Bonne nouvelle : les bons pianistes romands se mutiplient!

Malcolm Braff et ses microrythmes, Michel Wintsch et son piano global, habité de sons annexes, Colin Vallon en trio ou en collaboration avec Nicolas Masson (Parallels) et Elina Duni, Marc Perrenoud et son power trio en perpétuelle ébullition, Leo Tardin maître des cérémonies de son grand Pianoramax, Johann Bourquenez, tête pensante de Plaistow (sans oublier le Fribourgeois Florian Favre et d’autres plus jeunes) : le pianistes romands sont légion. D’eux d’entre eux se disputaient les faveurs du public samedi soir au Festival Jazz Onze +.

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

Gauthier Toux n’est pas Suisse, mais presque! Français, il a fait ses classes à la HEMU de Lausanne. En combo avec le batteur un brin énervé, Maxence Sibille (un autre Français de Lausanne) et le contrebassiste danois Kenneth Dahl Knudsen, Gauthier Toux jongle entre Fender Rhodes et piano. Il faut dire que le pianiste a beaucoup de choses à dire, beaucoup de territoires musicaux à défricher. Gautier Toux a ici le doigté classique, là un penchant pour l’improvisation jazz, Son trio est traversé par le feu du funk, par l’énergie du hip hop. Il surprend aussi en flirtant avec des rythmiques empruntées aux musiques de danse ou au rock. Avouant avoir été être influencé par Jason Moran ou Eric Legnini, le Gautier Toux trio séduit par son énergie jubilatoire et communicative et sa palette de sons variées. Il faut pourtant s’échapper après 40 minutes de concert : direction la salle Paderewski où Gabriel Zufferey s’illustre lui en solo. Et un concert solo ça se déguste de bout en bout!

“La musique donne une âme à nos cœurs et des ailes à la pensée

Gabriel Zufferey n’hésite pas à citer Platon sur son site Internet pour proclamer haut et fort son credo: une vision transcendante de la musique et un esprit vif toujours sur le qui-vive.  Samedi soir, le pianiste romand a choisi de placer sa performance sous le haut patronage de Bill Evans auquel il consacre son morceau d’ouverture et de clôture. Depuis qu’il a quinze ans, Gabriel Zufferey est considéré comme le petit génie du piano de ce côté-ci du la Léman. Désormais trentenaire, Zufferey n’est plus seulement un phénomène: il allie aujourd’hui à son intuition, une maturité et une dextérité toujours aiguisée. Couché sur son piano, on ne sait pas vraiment qui de ses doigts, de sa tête ou de son cœur contrôle la performance. Gabriel Zufferey peut caler sa main droite sur boucle rythmique de trois notes jusqu’à friser la saturation pendant que sa main gauche tourne autour de ce trinôme, semble parfois vouloir s’échapper pour de bon, mais n’y parvient jamais. Avec un petit air de professeur Tournesol, Gabriel Zufferey est un personnage et un artiste à la fois. Parfois drôle, parfois lunaire, il est capable d’évoquer  Satie, l’anniversaire de son amie et de jouer avec l’alphabet pour dire que le plus important est que sa musique vient du cœur. Gabriel Zufferey officie aussi dans un trio, Paralog, non moins libertaire, dont le nom  vient du grec paralogos qui signifie absurde…

 

Plaistow present ‘Titan’

Photo: Mehdi Benkler

Photo: Mehdi Benkler

Plaistow set the bar high

Distilling their sound to its very essence, Plaistow have produced, Titan, a big statement from this piano trio led by Johann Bourquenez. With lofty track titles that have the double aspect of Saturn’s moons, and characters in Greek mythology, Plaistow set the bar high, but do they reach it?

They break their own spell

Very young children like to repeatedly bang a drum until you feel you want to punch them. Plaistow use a similar style with chords stabbed over and again, or single piano keys thumped, as in ‘Phoebe’ where Johann’s low notes are emphasised by Cyril Bondi’s simultaneous, single drum hits. This reiteration goes on, enforcing a sort of hypnosis, on both us and them, before – stop. They break their own spell with a sudden spin-around, taking a new direction in rhythm or melody. Plaistow are in control.

Subtle but malevolent bass strings

Often the beats don’t have any slack, or swing, although the deliberate rhythm-shifting and off-beats work well. ‘Kari’ starts with drama: a rattling snake of percussion, subtle but malevolent bass strings, and brushes of piano wire. Johann launches unapologetic, driving notes and with Cyril’s sparse drums, breaks the mood. There are movements in their compositions; each track becomes a surprising journey within itself.

A drone that cements the music

Cyril Bondi has upped his game with a few, assured themes. There are scuttling creatures, percussive bullet rounds and a cymbal-edge metal whine that’s particularly vital, a drone that cements the music to our ears. Vincent Ruiz’s bass is less confident, but within his subtlety there is a distinctive voice emerging, notably in ‘Pan’.

In my interview with Johann last year he explained that Plaistow disguise themselves a jazz trio but are “filled with techno and noise walls”. The tension between these impulses is exciting. Titan is a few tracks too long for me, but Plaistow have avoided an arrogant album by embracing whatever emerged in their improvisations; a genuine range of emotion. Some of these noise walls are woven from elegant melodies; there are romantic glimmers and a veil of Middle Eastern texture.

