Bill Shoemaker, Downbeat, USA, 5-2008
für IRENE SCHWEIZER. Mit ihrem 'Schaffhausen Concert' macht sie,
ein Viertelstündchen solo und quirlig wie der Rheinfall, den Auftakt
zu 'Radio Rondo' und der Wiederauferstehung des BARRY GUY LONDON JAZZ
COMPOSERS ORCHESTRA (Intakt CD 158) beim Schaffhauser Jazzfestival 2008.
Nach zehnjähriger Pause knüpfte Guy mit verjünger Mannschaft
an die schon bei Theoria (1991) und Double Trouble Two (1995) mit Schweizer
und die zwischenzeitlich mit dem Barry Guy New Orchestra gemachten Erfahrungen
an. Von diesem Ensemble mischen sich nun Mats Gustafsson, Johannes Bauer,
Herb Robertson und Per Åke Holmlander unter LJCO-Veteranen wie
Trevor Watts, Alan Tomlinson, Henry Lowther, Simon Picard und Conny
Bauer, während Evan Parker hier wie da zum Tanz aufgespielt hat.
Wobei 'Tanz' natürlich nicht Foxtrott meint, sondern das, was passiert,
wenn ein Dutzend Bläser in ihre Hörner stoßen, umspielt
von drei Streichern - neben Guy selbst noch Barre Phillips am zweiten
Bass und Phil Wachsman an der Violine - und angestoßen von der
Doppelpercussion von Lucas Niggli und Paul Lytton, mit auffälligem
Gewummer durch Nigglis großem Gong und großer Pauke. Schweizer
fällt die Rolle der Konzertpianistin zu, der Guy nur ganz wenig
Spielmaterial gab, ganz im Vertrauen auf ihre Intuition und Power. Das
Piano ist der Faden, die Leitkuh, dem die Elefantenherde folgt. Guys
Vorgaben sorgen für Ballungen und Ausdifferenzierungen, sie bestimmen,
wer wann Kopfstand macht oder sich auf die Hinterbeine stellt. Die Vorstellung,
durch Radiosender zu zappen, bleibt etwas vage, auf keinen Fall ist
das eine Collage. Es ist ein Fest für Liebhaber prächtiger
Blasmusik im Wechsel von Furioso zu Glissandi und grummeligem Gedröhn,
von grollenden, trötenden Tutti zu luftigen Momenten mit Streicherschmelz,
Perkussionsgeflirr oder gedämpftem Gequäke. Ein Fest, das
mit einem Donnerschlag beginnt und mit abruptem Schnitt endet.
Bad Alchemy, Deutschland, 64/2009
Wüger, Schaffhauser Nachrichten, Schweiz, 16. September 2009
von Niederhäusern, Radiomagazin, Schweiz, September/Oktober 2009
Und es gibt ihn noch, diesen
legendären Klangkörper unter der genialen Führung von
Barry Guy. Diesmal ist es den Veranstaltern des Jazzfestivals in Schaffhausen
gelungen, diese Großformation zu engagieren. Es ist ja nicht leicht,
eine solche Band zu einem bestimmten Zeitpunkt an einem bestimmten Ort
zusammenzutrommeln. Ist doch jeder dieser Musiker in viele Projekte
und Unternehmungen verstrickt, ein Zusammenkommen eine Herausforderung
an den Terminkalender. Wie kraftvoll, präzise und doch heiter und
transparent diese moderne Big Band inzwischen klingen kann und darf,
Aber beginnen wir mit dem
Opener, dem Soloauftritt der Pianistin Irene Schweizer, die in einem
15-minütigen Solo, dem 'Schaffhausen Concert', wie ein ganzes Orchester
klingt, dabei swingt und groovt und, wenn man das sagen darf, vielleicht
überhaupt in den Jungbrunnen gefallen zu sein scheint: Toll!
Das Tongewitter der folgenden
'Radio Rondo'-Komposition des London Jazz Composers Orchestra mündet
dann bald in die feinnervig verästelte, gut vorbereitete Themenstruktur
des Magiers Barry Guy. 'Modern Music‘ auf allerhöchstem Niveau.
Die Allstarband der Improvisationsmusik ordnet sich diszipliniert dem
Gesamtgeschehen unter und macht den Klangkörper dadurch zu diesem
funktionierenden Instrument, das diese Parforceritte und Schwierigkeiten
mit scheinbarer Leichtigkeit bewältigt. Famos.
mitter, Freistil, Österreich, Oktober 2009
Deux pièces seulement
ici, toutes deux enregistrées le 21 mai 2008 dans le cadre du
Schaffhausen Concert est un solo de la pianiste Irène
Schweizer. Chez Irène, toujours cette redoutable symétrie,
cette clarté de la forme et du phrasé. Continuité
sans ruptures, le doute est absent et l’excellence est au rendez-vous.
