John Voirol

Ich Allein (Unit Records)
By Ken Waxman

Now more a recital than a rite of passage, a solo saxophone session isn’t as confrontational as it was when Steve Lacy and Anthony Braxton began specializing in the form four decades ago. But improvising alone with no preconceptions still nakedly reveals the sum of a musician’s mettle and skill. That’s why Hochdorf-based tenor and soprano saxophonist John Voirol’s Ich allein (Unit Records) is so notable. Unlike tyro reed players who disappointedly record solo as early on in their careers as their conservative brethren create CDs of standards, Voirol, like Dave Liebman and Sonny Rollins before him, has wisely waited for the appropriate moment before meeting the solo challenge.

“I decided to free my mind and allow the moment to lead the way,” explains Voirol, 49, who is also a lecturer at the Lucerne University of arts and co-founder of Montreux’s Jazz Music School. “I wanted to live the ‘now’ and harmonize my saxophones with the inspiration of that moment. The tracks not only reproduce a variety of techniques and phrasing, but also uncover my interest in improvising while discovering a combination of sounds.”

Voirol who has worked in a variety of jazz, improv, fusion and even so-called classical contexts with players as different as drummer Keith Copeland, pianist John Wolf Brennan and trombonist Joseph Bowie, has also researched modal harmony and Gregorian music. So at this point in his career, he’s sophisticated enough to utilize all the tenets of his musical background on his disc.

While all of his playing on Ich allein is completely spontaneous, the bravura flat-line pressure and blurred timbres he murmurs s through his sax on “Moment 6” for instance, has its antecedent in early plainsong. Similarly the breathy tenor saxophone vibrato used on “Moment 6” owes its origin to Ben Webster’s phrasing, just as Voirol’s moderato and legato exposition on this track and elsewhere intimates that he might break into a standard tune any time – although he doesn’t.

Some of the shorter tracks are fascinating as they show him dealing with a variety of extended techniques and phrasing, including tongue slaps, strident yelps, contrapuntal recd bites and circular breathing. At the same time the polyphonic hockets plus tremolo flutters used on a tune such as “Moment 4” relate back to much earlier intonation strategies such as those found in traditional bagpipers’ vibrating reeds.

A reflection of jazz history on Ich allein also allows Voirol to search for what he describes as “the deeper spirit in the music”. Glottal punctuation and multi-vibrated split tones heard on tracks such as “Moment 5” and “Moment 7” relate both to Albert Ayler’s free-form experiments, as well as the freak effects used by 1920s’ saxophonists such as progenitor Coleman Hawkins. It was also Hawkins’ 1948 unaccompanied “Picasso” that laid the foundation for subsequent solo work, and you can hear suggestions of the legendary saxophonist’s distinct vibrato mixed among the staccato kinetics and stuttering tones with intermittent breaths that Voirol brings to “Moment 1”.

Overall, without ignoring Voirol’s other preferences, which include playing jazz standards, working in the groove, and improvising on Gregorian ambiance, Ich allein captures his playing at its most impressively spontaneous. Considering how well the CD turned out, the likelihood of this disc being appreciated by only “me alone” are very slim.

—Published (in German) in Jazz’n’More Mai/Juni Nr.3/2013