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Louis Sclavis: clarinets; Dominique Pifarély: violin; Vincent Courtois: violoncello

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. Sclavis summoned the project into existence, but emphasizes that this is a democratic group of creative equals: “I proposed that we make a real collective, and each of us composes for the programme.” 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, Sclavis suggests this is only part of the story. “What I am doing, as I’ve often done in the past, is just writing for the musicians. So I ask myself simple questions: What does Dominique play best? What does he like to play? And Vincent? And how about me? What do I love to play? And these considerations are the starting points.” 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 last September.


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.

The trio was officially re-launched in March 2015 with a new programme of compositions premiered at the A Vaulx Jazz Festival, near Lyon. Now, in Spring 2017, they undertake a French regional tour with concerts in Bessé sur Braye (March 17), La Ferté-Bernard (March 22), La Flèche (March 28), Saint Saturnin (March 29), La Roche sur Yon (March 30), Flers (April 1), Voiron (April 2), Parigné- L'Evêque (April 4), Saint Berthevin (April 5 and 6), Strasbourg (April 7), Saint Florent le Vieil (April 9), and Poitiers (May 30). International summer festival dates are currently being finalized.


Louis Sclavis, Dominique Pifarély and Vincent Courtois have between them a rich, multifaceted discography on ECM. In addition to his recordings as leader, Sclavis can be heard on the recently issued Ida Lupino with Giovanni Guidi, Gianluca Petrella and Gerald Cleaver; this quartet is also currently touring. Dominique Pifarély has had two ECM albums released in the last two years, the solo violin recital Time Before And Time After and the quartet album Tracé Provisoire, with pianist Antonin Rayon, bassist Bruno Chevillon and drummer François Merville. He also appears on Poros with François Couturier and recordings with Stefano Battaglia (Raccolto and Re:Pasolini, the latter also featuring Vincent Courtois). Courtois can furthermore be heard on In Touch with trombonist Yves Robert. 

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