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Saturday, July 29, 2023

Céline Voccia: Energetic Dissonance and Contemplative Restraint

Celine Voccia, a French pianist currently living and working in Berlin, couples her classical training with free jazz edge through energetic and engaging improvisation. In the past half year or so, Voccia's discography has expanded rewardingly for the free jazz and improvisational music fan. Here are some thoughts on a few recent recording...

Céline Voccia & Silke Eberhard - Wild Knots (Relative Pitch, 2023) *****

A generous entanglement of twisting saxophone and piano melodies forms Wild Knots, a duo recording from the Voccia and one of Berlin's leading saxophonists, Silke Eberhard. Between the two, the comparisons to other musicians - from Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy and Stan Getz to Cecil Taylor and Olivier Messiaen seem to cover the free jazz and avant-garde composer spectrum. However, it is no hyperbole, from Eberhard, one hears an unfettered voice that can be airy and melodic as well as sharp and incisive, and Voccia is as likely to pluck the strings from inside the piano as she is to lay down a poignant or unnerving chord fragment.

Wild Knots opens with the aptly titled 'Enthusiasm,' which from the opening moments of Eberhardt's ebullient melodic acrobatics and Voccia's split second reactions, the rapport is obvious. The musical conversation ebbs and flows, their musical ideas so fluid and sympathetic that one could imagine them just as well reading from a wildly notated composition. The follow up, 'Indecision,' begins with a bit of high register piano work and questioning swirls of notes from the saxophone. The tune, while never really settling, stabilizes into minimalist interactions between Voccia extracting vibrations from within the piano and Eberhard extending her playing to the clicking of her keys and barely-there notes. As the albums continues it is at turns contemplative and excited. For example, track five, 'Renaissance,' begins austerely with a set of spacious chords and an arc of notes from the sax, then it catches subtly catches first until it is a blaze of staccato stabs at the keys and excited melodic snippets, until coming to a sudden end. The follow-up, 'Meloncholy,' has a yearning feel, Voccia's tonal clusters are both dissonant and tender, while Eberhard finds a lovely, expressive elongated tones to match. The final track 'For Uli' is a neat summary of all that has come before, where towards the end the two work up to a pinnacle that is as fraught with tension as it is energetic.

Wild Knots is a lovely and dynamic album. It is full of spontaneous melodies that could just as well been thoughtfully composed and an overall inspiring listen.

Céline Voccia Trio - Abîme (Jazzwerkstatt, 2023)

With Berlin mainstays bassist Jan Roder and drummer Michael Griener, Voccia has found a pair of sympathetic colleagues who are able to effortlessly support her expansive musical ideas. It is also sort of no surprise, the versatile bassist and drummer are anchors of the Berlin free jazz scene, playing with both the legends, including Alexander von Schlippenbach and the late Ernst Ludwig Petrowsky, as well as current stalwarts like Silke Eberhard, Rudi Mahall, Axel Dörner, and many more. Voccia fits right in with playful atonalness, charismatic drive and startling flexibility.

From the first few 'bars' of Ravin, the trio's compatibility is obvious. The pianist starts with a set of quick melodic snippets while Roder jumps right in with a solid, supportive line. Griener adds unpredictable - but reliable - percussive accompaniment. The following 'Miroirs Envolés' offers moments of austere melody and cradling rhythm section work before building to a heart pounding crescendo. The third track, 'Lamentations,' gets exploratory. Bowed bass, trickling notes from piano, and far away rumbles from the drums, however, comes quickly together. Swooping bass lines connect with dense chords and a flowing rhythmic pulse. Greiner added textures provide a little bit of relief - but not too much - from the tension between the bass and piano. Then, 'Neant' begins with a chilling set of chord tones, played sharply and contrastingly along with plunges into the instrument's lowest octaves. This thrilling introduction then gives way to a spattering of percussion and probing bass work as splashes of notes festoon the sonic space with unusual impact. The remaining tracks serve as reinforcement of the ideas, adding additional moments of energetic dissonance and contemplative restraint.

Abime is a captivating debut recording from this trio.

Celine Voccia, Anna Kaluza, Matthias Bauer - ACM Trio (AUT, 2022)

This trio recording from the tail end of 2022 is a trove of inspired playing and complex listening, however, it also 'goes down' easy. Alto saxophonist Anna Kaluza's cool, edgy lines give Voccia a lot to work with and around, while bassist Matthias Bauer's big, enveloping sound provides ample support for sonic exploration.

The tracks are titled 'Part 1' through 'Part 9,' ranging from three to nine minutes, each one with its own unique character. 'Part 1' begins with a bird call from Kaluza, followed by Voccia placing some perfectly formed chords in between the following melodic snippets. Bauer drops some resonant notes as the track builds up in intensity. Half-way through the five minute track, the approach has solidified as Kaluza's packed lines are punctuated with similar bleats to the opening moments as Voccia and Bauer ratchet up the energy. In 'Part 2,' Kaluza is again leading the way with some wide intervallic leaps and extended melodic ideas, while Bauer is moving quickly over the finger board in an abstract walk. Voccia's accompaniment is precise and effective as she and Kaluza thrust and parry.

As attractive the propulsive motion of the first two tracks is, the exploratory nature of 'Part 3' is truly beguiling. Bauer draws out harmonics and textures from his strings and Kaluza is aflutter throughout her instrument's range. Voccia seems to not be there at all, until you realize that after the tinkle of tones at the start of the track, she's playing the insides of the piano filling in space with light percussive clatter. Voccia returns in full on the next track, playing a deliberate and harmonically rich solo introduction for several minutes before the others jump in.

While each track is worth examination, it could also be simply said, ACM is a fantastic work of both group and individual improvisation.


Eu, de madeira... said...

Edith Steyer - clarinet, preparations
Céline Voccia - piano
Marialuisa Capurso - voice and field recording
Sofia Borges - drums & percussion

released July 24, 2023


Until now i 've never listened to Céline Voccia's music. What a miss, really! All the reviewed albums plus the above mentioned link are great ones, the biggest surprise for me, in music, for 2023 so far//