Seulement jouer avec un total engagement : avec énergie, force
et ne jamais s’attarder, ni se relâcher. Une urgence continue,
exemplaire même dans ses moments de répit ; sans incidence
et si brillante que générosité et chaleur s’y
perdent parfois. Cela à duré une quinzaine de minutes.
Radio Rondo est une composition de Barry Guy. Il dirige à
nouveau le London Jazz Composers Orchestra (plus de dix ans d’absence,
déjà). Le plaisir de les retrouver est grand. Les clusters
et autres glissandi sont toujours présents. L’effet de
masse, l’action collective ne trompent pas. Barry Guy dirige avec
rigueur et Irène Schweizer, dont le rôle central ne fait
aucun doute ici, exulte et mitraille sans sourciller, adoptant parfois
des paysages plus tempérés en trio avec Barry Guy et Paul
Lytton. Cela a duré une trentaine de minutes.
Luc Bouquet, Le son du grisli, France, Octobre 2009
Mitter, Freistil, Österreich, Oktober-November 2009
Maida, Jazzthetik, Deutschland, Nov 2009
Cotro, Jazzmagazine/Jazzman, Paris, Novembre, 2009
Thurnherr, Jazz n' More, Schweiz, November 2009
Yokoi, Jazztokyo, Japan, Nov 2009
Wire, GB, Dezember 2009
Heining, Jazzwise, GB, Dezember 2009 / January 2010
Kobe, Jazzpodium, Deutschland, Dezember 2009
Belhomme, Inrocks, France, November 2009
Geld aus dem Barock
Barry Guy und sein New Orchestra
Früher schickte das British Council sie in weit entfernte Länder.
Mit ihnen wollte man dem schlechten postkolonialen Image des ehemaligen
Empire etwas Positives entgegensetzen. Doch in jüngster Zeit unterstützt
man lieber Geschäftsleute oder DJs, berichtet der Bassist und Komponist
Barry Guy beim Gespräch in Zürich, wo er heute lebt. Für
Künstler sei das System staatlicher Subventionen nicht verlässlich,
für die Großformationen der improvisierten Musik bedeuten
derart prekäre Umstände in der Regel das Aus. So auch für
Guys traditionsreiches, 1970 gegründetes London Jazz Composers
Orchestra, das Ende der 90er-Jahre aufgelöst wurde und erst 2008
beim Schaffhauser Jazzfestival wieder für ein großes Konzert
zusammen kam. Als das LJCO keine Subventionen mehr kriegte, gründete
Guy eine kleinere Band: So entstand das Barry Guy New Orchestra, das
am Freitag beim Berliner Jazzfest auftreten wird, erweitert um den Gitarristen
Die Idee des Ausdrucks ist für Guy im Barock und in der freien
Musik sehr ähnlich, der 1947 geborene Musiker hat zahlreiche Aufnahmen
mit der Academy of St.-Martin-in-the-Fields, den London Sinfonietta
und Christopher Hogwoods Academy of Ancient Music gemacht. Zum Glück
lief es bei ihm mit der Barockmusik sehr gut, er habe diverse Instrumente,
Saiten, Bögen gekauft, um die Stücke so adäquat wie möglich
aufführen zu können. "Und als ich Geld für die improvisierte
Musik brauchte, habe ich das eine oder andere Instrument wieder verkauft.
Die erste CD, ,Harmos', die ich für das Zürcher Intakt-Label
gemacht habe, wurde durch den Verkauf eines meiner Bässe finanziert,"
Für die meisten Kollegen sei es ein permanenter Kriegszustand,
experimentelle Musik möglich zu machen, sagt Guy; wenn man nach
diversen Probentagen und einem Konzert nur 150 Euro bekomme, sei das
unerträglich. Auch die Radiostationen würden immer weniger
Produktionen mit experimentellen Musikern machen, die großen Tage
des NDR, als Guy und seine Ensembles dort probten und aufnahmen, sind
definitiv vorbei - für Guy eine der großen Enttäuschungen
der letzten Jahre.
Guys Komposition "Harmos" von 1987 gilt heute als der große
Klassiker des avantgardistischen BigBand-Jazz. Eine gewaltige Hymne,
in der freie Improvisationen über großorchestrale Melodiebögen
geschichtet sind. "In dieser Musik geht es um Leben, Überleben,
Kampf - das muss man auch spüren", sagt Guy. "Den größten
Teil meines Lebens habe ich nach einer Lösung gesucht, wie man
das in einer Partitur ausdrücken kann. Alle meine großen
Stücke sind organisiert wie Sinfonien - wie eine weite Reise für
die Musiker und Hörer."
