Jürg Wickihalder/Barry Guy/Lucas Niggli

Intakt CD 277

Like army recruits moving into the front line in a crucial battle, two youngish Swiss improvisers accede to the reed and percussion roles in this trio outing which in the past have been taken by the likes of saxophonists Parker, Trevor Watts and Mats Gustafsson and drummers Paul Lytton, John Stevens and Paul Lovens. Concerned with pushing sounds forward, not looking backwards, soprano, alto and tenor saxophonist Jürg Wickihalder and drummer Lucas Niggli form a bond with veteran British double bassist Barry Guy for a personalized take on the trio tradition. As well, rather than recreating earlier skirmishes, the double bassist prodigious skill as soloist and composer means that he too can go beyond expected trio situations since reanimating that configuration has, along with solo concerts and large ensemble orchestrations, been his focus since the late 1960s.

Respectively nearly two (Niggli) or three (Wickihalder) decades younger than Guy, the Swiss have almost opposing musical background, with the percussionist involved with ethnic music and Rock and the saxophonist the product of extensive Jazz pedagogy. Niggli has also worked in Guy’s small and large ensembles since 2002, while Wickihalder’s background includes extensive gigs with pianist Irène Schweizer, who has her own long history with Guy.

Overall though, awkwardness is nowhere to be heard by “Relaxing in the Forest”, the second track and one of the seven of nine composed by the reedist. Guy’s aggressive splayed fingering replaces the consoling string emotions with which he began the session, and soon enough the cantilevered exposition is also being conveyed by Niggli’s bopping breaks and Wickihalder’s peeping sharpness. This high energy program continues on the subsequent “The Valley”, where Guy’s guitar-like strumming matches a keening soprano saxophone line that incredibly enough manages to negotiate the landscape between reassuring Alpine-shepherd-like puffs and Aylerian split-tone vocalizing. The Guy-penned “Return of Ulysses” solidifies the partnership still further when this low-key romp, seasoned with cymbal accents and reed honks, turns into a ferocious Free Jazz exercise enlivened with bass string swipes and sawing.

This triangular exposition continues for the rest of the CD with neither divergent musical influences nor playing history retarding the trio members’ close cooperation. Although the tune flow sometimes hesitates before starting up again, the journey is usually smooth and chromatic. Appropriately enough, the final track is entitled “The Last Breath” and while he doesn’t exhibit death-bed expiration, the saxophonist’s wispy high-pitched tone is affected enough by Guy’s compact string oscillations to end the piece with a gentle salute to either love … or fading breath. Taking this at face value, the solo helps to prove beyond a doubt that Beyond is a breath-taking experience.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. A New One 2. Relaxing in the Forest 3. The Valley 4. Return of Ulysses 5. Arts and Crafts 6. Süssholz 7. Dipper 8. Sing! 9. The Last Breath

Personnel: Jürg Wickihalder (soprano, alto and tenor saxophones); Barry Guy (bass) and Lucas Niggli (drums)