions, reading not only between the lines but also underneath them, are the musical equivalent of writing notes in the margins of a favorite book and looking back upon them years later with fondness, only now with a different color of pen in hand. Even the more dissonant tracks, like “Portee Disparue” and “Sachs March,” cling to us with their own static electricity, as if born from the pleasure of riffling pages at one’s fingertips.