Irène Schweizer/Barry Guy, London Jazz Composers Orchestra

Radio Rondo
Intakt CD 158

Sometimes the best intention – plus a collection of exceptionally talented musicians – still doesn’t guarantee a perfectly balanced performance. Both piano soloist Irène Schweizer and the London Jazz Composers Orchestra (LJCO) discovered this during this live concert at the 2008 Schaffhauser Jazz Festival in Switzerland. While the 30-minute “Radio Rondo” was composed by LJCO leader Barry Guy as a special feature for the Swiss pianist, the subsequent performance was patchy, with unexpected sonic peaks and valleys often held together by sheer will.

Actually this CD somehow manages to paper over some of the creative synapses exposed tom the audience on that day – perhaps some seemingly missing parts live were only captured by the recording equipment. Still Radio Rondo is more notable as a reunion, after a decade hiatus, of the full 18-piece London-based LJCO, then as a major statement.

Perhaps it was the unfamiliar surroundings or foreshortened rehearsal time –

“close enough for jazz” as the expression goes – that worked against the performance. Schweitzer, after all, has often worked with the band, Guy and soloists such as soprano and tenor saxophonist Evan Parker in the past. Additionally some of new LJCO members – Swiss percussionist Lucas Niggli, American trumpeter Herb Robertson, tubaist Per Åke Holmlander and tenor and baritone saxophonist Mats Gustafsson – are also Guy associates in other projects.

Essentially “Radio Rondo” meanders between Schweizer’s kinetic harmonies and the varied and contrapuntal asides or foreground textures the orchestra provides. Initially exploding with a miasma of screaming bass, lowing reeds and rough percussion thumps, the composition appears to stop and start plus speed up and slow down as it unrolls, so that nearly every band members has his or her say as a soloist or as part of a section. Dawdling tuba rumbles and sharp violin slices are exposed above rattles, ruff, snaps and drags from the dual percussionists, for example. Or structured and layered machine-gun fire-like beats from Niggli and Paul Lytton introduce a double-counterpoint contest between shrilling trumpet blats – likely from Robertson – and tremolo trombone slurs – probably from Conrad Bauer. With the massed horn section punctuating the piano solos with polytonal riffs, Schweizer’s output encompasses high-frequency syncopation, darting pressure and note jumps plus an occasional Bebop-like run. As the wavering horn colors finally bond into an approximation of romantic ripostes, the piece concludes with restrained tinkles from Schweizer interspaced with brassy wah-wahs and pulsating reed work.

“Schaffhausen Concert”, the 15½-minute Schweizer solo which opens the CD displays her expected discursive movements more clearly. Encompassing methodical walking bass lines, hard cascading chords that ring with bell-like clarity and sprawl onto the wound bass strings in the piano’s bowels, it’s a defining performance, perhaps strengthened by the fact that it takes place in the city of her birth.

Committed fans and completists, interested in all the work of the pianist, the LJCO or both, may rate the session more highly. Intrinsically there’s nothing that wrong with the CD. It’s just that in the past both Schweizer and the LJCO have established such high standards that the listener expects a lot more.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Schaffhausen Concert 2. Radio Rondo

Personnel: Henry Lowther, Herb Robertson and Rich Laughlin (trumpets); Conrad Bauer, Johannes Bauer and Alan Tomlinson (trombones); Per Åke Holmlander (tuba); Trevor Watts (soprano and alto saxophones); Pete McPhail (alto saxophone); Evan Parker (soprano and tenor saxophones); Simon Picard (tenor saxophone); Mats Gustafsson (tenor and baritone saxophones); Irène Schweizer (piano); Phil Wachsmann (violin); Barry Guy and Barre Philips (basses); Paul Lytton (drums and percussion) and Lucas Niggli (percussion)