Christian Broecking, Berliner Zeitung, 4. November 2009
Östberg, Orkester Journalen Nr. 6 / 2009, Sweden
In August 2008 composer and
bassist Barry Guy talked to Bill Shoemaker about the ten-year hiatus
of the London Jazz Composers Orchestra: "A year passed and another
year passed, and people began to ask, 'What happened to the LJCO?' ‘Well
nothing really.' And then ten years passed." It hardly seems like
a decade since the group was last heard from; that's partly because
in the intervening years, Guy convened the New Orchestra, a stripped-down
but still massive-sounding unit. Another part of it – and Guy
alludes to this as the basis for Radio Rondo – is that the participants
still frequently work together in other, overlapping ensembles. In a
way, it's not like the LJCO really "went" anywhere. But for
the 2008 Schaffhausen Jazz Festival, Guy reconvened the 18-piece orchestra
– with Irène Schweizer, a frequent LJCO collaborator, on
piano – for a performance of the 1989 piece Harmos and the newly
commissioned Radio Rondo. The resulting CD combines Rondo with a solo
improvisation by Schweizer. The LJCO now incorporates all the players
from the New Orchestra, including reedist Mats Gustafsson, tubaist Per
Åke Holmlander, and trumpeter Herb Robertson; drummer Lucas Niggli
was also present for the occasion.
Compared to Guy's earlier concertos for Schweizer and Marilyn Crispell,
Radio Rondo is much more open-ended, though there's still a strong composerly
sensibility in evidence. The piece hinges on contrasts between large
masses of sound in either static or extremely vibrant motion, and smaller,
sometimes hushed group interplay, frequently with Schweizer at the center.
Opening with seasick full-ensemble trills, the piece shifts its centre,
as motives flit between percussion, piano, flute and soprano. Woodwinds
and brass then repeat and bend those motives into slushy cacophony before
dying away into pinched harmonics. As the sound masses thin out, Schweizer
has more room to stretch, working architecturally, stacking and repeating
for emphasis. Her playing is often highly rhythmic, but it has a strong
"tonal" romantic streak as well, which she and tenorman Simon
Picard extrapolate for one of the prettiest moments of the piece. In
the last twelve minutes, the orchestra expands out from and contracts
back to lush pedal points at regular intervals, the textures ranging
from popping detail to Rothko-like sonic envelopment. Conceptually,
Radio Rondo is fairly straightforward once the piece's back-and-forth
nature reveals itself, but the trades between orchestral mass and Schweizer's
dynamic drive are a treat to listen to.
The pianist's solo piece – placed first on the CD – apparently
actually followed the Rondo in concert, and to some extent seems to
respond to the weight and measure of the full orchestra. Her trilling
runs appear to be hauling a roomful of ghost improvisers along; the
abrupt decelerations and shifts in tempo have the weight of an accompanying
bass drum or reed-like whack. Not that Schweizer needs a band behind
her – that rolling barrelhouse can handle itself well enough –
but her jagged, upper-register chunks often suggest one side of a dialogue.
And if there were a second musician, the occasional wry turn into a
hearty Monkish ballad might throw a partner for a loop. After all, though
she's often in the fiercest kinds of musical situations, Schweizer is
one of the most lyrical of postwar European pianists, handling fleet
action with glassine delicacy. Here, she's both orchestrator and orchestra.
Clifford Allen, Paris Transatlantic, Yule 2009
Best Large Ensemble
Release 2009 - All About Jazz New York (AAJNY, January 2010)
Barry Guy London Jazz Composers Orchestra - Radio Rondo/Irene Schweizer
- Schaffhausen Concert
Rosenstein, Signal to Noise,USA, Winter 2010
Perseguendo dopo oltre un
lustro la grande idea di Michael Mantler che, nel 1964 diede il la all'avventura
della celebrata Jazz Composer's Orchestra, Barry Guy, contrabbassista
e compositore londinese, fonda nel 1974 una formazione che resterà
per almeno 30 anni ineguagliata fucina di creatività e di alta
esemplificazione di arte musicale. La London Jazz Composers Orchestra
è ancora oggi citata quale ecumenico esempio di comunione fra
patrimonio classico per eccellenza e architettura jazz.
La line-up chiama a raccolta una ventina di musicisti scelti fra i grandi
numeri uno europei del tempo. Collegando fra loro le filosofie esplorative
delle esperienze storiche di Mingus, LaFaro, Peacock, Ayler, Coltrane,
Dolphy, Bill Evans e Coltrane, Guy e compagni dettano le linee guida
del loro operare nel magmatico fermento musicale dei Settanta: l'esplorazione
del rapporto fra musica scritta e improvvisata e quella fra la "new
thing" contemporanea e la musica afro-americana.
