by Steve Lake, ECM Records
French violinist Dominique Pifarély returns to the label with an outstanding solo violin recital, drawn from performances at the Auditorium Saint-Germain in Poitiers and Cave Dimière in Argenteuil. The music is totally improvised – apart from a free interpretation of the jazz standard “My Foolish Heart” by Victor Young – and it roves through a range of moods and atmospheres, textures and tone colours, dynamically and unpredictably.
“Playing solo is exciting for me,” says Dominique. “It’s like a very personal workshop. More than in any other configuration it is in the solo playing that I work on and develop my improvisational language – the grammar, the style and the shape of the music.”
Solo performance has been a major part of Pifarély’s work in recent years. “It was important to me to document the music in a live context. To be able to play with this kind of intensity I find I need the audience, the feeling of having someone to address the music to. There is a certain rapport that develops, based on shared listening.”
Pifarély says that he allows himself to think “only ten or twenty seconds before a performance” of how he will begin an improvised set, to keep the edge of discovery in the music. “So it’s as spontaneous as I can make it. At the same time, of course, the instrumental techniques used are things I have practised. But the form is not prepared – each piece is invented or discovered in real time.”
Amid the abstract playing, and the obvious deep involvement with the play of sounds and extended techniques, messages from the deep musical past emerge, sometimes including hints of the baroque. Does Pifarély feel the weight of solo violin history bearing down on him at such moments ?
“Well, I feel it, but it’s not a weight ! It’s a musical richness which I try not to forget. And it’s very useful in this music, this improvised music which is more or less related to jazz – in quite what proportion I’m not sure. Maybe the way I play solo violin can be considered ‘orchestral’ in a sense. I’m thinking about the violin as a small orchestra and I have to pay attention to every detail. And of course Bach is in the air because Bach is polyphonic, and the violin is polyphonic.”
Of My Foolish Heart, which concludes the recital, Dominique says, “I usually like to include a standard in my solo performances, also to assert the autonomy of the violin. Conventionally in jazz we violinists are supposed to need a piano or guitar or a double bass, something to support the harmonies. And of course, Bach told us a long time ago that we really don’t.”
Time Before And Time After borrows its generic title from TS Eliot’s poem “Burnt Norton”, and the individual tracks are also named for poets and poetry, with dedications to Mahmoud Darwish, Fernando Pessoa, André du Bouchet, Henri Michaux, Paul Celan, Juan Gelman, and Bernard Noël. The literary references are, however, afterthoughts. “I’m a big reader of poetry and my idea was that the album could resemble a collection of poems. For me the gesture of improvisation and the gesture of poetry are quite close. After the recordings were made, I thought about relating a particular piece to this or that poet, and used a few words from each as titles for the improvisations.”
Dominique Pifarély takes his solo violin music to the concert stages in September and October 2015 with a three-week Baltic tour through Latvia, Estonia and Finland.
“Un concert comme celui-ci est rare, en ce qu’il restitue le sens profond de la musique comme expérience à la fois solitaire et totalisante, une expérience non pas “héroïque” ou de célébration de soi, mais profondément humaine, touchante, et en même temps troublante.”
Dominique Pifarély, born 1957 in Bègles, is a pioneering improvising violinist, with an inclusive idea of music-making. In his early career he was in demand as a straight jazz player, but soon began playing progressive forms of the music in Mike Westbrook’s band and the Vienna Art Orchestra.
In the 1980s he began leading his own bands, and in 1985 started to work with clarinettist and saxophonist Louis Sclavis. In 1992, they formed the Sclavis/Pifarély Acoustic Quartet, featuring guitarist Marc Ducret and bassist Bruno Chevillon, and recorded for ECM. In the late 1990s, he started a duo with pianist François Couturier, and they recorded the album Poros for ECM in 1997.
Other ECM appearances include three more discs with Sclavis (Rouge, Les Violences de Rameau and Dans la Nuit), as well as Stefano Battaglia’s Raccolto and Re : Pasolini.
Further recordings with Dominique Pifarély are in preparation. Next up is an album with his quartet featuring Antonin Rayon (piano), Bruno Chevillon (double bass) and François Merville (drums). More details soon.
Le geste improvisé est un geste purement poétique. Il n’a besoin que de sons, et du long travail de creusement et d’accroissement de sa langue qui, en solo, conduira le musicien là où il peut indiquer le plus intimement, le plus exactement, où il tente d’aller. Une intention dans chaque son, pourquoi insister sur celui-ci, développer cet autre, passer vite sur celui-là et, au-delà des mémoires de formes qui ressurgissent, c’est peut-être un temps, une possibilité de regard poétique sur le monde qui se fait jour chez l’auditeur, plus actif que jamais.
Essentiel est le rapport à l’instrument. C’est ce rapport seul qui est en mesure de conduire le discours, d’extraire de soi ces « mémoires accumulées », de faire surgir, de temps en temps, le non-encore advenu, c’est ce lien seul qui met la pensée en marche, pointe l’émotion qui vient. Le rapport au pinceau, au stylo, au clavier à présent, est-il différent — hors l’impossibilité de retoucher l’improvisation ? Mettre à jour ce qui reste souvent secret d’un travail humble et rigoureux, de quelque manière qu’on le mène : un peu l’atelier du musicien.