François Couturier - Tarkovsky Quartet 'Nuit blanche' (ECM 2017)



François Couturier piano
Anja Lechner violoncello
Jean-Marc Larché soprano saxophone
Jean-Louis Matinier accordion

Ingmar Bergman once said of Andrey Tarkovsky, “He moves with such naturalness in the room of dreams,” and the French-German quartet named after the great Russian filmmaker has developed an associative dream-language of its own. For leader and pianist François Couturier the “silence and slowness of Tarkovsky” are closely related to an “ECM aesthetic” further developed on the group’s third album Nuit blanche, produced by Manfred Eicher in Lugano in April 2016. Here pieces variously composed by François Couturier, or created in the moment by Couturier, cellist Anja Lecher, saxophonist Jean-Marc Larché and accordionist Jean-Louis Matinier, explore the texture of dreams and memory and continue to make oblique reference to Tarkovsky. Whether playing improvised chamber music, modern composition or baroque music, the creative originality of the Tarkovsky Quartet shines through.






Nuit blanche is the third release from the group founded by French pianist François Couturier, further developing the work begun in 2005 with Nostalghia – Song for Tarkovsky and continued on the album called just Tarkovsky Quartet in 2009. From the outset Couturier’s evocative compositions and arrangements established a context in which improvisation could flower, and both in concert and on record the improvisational component of the music has expanded and deepened.
Its primary inspirational source, however, has remained constant. Ingmar Bergman once said of Andrey Tarkovsky, “He moves with such naturalness in the room of dreams,” and the quartet named after the great Russian filmmaker has shaped an associative dream-language of its own. On Nuit blanche, the musicians explore the texture of dreams and memory and continue to make oblique reference to Tarkovsky.
Alluding to a composer Tarkovsky was listening to at the time of Stalker, the quartet incorporates a crepuscular interpretation of Vivaldi’s “Cum dederit delectis suis somnum” from the Nisi Dominus. The group also adds an arrangement of a 16th century piece by an unknown composer: Anja Lechner found the manuscript amongst the scores and notebooks of her grandparents, both of whom were musicians. The scope is broad, and whether playing modern composition, improvised chamber music, or baroque music, the creative originality of the Tarkovsky Quartet is evident.
In the liner notes, renowned journalist Carolin Emcke writes that “What makes the Tarkovsky Quartet so unique (yet another tie to the aesthetic language of Tarkovsky the filmmaker) is their special gift for making musical phantasms almost palpable. Just as Tarkovsky's films are said to make the texture of their elements (rain, a coal fire, mud) perceptible to the senses, Nuit blanche makes the texture of sound seem more distinct than ever before. We seem to reach into it, to grasp the instruments and their physicality, lending a new depth of focus to the powers of the musical imagination.”
The Tarkovsky Quartet was formed when German cellist Anja Lechner was invited to join Couturier and frequent associates Jean-Marc Larché and Jean-Louis Matinier. Following the release of the debut album, the quartet gave its international debut at the Bergamo Festival in 2006. In concert, the Tarkovsky Quartet frequently collaborates with Andrey Tarkovsky Jr, whose video projections amplify the dreamlike quality of the work.
Individually and in different groupings, the musicians have had long associations with ECM.
François Couturier and saxophonist Jean-Marc Larché first recorded for the label in 1994 as members of Tunisian oud master Anouar Brahem’s group on Khomsa, subsequently playing also in trio with Brahem and Jean-Louis Matinier, as on the albums Le pas du chat noir and Le Voyage de Sahar. Couturier has continued to be an important part of Brahem’s bands, including the current Souvenance quartet.
François Couturier’s introspective 2008 solo piano album Un jour si blanc was originally conceived as a volume in the Tarkovsky cycle. “What touches me most in Tarkovsky’s films,” said Couturier at the time, “is their silence and slowness. These are often characteristics of the ECM aesthetic as well...” Collaboration with Anja Lechner in the Tarkovsky Quartet has led to work together in other contexts. Both are members of the group Il Pergolese, with singer Maria Pia de Vito and drummer Michele Rabbia, which reinterprets and rearranges, often radically, the music of 18th century Italian composer Giovanni Battista Pergolesi. Lechner and Couturier also play together in duo, recording the album Moderato cantabile in 2013 with repertoire including music of Gurdjieff, Komitas and Mompou, as well as pieces by François, and touring widely (with US concerts in February 2017).
Anja Lechner’s considerable ECM discography ranges from several collaborative albums with Argentinean bandoneon genius Dino Saluzzi to work with major contemporary composers including Tigran Mansurian and Valentin Silvestrov. Among recent releases are Mansurian’s Quasi parlando and Mirror with music of Tõnu Kõrvits.
In addition to his work with the Tarkovsky Quartet, accordionist Jean-Louis Matinier has explored filmic themes in his work with Louis Sclavis on Dans la nuit, with music for Charles Vanel’s silent movie. On the album Inventio, together with nyckelharpa player Marco Ambrosetti Matinier plays arrangements of Bach, Biber and Pergolesi as well as original compositions and improvisations.
Nuit blanche was produced by Manfred Eicher, and recorded in Lugano in April 2016.