L'immensa intelligenza di alcune fra le avventure sonore proposte dal
gruppo pone velocemente la formazione all'attenzione degli studiosi
delle fenomenologie musicali tout-court del secolo scorso. Inarrivabile
è - ad esempio - l'ingegnosa strada percorsa nell'ambito del
rapporto fra la coerenza dell'idea del "gruppo" musicale e
la libertà espressiva da lasciare al solista. Praticamente tutte
le esibizioni e le testimonianze sonore della "London" sono
documenti oggi ritenuti essenziali per la comprensione del concetto
di ciò che è definibile con il termine di musica moderna.
Quasi onnipresente in ogni festival d'avanguardia dei tardi Settanta,
Ottanta e Novanta, l'orchestra chiude la prima parte della sua storia
con un concerto ai celebrati "Berliner Jazztage" del 1998.
Complice il lento decadimento qualitativo di tutto ciò che viveva
musicalmente intorno, i concerti dell'ultimo decennio del Novecento
esistono di fatto solo su commissione. E' esattamente a dieci anni da
quel concerto in terra tedesca che una nuova commissione proposta a
Guy dal festival elvetico di Schaffhausen, riporta energia all'ensemble
che si presenta il 21 maggio del 2008 per un'unica performance presentata
in prima ed esclusiva mondiale. Trentacinque minuti e 26 secondi (di
cui almeno due buoni di applausi) suddivisi in due parti: uno straordinario
ed eclettico piano solo di Irene Schweizer introduttivo e un "Radio
Rondo" di una buona mezz'ora scritto appositamente da Guy per la
DSR Radio svizzera.
La forza espressiva di questa gente è davvero fuori dal comune;
pur non arrivando ai paradisi di alcune avventure del passato, dischi
come questo messo in commercio dalla sempre coraggiosa Intakt, focalizzano
ancora una volta il senso dell'arte, ricreando - come se il tempo non
fosse passato - antiche magie, ancora inarrivabili per altre formazioni
similari che hanno nel tempo cercato di unire fior fiore di solisti,
restando però a zappare in campi aridi.
Niente altro da scrivere: perle così restano per pochi e, anche
non volendolo, alla fine vengono riposte nello scrigno delle cose migliori,
su in soffitta. E delle tante fatiche e contingenze che buona parte
dei componenti di questa orchestra vivono ogni giorno, a nessuno sembra
importare un gran che. Un altro segno dei tempi. Brutti tempi. Valutazione:
Vittorio Albani, All
about Jazz Italia, January 2010
Soltoøft, Jazznytt, Norway, Nr. 6 / 2009
Radio Rondo was recorded
at a Swiss jazz festival in May of 2008. The program is split into two
halves, the first of which is a Irene Schweizer solo; the second, featuring
the pianist in the company of bassist Barry Guy and his longstanding
What makes the music notable is the degree to which it's reflective
of fearsome intelligence at work. As a pianist, Schweizer has taken
the time-honored route in her working through influences and emerging
with her own voice. Here, that's marked by a certain restlessness not
necessarily reflective of her musical personality; a largely irrelevant
point, since her work is so stimulating. Her accommodation with the
moment is entirely her own, and the same is true of the manner in which
she not only conjures up an idea but also teases it out, wringing it
out for telling effect. It seems like second nature for her to know
exactly when it's outlived its usefulness; a point most effectively
made at around the seven minutes and thirty seconds mark of her solo
"Schaffhausen Concert," where she gets as close as she ever
has to Cecil Taylor's sense of drama. Even then, it could easily be
merely a point of reference.
The LJCO is, along with the Globe Unity Orchestra, one of the longest-standing
European improvisation ensembles. It's clear, from its realization of
Guy's "Radio Rondo," that the mixture of stalwarts and relatively
new names is highly attuned to the bassist's musical methodology. In
lesser hands, the often dramatic nature of the piece, manifested in
great swathes of horns, would come across as striving for effect, but
here it's a different matter.
It seems at times as though Schweizer sometimes has to negotiate some
treacherous waters, but the underlying poise—a quality that's
amplified by the often truculent nature of Guy's work for this orchestra—is
extraordinary. At no point does the music congeal, despite the momentum
of the piece being far from linear. Instead, it's the very discontinuities
that are essential to this music's overall success, which in itself
sets out a manifesto for its ongoing vitality.
