D’Agala (Intakt Records)

Sylvie Courvoisier Trio

Released January 19, 2018

New York Times Best Jazz Albums of 2018






With her high-quality trio with Drew Gress and Kenny Wollesen, Sylvie Courvoisier presents her eleventh album on Intakt Records: Intakt CD 300. In both her playing and her composition she shows neoclassical influences mixed with European improvised music and the experimental nonconformismof the New York downtown scene.
The nine pieces on D’AGALA are dedicated to people who admired and influenced Courvoisier. The title tune is for pianist Geri Allen, “one of three dedicatees who passed away as this June 2017 recording was in preparation – the others being guitarist John Abercrombie and French politician, women’s rights advocate and Holocaust survivor Simone Veil. Two pieces are for sculptors, Martin Puryear who merges organic and geometric forms, and Louise Bourgeois. On “Bourgeois’s Spiders,” Courvoisier is all over the piano – plucking or strumming strings inside, or playing with one hand inside and one on the keys, or rattling around on the metal frame. Sometimes the band sounds like a trio of percussionists; they’re that rhythmically acute”, writes Kevin Whitehead in the liner notes and adds: “Some pianists approach the instrument like it’s a cathedral. Sylvie Courvoisier sometimes treats it like a playground”.

Track Listing:

1. Imprint Double (Sylvie Courvoisier), for Antoine Courvoisier 7:40
2. Bourgeois’­s Spider (Sylvie Courvoisier), for Louise Bourgeois 7:32
3. Éclats for Ornette (Sylvie Courvoisier), for Ornette Coleman 4:14
4. Simone (Sylvie Courvoisier), for Simone Veil 4:01
5. Pierino Porcospino (Sylvie Courvoisier), for Charlie 4:19
6. D’Agala (Sylvie Courvoisier), for Geri Allen 8:13
7. Circumbent (Sylvie Courvoisier), for Martin Puryear 3:54
8. Fly Whisk (Sylvie Courvoisier), for Irène Schweizer 7:53
9. South Side Rules (Sylvie Courvoisier), for John Abercrombie 6:23


Sylvie Courvoisier: piano
Kenny Wollesen: drums & Wollesonic
Drew Gress: bass

Recorded June 22, 2017, at Oktaven Audio, Mont Vernon, NY, by Ryan Streber
Mixed by James Farber at Sear Sound Studio, New York City

Assistant engineer and editing: Owen Mulholland

Mastered by Scott Hull

Cover art: Mario Del Curto

Graphic design: Jonas Schoder

Photos: Frank Schindelbeck

Executive production by Florian Keller

Produced by Mark Feldman, Sylvie Courvoisier and Intakt Records, Patrik Landolt


Swiss-born pianist Sylvie Courvoisier has spent close to twenty years in the states honing her distinctive approach to classically-inflected jazz improvisation. Along the way she’s worked with a who’s-who of leading-edge musicians, including veterans like John Zorn, Evan Parker and Ellery Eskelin, but also the younger generation of avant-gardists such as Mary Halvorson and Nate Wooley. Courvoisier draws from both her conservatory background and her work in the creative jazz world to produce music of a very broad palette. Whether tracing classically-inflected miniatures with precision and delicacy, delivering forceful fusillades of power, or generating a sinewy post-bop groove, Courvoisier can do it all: and she sometimes does it within a single piece of music.

On her current trio disc, D’Agala, Courvoisier is again joined by bassist Drew Gress and drummer Kenny Wollesen, her previous partners on 2014’s Double Windsor (Tzadik). Gress and Wollesen are perfect in bringing the slightly off-kilter avant-jazz sensibility that allows Courvoisier’s complex compositions to take shape while leaving plenty of room for freedom and surprise. Take the addictive opener, “Imprint Double,” for instance: driven by Courvoisier’s rumbling, boogie-woogie-like left hand, the trio gets the piece going with locomotive propulsion, only to then shift into a ruminative sequence with Courvoisier’s right-hand filigrees floating over Wollesen’s and Gress’s spartan accompaniment. The beauty of this section is transfixing, but before too long Courvoisier comes back to the surging, shuffling momentum with which the piece began, reinforcing the piece’s undeniable indebtedness to the jazz tradition.

All of the album’s nine tracks possess this basic malleability, with departures that can branch off from the central mood and feel of each cut, allowing for a constant sense of discovery and exploration. “Bourgeois’s Spider” weaves its web through a devious groove laid down by Gress and Wollesen, while Courvoisier makes use of the entire piano, slapping its insides or using palm muting to coax out a wide range of sounds, from miniature explorative tendrils to crashing waves of percussive potency. “Eclats for Ornette” is a deliciously swinging blend of freedom and structure, doing justice to the dedicatee’s legacy through a complex tune that still manages to feel completely open and unconfined. And “Circumbent” undertakes a sprightly, dance-like excursion, with Gress’s nimble basswork and Wollesen’s gentle, steady pulse the ideal support for Courvoisier’s graceful leaps and twirls. Even the record’s closing track, “South Side Rules,” although somewhat more abstract and less defined, still generates a subtle sense of momentum that pulls the listener into the music, casting its spell convincingly until the record finally comes to an end.

With music that is both expertly played and brilliantly conceived, this album reinforces Courvoisier’s standing as a formidable presence in the current creative jazz scene. And it’s a remarkable example of just how much life and wonder remain to be found in something as (seemingly) simple as a “piano trio.”

Troy Dostert (All About Jazz)