Colin Vallon speaks about “Le Vent”

Colin Vallon © Petra Cvelbar“Le Vent” is Colin Vallon‘s second album for the prestigious label ECM. Listening to it, or to him speak, you might think he’s a bit soft – a gentle soul. There’s a distinct aesthetic to his playing, it’s mindful and sombre as if remembering a lost love. Interviewing him, I found an assured and fiery spirit; a pianist with a clear intelligence, driven to carving out his own, individual path.

“From the moment I could stand I tried to press down the keys”

Music was always around Vallon – when most families were arguing at Christmas, his was gathering at the ever-present piano, singing hymns and Gospel. “I loved the sound of the instrument, from the moment I could stand I tried to press down the keys”. Despite this, he quit piano at the age of 12 because he could no longer play by ear and reading music frustrated him. Then two things happened: his uncle taught him some blues chords that he could play, “Without paper in front of me” and he saw a solo concert of Keith Jarrett, “It was really amazing to hear that.”

He returned to music lessons at 14 and began composing. By 19 he was at the University of Arts in Bern and had his own trio. Here he found the American theory of copying the standards until you could imitate them too restrictive. “But this was also very good for me,” he says, “because it meant that if I wanted to do something of my own then I had to do it really on my own and to be more didactic in terms of composing. I was really independent.”

“It’s a music that has something very raw about it”

However the composition tutor, Frank Sikora, inspired Colin and for his class he recorded, “A huge fence or gate that was screeching, making harmonics and noises.” By 2002 he developed this interest in strange sounds with prepared piano techniques and had begun an enduring curiosity for Eastern European music. “It has something very raw about it and, like this fence maybe [that he’d recorded], it’s a very different sound and it’s something that caught me immediately.” He joined a band with the saxophonist Sascha Schönhaus playing Balkan music and discovered one of his “desert island records”, Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares.

A journey in Albania

Meeting Elina Duni provided fertile creative soil as Albanian music opened up to him and the Trio’s third album, (their first for ECM) was entitled Rruga, the word for “path” or “journey” in Albanian. It was critically acclaimed, so did this make it hard to follow? “There was a bit of pressure,” admits Colin, “not from the label, but from’s hard to come with a second album…and changing the drummer [from Rohrer to Sartorius], but in the end I’m really happy with the results.”

“There are a few goodbyes, a tribute to Asita Hamidi”

Colin found his material came naturally as he dealt with several deaths and saw a suicide jump from a bridge. “Le Vent was an elegiac album, a lot to do with death…and the passing of time and life. It sounds really dark but it’s not just about that…There are a few goodbyes, a tribute to Asita Hamidi [the harp player] who died…things that are a part of life but I needed to express somehow.” It’s Vallon’s careful listening for, then stating his own truth, that makes him a compelling artist.

Colin Vallon “Le Vent” (ECM)

On tour:

26/04/14 Jazzahead, Bremen DE
27/04/14 A-Trane, Berlin DE
29/04/14 Mokka, Thun CH
30/04/14 Bee-Flat, Bern CH
03/05/14 L’Azimut, Estavayer-Le-Lac, CH
13/05/14 Mokka, Thun CH
17/05/14 AMR Genève, CH
27/05/14 Mokka, Thun CH
01/06/14 Green Hours Festival, Bucarest RO
07/06/14 Paris Jazz Festival, Paris FR

Elina Duni Quartet @ the London Jazz Festival

BaO_DuniYou physically feel the power of Elina’s cry

Elina Duni is a storyteller and from the moment her first ever London concert began she unapologetically took us, barefoot, from the Queen Elizabeth Hall into the forests and mountains of Eastern Europe. And into a culture of stirring tales of family bonds, passionate love, loss and longing. You physically feel the power of Elina’s cry, the emotional quivering of the Balkan vibrato and resonance of the words (even though most of us didn’t know the language) and along with her quartet she held the audience rapt

“The magical part is what’s happening between us, our interplay”

Elina’s lifeblood is both the folk music of her birthplace, Albania, and improvised music. “The magical part is what’s happening between us, our interplay,” she explained to me and over the nine years they’ve played together they’ve evolved ways to hold Elina’s stories (two were traditional songs passed to her by grandparents) without crushing them under the weight of jazz improv or, more to the point, not being eclipsed by them and Elina’s charisma. In The Girl of the Waves Elina’s ethereal vocal sounded as if it was floating on the wind, being carried to the bird that the girl is questioning about her missing lover. Colin Vallon’s piano felt like the bird’s reply, sweet yet with edgy minor keys to hint at tragedy.

“The earth beneath us”

Elina Duni_PF2I have to admit I was entranced by Colin’s imagination; he is a potent voice and I want to check his own trio now. At times he played with such melancholy it broke my heart, then in a moment, flashed his anger or became cold, like ice cubes dropping into Elina’s blood-red cocktail, cracking and clinking, changing the temperature. He used various techniques to physically alter the piano, deadening the resonance or twisting the keys into cimbalom-like notes, revealing a Balkan soul whilst never breaking the spiritual thread of jazz.

The drumming of Norbert Pfammatter was sensitive and swinging. He made every beat count and at a pace that clearly said, ‘I’m taking my time, got a problem with that?’ He used bundles of thin sticks to create an effect between brushing and drumming and exuded a yin quality: soft but dark, tapping out a funereal rhythm or taking us into a tribal trance. The double bass of Patrice Moret stayed warm and solid, ‘The earth beneath us,’ as Elina described it.

