Sat July 20, 2024

Sylvie Courvoisier’s Chimaera feat. Christian Fennesz, Nate Wooley, Drew Gress, Kenny Wollesen & Nasheet Waits (USA/A)

Sylvie Courvoisier: piano
Christian Fennesz: guitar, electronics
Drew Gress: bass
Nate Wooley: trumpet
Kenny Wollesen: drums, vibraphone
Nasheet Waits: drums

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In July 2024, prolific pianist-composer Sylvie Courvoisier will lead world-premiere performances in Europe by the septet edition of her atmospheric, shape-shifting new ensemble Chimaera, showcasing sounds that Jazzwise magazine says are “full of dream-like ambience and luminous textures.” These special events will feature Courvoisier alongside the iconic Wadada Leo Smith on trumpet, Christian Fennesz on guitar/electronics, Nate Wooley on trumpet, Drew Gress on double- bass and a pair of percussionists: Nasheet Waits on drums and Kenny Wollesen on drums and vibraphone. The band will be playing music from the widely acclaimed double-disc Chimaera album, released in October 2023 via the Swiss label Intakt. Stereogum described the recording as inspiring “a sense of mystery and wonder,” while All About Jazz proclaimed Chimaera as “genuinely addictive, revealing more of its marvels with each encounter.”
The Swiss-born, Brooklyn-based Courvoisier — whom The New York Times has called “a pianist of equal parts audacity and poise” — has played variously in the Big Apple and beyond with Smith, Wooley and Waits, while Gress and Wollesen are longtime members of her ever-excellent trio, praised on both sides of the Atlantic. Chimaera’s wildcard is Fennesz, the Austrian artist known for his ambient-textured work both solo and in league with such 0igures as Ryuichi Sakamoto and David Sylvian, as well as with the ECM-af0iliated band Food. Spacious and shimmering, Chimaera presents a reverie of sound unlike any the prize-winning Courvoisier has crafted before.
For the music of Chimaera — initially commissioned by the Sons d’hiver festival in Paris — Courvoisier was inspired by the Symbolist paintings of Odilon Redon (1840-1916), a French artist whose fantastical, hallucinatory work aimed to place “the logic of the visible at the service of the invisible.” Redon’s otherworldly images marked him as a precursor to the Surrealists; moreover, he likened these enigmatic pictures to music, in that they evoked “the ambiguous realm of the undetermined.” The lucid-dream sounds of Courvoisier’s Chimaera album stay true to this impulse, 0loating and elusive like shadows on the ocean; in concert, the pianist’s group will bring her compositions alive in the moment, expansive and subtly different from night to night — the melodic glint of trumpets, piano and vibraphone atop a rolling groove of rhythmic ambience, with Fennesz’s magic clouds of guitar enveloping the band.
Such is the beguiling quality of Chimaera that it could turn out to be Courvoisier’s most celebrated project to date. But she has been going from strength to strength for years, crossing borders with a creative spirit and a free mind. Courvoisier earned her renown for balancing two distinct worlds: the richly detailed depth of her European chamber-music roots and the hard-grooving, hook-laden sounds of the New York jazz scene. She has interpreted music from Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps to John Zorn’s Bagatelles, revealing new possibilities. Her two-decade partnership with violinist Mark Feldman yielded a seemingly telepathic duo, as well as a lauded quartet; she has also pursued recent collaborations with such avant-jazz luminaries as Mary Halvorson and Ned Rothenberg. As NPR’s Kevin Whitehead has said: “Some pianists approach the instrument like it’s a cathedral... Sylvie Courvoisier treats it like a playground.” — Bradley Bambarger