Intakt CD 003

I wish I was a liar
Is it possible to successfully tell the story of such a momentous historical event as the storming of the Winter Palace in Petrograd in 1917 through jazz, a form of music which emerged a century ago from the cosmopolitan heart of New Orleans, a city where the delta of the Mississippi meets the Gulf of Mexico?
And also when the jazz narrative is told by three women - a Swiss pianist, a Scottish singer and a French bassist - and two men, a German drummer and an African American trombonist born in Chicago?
Perhaps these questions are summarily answered by vocalist Maggie Nichols, who wrote this sonic essay with pianist Irene Schweizer, and who at one point in the 10-minute proceedings - recorded live in March 1988 at the Taktios Festival in Zurich - declares from the midst of her mostly wordless lyrics: "And why not? And why not?"
Audacity here certainly, and brilliant jazz musicianship too - mostly in a free ensemble setting, stirred up into a relentless excitation by the five revolutionary improvising spirits.
The album's first track, the 26 minutes of Now And Never, begins with an astonishing collective passage, with Lewis' gruff slides tunnelling beneath Nicol's embroidered, lyricless vocals, Leandre's bass buzzing like some monumental insect, Sommer's flickering cymbalism and crashing drums before Schweizer's rampaging entry of keyboard runs and flourishes.
The frantic present tense of the piece continues with Nicols suddenly breaking into words, their Anglicism creating a strange absurdity as she sings of a mad rush for bargains at a jumble sale, and you wonder exactly what her aroused and hyper-engaged bandmates are making of it all in their own diverse languages and ways of living.
But the meaning is in the music as Schweizer's pace becomes lightning, with Sommer's sprinting snares and Lewis' snorts and Nicols declaring: "I wish I was a liar!"
No lies either in The Storming Of The Winter Palace which follows.
I would play it with John Reed's Ten Days Which Shook The World beside you and a DVD of Eisenstein's October, then see how each fills out the other.
Lewis' trombone is fearsome and prophetic with Schweizer's pianism groundshaking.
Leandre plays a pulsating bowed bass, breaking up the earth and concrete as Sommer's drums roll and pound as if they are signalling and urging the revolutionaries.
The piece moves with the sound of a system, and its power is at last ruptured, a sheer invitation to the imagination.
There's a very different musicial ambience throughout the album Can Walk On Sand, which in its own way celebrates another profoundly welcomed defeat of reactionary power.
The Where's Africa Trio - made up of the redoubtable Schweizer, Swiss alto saxophonist Omri Ziegele and the septuagenarian South African drummer Makaya Ntshoko - plays a selection of diverse tunes, some of which are compositions by South African revolutionary musicians who were exiles of apartheid and living in Europe for up to four decades.
These include pianists Dollar Brand - later Abdullah Ibrahim - and Chris McGregor, and bassist Johnny Dyani, all of whom were Ntshoko's contemporaries.
Ntshoko was the drummer in the Brand Trio in the early '60s and on the pianist's epochal album of 1964, Duke Elington Presents The Dollar Brand Trio.
Schweizer must have known the second track Tintiyana like his own drumsticks, so often did the Brand trio play it.
Ziegele's gyrating alto spins out his notes and there is a romping chorus from Schweizer.
Malwaldron's tender melody Soul Eyes is given a moving testimony and the trio skips through the briefest versions of Ornette Coleman's Giggin'.
The African rhythms of McGregor's great Afro European band The Brotherhood Of Breath burst out of Schweizer's jumping choruses of Andromeda, and Ziegele's airy timbre rises from his own compositions, Can Walk On Sand and Rare Bird.
But is is in the final two tunes - Ithi Gqi and Mbizo by the mercurial Dyani, where a second altoist Jurg Wickihalder is added - that the long years of the South African's musical defiance of apartheid is powerfully recreated by Schweizer, Ziegele and survivor Ntshoko for our own times, like a sonic beacon from past decades of brave struggle.
Chris Searle,, Tuesday 06 September 2011, Great Britain

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