Recorded live in Zurich on November 26, 2004, We Concentrate
is a powerful statement by the Swiss piano trio of Chris Wiesendanger, Christian Weber and Dieter Ulrich. Casual jazz fans lulled into complacency by the familiarity of tunes by Cole Porter, George Gershwin and Victor Young are in for a bit of a shock, as the head-solos-head formula is only loosely applied here. The trio has taken a great many liberties with traditional song forms, deconstructing them to their bare essences and using the elements of songs by American composers as the foundation for a unique collective aesthetic.
The inclusion of no less than three Carla Bley tunes is striking alongside the selections from the standard book. The opening track, Bley's "Jesus Maria," manages to convey the sensitivity of a ballad, the loping lurch of gutbucket blues and the majesty of an anthemall within seven minutes. "Batterie" displays the trio's penchant for mischief while managing to convey the composer's natural wit and good humor. The improvisations are jarring and rhythmically dense, recalling the ecstatic freakouts of Keith Jarrett's American quartet in the seventies. "King Korn" comes to life as an off-balance tango and then degenerates into a furious meltdown. Wiesendanger relies more on his right hand, creating single lines with little chordal backing to great effect.
Cole Porter's "I Concentrate On You" starts with mere fragments as Dieter Ulrich's cymbals mingle inside the skeletal rendering of the chords and melody by Wiesendanger's piano and Weber's bass. With little notice, the trio snaps into driving swing and crash-lands into a sensitive bass solo. Wiesendanger's extended solo piano intro to "Embraceable You" is one of the highlights of the album. The sumptuously demented statement of the melody by the trio is a delight and the interplay between all three reaches a rapturous climax. "Stella by Starlight" is given such a spooky reading as the disjointed fragments build to a steady pulse underpinned by Dieter Ulrich's hands on the skins, eventually leading to brilliant brushwork as the song gains momentum.
Avant-garde cult hero Annette Peacock's "Touching" is a logical choice for the trio and one of the most dynamic performances on the album. Christian Weber's slinky bowed bass and the sparse piano and drum interjections gently hold the changes in place yet allow the music to breathe naturally. The final selection, Wiesendanger's "Folk Song," is a fitting conclusion, showing the trio's collective power and peculiar finesse without a fixed tempo.
We Concentrate may demand much of its listeners, but it ultimately delivers the goods for those with open ears. Wiesendanger, Weber and Ulrich have managed to combine the free-flowing, contrapuntal soloing of the classic Bill Evans trio, the ecstatic leaps and playfulness of Keith Jarrett's groups and the postmodern hipness of Medeski, Martin & Wood. Highly recommended.
Personnel: Chris Wiesendanger: piano; Christian Weber: double bass; Dieter Ulrich: drums.