When the history of jazz recording is written it will include a prominent section regarding the end of the twentieth century and the beginning, of the twenty-first. Highlighted within this timeline will be the rapid decline of major labels offering jazz. Taking their place has been the rise of a myriad of small, almost designer, boutique labels. While small jazz labels have always been around, never have they carried the import of music they disseminate today.
One of these labels, Intakt Records, has released over 100 recordings, almost exclusively focusing on free jazz. Headquartered out of Zurich, Switzerland, their carefully chosen artist roster includes the biggest and brightest names in the free jazz arena. What distinguishes them from other labels offering free jazz is the consistently high artistic level of musical interplay realized on their recordings. While there are many who purport to play free, there is only a small community who do it well.
All of the above is heard on the new recording by pianist Irene Schweizer and drummer-percussionist Hamid Drake. Their musical union goes back some distance, but their shared musical vision is just as alive and vibrant as ever. On "A Former Dialogue," their duet is free-ranging, inclusive of many different styles - including a quasi-swing motivic variation on a previously explored theme - and as beautiful in their shifting colors as any of Monet’s paintings. That they are artists of the highest caliber in a duet setting is a given, that they play so well in trio with saxophonist Fred Anderson is astounding.
The three trio numbers on this recording, all served up from live dates, the 2004 Jazzfestival Willisau and 1998 at the Taklos-Festival Zurich to be exact, are similarly excellent. On "Trinity" their interplay is superb. They not only follow each other’s leads, but the three are so united it never sounds as if there is ever a leader at any time. There is a section where Anderson and Schweizer seemingly trade fours, then combine in group improvisation with Drake before Anderson takes off on what can only be described as a wide-open free-blowing eruption of endlessly creative lines - at roughly the 18’ mark. His lines are endlessly inventive and he plays with a smoothness of phrase much to be envied. Amazingly, there is no support behind him because Schweizer and Drake are intimately involved in the creation of Anderson’s lines throughout.
As a pianist Schweizer is absolutely brilliant. Her touch is lightning quick, playfully precise and amazingly imaginative. To listen to her is to hear a sublimely supreme master musician - no matter the context. Drake is the definition of a melodic percussionist. His lines are not propulsive, they are melodious and tuneful. He doesn’t hit instruments, he caresses their sound from them.
The sympathetic artistic interaction is uniformly excellent on the other two tunes the three join together for as well, "Schwandrake" and "Willisau." While it’s still early into 2007, this may very well be the best free-jazz recording of the year.