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Thursday, November 24, 2022

An Interview with Cécile Cappozzo

Cécile Cappozzo. Photo (c) Rémi Angeli

How are the compositions born? Do they come from improvisations, are they directly written on the score with the players and instrumentation in mind? Do they form a whole, or are the pieces written over a longer period of time and brought together for the recording?

For this record there are really only four compositions: 'Autumn Hymn', 'Dance Dance', 'Carla' and a rhythmic phrase without a fixed melody called "Orage'. I wrote the 'Carla' theme when I was 19, it's very short. At that time I listened to Carla Bley and Paul Bley a lot.

I wrote the other three songs about two years ago, during the time of Covid lockdown. My approach is as follows: first I sing the melody, write it, then I look for the bass to anchor it, then the harmony, and finally I imagine how to divide the voices between several instruments. I gave them to the musicians and the idea was to start with improvised pieces in which the themes can arise at any moment, from anyone's initiative, in any order. This record, Hymne d’automne, is better suited to listening in its entirety because it is designed as a whole, a single and same piece.

When are you ready to record? Is it programmed well in advance, or is it about capturing the music in all its freshness when it appears?

We had booked a date and room to work as a quintet and record the proceedings, without a goal to make a record. I simply said to myself that if it held up, I would have Stéphane Berland (Ayler Records head) listen to it to find out if he liked it. He knew that after my trio record on his label I wanted to put together a quintet with some written melodies.

How would you describe your evolution as a composer and pianist between the previous album and this new one? There is a sense of continuity, given it looks like an augmented version of your previous trio.

Yes, continuity is an apt description. I remain faithful to the same people, and would like to make the group grow with each new project.

What is the role of the producer in this case? Did he initiate the project, made some suggestions?

Not at all. We recorded, I sent the recording to Stéphane Berland, he listened and he said "I love it! I'm putting it out! We're not touching anything!" I can never thank him enough for his support.

Your father is trumpeter Jean-Luc Cappozzo – who plays in the quintet. Does he give you his opinion on your music, your way of making it happen, can he be critical or bring his point of view?

Yes, he throws ideas, just like the other musicians in the band. I certainly listen carefully to my father’s advice. We don't always agree, I try to listen to everyone while remaining faithful to my concepts and instinct. I would describe myself as a "diplomatic leader" [laughs].

What are your influences on the instrument, or in jazz in general?

I am touched by the history of several people and cultures, I don't really have precise historical notions but the feeling is there, and although I am neither American, tall, black, gypsy nor Spanish, I feel closely related to the piano sound of McCoy Tyner when I hear it, but also feel at home when invited to dance a pata por buleria… The most important pianists in my training and listening background are Mal Waldron, Ran Blake, Paul Bley, Bill Evans, Art Tatum, Thelonious Monk, Keith Jarrett, Dollar Brand… Critics usually mention a Cecil Taylor influence on my playing, but I haven’t listened to him that very much, so I don’t think that’s relevant.

Where does the inspiration for the title choices come from?

'Carla' is a tribute to Carla Bley, Hymne d’automne is the title of the album because I wanted to hear a hymn, with a solemn side (I love the music of the Semana Santa in Andalucia, one of my greatest listening epiphanies), but also with a reference to nature, an evocation of the sound of leaves, rustling of the wind... 'Dance Dance' refers to the idea of the dancing body (my other form of expression), and 'Orage' is composed of a rhythmic phrase inspired by a type flamenco in 12 beats; I named it 'Orage' [i.e. Thunderstorm] in connection with the title of the record, since it is a mixture of freedom and forecast.

What is the part of jazz, improvisation, how do you organize your music and present it to your partners?

We work on the themes, playing the melodies and rotating the grids, but I'm often attracted to a back and forth motion : the idea of making a "free” piece into which the themes can sneak in (or not), which are in a corner of our heads, they can come and go, the whole process is like a collective walk, where we decide to stop at times to take a break, without either diminishing the individual input or “pack” state of mind.

Can you introduce us to your partners in the band? Do they have a creative role in the compositions?

Patrice Grente probably has the most influence because if he doesn't like a grid, he will say : "I'm going to do something else, huh" [laughs] and that's fine with me. Patrice is a great double bass player, jazz musician and improviser. Etienne is a multifaceted drummer, comfortable in many areas, he also understands what I want to hear, it's magic! Guillaume Bellanger is very skilful in finding the right place, and my father just hovers above all this racket. They are all creators since the themes are only supports, places of rendez-vous, they do not constitute the goal or the destination.

What would your dream project be, if it could come to fruition?

I would like to have the means to gradually increase this line up, up to about fifteen musicians, always with this idea of free pieces punctuated by a few thematic reference points that we can decide to play, or not.

Would you say that the fact that music is not your only professional activity gives you additional creative freedom or input?

This is a difficult question because I feel half and half! Certainly, since my return from Spain, I give more shows as a flamenco dancer than concerts as a pianist, but it is beyond my control, I go where the work takes me. I would love to have more concerts with my projects as a pianist. As for creative freedom, it's rather the fact of having a dual activity that makes me grow: one passion feeds the other, it's very complementary. Going further in precision and rigor allows me to go further in creative freedom. I used to practice the piano enormously when I was younger and have acquired technique which I can summon even if I don’t play the piano on a daily basis anymore. The physical discipline involved by flamenco dancing helps me focus and clear my head and that translates to my piano playing, which is a combination of mind and body; the goal being to becoming able to let the music guide the way and follow it with full mind and body availability and commitment, without forcing anything, in a state of complete listening.

- November 13, 2022

Cécile Cappozzo. Photo (c)Rémi Angeli

Cécile Cappozzo, flamenco. Photo (c) Donatien Leroy 


Cécile & Jean-Luc Cappozzo - Soul Eyes (FOU Records, 2016)

Cécile Cappozzo Trio - Sub Rosa (Ayler Records, 2018)

Cécile Cappozzo Quintet - Hymne d'automne (Ayler Records, 2022)