Nic Jones, www.allaboutjazz.com,
USA, January 21, 2010
Joris, Jazzmozaïek, Belgium, december 2009 - januari-februari 2010
Witherden, Jazz Journal, GB, April 2010
We Jazz fans owe a debt of
gratitude to the programmers of festivals all over the world. They are
largely unsung, but at the best festivals—I’ll mention Chicago
and Vancouver and Perugia, but they are only my favorites—creative
programming not only presents, preserves, and pays for the music, the
programming can also create it. This recording is a fine example. In
2008 the Schaffhausen Jazz Festival commissioned a composition from
Barry Guy, with the intention of bringing his London Jazz Composers
Orchestra to the festival. The ensemble had not played together in over
a decade, so the performance was really the rebirth of a seminal European
Free Jazz orchestra. The Festival also brought to the stage Irene Schweizer,
and programmed her to play immediately before the mighty LJCO.
The opening piano solo on the recording lets Schweizer show her gentle
side. There are chromatic runs, many shimmering colors, and delicate
tracery in modes, and, rather than development, Schweizer shifts from
one Debussy flavored moment to an edgier Shostakovich tension and then
on and on and on through half a dozen phases of her invention. It is
a wonderful journey, completely idiomatic, never falling into a riff
or a tune and hammering away at it a la Jarrett.
The 18-piece orchestra follows immediately, and Guy has composed in
a rondo form a concerto of sorts for band and piano. But that rondo
form is perfect as it allows different combinations of instruments to
step out of the opening cacophony and improvise around the passages
for Schweizer, in a tension and release pattern.
As I listen, I can’t help but notice how the Debussy-esque tone
of Schweizer’s opening solo piece has profoundly influenced the
way LCJO reacts to Guy’s always shifting composition. Probably
my only complaint here is the impossibility of figuring out whose solo
is whose, as the LCJO is loaded with heavy talent but there is no listing
of the solo or small ensemble order.
An incredible performance, filled with rich emotions and pure beauty,
clearly both written and improvised. For admirers of the LCJO, this
recording is a must-have. If you are not familiar with Guy’s lengthy
recording history, you may want to start with his earlier
1991 collaboration with Schweizer and his LCJO, Theoria (Intakt 24).
But this reunion CD is close to essential. Fans of LCJO like me can
only hope this is a rebirth and not just a reunion.
Phillip McNally, Cadence, USA, Apr - May - Jun 2010
Een inactiviteit van een
decennium en de bedrijvigheid van Barry Guy met onder meer zijn ander
big band ensemble (Barry Guy New Orchestra) deed vermoeden dat het doek
was gevallen over Barry Guy's London Jazz Composers Orchestra. Maar
kijk, in 2008 pakte Guy op het Schaffhausen festival in Zwitserland
uit met een nieuwe compositie voor dit allstar ensemble. Daarbij leek
een speciale rol weggelegd voor Irène Schweizer. De Zwitserse
pianiste mocht in het verleden al gastbijdrages leveren en speelde in
Schaffhausen in feite een thuismatch. Meer nog, Schweizer mocht met
een uitgebreid solostuk, het ensemble voorafgaan.
Schweizers performance is bijzonder vernuftig. Heel soepel en dartel
dansen haar vingers over de piano en creëren een stuk dat de ene
keer zenuwachtig aanvoelt, dan weer haast meditatief klinkt. Door de
ongewone nootsequenties en de soms aparte, wat wringende frasering voelt
het stuk onconventioneel aan. Het tempo lijkt met momenten net op dat
van een kind dat nog maar juist kan stappen maar al wil lopen en bijgevolg
moeite heeft om de eigen beentjes te volgen: dan trager, plots weer
sneller, soms aarzelend en dan ineens razendsnel vol overtuiging naar
links en dan weer rechts.
Na dit vijftien minuten durend werkstuk, vallen Barry Guy en zijn Orchestra
onaangekondigd en bijzonder brutaal in. Wie even dreigde weg te dommelen
zal bijzonder onaangenaam wakker schrikken. Glijdende koperklanken beuken
in op een batterij rietblazers terwijl tumultueuze drumritmes en basgeweld
een donderstorm lijken te evoceren. In een dik half uur leidt Guy met
strakke hand zijn zeventienkoppig leger langsheen collectieve uitbarstingen
van muzikaal geweld en scènes waarbij kleinere units aan het
converseren slaan. Ook in dit stuk is Schweizer regelmatig aan het woord.
Het geheel ademt een nogal jachtige sfeer uit, de gesprekken zijn gedreven
en slechts zelden verstilt het geheel. Niettemin zitten hier en daar
enkele verrassende wendingen in het stuk. Zo is er rond de tien minuten
heel even plaats voor een melodieuze noot met een haast melancholisch
klinkende tenorsax, delicate piano en ingehouden percussiegeroffel en
wat later zorgen georkestreerde, dreigende blazerpartijen voor een filmische
toets. Het is een effect dat in de laatste zeven minuten nog explicieter
wordt bereikt en de sfeer van een dramatische ontknopingscène
is dan nooit ver af.
