Irène Schweizer

To Whom It May Concern
Intakt CD 200

By Ken Waxman

One of those rare celebratory concerts which lives up to expectations, Swiss pianist Irène Schweizer’s solo recital celebrating her 70th birthday convincingly exposes every facet of her talents. The 10 tunes recorded in Zürich’s Tonehalle demonstrate the always iconoclastic pianist’s command of her chosen idiom. Certified jazz classics by Thelonious Monk, Carla Bley and Jimmy Giuffre share space with a theme by Dollar Brand (Abdullah Ibrahim). And these brush up against original compositions by Schweizer that pinpoint her unique melding of modern and avant-jazz inflections plus boogie woogie and swing.

Born in 1941, Schweizer was part of the generation of Europeans who first mastered modern jazz, was imbued with African music played by expatriates such as Ibrahim, and quickly plunged into energy music alongside pioneers like German saxophonist Peter Brötzmann and local drummer Pierre Favre. Since then her playing partners have ranged from American drummer Hamid Drake and French bassist Joëlle Léandre, to up-and-coming Swiss improvisers including saxophonist Jürg Wickihalder.

“Jungle Beat III/The Train and the River” succinctly encapsulates her skills. A new version of her vibrating composition is matched with Giuffre’s folksy classic, with its theme slowed down to emphasize drama. Layering the two, she balances Europeanized glissandi and innate funkiness. Her strong left-hand accents on “Homage to Don Cherry” owe as much to such honky-tonk specialists as Meade Lux Lewis as the late trumpeter’s World music, plus she evokes an Africanized flourish. Or note the key pressure she brings to Monk’s “Four In One” pinpointing the composer’s child-like innocence that translates into sardonic jocularity.

Her own compositions, often played staccato, tremolo and with contrasting dynamics, logically mate techniques, tradition and transcendence. Pulsating cross tones, showy glissandi and foot-tapping boogie-woogie asides help her “Blue Foncé” draw equally on Africa, archaic blues and an Alpine melody. Meanwhile the inner string strumming and snapping on “Scratching at the Tonhalle” highlights Europeanized contemporary music and mates it with legato tunefulness.

Fittingly the title tune tour-de-force includes a coda of Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz”. An extended performance that flows logically from formalistic glissandi to sympathetic vibrations, encompassing sparse Monkish or tremolo Ahmad Jamal-like interpolations, the composition is spiky but unthreatening.

If only all birthday celebrations could be as pleasurable for the attendees and the guest of honor.

Tracks: To Whom It May Concern; Hüben ohne drüben; Scratching at the Tonhalle; Jungle Beat III/The Train and the River; Homage to Don Cherry; Ida Lupino; Four in One; Bleu Foncé; Xaba; Final Ending

Personnel: Irène Schweizer: piano

—For New York City Jazz Record March 2012