After seven years in meeting and interacting with flutists around the world I have learned to expect extraordinary personalities, extraordinary music. Even so, nothing quite prepares one for Henri Tournier, currently instructor in modal improvisation and North Indian Classical Music at the Paris National Conservatory of Music and Dance (CNSMDP) and at Rotterdam-Codarts. It was over a 27 year period at the Rotterdam Conservatory that Tournier not only studied the bansuri in Hindustani music with the great master Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, but rose to become his assistant in teaching this subject — quite daunting for a Westerner — during Hariprasad‘s extensive absences while attending to his own students in India and concertising around the world. Tournier‘s extraordinary career has given rise to some extraordinary recordings, among them Souffles du monde and Souffles des steppes.
There are many bansuri exponents who have become experts and teachers of both Hindustani and Carnatic classical music. There are also a handful who have blended this endlessly profound genre with other aspects of World, Western or New Age music to create something new and unique.
It is worth considering the path that Henri Tournier took to arrive at this point. He began by studying Western classical music with Roger Bourdin at the Versailles Conservatoire and then with Fernand Caratgé at the Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris. It was Bourdin, a renowned soloist but also an eclectic musician, who transmitted his passion for improvisation to Henri. Along the way, he was a laureate of the George Cziffra and Yehudi Menuhin foundations, as well as a veteran of many chamber music concerts, but it was in the context of providing music for contemporary ballet, mainly with the Peter Goss company and his composer Armand Amar, that Tournier started developing his own language of improvisation. A two year stint in the CIM Paris Jazz School deepened his commitment to improvisation which then guided him to Indian classical Music, first to South Indian or Carnatic Music, with Sundar Rao a disciple of T.R.Mahalingam, then, in 1989, to Hindustani master Chaurasia, as well as, in Mumbai, to Pandit Malhar Kulkarni.
As part of this journey, Tournier‘s work as performer and teacher brought him into contact with a wide range of performers from throughout the world, but it was his particular depth of understanding that showed him ways to adapt his instrument, or instruments, to these many genres. Souffles du monde introduces us to music from a series of different cultures, focusing on the relationship between the flute and the human voice, with Tournier developing a musical relationship with eight different singers, viz: Dorsaf Hamdani (Tunisie), Alireza Ghorbani (Iran), Pronab Biswas (Inde), Ustad Farida Mahwash (Afghanistan), Abida Parveen (Pakistan), Enkhjargal Dandarvaanchig, alias Epi (Mongolie), Etsuko Chida (Japon), Anne-Marie Lablaude, Dominique Vellard et Carole Hémard (France).
Drawing upon his collection of instruments, ranging from the bansuri to the octobass, Tournier does an extraordinary job of drawing out sounds and rhythms that match the timbre and style of vocalists from eight widely different countries on three continents. No verbal description or naming of genre really prepares the listener for this music. Suffice to say that Tournier does not attempt to ape or copy the vocalist but to draw on his own repertoire of sounds to create a meeting of equals and thus something that is greater than the sum of its parts. As the CD notes explain:
“Centered on a dialogue between West and East, certain universals are affirmed, others circumvent, twist, explode: a salutary adventure, for a new cartography of the flute, of the voice. (Centré sur un dialogue entre Occident et Orient, certains universaux sont affirmés, d’autres se contournent, se tordent, explosent : une aventure salutaire, pour une nouvelle cartographie de la flûte, de la voix.)”
Perhaps it should come as no surprise to find that a flutist is able to dig so deeply into world music. Undoubtedly his work on the Raga Guide and his book Hariprasad Chaurasia and the Art of Improvisation has contributed to his mastery of Indian music. Even so, Tournier’s work is still extraordinary and unexpected.
In the process of working with these singers, Henri Tournier developed an even closer relationship with one of them, Enkhjargal Dandarvaanchig, known as Epi, from Mongolia. With the addition of Thierry Gomar – percussion, and Yohan Renard – violin & quinton, they form an ensemble known as the Souffles des steppes Quartet, which has produced a CD of their own, known as Souffles des steppes.
Suffice to say that this is another extraordinary recording which reflects the growing degree of integration that comes from Henri Tournier working together with these musicians. Even so, a sample will be better than a verbal description.
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