Unit Records CD Nr. 4435

Ten years is a long time, but it’s been that protracted period since the exceptional Swiss-British improvising ensemble Whisperings has put out a CD. Luckily this session rectifies the situation, quickly proving that the quartet’s sympathetic interaction has only intensified over the years. On these four instant compositions British guitarist Fred Frith plus keyboardist Michel Wintsch, drummer Lionel Friedli and soundsinger/electronics manipulator Franziska Baumann – all Swiss – demonstrate a luminous intensity that unites suggestions of rock, jazz, improv, notated and electronic music into a satisfying whole.

“The chemistry was amazing,” reflects Baumann, who is also a professor at the Berne University of Music. “The session was lots of fun but also profoundly serious. With our different backgrounds we were ready for the unexpected.” Equally proficient creating timed synthesizer pulses or clipping piano licks, as he demonstrates on “Alive But Lucid”, Wintsch has been in a rock band, composed for film and theatre, and been part of a well-regarded jazz trio with American drummer Gerry Hemingway. Friedli is an indomitable presence on the Swiss scene, while Frith’s experience ranges from his membership in the seminal art-rock band Henry Cow, to extensive improvisation plus compositions for creative ensembles, dance and films.

The band members’ compositional skills come to the fore during the tracks’ multi-faceted textural explorations and lightening quick transitions. Plus these tropes are blended with the musicians’ improvisational freedom and awesome technical virtuosity. On the title tune, for instance Baumann moves from child-like lyricism to dervish screams and hisses, while the guitarist bends notes and the pianist syncopates strongly. Meanwhile her vocals on “Alive But Lucid” move from bel-canto warbling to panting breaths, encompass aleatoric verbal gibberish and climax with heartfelt sentiments in English. “Black Body Radiation” even pairs grainy verbal cries with backbeat drumming and clunking guitar runs. Throughout all four selections, electronic wave forms come in and out of focus, while altered, doubled and overdubbed vocals pulsate in the background.

Besides his work at California’s Mills College, Frith now spends part of the year teaching advanced improvisation in Switzerland. This raises hopes for more Whisperings sessions. Certainly the excellent program captured here demands an encore.

Booklet Notes By Ken Waxman

(www.jazzword.com) Toronto February 2013