August 22, 2005
IRÈNE SCHWEIZER/OMRI ZIEGELE
Intakt CD 098
Take your pick: this is either a return to her swing-bop roots for Swiss pianist Irène Schweizer or the weirdest duo session shes ever made.
Thats because Schweizer, who has had a commitment to the European avant garde since the late 1960s in the company of such heavy hitters as Danish saxist John Tchicai, French bassist Joëlle Léandre and British bassist Barry Guy, here plays an entire program of jazz and pop standards plus one of her own original.
Stranger still, her partner here is the many years younger, turban-wearing Zürich-based alto saxophonist Omri Ziegele, whose recorded forays with over-the-top, often electrified bands like Billiger Bauer and Noisy Minority, are nothing like the cerebral improvisation in which the pianist specializes. Yet she and the saxist have partnered since the late 1990s. WHERES AFRICA not only provides listeners a progress report on the duo, but honors the club actually called Africana in Zürichs old town where in earlier years Schweizer would accompany musical visitors from the United States and South Africa.
So how does the session stack up? Well, its quite pleasurable, if you put aside Schweizers real life identity as a Swiss musical innovator and imagine youre listening to a session by pianists Don Ewell or Earl Hines trading licks with altoists Johnny Hodges, Benny Carter or Willie Smith. Even though the tunes include five by cornetist Don Cherry, three by Thelonious Monk and a couple with a South African cast, the note- perfect renditions suggest the sort of pre-modern play-anything ethos youd get from performers of that era. Added to this is a piece (Suicide Is Painless) associated with Bill Evans, an obscure Duke Ellington line and a couple of American Songbook standards.
Frankly though, the hardest to swallow or hear performances are the two where the saxman decides to sing: Rogers & Harts standard Isnt It Romantic and the traditional South African piece Ntyilo, Ntyilo with his own lyrics. Confidence may be everything on stage, but when Ziegele unveils his speak-sing routine that makes Chet Bakers vocals sound like Frank Sinatras, the fact that cork in a saxophone is the same substance used as a stopper in a wine bottle easily comes to mind.
Ignoring or shuddering at those two tracks, youre left with 13 others in the three and four minute range that subtly signify a night at an ever-so-hip supper club. The musicians play so as to not ruffle the composure of the patrons, but display technical dexterity for the cognoscenti. Rhythmic kwela echoes in the duos version of Cherrys Togetherness One/Part II, and in places on the pianists original, Bleu Foncé, where she sounds like a harder-edged Evans playing All Blues confirm this dual identity. As for Ziegele, his drifting tone that occasionally works its way forward from the 1940s to take on echoes of Cannonball Adderleys horizontal playing fits hand-in-glove with Schweizers translucent stride-like arpeggios.
A different view of the pianist which may appeal to those who dont know her earlier work, WHERES AFRICA, should be approached with caution and an open mind by her longtime fans.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Golden heart 2. Togetherness One/Part I 3. Im Gonna Go Fishin 4. Monks Mood 5. Suicide Is Painless 6. Speak Low 7. Isnt It Romantic 8. Terrestrial Beings 9.Art Deco 10. Togetherness One/Part II 11.Bleu Foncé 12. Jackying 13. Ask Me Now 14. The Bride 15. Ntyilo, Ntyilo
Personnel: Omri Ziegele (alto saxophone and vocals); Irène Schweizer (piano)