Sclavis / Pifarély / Courtois

Louis Sclavis, clarinet | Dominique Pifarély, violin | Vincent Courtois, violoncello

New album : Asian fields variations (ECM) 

Asian Fields Variations marks the first time that clarinettist Louis Sclavis, violinist Dominique Pifarély and cellist Vincent Courtois, long-time colleagues, have recorded as a trio. All three are major figures in contemporary French creative music : this is a new group with a lot of history. Sclavis and Pifarély have played together in diverse contexts for 35 years, Sclavis and Courtois for 20 years. As one can hear on the recording, they have retained the capacity to surprise each other – and their listeners – as improvisers. Alertness and freshness are key qualities here. “We’re always drawing also on a lot of different playing experiences. And those experiences are reflected in what we write, and what we play. We’re continually bringing new things to the project, and we keep going deeper.”

If the instrumentation – clarinet, violin, cello – implies a chamber music orientation, each of the players has his own compositional signature, however, with Dominique Pifarély’s pieces being perhaps the most rigorously “written” here. The balance of composition and improvisation, Sclavis notes, was also readjusted in the course of the recording session, produced by Manfred Eicher, at Studios La Buissone in Pernes-les-Fontaines in the South of France September 2017.
Sclavis (born 1953 in Lyon) originally encountered Pifarély (born 1957 in Bègles) in the group of bassist Didier Levallet. “It was immediately a very good feeling to play with Dominique and I invited him to join my group for the recording Chine [IDA records, 1987].” This was promptly followed by the Sclavis/Pifarély Acoustic Quartet album on ECM. “Altogether I must have played in around fifteen different formations and projects with Dominique.” These include Les violences de Rameau, recorded in 1995 and 1996, featuring some flamboyant playing inspired by baroque composer Jean-Philippe Rameau.

Vincent Courtois (born 1968 in Paris) was first asked by Sclavis to participate in a theatre music project in the late 1990s. “I found Vincent’s playing very touching, and we had a strong musical connection.” Courtois arrived in Sclavis’s band in time to participate in the recording of L’affrontement des prétendants in 1999, and can also be heard on the 2002 recording Napoli’s Walls.The 2000 recording Dans la nuit, featuring Sclavis’s music for the silent movie by Charles Vanel, marked the first occasion that Louis, Dominique and Vincent had appeared together on disc (in an ensemble completed by Jean-Louis Matinier and François Merville). They toured widely with the project : “In some ways it was the opposite of what we are doing now, because we had to match the music to images and we were trying to play exactly the same every night. But for developing a sound together and for precision and discipline, it was very good for us.”

The first trio performances – “fifteen or sixteen years ago” – found Sclavis, Pifarély and Courtois on the road in Africa and South America. After crossing each other’s paths repeatedly in the following years (Pifarély and Courtois, in and out of Sclavis’s projects, have often played duo concerts, and Sclavis has also guested with Courtois’ groups) all three came together again in 2013 for a project with Japanese pianist Aki Takase, which underlined the special musical understanding these players share.