Gelet op het indrukwekkend parcours dat Barry Guy al heeft afgelegd
en zijn ruim gedocumenteerd meesterschap in het leiden van grote ensembles,
is het moeilijk om hier te spreken van een verrassend werk dat uit de
band springt ten opzichte van wat hij vroeger heeft gedaan. Niettemin
is het alweer de zoveelste mooie krachttoer van de man waarbij hij het
avontuur en het enthousiasme van collectieve improvisatie alweer weet
te verzoenen met compositie, richting én discipline.
Sven Claeys, www.kwadratuur.be, Belgium, 19 mei 2010
Del Noce, SUONO, Italy, luglio 2010
by Ludwig vanTrikt, Zurich, Switzerland, February 13, 2009
CADENCE: Is it accurate to say that some of your recent playing
shows an African music influence? For instance, the composition “Jungle
Beats II” from your solo recording First Choice - Piano Solo KKL Luzerne
[Intakt 108, 2006] or your various work with Tommy Meier?
IRENE SCHWEIZER: Yes, that would be true that some of my improvisation shows quite a big influence by African Music. In particular the sound of South African “Kwela” music that Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath big band played. That group had various people in it but the core members were bassist Johnny Dyani, the saxophonist Dudu Pukwana, and Louis Moholo on drums. Also Abdullah Ibrahim was and is an influence; particularly his performance at the legendary Jazz Café Africana here in Zurich, Switzerland, during 1962-65.
You have made a number of noteworthy recordings in a duet setting,
particularly with drummers. What is it about performing duets with drummers
that appeals to you?
It is because I play drums myself. I have always been very keen on drummers and I am very lucky that I got the chance to have played and recorded with some of the best European and American drummers. The instrumentation of piano and drums has always been my favorite formation, not least because I play the piano in a very percussive way.
Please capture the atmosphere of the dance bands you heard while
growing up against the backdrop of your father’s restaurant.
On top of my parent’s restaurant there was a big room on the first floor, where student Dixieland bands rehearsed once a week. So when I came back from school, I sneaked in to listen to those bands and was absolutely fascinated by this music. This was in the early 1950s—I was about 12 or 13 years old and still playing the accordion then, but I was so enthusiastic to learn the piano and play Ragtime. I copied all the tunes I heard by ear and, after the bands finished rehearsing, I sat on the piano and tried to replay everything. The piano player was the boyfriend of my older sister and when I told him I wanted to learn the piano too, he was very kind and taught me as good as he could. But most of the tunes including chord changes I copied from him while watching his playing carefully!
How did you end up in England as an au pair?
It was 1960 and I was a student at Anglo Continental School in Bournemouth (Southern England). After my studies I did not feel like going back home to Switzerland and I was looking for an au pair job in London. The administrative office from the school helped me to find a decent place. So I ended up as an au pair with a very rich family at Chelsea Park Gardens (off Kings Road). I had to make early morning tea for Mr. and Mrs. King and then a little bit of cleaning in the house. In the afternoons I was free and could go practicing the piano at a rented studio place in town. I also went to Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in the London Soho district to listen to some of the great English Jazz musicians like Tubby Hayes, Joe Harriott, Ronnie Scott himself, and Phil Seamen. There was also the English bassist Dave Willis who I met already in Bournemouth when he was then a member of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, but also played Jazz with a trio in a small club in London. He helped me a lot in having me meet all the great musicians of that time and also introduced me to the blind pianist Eddie Thompson, who became my piano teacher during the whole time I stayed in London until the spring of 1962. He taught me all the nice tunes and chord changes from the Great American Popular Song Book.
Let’s talk more about Eddie Thompson.
Eddie Thompson was a blind White English gentleman. He had a piano trio with Dave Willis on bass and an English drummer, whose name I can’t remember. They played in a small Jazz club (more like a pub) at Swallow Street near Piccadilly. And because I knew Dave from my studies in Bournemouth, he told me about this club and invited me to come by and sit in occasionally. Eddie was a Mainstream Jazz player and quite famous in London, but not outside of England. He was encouraging me a lot to perform in public, but I used to be very shy back then even at the age of 21. All I can say is that I learned quite a lot from him and I am very thankful
to have met this wonderful person and great teacher.
Since you musically came of age in the 1960s, did any of the
politics of the American Jazz “New Thing” filter down to you? I am speaking
of the Black cultural identity politics of the Jazz Avant-garde.
Of course, the Black Panther party had a big influence on me. The lyric poetry of poet Amiri Baraka, the music of Archie Shepp, Max Roach’s LP Freedom Now and Ornette Coleman’s LP Free Jazz all made big impressions on me. During that era I was only listening to Jazz music of Black American musicians, because it was so amazingly strong that every other music seemed unimportant to me! I only regret that I could not be a part of this movement in the USA as a young White European musician. I was following everything regarding the Black Civil Rights movement in the USA expressed in the American Jazz scene.