The piano runs are disturbing and unhinged

As a student I was into Jean Cocteau’s work. He spoke of self-realisation requiring someone to close their eyes, let themselves be taken unawares and follow their dark angel… Bourquenez also follows his light, he taps into his subconscious and gives voice to what he finds. This music has a palpable artistic energy because of that.

In ‘Tethys’ the piano runs are disturbing and unhinged but have the opposite effect in ‘Daphnis’ where the music literally washes wounds with wave after soothing wave. It brings a lump to my throat. ‘Enceladus’ makes my skin crawl, the goosebumps hardening momentarily before the music seems to force open the heart. It feels almost religious, a simple but stunning piece. Much of the album’s impact is physical.

Maybe I’m reading too much into it, or being too personal, but when I first met Johann he looked like he smoked too much and drank too many dark espressos. For this album, he kicked smoking, cycled daily and swam in Lac Leman. Titan is like a discovery of the physical self and of the elation kids feel when they run, climb, roll or bang a drum over and over and over…

New record
Plaistow, ‘Titan’

Plaistow tour dates:
07.11 Jazz Festival, Berlin (DE)
09.11 Jazzdor, Strasbourg (FR)
27.11 Les Murs du Son, La Chaux-de-Fonds (CH)
04.12 Jazz Festival, Jerusalem (IL)
10.12 Paradox, Tilburg (NL)
12.12 State-X Festival, The Hague (NL)
13.12 Jazzdock, Prague (CZ)
22.12 Moods, Zürich (CH)
13.01 2016 Bee-Flat, Bern (CH)

Interview: Johann Bourquenez of Plaistow

©Janice Siegrist

©Janice Siegrist

Johann Bourquenez is hardcore

As Johann walked into the hotel for our first meeting, I got Plaistow‘s music. Dressed in black, head shaved, lean – he is stripped back. There’s an aroma of smoke and an intensity quivering a hair’s breadth beneath the surface, a rapid rhythm. The albums, Citadelle and Lacrimosa, with their trance-inducing repetition, microscopic detail and Johann’s rounds of claustrophobic piano notes, feel driven by a desire for the raw and pure. It didn’t surprise me when he said in preparing for the next album (due out in April 2015) he woke at 6am, worked 8 hours at the piano, then took a bike ride in the evening…every day for a month. It could be said Johann Bourquenez is hardcore.

‘…maybe it’s better not to go too far with this’

French-born and studying jazz in Toulouse, he met drummer Cyril Bondi doing a gig in Geneva. Their connection is the cornerstone of Plaistow, you can hear it on the albums. Johann moved to a squat in Geneva (‘a big house full of crazy people’) and he played regularly with Cyril, but not seriously (‘I was partying a lot.’). Eventually they felt there was something worthwhile, ‘I said to Cyril, OK but I’m a very crazy guy so if I do a band…I will do it very seriously, very deeply, and I will expect people around me to do the same, so maybe it’s better not to go too far with this, and he said, ‘No, no, no, no, you don’t know me, if I do a band it’s going to be a mother******.’ So we decided to do it.’ That was in 2007 when they recruited, Raphaël Ortis on bass, though more recently, Vincent Ruiz on double bass.

johann_bourquenez_feat_plaistow‘You have to be physically be in the present’

Their musical angle comes from Johann’s early years of immersing himself in drum ‘n’ bass and techno (he has currently got Rrose on rewind), using machines and synths, ‘I had many years of this kind of experimentation with electronics…and computer noise stuff.’ At one gig, pre-Plaistow, fed up of lugging equipment around, Johann decided to play acoustic piano – opening it up to use the strings to create a more powerful sound. ‘I can play this piano the way I played all those machines, but I found the significance of every move I make is very important , if I don’t move there is nothing, if I do a very small thing it is very meaningful…The movement – that is very important…you have to be physically be in the present. So, I said with Plaistow let’s pretend we are just a jazz trio but we actually are filled with techno and noise walls…let’s make that music but with acoustic instruments.’

‘I will take your brain, trust me…’
Plaistow au Centre Culturel Suisse (Paris) ©Simon Letellier

Plaistow au Centre Culturel Suisse (Paris) ©Simon Letellier

To take these ideas further the art and animations of Nicolas Berger will be integral to the new album. Johann understands that visuals [on a cinema-sized screen] can divert attention from the music so they need to be justified by making the performance an immersive experience. ‘It’s an old fantasy of mine, I would like to have a two hour concert the way you would do with a DJ set – I will take your brain, trust me, and then I give it back to you at the end.’ This best sums up Plaistow’s raison d’être, it reminds me of the theatre of Artaud or Stravinky’s Rite of Spring – primal yet with a care for the concept of ceremony, event, people.

In fact Johann’s next project is the Great Noise Choral which will debut in December. It will feature, ’20 to 30 people only using voice and making some noise’. I’m certain it will be something pretty hardcore.

Plaistow live @ London, Pizza Express, 20 November (London Jazz Festival)
Liepaja (Latvia), Hiks Hall, 27 nov
Cesis (Latvia), Vidzeme Concert Hall, 28 novembre
Daugavpils (Latvia), Mark Rothko Art Center, 29 novembre

The Great Noise Choral at AMR Jazz Club in Geneva, 19 & 20 December

 
“Lacrimosa” to be released on vinyl, November here!
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