Switzerland is not as neutral as one might think, at least when it comes to music. Bordered by Germany, France, Italy and Austria, the country is a mix of cultures and languages, with cities like Zurich, Geneva and Berne functioning as a microcosm of the European continent. With a population of almost eight million people, it has had a long jazz tradition, from drummers Charly Antolini and Pierre Favre and pianists Irene Schweizer and Sylvie Courvoisier to newer ambassadors like Gregoire Maret and Nik Bärtsch.
Jürg Wickihalder is a young saxophonist from Glarum and Furioso is the first recording of his Overseas Quartet with Achille Succi (Italy) and the Canadian rhythm section brothers Mark and Kevin Zubek. Alongside eight Wickihalder originals, the quartet examines two pieces by Thelonious Monk, "Four in One" and "Played Twice". Their inclusion is instructive as Wickihalder, who plays alto and soprano against Succi's bass clarinet and alto sax, writes music that echoes the vaguely subversive style of the American pianist. Despite being on the avant-garde label Intakt, Wickihalder's music is almost traditional, though that can mean bebop, klezmer, Dixieland or even Weimar-era cabaret influences.
About as different as you can get is the trio of Denis Beuret (trombone, electronics), Hans Koch (bass clarinet, electronics) and Vinz Vonlanthen (electric guitar) and their live-from-many-locations disc Synopsis. Obviously these guys require lots of power strips and listeners will need remarkable attention to get to the centers of the 24 improvised pieces recorded in Spring-Summer 2007. Koch, born in Biel, is the oldest by at least 15 years and also the most well-known, though Beuret is a fine player, as evidenced by 2008's Alone (Leo). Synopsis is a misleading title; there is little in the way of resolution here. In fact, the miniscule bleeps, clinks and toots are definitely more journey than destination, understated and almost insectoid.
Keller's 10 is the little big band of Beat Keller, a precocious young composer and resident of Zurich. The group of mostly 30-somethings (three saxophones, two trumpets, two trombones, keys, bass and drums) navigate the leader's expansive compositions, which are well thought out yet not overly through-composed or textural. There are moments of limpid reflection that abut segments of Globe Unity-like cacophony and some might call the album slightly schizophrenic. But Keller is wise enough to vary his pieces to keep listeners engaged yet somewhat off-balance. An excellent debut from an ambitious writer.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: 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.