September 20, 2000
JOHN TCHICAI-IRENE SCHWEIZER
Willi The Pig
Atavistic/Unheard Music Series UMS/ALP 221 CD
An Ameri-centric view of jazz has always been so shortsighted it could be myopic. In 1975, for example, the average American jazzer was assumed to be pondering whether chops-heavy ex-rockers who were leaching into fusion were "major innovators" on the level of Chuck Mangione or Stanley Clarke; while "purists" were finally accepting boppers into the mainstream so they could bask in the final sparks from that once incendiary movement.
Free jazz was supposed to be as dead as John Coltrane or Albert Ayler, banished from the history books, with the few remaining New Thingers either hidden away in academe or buried in recording studios.
Luckily, non-Americans knew this worldview was as befuddled as the U.S.'s Cold War foreign policy. Many jazz experimenters were actually teaching a younger generation of sonic explorers in universities and colleges. Others were playing regularly in Europe and elsewhere, linking their progressive ideas with those of homegrown experimenters in small clubs and jazz festivals that got along without cigarette company sponsorship.
An excellent snapshot of what was really happening in 1975, WILLI THE PIG is one long, gripping blast of unbridled free music. Like the zombies in Night Of The Living Dead, first generation New Thingers like Danish-Congolese saxophonist Tchicai still lived. And this CD proves that the freedom virus was spreading like influenza throughout Europe, with much happier consequences.
Part of two ground zero avant-ensembles — The New York Contemporary Five and The New York Art Quartet — a decade before, Tchicai was resident in more hospitable Europe at the time. Appropriately his alto and soprano saxophone solos here showed that freedom music could be tender as well as tough, especially when he tosses phrases back-and-forth with the bassist on "Part 2".
Co-leader, Swiss pianist Schweizer — remarkably longhaired in the album photo — was already a free jazz veteran, who had started to distill her own style, with its hint of boogie-woogie and blues from the heady Cecil Taylor elixir. South African drummer Ntshoko was then a constant presence on Continental sessions and the late German bassist Nierbergall had participated in MACHINE GUN, EuroJazz's Emancipation Proclamation seven years before.
Understandably WILLI didn't get the acclaim he deserved when first recorded because it was released in a limited edition of 500 and has never been reissued before now. But from our vantage point the disc can be heard as something that could have been recorded at the Cellar Café in 1965 and or at Tonic this year — that is to say timeless
As more documents like this appear, it's becoming apparent that jazz's accepted, Ameri-centric chronicle will soon going to have to be rewritten. Not only history, but also listeners' ears will benefit.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Willi The Pig Part 1 2. Willi The Pig Part 2
Personnel: John Tchicai (alto and soprano saxophones, piano); Irène Schweizer (piano); Buschi Nierbergall (bass); Makaya Ntshoko (drums)