Jacques Demierre

Breaking Stone
Tzadik TZ 9001

Although Geneva-based pianist Jacques Demierre has built up an impressive résumé around his skill as a cerebral improviser with the likes of saxophonist Urs Leimgruber and laptoppist Thomas Lehn, Breaking Stone concentrates on his equally acclaimed role as a composer. Divided into distinct sections the CD presents three variations of the pianist’s sound world which as assured as they are, in execution likely wouldn’t attain the same high quality if not for Demierre’s background in non-notated situations.

That said, “Sumpatheia for Violin and Guitar”, on which the composer doesn’t play, is a strict, atonal exercise that involves intersecting, stretched and contrapuntal scrapes and clanks interpreted by the instruments in the title. A slow-moving showcase of fragile sustains and vibrations from violinist Denitsa Kazakova and guitarist Jean-Christophe Ducret, it fits smack-dab within the New music cannon. However at points the timbres are so uncomfortably skeletal, that one wonders if the composer’s participation would have raised the sonic bar a bit higher – or at least added some needed warmth.

“Three Pieces for Player Piano” and “Breaking Stone for Piano and Voice” are different matters, with Demierre’s full participation in both. Again it’s a credit to him that while each comes from circumstances vitally important to his musical growth, neither shares the characteristics of the other. With Demierre described as playing “sustain pedal” the super speedy and clashing waves of notes throughout the three player piano studies, he doesn’t cite Conlon Nancarrow equivalently ornate compositions as the basis of his work(s), but rather a childhood concert he attended by Blues man Champion Jack Dupree. An unsophisticated American pianist and singer who lived in Europe from 1960 to his death in the early 1990s, Dupree’s repetative sounding beat’n’ boogie-woogie style wouldn’t seem to mesh with the tunes here, except maybe in the racing excitement engendered. Barreling along at high intensity with nearly every note pattern embellished and expended, the trio of tunes is collectively a monument to human stamina. Tremolo excesses are mesmerizing, but any one of the three could have been sufficient.

As erudite as the player-piano pieces are unrefined, the mammoth “Breaking Stone for Piano and Voice” deals with variants of syllables, sounds, words and phrases, plus the amplification and dispersion of Demierre’s vocal properties throughout the piano’s innards. Someone who has studied linguistics and the relationship between sound and sense, Demierre’s vocal output refers to many languages and none at all, creating an intense original interface. With his obvious command of strokes, syncopation and strums from the piano’s keyboard and insides to complement, accompany or oppose the sharp, obtuse and often loony sounds, he begins a duo with himself. The antecedent for this situation is the British partnership of improvising pianist Veryan Weston and vocal sound evacuator Phil Minton. However even as some of his extravagant retches, belches, gasps and nephritic mouth, throat, lung and gut timbre sourcing seem allied to Minton’s work, the pianist has probably also followed the creations of soundsingers with whom he has worked like Dorothea Schürch and Isabelle Duthoit. Demierre does come from the country in which Dadaism first flourished.

The significance here is that every mouth noise heard during “Breaking Stone” appears to have an equivalent piano movement, with the warbles and motions blending for distinctive pressurized tension or gratifying liberation. Whether replicating real words or language or not, each sibilate, stutter, yodels or strained syllable is there for the same reason a key stroke or string pluck is: to advance the composition. Audio-only theatre, the mouth and hand parts eventually become an appropriate fit, leaving a lasting impression. Forty minutes may be too long a period in which to appreciate a creation of this fervor, but all the tracks certainly confirm Demierre’s talents as a thought-provoking composer.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Three Pieces For Player Piano (2012): 1. i Maquinaçao II 2. ii Para Bailar 3. iii Strip 4. Sumpatheia (2007) for Violin and Guitar * 5. Breaking Stone (2011) for Piano and Voice

Personnel: Jacques Demierre (piano, sustain pedal and voice); or Denitsa Kazakova (violin)* and Jean-Christophe Ducret (guitar)*