Foltz/Oliva/Chevillon

Soffio di Scelsi
La Buissonne RJAL 397005

Combining his interests in both notated music and jazz-based improvisation, French clarinetist Jean-Marc Foltz organized this CD as homage to enigmatic Italian composer Giacinto Scelsi (1905-1988).

Preoccupied in his later life with compact expression, Scelsi’s body of work was absorbed by ostinato formations that incorporated clusters, resonance effects, subtle harmony, toccata structures and note repetition. Soffio di Scelsi, translated as “a breath of Scelsi”, showcases 14 miniatures that sift the Italian composer’s leitmotifs into sonic expansion that takes into account non-European expressions.

Someone whose background includes membership in formations such as l’Ensemble Intercontemporain, l’Ensemble Alternance and Musikfabrik Düsseldorf, Foltz is eminently qualified for this interpretation. Furthermore his involvement in improvisation in bands such as Le Trio de Clarinettes, and with guitarist Raymond Boni confirms that he brings more than “legit” conceptions to the tasks.

Positive strength is added by pianist Stephan Oliva and bassist Bruno Chevillon, two other French improvisers with whom Foltz has played in this formation since 2000. Subtle yet strong, Chevillon has also worked with drummer Daniel Humair and reedist André Jaume. Meanwhile Oliva’s keyboard integration of romantic and rough-edge, has served him in good sted whether it’s interpreting the music of jazzman Lennie Tristano or Hollywood composer Bernard Hermann.

Although the instant compositions/improvisations are for the most part given chiaroscuro readings, there’s still enough Klangfarbenmelodie with the use of different forms for the trio to add graduated tinctures and rhythmic freedom to the recital. Foltz plays A clarinet and bass clarinet as well as the standard instrument; Oliva plays inside on the piano strings as well as outside on the keys; Chevillon manipulates both arco and pizzicato run; and all add miscellaneous percussion to the tunes when needed.

On the penultimate track the bassist theatrically whispers a poem by Scelsi. But unless Italian is your first language, Oliva’s pinging piano chords and single notes which reverberate on the sound board define the composer’s modus operandi better than those words.

Sticking to their instruments elsewhere, the three make a virtue out of restraint, building up from low-frequency piano notes, buzzing bass-string drones and un- segmented reed trills to reach intermittent polyphonic climaxes. If Foltz’s glottal punctuation or Chevillon’s barbed wire-like string rubbing isn’t rugged enough, the miniatures gain timbral strength from ruffs on a bass drum. Percussiveness isn’t limited to drums however. Chevillon tugging a handful of strings with an archer’s strength creates reverberating pulses; so do Foltz’s thick, chalumeau arpeggios.

Still like Scelsi’s own compositions, the treatment here mixes levity with freedom. At points the pianist sound as if he’s picking out a nursery rhyme, while the bassist creates nimble coloration. Meanwhile the clarinet line maintains momentum by limiting its output to microtones.

Eventually intermittent whistling reed overtones plus tongue-pitch variations, bass pedal emphasis coupled with stopped piano strings and intimations of wood-splitting from the bassist, culminate in a discordant thematic climax. Raw and sharp, the rhythmic crunches and air aspiration don’t provide tension release, but merely confirm that a certain point has been reached and the ongoing exposition could begin again at any time.

With this disc, the Foltz group brings crisp ingenuity to Soffio di Scelsi, honoring the composer’s spirit while interpreting his ideas according to its own logic and talents.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Desire: 1. SOGNO I 2. SOGNO II 3. SOGNO III 4. SOGNO IV 5. SOGNO V 6. SOGNO VI 7. SOGNO VII 8. SOGNO VIII 9. SOGNO IX 10. SOGNO X 11. SOGNO XI 12. SOGNO XII 13. SOGNO XIII 14. SOGNO XIV

Personnel: Jean-Marc Foltz (clarinet, alto clarinet and bass clarinet and percussion); Stephan Oliva (piano and percussion) and Bruno Chevillon (bass and percussion)