Friday, February 25, 2011

Irene Schweizer

Irene Schweizer (piano; b. 1941)
Portrait (Intakt Records; 2005)

One artist that I have been really late getting into was Swedish native, Irene Schweizer. I own a few records that she is a guest musician on but never venture into her own material. I think a lot of it had to do with my noticing how many albums she had and not knowing where to start. Then I was in a record store and randomly looking around (money burning in pocket to be spent) and I stumbled across what would turn out to be a really great compilation, entitled Portrait (Intakt Records). And I've been listening repeatedly ever since.

Irene Schweizer's style is firmly set in improvisation but she weaves between traditional and free jazz quite smoothly. There is a direct, forceful nature to the way she handles the keys but you can hear her mission is to take you to a different place altogether.

Schweizer has been compared to Cecil Taylor throughout her career but I'm starting to think that is truly unfair. Portrait covers material done with duos, trio, quartets and solo. The more interesting pieces for me are the duos. The settings are challenging and Schweizer plays and battles with the best of them (Fred Anderson, Hamid Drake, Andrew Cyrille, Louis Moholo, Hans Bennink and more).

Portrait begins with the wonderful solo piece "Sisterhood Of Spit" which feels like an Earl "Fatha" Hines or Thelonious Monk piece. It's jumpin', thoroughly intuitive and is the best evidence that she should not be compared to Mr. Taylor (not that there's anything wrong with that). The mix of collaborations and solo material on Portrait is perfectly balance and gives an excellent example of Schweizer's capabilities in various settings. "Willisau" performed with a trio including Fred Anderson (sax) and Hamid Drake (drums) is a brilliant piece of improvisation. A dueling interplay between all three musicians where each stands tall but never seem to overtake the other. Schweizer's performance is complex but with a great deal of rhythm.

Schweizer delivers a great version of Monk's "Hackensack" as a duo with drummer Han Bennink which almost feels like a tribute to New Orleans thanks to Bennink's timing. Schweizer's arrangement stays true to the original but with a little more improvising and surprisingly more buoyancy than the original (if you can believe it).

The most diverse piece on this compilation is "Come Along, Charles" recorded as the trio Les Diaboliques, featuring the magnificent Maggie Nichols (voice) and Joelle Leandre (bass). It's a short piece and only gives a brief taste of the full live performance. Schweizer's playing standouts here because of the subtly. Unlike the other settings, she allows Nichols and Leandre to take the fore. "Come Along, Charles" is a nice bit of classical avant garde.

I have a feeling a lot of you may be like me in that you didn't know where to start with Irene Schweizer's music. I have to say Portrait is a great primer and entry point. After this I would suggest any of the duo recordings. Portrait was a great find for me. I hope that you guys can find it as well. Enjoy...

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