Upon your return to Switzerland, it seems you started changing
your style and moved more toward the Avant-garde.
Yes, soon after I came back to Switzerland I left my hometown and settled down in Zurich, where I formed a trio with drummer Mani Neumeier and the bassist Uli Trepte. We were copying Bill Evans, Paul Bley, and McCoy Tyner. The Bill Evans Trio with Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian opened my ears to more modern harmonics and chord changes and also rhythmically. We opened up and started to play in a freer way, like Paul Bley with all these wonderful Carla Bley tunes. Sometimes a tenor saxophonist joined us and then we played in the idiom of John Coltrane—we bought all the Impulse LPs and tried to copy all those tunes.We were rehearsing a lot, although everybody was still working and had a day job. I earned my living as a secretary while the drummer was a plumber, the bassist worked in a bookshop, and the saxophonist was a psychologist. Then in 1963 the legendary Café Africana opened up in Zurich, where the Dollar Brand trio played every day for several months. I listened to this trio quite a lot and Dollar’s playing deeply moved me. At the beginning of the ‘70s I started a quartet with German sax player Rudiger Carl, Dutch bassist Arjen Gorter, and different drummers but mainly South African drummer Makaya Ntshoko. We played also at the official Berliner Jazztage and toured mostly in Germany and Switzerland. Later on, Rudiger Carl and I reduced the quartet to a trio with drummer Louis Moholo; it was with this trio we recorded two LPs for FMP  and also played a lot in Germany, Switzerland, France, and Italy. I want to go back further and mention that in the late 1960s I had a group with drummer Pierre Favre, bassist Peter Kowald, and the great saxophonist Evan Parker. This group was very important for me. We were touring around Europe and played many festivals like PORI (in Finland), Berlin, Frankfurt, Zurich, etc. The music was very exciting and powerful—really Free Jazz at its best. Unfortunately there exists only one LP with this quartet on WERGO Records, which is probably out of print.
While we are talking about the 1960s, what was your reaction
to hearing Cecil Taylor live in 1966?
I heard Cecil Taylor live for the first time in Stuttgart at a radio/concert performance together with the late Jimmy Lyons and Andrew Cyrille. Before the concert I listened to him a lot on records. I had all the LPs from that time, like Conquistador and Unit Structures, and I was so impressed by his technique and powerful playing, that I decided to stop playing the piano for a short time! Cecil’s playing was simply too much for me to handle! But after a while I recovered from the shock and started to play again. I think, in the trio I had with Rudiger Carl and Louis Moholo, my playing was the most Cecil Taylor-influenced phase I went through and that was the 1970s.
What musical approaches did you adopt in order to not let his
playing overtly influence your own?
The Cecil Taylor influence lasted only about a couple of years, until I heard both Cecil Taylor and Monk playing a solo performance at the Berlin Jazz Days in the early 1970s. I was so moved by Monk’s playing—his “anti-technique” but still musically very strong in its own expressiveness—that I decided to change my attitude in running after the Taylor-like use of fast power playing. I came to the point where I discovered, concerning the notes I played, that in the words of Monk “less is more.”
You mentioned that since you were the only woman around in Avant-garde
circles during the 1960s, you felt pushed to play more aggressively
than you might otherwise have done.
Yes, it was quite exhausting being the only woman musician around in the ‘60s and ‘70s with all those rather macho-like male musicians who had to show off their virility while playing. Of course I was bound to also be a strong player to keep up with those men, but I soon realized that this kind of playing was not what I wanted to express in my music. After my Cecil Taylor period, as I said earlier, I went back to the roots and started playing Monk tunes and other compositions from the Great American Popular Song Book again. The macho behavior in private of certain musicians I met was also quite a nuisance for me, although I must say that I was quite lucky with the musicians I have chosen to play with. The artists I chose behaved mostly in a decent way and showed some respect toward me being a female musician, because they realized that I was not a bad player, if not better than many of them!
What effect did the Women’s Movement have on you?