Albanian blues

A rendition of Nënë Moj, a son sorrowfully telling his mother he must leave to his homeland to work, was a highlight. Elina described it as Albanian blues and it’s the flavour of the quartet’s next album. If it’s half as thrilling as their performance it will blow your socks off. I did want to hear a wider range of sounds and ideas but admittedly it was a short set. I think it will be vital for the quartet to establish the breadth of their creativity in the future. After the gig finished, I heard a woman behind me say, “You can feel the root, the tradition and that’s what she is.” I would add that Elina is genuine, humble and only at the start of exploring her full compelling potential.


Elina Duni played @The London Jazz Festival (Southbank), 19 November, 2013.

Next concerts:

23.11. 2013, München (DE), Unterfarht
06.12. 2013 Fribourg, La Spirale (Elina Duni & Bessa Myftiu, lecture-chant)
25.12. 2013 Bern (CH), Bee-Flat, Elina Duni & Colin Vallon
05.01.2014 Toulouse (FR), salle Nougaro
16.01.2014 Paris-Pantin (FR), Festival Banlieues Bleues, la Dynamo
17.01.2014 Auray (FR), Centre Culturel Athena

Serge Wintsch à propos de la scène jazz suisse

Francine et Serge Wintsch

Francine et Serge Wintsch

Directeur du JazzOnze+ Festival avec son épouse Francine depuis plus de vingt ans, Serge Wintsch est aussi un musicien à ses heures perdues. Il connaît la scène suisse sur le bout des doigts. D’autant qu’Onze+ était à l’origine une association de musiciens lausannois, rassemblés pour donner plus de visibilité « aux musiques d’improvisation, à la musique contemporaine ». Du haut de ses 25 éditions, Onze+ s’impose aujourd’hui comme un rendez-vous incontournable du jazz suisse  comme international ainsi que des musiques actuelles. Les concerts de jazz ont lieu dans la salle Paderewski alors que depuis 2001, la salle des Fêtes du Casino de Montbenon se transforme en EspaceJazz et propose des concerts gratuits destinés à un public plus jeune, amateur de musiques africaines, de soul-funk ou d’electro.

Le festival a toujours accueilli des musiciens suisses. Parlez-nous de ceux que vous avez invités en 2013 ?
Serge Wintsch Le Who Trio est une valeur sûre. Michel Wintsch (mon homonyme sans être un parent) joue depuis de nombreuses années avec Gerry Hemingway et Bänz Oester. Ce trio s’est rarement produit à Lausanne. Idem pour le guitariste genevois Christian Graf dont le côté rock me plaît beaucoup. Et comme cette année, nous voulions mettre l’accent sur les guitaristes, l’occasion était toute trouvée.

Qu’en est-il de Samuel Blaser et Jean-Lou Treboux ?
Serge Wintsch Samuel Blaser est un extraordinaire inventeur de musiques. Il trace sa propre voie dans la musique improvisée sans s’inscrire dans un genre particulier. Sa formation autant classique que jazz lui a permis d’acquérir des bases techniques solides pour créer avec la plus grande liberté formelle. Jean-Lou Treboux est un jeune vibraphoniste que nous suivons de près. Il a décroché une aide financière institutionnelle pour résider à New York pendant six mois. Cette invitation à Onze+ constitue son premier concert en Suisse avec cette nouvelle formation. Nous ne savons pas du tout ce que cela va donner, mais nous lui faisons entièrement confiance.

Que pensez-vous du jazz en Suisse en 2013 ?
Serge Wintsch Cette scène est extrêmement intéressante et riche. Rappelons qu’en Suisse il y a une longue tradition du jazz. Avant elle existait sans doute plus à l’intérieur des frontières qu’à l’extérieur. Je pense en particulier au Zürcher Jazz Festival qui de 1951 à 1973 fut un lieu de rendez-vous incontournable des musiciens alémaniques comme romands. Mais peu de musiciens s’exportèrent. On peut citer, parmi ceux-ci, Pierre Favre, Daniel Humair, George Gruntz, Irène Schweizer, Matthieu Michel ou Mathias Rüegg (Vienna Art Orchestra). Dans la nouvelle génération, il suffit d’écouter les pianistes, Colin Vallon, Stefan Aeby, Gabriel Zufferey, Léo Tardin ou Marc Perrenoud pour être convaincu que la relève est là et qu’elle possède un haut niveau créatif.

Les musiciens que vous mentionnez se sont souvent intégrés à d’autres scènes, comme Daniel Humair en France ou Pierre Favre en Allemagne. On oublie presque que ce sont des Suisses.
Serge Wintsch Oui, les Suisses sont discrets ! Peu nombreux sont ceux qui se sont exportés et ceux-là se sont fondus dans l’internationalisme du jazz. Ce qui manque, c’est un mouvement spécifiquement helvétique. Il me semble toutefois que les musiciens circulent plus qu’avant, qu’ils collaborent plus entre eux, peut-être aussi grâce à l’apparition d’écoles comme l’HEMU (Haute Ecole de Musique) de Lausanne).

Les conditions seraient donc réunies pour un mouvement spécifiquement helvétique ?
Serge Wintsch Ce serait drôle d’imaginer des tournées internationales avec des ensembles suisses en alternance. Un peu comme le Chicago Blues en son temps. Cela permettrait de montrer le foisonnement de cette scène suisse au reste du monde.

Festival JazzOnze +, Lausanne, du 30 octobre au 3 novembre.

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