By Ken Waxman
Take your pick: this is either a return to swing-bop roots for Swiss pianist Irène Schweizer or the weirdest duo session she's ever made. That's because Schweizer, who has had a commitment to the European avant-garde since the late '60s, here plays an entire program of jazz and pop standards, plus one original.
Stranger still, her partner here is the many years younger, Zürich-based alto saxophonist Omri Ziegele, whose recorded forays with over-the-top, often electrified bands like Billiger Bauer and Noisy Minority are nothing like the cerebral improvisation in which the pianist specializes. Yet she and the saxophonist have partnered since the late '90s. Where's Africa not only provides listeners a progress report on the duo, but honors the clubactually called Africanain Zürich's old town where in earlier years Schweizer would accompany musical visitors from the United States and South Africa.
So how does the session stack up? Well, it's quite pleasurable, if you put aside Schweizer's real life identity as a Swiss musical innovator and imagine you're listening to a session by pianists Don Ewell or Earl Hines trading licks with altoists Johnny Hodges, Benny Carter, or Willie Smith. Even though the tunes include five by cornetist Don Cherry, three by Thelonious Monk, and a couple with a South African cast, the note-perfect renditions suggest the sort of pre-modern play-anything ethos you'd get from performers of that era. Added to this is a piece ("Suicide is Painless") associated with Bill Evans, an obscure Duke Ellington line, and a couple of American songbook standards.
A different view of the pianist which may appeal to those who don't know her earlier work, Where's Africa should be approached with caution and an open mind by her longtime fans.
Personnel: Irene Schweizer: piano; Omri Ziegele: alto saxophone; vocals.