Poros is French violinist Dominique Pifarély's sixth album as a "leader" or co-leader and his second in this capacity for ECM, featuring what is now his musical priority, his duo - formed in 1996 - with pianist François Couturier. Where the Acoustic Quartet (see ECM 1526) the group Pifarély directed with Louis Sclavis, could - for all its awareness of chamber music dynamics, its absorption of folklore, real and "imaginary", and its insistence on a decidedly European aesthetic - at least for the purposes of convenience, be termed a "jazz band", the new duo straddles the genres more ambiguously. True, the duo reanimates Mal Waldron's "Warm Canto", a piece dating back to 1961's classic The Quest (with Eric Dolphy and Booker Ervin), rare glimpses of post-Grappelli phrasing can still be perceived in the flourishes of Pifarély's violin, and the sensibilities of both players have been refined in the crucible of improvisation. But the musicians' own compositions reveal a marked affinity to contemporary music: Messiaen, Bartók, Enescu are amongst the shared references here. A clue to the multiplicity of directions taken or implied in the work is provided by the album's title, borrowed from a text, Comment s'en sortir', by the French philosopher Sarah Kofman:
"Poros refers only to a sea-route or a route down a river, to a passage opened up across a chaotic expanse which it transforms into an ordered, qualified space by introducing differentiated routes, making visible the various directions of space, by giving directions to an expanse which was initially devoid of all contours, of all landmarks.
"To say that a poros is a way to be found across an expanse of liquid is to stress that a poros is never traced in advance, that it can always be obliterated, that it must always be traced anew, in unprecedented fashion. One speaks of a poros when it is a matter of blazing a trail where no trail exists, of crossing an impassable expanse of territory, an unknown, hostile and boundless world, an apeiron which it is impossible to cross from end to end ... the sea is the endless realm of pure movement, the most mobile, changeable and polymorphous of all spaces, a space where any way that has been traced is immediately obliterated, which transforms any journey into a voyage of exploration which is always unprecedented, dangerous and uncertain."
Dominique Pifarély graduated, with first prize in violin, from the Conservatoire de Montreuil in 1977. "When you've completed a classical education", the violinist said to German journalist Marcus Gammel, "you're inevitably influenced by the musical thought of the composers you've studied. I continue to allow myself to listen and absorb certain things, and whatever remains, remains." Neither Pifarély's nor Couturier's writing - on this showing - suggests the the serendipitous probing-and-finding, the running architecture, of jazz; a feeling for real structure is paramount. Accordingly, producer Manfred Eicher approached the recording of Poros as he would a chamber music recital; the album was recorded at the Festeburgkirche in Frankfurt am Main and exploits the natural resonance of the church's interior.
****In 1978, Pifarély's encounter with bassist Didier Levallet led to the beginning of a long term association that brought him to the attention of the French critics and public via a series of bands including the Trio Levallaet/Marais/Pifarély and Swing Strings System. Dominique began to lead his own groups in 1980. Their shifting personnel has included François Couturier, Heiri Kaenzig, Wolgang Reisinger, Philippe Deschepper, Danilo Terenzi, Riccardo del Fra, Joël Allouche, Chris Biscoe, Yves Robert, Michel Godard, Noël Akchoté. He has also played with Martial Solal, Tony Oxley, Gunter Sommer, Mike Westbrook, Eddy Louiss, Jean-Paul Celea, Denis Badault, Patrice Caratini, Matthias Ruegg and many others.
Since 1985, Pifarély has appeared in diverse ensembles with clarinettist Louis Sclavis. In addition to the above-mentioned Acoustic Quartet recording, he can also be heard with Sclavis on the ECM albums Rouge and Les Violences de Rameau (ECM 1458 and 1588, respectively).
François Couturier's initiation into improvised music, after completing studies in classical music and musicology, also took place in 1978 and under the auspices of a bassist. Couturier forged strong ties with Jean-Paul Celea in the group of drummer Jacques Thollot and went on to play with the bassists in a string of groups - first in duo and then with other musicians including Daniel Humair, François Jeanneau, Dominique Pifarély, and François Laizeau. In 1980, Couturier won the coveted Django Rheinhardt Award of the French Academy which increased his profile. One of the musicians who took note was John McLaughlin who brought the pianist into his band. Between 1981 and '83, Couturier toured the world with the guitarist, and appeared on his albums Music Spoken Here and Belo Horizonte.
In 1986, Couturier formed his own band Passaggio, with Jean-Paul Celea, Wolfgang Reisinger, Armand Angster and Françoise Kubler; the group recorded two discs for Label Bleu. Since then, Couturier has played and recorded with, amongst others, Robin Kenyatta, Eddy Louiss, Didier Levallet, François Mechali, Jean-Marc Larché and Jean-Pierre Chalet. He made his ECM debut on Khomsa (ECM 1561), a pan-cultural project led by Tunisian oud virtuoso Anouar Brahem. (Brahem and the pianist had played together already in 1985 in an experimental project with Turkish musicians Kudsi Erguner and Barbaros Erkose and again in 1992 at the Festival du Carthage).
In 1997, Couturier, together with saxophonist Jean-Marc Larché (also heard on Brahem's Khomsa), wrote the music for an opera adapted from Anthony Burgess's experimental play "Mozart and The Wolf Gang."