INTERVIEW: Eve Risser (Banlieues Bleues, Jazzahead, Jazzdor Strasbourg-Berlin) / #IWD2015

Eve Risser. Photo credit: Sylvain Gripoix

French pianist Eve Risser was a significant presence as the pianist - and as the only woman - in the Orchestre Natonal de Jazz during the tenure of Daniel Yvinec from 2009- 2013. Her most significant project since then comes to fruition on March 24th with the premiere of "White Desert" at the Banlieues Bleues Festival, while her duo Donkey Monkey is one of the French Jazz Migration bands, and will be appearing at Jazzahead in Bremen and at Jazzdor Strasbourg-Berlin on June 3rd. Sebastian interviewed her:

LondonJazz News: Tell us where you're from

Eve Risser: I was born in Colmar in the Alsace,  I lived there till I was 18. Then Strasbourg for four years studying with several teachers including Stephan Oliva. I also did contemporary music there as a flautist. But on piano I took more the direction of jazz and improvisation.

LJN: You have a major premiere coming up...

ER: That's  right. White Desert. It's for a large ensemble, a tentet, and I've written some quite specific music for it. We will try to add amateur choruses recruited locally each time the piece is performed. At La Courneuve for the world premiere on March 24th there will be a choir of forty 6-year olds plus a sixty-member adult choir. Other performances are scheduled - The Moers Festival in Germany will be 23rd May, and a French festival in November, for which the programme isn't out yet.

LJN: Who's in the band? They look like some of the elite, these are definitely the people in France in the spotlight right now!

ER: I don't think about it like that. They're mostly friends from the Paris Conservatoire, we were in the same class.   I also chose them for their talent, and because they know my music. It would be daunting to take this on with people who I didn't have that familiarity with.

LJN: How did the piece start?

ER: I basically started this orchestra to play my final exam at the Paris Conservatoire, and  most of the current band - some weren't studying there but we had the right to invite friends in - played in that. It was inspired by the emotional shock I had experienced on a voyage to New Mexico, seeing how the surface of the earth had been damaged.

LJN: And what about the fact that almost half your tentet is women?

ER: I try to balance the energies in music. What is really strong is to have a balance, between masculine and feminine energies. It's not just about gender of the players. Fanny Lasfarges is a forceful player, whereas the Norwegian trumpeter Eivind Lohning is as gentle a musician, and a person - as it is possible to imagine. But I need that balance musically, and having more women around is easier to get that.

LJN: Could one read into the way this band is constituted a wish to advance the cause of women in music? 

ER: Not really. I chose the players in this band because they were people I knew and was already playing with. No, not deliberate like that. I was once talking with a male musician friend about this, and he said that his reflex when calling people up to ask them to play is to call your close mates (French: les potes, les copains), who in his case are mostly men. And I told him I don't have that problem because, for me, my close mates can also be women (French: pour moi les potes, les copains, c'est aussi des copines). But I don't think of them as men or as women but as hyper-talented musicians!.

LJN: You were the only woman in the Orchestre National de Jazz. How was that? 

ER: It wasn't easy.

LJN: In what sense?

ER: What I mean is the travelling. The  talk among the guys was all about the films they like, and TV series. To be fair, I don't know about male musicians in other countries. Maybe it's not just a man/woman thing, but if there was a problem on stage, I'd suggest a change in the seating, and it didn't happen and then hours later a man says the same idea and something gets done....Hm.

LJN: Where you lead it's different right ?

ER: It's already quite something to be leading a group of six -  but ten !! I've never done this - it forces me to have confidence.  It is necessary to be in charge.  I try hard to be a leader who listens - actually it's hard to find examples,  role models - Carla Bley maybe? -  I like her humour – and of course the music - but above all I want to avoid the things I dislike.  I don't like people reading all the time,  but I also  need to avoid succession of solos, that jazz thing, And I don't like collective improv either, it's chaotic.  What I am looking for is a new way of working. I'm trying to put right some of the things I've experienced in leaderless groups. I try to develop my own values, and collectively I'd like us to learn.

LJN: And what else is on the way?

ER: My first solo disc is coming out on the Portuguese Cleanfeed label. In fact it was recorded about two and a half years ago . I remember the challenge I had set myself very well. As an improviser it is good to work with people. But  to try to find your identity as an improviser, you have to really go through the act of playing solo. To show who you are. But as you do, it you pass through extremes of fear and panic. I still remember a sleepless night before my first solo performance.

The CD was recorded after 3-4 years of playing solo. It is completely improvised but there is a framework (French: une trame) which comes back often And then it's interesting to go back after playing solo to re-enter the world of other people. It does two things: it strengthens you and it helps you find the space you want to occupy.

LJN: You talked about fear?

ER: I have gone through meditation as part of the preparation before performing solo. I go with it without any pre-defined plan. I throw my self in front of the public, completely exposed. You have to be completely concentrated for it to work. If what's going through you're head is “Ooh, look, so-and-so is in the hall tonight”. It's not going to work. If you're stressed you'll lose your concentration and you can't create ideas. If you're stressed and you've prepared in advance what you're going to play you can play it. If you've not you just have to stop. Clunk.

Eve Risser's tentet for White Desert is: Sylvaine Hélary, flutes, Sophie Bernado, bassoon, contra-bassoon, Antonin-Tri Hoang, clarinets, saxophone, Benjamin Dousteyssier, saxophones, Eivind Lohning, trumpet and flugel,  Fidel Fourneyron, trombone, Julien Desprez, guitars, Fanny Lasfargues, basses,  Sylvain Darrifourcq, drums/percussion, and herself. Sound: Céline Grangey

LINKS: Banlieues Bleues programme (White Desert)
French Night at Jazzahead (Donkey Monkey)
Jazzdor Strasbourg-Berlin 2015 (Donkey Monkey)

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