3 Suiten
Unit UTR 4133

Along with neutrality and cheese, the attribute most often ascribed to the Swiss is modesty. Yet the quartet of musicians who make up the Unart 4.0 have every reason to boast.

Veteran improvisers, the band members have, with this disc, created sounds that are cheerful without being crass and refined without losing the roughness associated with the best improvisations. At times, in fact, the way the musicians configure themselves through the three multi-tune suites that make up the disc, you’re reminded of the rootsy elegance of the Jimmy Giuffre 3 of the late 1950s or the gutsy experimentation of altoist John Tchicai and trombonist Rosewell Rudd’s New York Art Quartet (NYAQ).

Some of the most obvious echoes appear during the four numbers which make up “Suite 3”. “New Orleans”, for instance, written by trombonist Robert Morgenthaler, may suggest the ongoing jazz tradition, especially Rudd’s avant-gutbucket take on the trombone. Morgenthaler may reflect some of that style as well, but as someone who is used to the chasm-spanning techniques of Swiss alphorns, his technique here seems to refer as much to canton funeral marches as New Orleans second line parades.

Not that tailgate styling are neglected. There’s a point at the end when he works his way up the ‘bone’s position as Ewald Hügle on baritone sax heads for his instrument’s basement. Before the bluesy melody ends, guitarist Urs Röllin has added some darting fuzztones to amplify the tune as well. Considering the Schaffhausen-born plectrumist is a graduate of Los Angeles’ Guitar Institute of Technology (GIT) would you suspect anything less than this versatility?

Drummer Dieter Ulrich, a former associate of saxophonist Urs Blöchlinger and the Day & Taxi duo, had already shown his subtlety with a restrained solo that was mostly ride cymbal and foot pedal on the suite’s first number, plus on “Nr. 9” he beats out a clip-clop rhythm that meshes with Röllin’s alternate bass patterns and plinking chords. Elsewhere, he often mixes straight 4/4 jazz time with European march tempos.

Meanwhile Hügle, who, in his younger days, followed classical training with jazz master classes, uses this composition to build up the sort of unwavering phrasing that Tchicai specialized in with the NJYQ — which once recorded a piece entitled “No. 6” — as Morgenthaler’s plunger work suggests Rudd’s with the same band.

Guiffre’s 3 with guitarist Jim Hall and trombonist Bob Brookmeyer come to mind during this trombonist’s “Lament Alto”, though his flutter-tongue beboppy patterns initially seem in variance with the title as do the alto variations which suggest Hank Crawford R&B lines more than a tone poem. Yet, you can really hear the varied talents of the group when about halfway through the more-than-eight minute track, you realize that the still unrolling theme is being advanced by the trombone, while the guitar and sax provide variations on it. Ulrich’s quiet reticence allows the piece’s composer to also be the so-called rhythm section here.

That’s not all the four can do either. There’s a touch of Klezmer-inflected, rhythm on the guitarist’s “Bollment”, where the good feeling is extended with bicycle horn sounds from what’s probably a soprano saxophone, but could be Ulrich’s signalhorn. Later, as the trombonist picks out a bluesy-ballad, he and Röllin engage in some offbeat duetting with each seemingly going his own way before combining.

Röllin, who has tendency to insert below-the-bridge scratches into his solo in unexpected places, acquits himself admirably on “Wind”, the one composition from outside the band, written by the late British reedist Lindsay Cooper. Tinged with sadness following the composer’s death from a degenerative disease, the guitarist’s deep felt and unshowy work here would probably give the studio technicians who populate GIT nightmares, especially when he lets both hornmen squeal to the heavens without asserting himself.

That windstorm of trombone notes met with saxophone blats and horks also makes its appearance on Hügle’s “E-Motians”, as the horns appear to be playing same note in unison but only a perfect octave apart. Again this belligerent sound is eventually shaded enough so that it matches gentler guitar lines.

All and all, despite its obvious influences, 3 SUITEN sounds less like a collage of effects, then what happens when four mature musicians put their concepts into a musical blender. The resulting product is probably as sweet — suite? — as anything you’ve experienced in the past.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Suite 1: 1. Frühsport 2. Pagei 3. Wind 4. Venus Huegle Suite 2: 5. Bollment 6. Def Arr 7. E-Motians Suite 3: 8. Tanz mit dem Decem-Baer 9. New Orleans 10. Nr. 9 11. Lamenti Alto

Personnel: Robert Morgenthaler (trombone); Ewald Hügle (soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophones); Urs Röllin (guitar); Dieter Ulrich (drums, signalhorn)