zwitzerland |cs157








































The horns are rather loose and rolling, the rhythm section jumpy and angular, the pieces lurching along on the scant fuel of timbral color in what has long since become a standard sequence of marches, free squawls, quasi-bop, etc. Capably played, not very interesting. Brian Olewnick (Just Outside)

An improvisers’ ensemble active since 1998, but I’m hearing them here for the first time. Is this their first album? They are nine (I only knew Christoph Baumann prior to this). A nice blend of conducted improv, free improv and composition (or structured improv?). It’s strong, fun (“Disturbed Tune,” “Coda”), nice interplay within the ensemble. Less stuck-up than some other orchestras. It reminds me a lot of what the Micro-East Collective was doing in the late ‘90s. A good cd. François Couture (Monsieur Delire)

An early post today because I am going away with Julie tonight for a bit of a break that won’t involve music. Of course it won’t be a very long break and I will post again tomorrow.
This morning I have been listening to two recent releases by Improvising Orchesrtras, one by the Swiss Improvisers Orchestra released on Creative Sources titled Zwitzerland, and the other just released on Iorram by their Glasgow equivalents, entitled Metamorphic Rock and also featuring the veteran American trombonist George Lewis.
The Swiss group is probably less of an orchestra and more of a large group, consisting as it does of just nine musicians. The music they make across the album’s seven tracks is more free jazz with an improvised element to it than pure improv. At the heart of most tracks there is a simple melody or series of repeated lines and rhythms that propel the music along in a medium paced, bouncy manner. This element, which does seem to be the music’s central concern doesn’t interest me a great deal. there are however plenty of nice little moments throughout the album, ironically usually when only two or thee of the musicians are playing, and often in the little moments of calm between the more busy, melodic elements in each track. The fifth track for instance, named Tales opens with a lovely, subdued passage of quiet tones played by either the group’s cellist Sabine von Werra or bassist Markus Fischer (I suspect the latter but can’t be sure) alongside one of the several wind instruments played very quietly and softly. This little vignette is beautiful, but is brought to a halt after two minutes by the other instruments suddenly bursting in, still quite quietly, but without the degree of subtlety the duo showed.
Throughout Zwitzerland these moments keep occurring, but all too often they are seen as openings or endings to more jazzy tuneful pieces with two or three musicians at the heart, and others following along with sudden jabs, wails and other flourishes. What isn’t clear to me though is how much is composed. Certainly the music is divided into sections, parts that allow free expression, others that clearly don’t, and good use is made of an instruction to suddenly cut from one section to another, often halting the music in full flow and letting something different swell up from underneath. Whether the melodies and rhythms are pre-ordained or not I am unsure. I suspect not, but still they are the weak point of the album for me, the drumming in particular, which is the one part that seems to pull the music away from improvised freedom than any other, often giving the music a marching feel to it that I just couldn’t live with. Zwitzerland is a well played, technically assured album, but the group make a music that overall just isn’t something I am that interested in. Richard Pinnell (The Watchful Ear)

An improvisers’ ensemble active since 1998, but I’m hearing them here for the first time. Is this their first album? They are nine (I only knew Christoph Baumann prior to this). A nice blend of conducted improv, free improv and composition (or structured improv?). It’s strong, fun (“Disturbed Tune,” “Coda”), nice interplay within the ensemble. Less stuck-up than some other orchestras. It reminds me a lot of what the Micro-East Collective was doing in the late ‘90s. François Couture (Monsieur Délire)

