Friday, 21 November 2008

Stephan Oliva...

As we're off to Paris for a few days I thought I'd keep things ticking over with another review posting. The titles of the compositions are appropriately Gallic, though the music its self is more culturally ambiguous. My onion analogy wasn't a subconscious bit of stereotyping, but instead of looking for non-existent connections in an increasingly dull pre-amble, I'll stop and get on with packing those suitcases.

Au revoir...

Itineraire Imaginaire
SKETCH (333042)

Preface; Marche Antique; Resonance D’un Silence; Spirales; Cercle Ouvert; Partance Imobile; Cecile Seute; Mouvement Interpromtu; Paradox; Tango Indigo; Passage En Marge; Ellipse; Postface.

Matthieu Donarier (ss); Jean-Marc Foltz (cl, bcl); Stephan Oliva (p); Bruno Chevillon (b); Nicholas Larmignat (d).
Recorded January 2004.

Pianist/composer Stephan Oliva seems inexplicably to have made fewer waves outside of his native France than such contemporaries as Bojan Z, Sophia Domancich or Francois Raulin. This, his fourth release as a leader, follows an earlier Sketch disc with a cast that included Marc Ducret and Paul Rogers playing personal variations on the music of Lennie Tristano. For Itineraire Imaginaire, it is the Garbarek-Stenson quartet, or Jarrett’s ‘Scandinavian’ quartet of the mid-70s that are the most obvious musical touchstones. Oliva, however, belongs to the same ‘new wave’ of French jazz as Louis Sclavis, and his melding of classical structures with jazz and folk music gives a readily identifiable French feel to the disc. Unlike Sclavis, whose music tends to be tight and chamber-ish, Oliva is not afraid to branch out into far more turbulent waters.

This disc is structured in a way that showcases his control of extreme dynamics - long improvisation based ensemble workouts interleaved by through-composed miniatures featuring different combinations of the members of his quintet. It is in these short pieces that Oliva’s classical leanings come very much to the fore, with the Viennese School and even the spatial characteristics of composer Morton Feldman coming to mind. To convincingly combine these diverse elements would be a dangerous high-wire act for a lesser musician, yet Oliva has little difficulty reconciling such disparate elements without sounding archly eclectic. ‘Spirales’ is a fine case in point - collective improvisation taken to the cusp of meltdown with only the faintest centrifugal pull before the group converge, control the velocity and spiral out with a tricky unison theme. The same approach surfaces on ‘Ellipse’, percussive piano and pulse-drumming giving way to to intricate ensemble work within more tranquil pools. Bruno Chevillon, anchor of many of Louis Sclavis’ best groups, comes through loud and clear, and the detail of Larmignat’s drumming is so well captured that you can vividly differentiate each individual skin stroke. Folt’s clarinets tend towards the strangulated goose vocabulary of mainstream European improvised music, his rather brutal approach providing a foil for Donarier’s liquid soprano.

Knotty and demanding music which rather like an onion reveals more layers the deeper you probe. Euro-jazz aficionados shouldn’t hesitate to seek out this fine release.

Fred Grand
(Jazz Review, September 2004)

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