October 22, 2001
Chicago Piano Solo
Intakt CD 065
CHICAGO PIANO SOLO is the perfect disc to put on when dealing with misguided friends who insist that so-called avant- jazz doesn't swing. While swing of course, isn't the be all and end all of jazz, the weighty two handed approach Swiss pianist Irène Schweizer favors here will more likely remind folks of pre-modern stylists like Earl Hines or bluesbopper Ray Bryant than certified avant gardists.
Certainly in her many recordings over the years, Schweizer has never downplayed power in her work and has easily held her own with such self-possessed personalities as saxophonists John Tchicai and Evan Parker, drummers Günter Sommer and Han Bennink and the entire London Jazz Composers Orchestra.
Her past solo work may often have been more refined, but she could have felt that it was time to pull out all the stops when playing solo for the first time in Chicago's Empty Bottle, the grungy alt-rock venue where this disc was recorded.
As a matter of fact she's focused right from top, beginning the recital with "So oder so", which despite its Germanic title could be a South Side barrelhouse romp, although it's POMO enough to move forward in a few different tempos. Throughout the CD, Schweizer never lets the listener forget that she's indeed playing a pianoforte, with many graduations of loudness and silence. Usually though, she inverts her touch so the conception is more forte than piano.
"Heilige Johanna (for B.B.)" was probably written for New York keyboardist Borah Bergman. But her way of attacking the nether regions of the piano with her left hand, while turning out decorated, leprechauny runs in an almost harpsichord register almost beat that ambidextrous stylist at his own game. Don Cherry's "Togetherness One (First Movement)" is a hummable, jumping funk tune with sudden melodic stops and starts that literally wouldn't sound out of place in Bryant's repertoire.
Somehow too, for her finale on "Roots" she appears to have grown a third hand, keeping an ostinato bass moving on the bottom, then tossing phrases back and forth from mid-register to top register.
Be aware, though that despite this powerful, blusy attack, she hasn't descended into the ranks of the neo-cons. Despite its title, for instance, the syncopation in "Rag" owes more to one of Thelonious Monk's interludes than Scott Joplin. But even Monk would never reach inside to pluck the piano strings as she does here. As a mater of fact, "Stringfever" is a sly reference to the inside piano exploration she showcases on that track. At times, she resonates the strings like a giant metal harp, and at others claps what sound like finger cymbals or wood blocks for emphasis.
There may be a time in the performances here when she knocks on wood for its sonic properties. But she doesn't have to do so for luck, she's already assembled an exceptional production.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. So oder so 2. To the Bottle 3. Heilige Johanna (for B.B.) 4. Togetherness One (First Movement) 5. Stringfever 6. Circle 7. Hüben ohne Drüben 8. Rag 9. Roots
Personnel: Irène Schweizer (piano)