Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Jurg Wickihalder European Quartet feat. Irene Schweizer - Jump! (Intakt, 2011)

The third release on Intakt by soprano saxophonist Jurg Wickihalder finds him in the company of the highly regarded pianist Irene Schweizer along with Fabian Gisler on bass and Michael Griener on drums, and they make for a formidable group. The spirit of Thelonious Monk seems to hang in the air as the group navigates five Wickihalder original compositions, all spirited and ripe with opportunity for the musicians to improvise. The group leads off with "Triple Rittberger Exercise" which really brings out the impish Monk-ishness for Schweizer, before making way for a fine unaccompanied soprano saxophone solo. "Red Light Jumping Friends (dedicated to Irène)" has a ripe solo piano opening, strong with gentle filigree. The rest of the bend then enters jauntily, building something of a playful, roguish strut that develops faster and stronger during this section of the dynamic suite-like performance. Low piano and saxophone usher in "Last Jump" probing with an emotional sense of longing and loss. With bass and drums entering spaciously, the music begins to pick up pace, adding a dash of mordant humor to a full-bodied improvisation. After an interlude for solo bass, the music returns to long, lonely tones for saxophone with accents of piano and bass. The shortest performance on the album is also one of its highlights. "6243D (armstand back double somersault 1,5 twists free position)" develops a swirling and dance-like motif, with rolling piano and drums making way for elastic bass and percussion. Kaleidoscopic saxophone and excellent drumming underpin this wonderful performance. The ending track, "High Wire Dancer" is the longest on the album, finishing the album with an emphatic statement. Starting out with a well deserved centerpiece for drummer Michael Griener, the music picks up pace as the rest of the band enters the fray. This dynamic performance builds fast, with snake-charmer soprano saxophone developing a crescendo of high pitched raving over bass and drums with Schweizer laying out. After a calming bass interlude, the full quartet builds back in for a full headstrong sprint to the finish. This was a really well done and consistently interesting album. I'm not as well versed in the European improvisational scene as I should be, but this wonderful album leaves me wanting more. Jump! - amazon.com

Send comments to Tim.