August 24, 2000
Live at the Rhinefalls
Intakt CD 059
It seems almost anachronistic to have to say it in the first year of the 21st century, but the members of Les Diaboliques are some of the best improvising musicians on the planet — regardless of race, height, nationality or gender.
However since male chauvinism and its obverse, separatist feminism, still exist, note that the performers on this CD are all women. A veritable European Community of talents, the band consists of Swiss pianist Schweizer who has been playing "outside" for more than 30 years; French bassist Léandre, acknowledged as one of the virtuosos of instrument in both jazz and so-called new music; and Scottish singer (and tap dancer) Nicols, who matches improv vocal gymnastics with an actor/comedian's split-second timing.
Recorded live, the album approximates a Les Diaboliques concert, without the visuals of course. Thus it allows Nichols to launch a free association monologue about mood swings and mind-altering drugs on "Diverse Moods' Wings" or toss snippets of pop songs with sardonic comments on the lyrics into "Vals Diaboliques III".
The longest and more intense free-for-all is "Almost Straight Ahead", which showcases Nicols vocalizing in words, dialogue, nonsense syllables and breathes (plus a wee bit of Gaelic), recreating and politicizing nursery rhymes and other tunes. It also allows you to note how her taps aren't showoffy, but often supply a needed percussion accent. Even Léandre seems to get into the fun. Besides her limitless instrumental prowess, which minutely slips from mighty, string-bending pizzicato to stratospheric arco cries, seemingly in seconds, she adds secondary vocals, which like her playing modulates from lyric operatic-style soprano to the deepest Satchmo tones.
Meanwhile, as she does throughout the whole disc, Schweizer soldiers on in the background, providing not only steady standard scene-setting accompaniment, but often making pointed musical comments on the words and antics of the other two. Luckily she has "Rheingefallen" all to herself, where she unveils a showcase that jumps from almost formal European romanticism to skittish and playful modern jazz pianisms to straight ahead, Monkish-styled stride.
Devils or angels, these three have put some of their best music on this record.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Mercurial Drama 2. Almost Straight Ahead 3. Rheingefallen 4. Tongue Talking 5. Diverse Moods' Wings 6. Vals Diaboliques III
Personnel: Irène Schweizer (piano); Jöelle Léandre (bass); Maggie Nicols (voice)