The Women’s Movement was very important for me because in the 1970s I was politically very active in the Lesbian Movement in Zurich, Switzerland. We had our own magazine called Lesbenfront where I used to work as a secretary and was typing all the articles once a month. When Lindsay Cooper came to play in Zurich with Henry Cow (along with Fred Frith, Chris Cutler) I went to hear this band and afterwards Lindsay came to me and asked me if I would like to join a women’s band in England with her, Maggie Nicols, Sally Potter, and Georgie Born. I was so surprised to hear that there were other women musicians playing Jazz or improvised music that I immediately agreed to her proposition and was very excited about this. In 1978 the Feminist Improvising Group was founded; we were invited to play lots of women’s festivals in Holland, Germany, France, and Italy, but no really established Jazz Festivals. When Jost Gebers from FMP asked us to record, the reaction was most of the male musicians with the label did not like our music. They could not stand to see and hear an all-women group playing improvised music. They did not know how to handle this; it was a real provocation for them! We on the other hand had great fun and people still talk about this event. Later on we changed the group’s name to EWIG—European Women Improvising Group to make it sound less political! The French bassist Joelle Leandre joined the group at the beginning of the ‘80s and then we got lots of invitations to play at big festivals in France and all over Europe. For me it was a challenge to play with “only” female musicians, after so many years of being the only woman in this male business. Around the mid ‘80s we split the big group because it got more and more difficult to find enough gigs and now what is left is the trio with Maggie Nicols, Joelle Leandre, and myself. Called “Les Diaboliques,” we are still working together.
You have had a long recording career, primarily with the FMP
and Intakt Records labels. What was your first recording?
The reason I changed to Intakt Records in the beginning of the 1980s was because the distribution of FMP was very bad outside of Germany, which meant that all these records were not available in other countries like France, etc. Everywhere I played in those times, people were asking me if I already had an LP out. Nobody knew that I had already recorded about 10 LPs for FMP! So when Patrik Landolt decided to start his own label, Intakt, in Zurich, I was the first musician to take part. The label and the first record from it came out in 1983: Irene Schweizer - Live at Taktlos, a live recording from a festival at the Rote Fabrik in Zurich with George Lewis, Gunter Sommer, Paul Lovens, Joelle Leandre, and Maggie Nicols. My association with Intakt is very good and I am really privileged that such a great and innovative label has been producing my music for over 25 years!
Speaking of the Jazz recording industry, in what ways have you
seen it change during your career?
There are way too many CDs which have been produced, especially since the 1990s. In the beginning I was against recording improvised music, because it is meant for the moment that the music is being produced; to cite Eric Dolphy “After you have played it (i.e. music), it’s gone in the air and you can never capture it again!” But now it’s okay to record composed music because people want to hear the same tunes over and over again. I still do however feel strange toward recording, because most of my LPs and CDs are “live” and not studio recordings and actually not meant for editing on LP or CD. Nowadays the over production of Jazz CDs and improvised music means that every musician or band playing anywhere in the world wants to bring out a CD of their music, whether they deserve it musically or not. The quality of music is getting worse and worse. CD production has devalued itself over the last ten years!
We spoke earlier about how you drifted away from the power playing
of Cecil Taylor. How did you craft the language of a Free Jazz improviser,
both in terms of technique and as an aesthetic outlook?
I used to play with my elbows and whole back of my hand to achieve the power playing that was asked of me back then. Since I never really played written Classical music, I had a completely wrong “fingering” that I taught myself; but it worked all right for me. Concerning the aesthetic outlook, I felt comfortable with Free Music players. As there were no so-called “leaders,” everyone had an equal voice and the music happened in a democratical way.
Please describe what the Berlin Total Music Meeting was all about.
The Total Music Meeting was a very important event for musicians, because we were all invited as single performing artists. The idea was to have the invited soloist play with different European musicians during a five day period. Further, each musician was programmed three times during the meeting—if possible as a soloist, and then twice with an ad hoc formation of different musicians. The names of some of the artists who regularly played during this annual event were Misha Mengelberg, Han Bennink, Tristan Honsinger, and Willem Breuker—all (living in) Holland. The English players were Evan Parker, Derek (Bailey), John Stevens, and Trevor Watts, and, of course, the German contingent of Peter Brotzmann, Peter Kowald, Alexander Schlippenbach, etc. I was the one and only female musician from Switzerland. As far as I can remember there were only a few American musicians like Steve Lacy, George Lewis, and Geri Allen, but in general it was a European happening and it was mostly well-attended. People came from all over Germany to spend several days during the festival in Berlin. The importance for me was it marked the beginning of an “authentic European Free music,” and totally exciting to say the least!
Do you have any future plans to work in other contexts (e.g.,
string ensembles or big bands) besides the small groups in which you
commonly record and perform?
As I don’t write composed music, I still prefer to work with small groups like duos, trios, and sometimes quartets. The only exception is when I work with the Swiss big band Root Down, led by saxophonist Tommy Meier; we play mostly compositions by Dudu Pukwana, Johnny Dyani, Chris McGregor, Fela Kuti, and Tommy’s own compositions. One other possible outlet, the London Jazz Composer’s Orchestra, does not exist anymore. I have never worked with a string ensemble and do not intend to do so in the future.
Ludwig vanTrikt, Cadence 7-8-9/2010 Magazine, USA
Salvador Catalán, Diario De Sevilla, Aug 3 2020 (ES)