Although neither fish nor fowl – that is neither big-band nor small combo –important improvised music history has been made by ensembles larger than the standard quintet or sextet and much smaller than the accepted big band or symphony orchestra. Miles Davis’ Birth of the Cool nonet is an example of this as is Thelonious Monk’s Town Hall tentet. Count Basie’s Kansas City band was originally nine pieces, while more recent mid-sized band experimenters – including Evan Parker, Misha Mengelberg and Anthony Braxton – have welcomed the freedom associated with an ensemble that allows for additional tonal colors, but moves with
flexibility. [..] Swiss Improvisers Orchestra are variants of this formation. Their individual compositional and arrangement methods go a long way towards explaining why – and how – each ensemble is notable own its own.
This CD title is near giveaways. […] Twice as old as the RRT – 12 years to six – the Swiss Improvisers Orchestra (SIO) is also wedded to Free Music. But with a history of multimedia work with guest artists, it appears that the Basel-based band’s programs are more involved with procedural steps, group arrangements and strategic introduction of complementary musical genres. This ensemble use conduction and re-organization of resources when performing. But avocation of cuts and chance elements seem to be the result of New music study for the SIO. […] Inter-cutting among different score fragments is also expressed by the SIO, but the pauses are protracted on this CD, revealing more of the compositional machinery. Leaving nothing to chance individual tracks are titled as if in a procedural manual, so the listener – or is it the players – can follow the action. “Tales” for instance, moves through several sequences. Initially atonal and ghostly, with the theme filtered through strained cello vibrations, peeps, pokes and trills from what sounds like penny whistles and slide whistles, the exposition soon vanishes beneath slippery piano cadences, and is succeeded by a mid-range, flat-line extended chirps from the basset horn. Although the rhythm section and brass vibrate dramatically plus the drummer strokes strongly, the overall movement is more of a lurching waddle, then a thematic roll. More satisfying and individualistic is “Powerloops and Ballad” and the extended and almost hyper-descriptively titled “Sax conduction and Free”. The former features whinny breaks first from a tenor saxophonist and then by the cellist and finally by a widely vibrating alto saxophone; faux bluesy piano chords; and slap-and-pick bass. Interspersed among them are massed tuttis played at breakneck speeds. As for the latter, it appears to be organized for a round-robin of showcased solos, fist by notated tenor saxophone, than by clarinet – plus piano and cello. Tenor saxophonist Carles Peris is backed by syncopated horn vamps and cymbal slaps, with a clarinet’s rushing trills matched by woodblock punctuation and a semi-martial beat, until the rhythm section lays out, allowing the horns to pinball, ricochet and squeak fortissimo. A sul ponticello cello shriek where the strings are stretched for massive abrasions, introduces alternating piano chord clusters, horn squeaks and drum rumbles. A tutti variation follows a section that slows down to waltz time and gentle flute puffs, culminating when the sounds vanish beneath diminishing flute breaths. Enjoyable for what it is and a proof of the power of mid-sized band arrangements, the SIO still appears too shackled by its theoretical concepts. […] Ken Waxman (

Try and look at SIO's website to get some news concerning the ensemble and a smidgen of frustration will materialize if, like me, you are a non-German-speaking specimen. A couple of listens to Zwitzerland erases any difficulty related to the lack of acquaintance with the musicians, as we're greeted by large doses of technical know-how, animated interplay and wry humor.

Five of the nine performers (Ursula Maehr, Carles Peris, Francis Petter, Valentin Vecellio, Marco von Orelli) utilize wind instruments including recorders, saxes, flutes, clarinets, basset horn and trumpet; the remaining four (Sabine von Werra, Christoph Baumann, Markus Fischer and Jacques Widmer) play respectively cello, piano, bass and drums. No one seems to care about being remembered as an outstanding soloist, even if we sense a measure of amiable virtuosity in each of the participants. The collective's flexible compatibility remains the central attribute throughout the album, an unclassifiable testimonial of hundreds of different stylistic germs proliferating in synchronized autonomy.

"Grooves And Cuts" is an interesting piece mixing chamber gravity, insect-against-a-window insistence, fake sufferance and pitch-less hissing, at times opening up in spacious odd-meter propulsions. "Marsala And Impro" tests the listener's ability in keeping track of disparate contrapuntal dynamics before a final choral gathering. "Tales" begins as an obscure, wood-smelling and deeply reverberant episode, then repeatedly walks the line that separates ironic complication and tense minimalism. "Powerloops And Ballad" is perhaps the segment that better epitomizes the group's aesthetics of swinging between moods and genres, melting cheap night-club jazz, Stravinskian ostinatos and frantic ad-libbing, the whole sounding tightly dressed and incisively witty. The subsequent "March Impro And Coda" — picture a marching band whose members increasingly lose their plots — u-turns from any chance of solemnity, leaving us bewildered by yet another disruption of ordinariness first, and by the unnaturally stretched joint laughter that closes the show later. A rather silly way of signing off in an otherwise nice release. Massimo Ricci (The Squid's Ear)