Press reactions

A distinctive palette whose drones and small, fluting phrases recall the likes of Pauline Oliveiros and Terry Riley, as in the immersive piano/sax blend of ‘Fantasia’. Couturier’s “Urga” is a reflective dérive through deserted streets of memory, while ‘Dakus’ features urgent, sweeping cello over pulsing accordion. The whole album, meanwhile, is ingeniously bound together by a series of six short, improvised ‘dreams’ – two each of ‘Rêve’, ‘Dream’ and ‘Traum’ – which accrete gently from wisps of sound and drones, like moths gathering at dusk around  a light.
Andy Gill, The Independent
The music is as subtly strange and delicately dream-like as Tarkovsky’s films and this disc has brief, fully improvised and especially abstract pieces running through it as well as longer, more formal compositions by Couturier, a bit of Vivaldi and an anonymous piece from the 15th century. […] The group improvs, named Rêve, Dream or Traum, sometimes make more use of the other sounds the instruments can make, whether it is percussive pops from the saxophone, wiry slides from the cello or rattling and wheezing from the accordion. Their unplanned nature makes them even more dreamlike in their unexpected twists and incongruities. […] Modern cross-genre chamber music of the highest order, and full of mystery which has the listener finding new things with every play of the disc.
Peter Bacon, London Jazz News
Couturier inszeniert mit dem Tarkovsky Quartet eine traumverloren schöne (Kammer-)Musik, teils vollständig, teils um einen komponierten Kern improvisiert, im Grenzbereich zwischen klassischer Kammermusik (mit Piano und Cello als führenden Instrumenten), Jazz und Folklore mit Sopransaxophon und Akkordeon als genretypischen Instrumenten. So wenig wie in Tarkovsky’s Filmen sich Traum und Realität eindeutig separieren lassen, so wenig ist die Musik Couturiers eindeutig einem Genre zuzuordnen. Fast durchgängig aber dominiert eine Stimmung gelassener, unprätentiöser Melancholie.
Heribert Ickerott, Jazzpodium
Die ganze soghafte Schönheit dieser Kompositionen über Kopfhörer zu erleben ersetzt sieben Jahre Achtsamkeitstraining. Die Klappengeräusche des Saxophons, ein kristallklares Klavier, das Schwingen der Cellosaiten – all das vermischt sich im Kopf zu einer einzigartigen Klangmeditation.
Tobias Schmitz, Stern
Immer auch tönen Mosaiksteine der Erinnerung an Gewesenes, an Vivaldi wie an die minimalistische Klangvielfalt und Einzigartigkeit des Penguin Cafe Orchestras unter der Leitung des wie Tarkowski zu früh verstorbenen Simon Jeffes. Eine Musik wie das Firmament, sie funkeln und leuchten alle: am Cello Anja Lechner, mit dem Sopransaxofon Jean-Marc Larché und auf dem Knopfakkordeon Jean-Louis Matinier.
Stefan Sell, Crescendo
Avec ce berger allemande qui zieute avec nostalgie  des montagnes brumeuses, ‘Nuit blanche’ peut d’ores et déjà concourir pour le prix de la plus belle pochette de l’année. Et le ramage se rapporte au plumage tant ce troisième tome des aventures de Francois Couturier avec son Tarkovsky Quartet abonde en vibrantes vénustés vénèneuses.
Mathieu Durand, Jazz News
Statt spezifische Szenen zu vertonen, evozieren Couturier, Saxofonist Jean-Marc Larché, Akkordeonist Jean-Louis Matinier und Cellistin Anja Lechner mit sparsam in den Raum gehängten Tönen Atmosphären, wie man sie aus Filmen und Träumen zu kennen vermeint. [...] Betörend einfache und einfach betörende Melodielinien werden von Instrument zu Instrument gereicht, variiert, verstärkt und ausgedünnt, ineinander verwoben, wieder aufgelöst. Jeder Ton zählt, auch jedes Geräusch. In der Ausreizung an Klangmöglichkeiten gehen die Musiker tatsächlich wie beim Kreieren der Tonspur eines Films zu Werk. […] Ingmar Bergman hat über seinen Kollegen Tarkowski gesagt: ‚Wenn der Film nicht Dokument ist, ist er Traum. Darum ist Tarkowski der Größte. Er bewegt sich im Raum der Träume mit schlafwandlerischer Sicherheit, er erklärt nicht.‘ Besser lässt sich auch das Tarkovsky Quartet und seine ‚Nuit blanche‘ nicht würdigen.
Karl Gedlicka, Der Standard
As one would imagine from the group's name, taking their cue from  the work of filmmaker Andrey Tarkovsky the music retains a very visual approach to sound, with each piece creating an imagery that carries the listener along with the flow of the composition. Working from the same core principles set out in their previous releases, the quartet create music of startling and occasionally stark beauty and draw their compositional  frameworks from modern composition, baroque and improvisation with seven of the pieces being freely improvised in the recording studio. These miniatures all turn in at under the three minute mark create a wonderful series of interlocking interludes that link the formally composed music seamlessly whilst retaining a life of their own, and are ostensibly based around textures. In contrast, through composed miniatures from the pen of Couturier also grace the set, with the emphasis on the melodic and harmonic content, with the delightful 'Daydream' and darkly hued 'Nightdream'.
Nick Lea, Jazz Views

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