For such an assuredly rhythmic player Swiss pianist Irene Schweizer shows an unexpected affinity to drummers, who feature disproportionately as partners in her discography. But even so Welcome Back constitutes only the second entry to pair Schweizer with maverick Dutch drummer Han Bennink, following their eponymous debut (Intakt, 1996), which was itself preceded by years of engagement stretching back further still. In spite of their impeccable avant-garde credentials (both have been at the forefront of European improv for the last five decades) they have crafted a surprisingly accessible album which fizzes with joie de vivre.
Two days in the studio generated sufficient material from which to select a diverse yet well-rounded program. Among the 14 short cuts are those which reflect a fondness for tradition (a gentle "Meet me tonight in dreamland" on which Bennink's airy accompaniment brings a smile to the face), the influence of South African expatriates (Johnny Dyani's richly voiced "Ntyilo, Ntyilo") and their regard for Monk (the concluding sunny rendition of "Eronel"). Though credited to one or other of the two principals, many of the remaining cuts sound spontaneous with an unforced freewheeling feel.
They conjure outbreaks of irrepressible swing from even the seemingly most abstract surroundings -the opening title track in which Schweizer initially hints at Cecil Taylor is a good example. A relaxed vibe pervades the set, stemming from a perception that each can explore in whatever direction they choose no matter what the starting point. Although largely held in check, Bennink's sense of mischief manifests in the occasional irreverent thump -as on ballad stylings of "Free for all." Tenderness comes out on the lilting stroll of "I surrender, dear." But glorious extemporized syncopation proves their strongest suit, notably evident in the pianist's "Rag" and the jointly apportioned "To Misha with love." In the end, it's two people having fun in a way which everyone can share.
Welcome back; Kit 4; Trap 5; Free for all; Meet me tonight in dreamland; Verflixt; Rag; Bleu foncé; Apus melba; Ntyilo, Ntyilo; Firewood; To Misha with love; I surrender, dear; Eronel.