By Ken Waxman
As rocky and jagged as the minerals and canyons which inspired her, the music composed by Paris-based pianist Eve Risser on Les Deux Versants Se Regardent considers other vistas such as the balance between earth and sky reflected in these landscapes. Like a raised-relief map, where the indentations as well as the landforms can be experienced in a tactile fashion, her concepts are actualized by taking advantage of the fluidity available from her 10-piece White Desert Orchestra. Relaying on the rhythmic forcefulness displayed by Julien Desprez’s guitar, Fanny Lasfargues’s electro-acoustic bass guitar and Sylvain Darrifourcq’s drums and percussion, plus her facility with piano preparations, the nine vistas are additionally invigorated by the equivalent of mountain breezes expelled by the six-piece horn section with frequent reminders of both purely improvised and notated music.
A former member of the National Jazz Orchestra of France as well as numerous small groups, Risser’s arrangement smarts are such that distinct instrumental textures such as Sophie Bernado’s comb and tissue paper-like bassoon snarls or loping brass extrusions from trombonist Fidel Fourneyron reflect particular aspects of the sylvan or sulfuric qualities of the landscapes she’s saluting, But none ever substitute pure description for musical sophistication. Many sequences mix formal and free antecedents as if unprocessed ingredients mined form natural surroundings are blended with refined products that are the product of contemporary science.
For instance “Tent Rocks” contrasts a full-fledged swing band-like arrangement, including a snorting tenor solo from Benjamin Dousteyssier, who plays bass saxophone elsewhere, with baluster-like decorations from Sylvaine Hélary’s flutes, introduced by crunchy guitar flanges and brought to the end by positioned keyboard plucks. “Eclats” on the other hand crystallizes a theme out of crackles and buzzes that could be an electric-acoustic composition. A crescendo is reached when bass saxophone blats verses electric bass pops are excitedly interrupted by round-robin soloing from all the horns. Additionally, although an extended and multi-sectional piece like the title track may allow for concerto styled showcases for the likes of Eivind Lønning’s trumpet counterpoint, ambulatory bassoon lines and breezy flute asides, the focus is on how the contrapuntal narrative reaches a harmonized climax, not self-aggrandized exposure.
Eventually after the topological landscape has been saluted and reflected every which way from wispy breaths to crunching string shakes, the CD reaches a symbolic crescendo with the penultimate “Earth Skin Cut”. As Antonin Tri Hoang’s alto saxophone gouges out rugged excavations in the compositional framework which reflect emotional as well as physical indentations, straight drum beats and clean horn vamps maintain the melody within striding resonations. Completed with a brief coda of sympathetic piano pressure, the suite reached its descriptive goals as it exhibits another of Risser’s notable skills.