Jurg Wickihalder Overseas Quartet: Furioso (2009)
Irrespective of the connections, the soprano saxophone clarion call opening Furioso immediately evokes the ghost of Steve Lacy. The debut disc from Swiss soprano saxophonist Jurg Wickihalder's Overseas quartet might be better titled Vivacissimo, such is the joy and vitality which springs out from every digital pit and pore.
Though it was at Boston's Berklee College of Music where Wickihalder met the other members of his quartet, it was Lacy who remained a seminal influence from their first meeting when he was 19 years old, as detailed in the liners of his previous release, the delightful A Feeling For Someone (Intakt, 2008). Indeed, the Swiss echoes Lacy not only in his sound, but in his choice of material, with two Thelonious Monk compositions featured alongside eight originals. If this is starting to suggest that Wickihalder is a mere clone, then don't worry, the saxophonist is well on the way to carving out his own turf with a straightforward melodicism tinged with just a little avant attitude in a 45-minute program that, while modern, also harks back to pre-bop days in it's co-option of dance and folk forms.
Wickihalder is abetted by a well-balanced ensemble featuring Italy's Achille Succi (bass clarinet, alto saxophone) and the Toronto-born Zubek brothers, Mark (bass) and Kevin (drums). Succi is gaining a name for himself in increasing sideman credits, with Boston guitarist Garrison Fewell's Variable Density Sound Orchestra (Creative Nation Music, 2009) most recently, while Mark Zubek has toured with Betty Carter and Wynton Marsalis and Kevin Zubek appears on a welter of Tzadik releases, a testament to his activity on the Radical Jewish Culture scene.
"Warm-up Party"'s jaunty two-step finds Wickihalder's soprano goosed by Succi's bass clarinet; the leader's playful solo culminates in a sequence of hoarse duck-like cries, echoed by Succi, that would have brought a smile to the face of his mentor. Elsewhere, the horns intertwine like outcasts from a Dixieland ensemble on the bouncy "The Pocket Trumpet Man" and more edgy jollity of "Surfing And Flying." As with melody, meter is never far away, with the surefooted Zubeks managing switches in style and tempo without fuss.
"Lovers," a waltz imbued with the passion of a tango and written for Wickihalder's own wedding, is reprised from A Feeling For Someone and graced with nimble interplay between alto and soprano where they happily avoid treading on each others toes. On the two Monk pieces, Wickihalder goes for the essential, paring each down to less than three minutes for a spiraling horn rendition of "Four in One," while soprano and bass clarinet extend the deceptively simple theme of "Played Twice," before a thematic bass solo. "Autumn Child," another reprise from his previous release, passes by in a cloud of melancholic beauty sketched by sinuous horns, to close out this charming album on a tender note.
Wickihalder is finding his voice and it will surely be one to listen out for in the future.
Track Listing: Warm-up Party; The Pocket Trumpet Man; Desert Voices; Lovers; Four In One; The Valley; Surfing And Flying; The Moonwalk; Played Twice; Autumn Child.
Personnel: Jurg Wickihalder: soprano and alto saxophones; Achille Succi: bass clarinet, alto sax; Mark Zubek: bass; Kevin Zubek: drums.