Pianist Sylvie Courvoisier’s experimental trio with bassist Drew Gress and drummer Kenny Wollesen is a rhythm section first and foremost. The excellent D’Agala opens with “Imprint Double,” during which a firmly percussive triplet ostinato becomes polyrhythmic—first under Courvoisier’s guidance and then with Gress and Wollesen’s entrance. It sets the tone for the album: a wonderland of piano-trio surrealism that is nonetheless grounded in rhythmic earthiness.
Melody and harmony are hardly an afterthought on D’Agala. “Eclats for Ornette” is of course dedicated to one of America’s premier melodists and harmonic innovators. Still, Courvoisier approaches its distinctive melody with a hammer-like touch. (Ditto her improvisation, which evokes the abandon of Cecil Taylor’s bands more than Ornette and even paraphrases the leitmotif from Taylor’s Silent Tongues—as does the following track, “Simone.”) As well, the already fraught harmonies of Courvoisier’s chords and Gress’ bass in “D’Agala” and “Fly Whisk” are further tensed by their grimly determined staccato and thumping accents, to which Wollesen adds fierce crashes on “Fly Whisk.”
That rhythmic outline anchors what is otherwise often bursting with fanciful experimentation. Given even the tightest framework—here, probably “Bourgeois’ Spider”—Courvoisier and Wollesen skirt anarchy’s edge, sending out barrages that are somehow both loose and unshakably aligned to the song’s groove. On the beautiful “South Side Rules,” Wollesen runs away with a breakneck line while Gress and Courvoisier keep the even keel, the piano bursting at regular intervals into steely, controlled melody. That accomplishment is trickier than it sounds, even with a bassist’s help, and one of many impressive stunts on a formidable record.