We had a long discussion among some of our Free Jazz Collective reviewers about the innovativeness of Eve Risser's approach to music. Some of us were in total disagreement, and that is actually a situation I like, especially when discussing something as subjective as music, and something as vague as the concept of innovativeness in music, because many ideas and thoughts will make us the richer. The whole discussion can be read again here. The enthousiasts can be found here and here.
My opinion is exactly the same on this album. Eve Risser does something special, something unique, bringing a kind of musical quality that I have not heard among other pianists I admire : Matthew Shipp, Alexei Lapin, Benoît Delbecq, Agustí Fernández, Satoko Fujii, John Tilbury, Kris Davis, Magda Mayas ... to name just a few. And that "special" thing has nothing to do with her piano-playing per se, but with her approach to music.
Her approach has nothing to do with melody or harmony, but with music dynamics, with colors, with light and darkness, tenderness and power, and you don't need many notes for this. In reality, with some creativity, you can use only one note, yet attack it from various directions to create, to evoke feelings and sentiments.
She creates soundscapes in the best possible sense of the word on this solo album, with sparse notes that create an entire atmosphere of 'footsteps in the snow' - the first track - and 'footsteps in the city' - the second track. Both tracks have about the same length - fifteen minutes - yet are of a totally different nature.
On the first track, you can hear the steps, one after the other, repeatedly, lightfooted until something like the winds come in, a broad sweeping gesture over the insides of the strings with a flat object, and the remarkable thing is that she keeps the pace, does not speed up, does not broaden her number of notes, yet changes their color, as if the quality and the depth of the snow swallows the sound, mutes it, reinforces it. Any other musician would have gone much broader, but Risser doesn't. She keeps this slow pace, while increasing the intensity, adding fresh new sounds, chimelike, then maniacally and repetitively, over the already carefully painted aquarel.
On the second, you can hear single notes being repeated over a background of scrapings, repeated scratches, knocks on wood, muted keys, altered keys, single chords, but without losing the essence of the piece, with its relentless focus on some bare essentials that determine its quality. From these few notes, she keeps expanding her palette, and adding little things, contrasts and new elements that reinforce the beauty and the simplicity, but ending in the long resonance of the instrument's darkest insides.
After these two beautiful tracks comes the half hour long "La Neige Sur La Ville" (snow on the city), which starts with an almost electronic sustained note - although produced acoustically - which keeps going for a while with new sounds added on top, equally sounding to be generated by a synth. And to Risser's credit, her sense of pace is again phenomenal, as is her talent for control and restraint. It's as if light get slightly dimmed, but at a pace that you hardly notice any difference. After six minutes, the piano's wooden parts come into play, and slight touches on the keys, and her sonic universe opens like a city coming to life at daybreak, not that the sounds try to imitate the sounds of reality, but rather evoke the feelings that arise and some deeper, hidden reality, because the sounds that you hear are uncommon too, unheard before, like shadows of thoughts or expressions of feelings that remain without words, that are gentle or frightening or tender.
So what is fantastic about this? Eve Risser has a strong sonic voice, all her own, obstinate, firm, without hesitation, setting down a strong presence and full belief in what she's doing. She adores sound, and yes, bands like AMM have paved the way, and other musicians like Magda Mayas' have conducted deep explorations in the piano's sound possibilities (her "Heartland" comes highly recommended), yet I think that Risser goes even further, because of her relentless sense of pulse, that even in the most abstract moments drives the improvisation forward, and that often, even implicitly or below the surface, hammers on somewhere, just to become explicit again or to resurface some moments later, in a different sonic context, and played with other parts of the piano, yet it's there, moving the sounds forward, creating a sense of anticipation, building up tension and intensity, like a tribal trance-inducing dance, and in doing so dragging the listener into her universe, so that she or he can equally be moved and become part of this experience that is totally beyond words and that is totally unique.
If you like music, don't miss this solo piano album that is totally out of the ordinary.