Twin Lines
Intakt CD 073

A fine, if ultimately frustrating, meeting of two generations of Swiss improvisers, this CD shows that the generation gap is less pronounced among musicians than most people, but still potent.

Performing as a duo for the past half-decade or so, pianist Irène Schweizer and alto saxophonist Co Streiff followed two different paths to get to this point. Streiff, born in 1959, has had experiences in improv, jazz, ethnic, women’s and rock music. Besides teaching and leading her own sextet, she has played with the likes of percussionist Steve Noble, bassist Joëlle Léandre, the band Kadash and some of guitarist Fred Frith’s graphic scores.

Eighteen years older, Schweizer is the grande dame of EuroImprov, having since the 1960s held her own against numerous improv masters from saxophonists John Tchicai and Evan Parker to numerous drummer from Han Bennink to her countryman Pierre Favre. An accomplished solo pianist, Schweizer, who has also served as a role model for aspiring musicians, is part of the band Les Diaboliques with Léandre and singer Maggie Nichols.

These two, who first played together in 1986 — with Schweizer on drums (!) — exhibit more congruence now since Streiff is more assured and freer in her conception, while the pianist has relaxed from playing out-and-out energy music to what could be called avant-mainstream. There are times here, in fact, that such multi-faceted, straightahead masters as Hank Jones are brought to mind in her solos.

Despite the fact that all the compositions but two are Streiff’s, the relationship between pianist Lennie Tristano and saxophonist Lee Konitz is also suggested, especially because Schweizer appears to be the senior partner in this outing. The altoist doesn’t play like the highly cerebral Konitz, though. Her harder tone, tendency to slip into the tenor range and outright linearity hint at bopper Phil Woods during one of his many meetings with European pianists or maybe suggest Paul Desmond’s cooler buoyant tone.

That’s what makes this session — and its title — disconcerting. Although there’s plenty of counterpoint here and certainly twin lines of improvisation, those lines don’t seem to intersect most of the time.

With tunes ranging from ballads, blues and swingers to ones that appear to reference either South African or Klezmer sounds, the altoist’s strategy is essentially the same. Despite the odd key pop or higher freak note, she seems most comfortable playing in mid-range, pushing the melody forward in a straight line. Meantime the pianist snakes around her, intersecting more by chance than design. Over the course of these 11 shortish tunes, you hear echoes of boogie-woogie, African Township jive, Cagean piano innards intrusions, bop runs, quick tempo changes and a soupçon of ornamentation. The one time the two really sees to break free together is ironically “So oder so”, the longest track on the CD, and the only one written by Schweizer.

As an example of how well two generations of improvisers can play, or as an introduction to Streiff’s feats, the CD is valuable. But with one soloist concentrating on the horizon while the other romps over the rest of the terrain it’s less than a definite statement. Perhaps next time out, they should consider letting loose on fewer, longer compositions or adding other instrumentalists — as they have done in concert. Talent should win out in the end.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Bea Be Good 2. Her Womb Had A Window 3. They’re Coming Down 4. Fragments For An Old Friend 5. For Sabina 6. Mond Ballade 2 7. Forward To Start Again! 8. Twin Lines 9. So oder so 10. Good Bye, Matthew 11. Five Darks Days

Personnel: Co Streiff (alto saxophone); Irène Schweizer (piano)