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John Tchicai/Irene Schweizer Group: Willi the Pig

Derek Taylor By

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Another rarity excised from the attic of time this recording was taped at the first Willisau Jazz Festival, an event that has since provided a forum for some of the finest groups in improvised music. Released initially in a run of 500 copies it quickly went out of print and has since never been reissued. At Schweizer’s behest John Corbett opted to include it in his Unheard Music Series and the results of that fateful and far-reaching day are finally in circulation once again.

Of the players on the roster for this date John Tchicai is probably the most widely recognized having taken part in John Coltrane’s Ascension, been an integral member of the New York Contemporary Five, and contributed to numerous ‘New Thing’ sessions in the 1960s and into the 1970s as well as continuing to record today. Schweizer has had a similarly stellar career in Europe collaborating with the likes of Evan Parker, Joelle Leandre and a multitude of others. The rhythm section is somewhat obscure- Niebergall having recorded most famously on Peter Brötzmann’s Machine Gun, and Ntshoko’s other work being largely unknown.

One long piece penned by Tchicai and Schweizer, “Willi the Pig” is cleft in two by the original limitations of its LP release. Unfortunately the fades at the close of ‘Part 1’ and the onset of ‘Part 2’ remain intact as original albums were the only source available for the reissue; the master tapes having been lost in the intervening years. The composition begins with a protracted and melancholy theme statement before the Niebergall and Ntshoko drop out leaving the tandem leaders to quiet conversation that eventually builds in intensity and density. While countless moments of brilliant and inspired invention crop up, the sheer magnitude of the piece makes it somewhat difficult for the players to sustain momentum. I found myself straying from the sounds being divined on several occasions, and even the most attentive ears are likely to lapse a little at points during the lengthy repartee. Highlights include Tchicai’s wonderful solo stretches during middle and closing sections of ‘Part 1’ where he bleeds an absorbing streams of flowing liquid melody from his alto, and Schweizer’s dark interlude that dominates the first half of ‘Part 2.’ Whether the quartet had other opportunities to record is unclear, but what is a certainty is that their work here is well deserving of the careful and reverential treatment afforded by the folks at Unheard.

Track Listing: Part 1; Part 2.

Personnel: John Tchicai: alto and soprano saxes, piano; Irene Schweizer: piano; Buschi Niebergall: bass; Makaya Ntshoko: drums.

Title: Willi The Pig | Year Released: 2000 | Record Label: Atavistic Worldwide

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