You know this CD is going to stretch you the instant the first song, "Kollective 8," opens with a pensive, halting melody by the Modern String Quartet (MSQ). After the legato opening, the strings break into a short burst of frantic, dissonant scale runs; then the piece shifts into a fast hard-bop groove by the Joe Haider Quartet, with Thomi Gieger setting the pace on tenor sax. The piece moves along swiftly until it drifts into a drum solo by Daniel Aebi, followed by some interplay between bassist Giorgos Antoniou and the MSQ. Finally, Haider draws it nearly to a close with solo piano...but not before the MSQ restates the opening dissonant scale motif.
As unusual and a-melodic as the opening piece is, the follow-on "A Sunday in Switzerland" is light and pretty, offering space for Geiger to solo on soprano sax and Haider to stretch for several choruses, punctuated underneath by the strings on the last two. Aebi gets a chance to show some nice open snare and cymbal work before both ensembles finish with the theme.
"Vision & Reality" is a short piece written by Haider to evoke his childhood memories from the end of World War II. It paints a haunting, minor mood mixed with dissonant, chromatic scale cycles by the strings...reminiscent of the dark tone of the famous Rimsky-Korsokov arrangement of Mussorgsky's "Night on Bald Mountain."
And so goes this inventive collection of music...an eclectic mix of straight-ahead neo-bop, moody near-classical improvisations, and pretty ballads ("For Line" is a highlight, with some lovely string soli sections). The MSQ is more than window-dressing here; they are are integral to each composition and give this CD its unique aural quality. I heartily endorse Mysterious as a fresh slant on the art form for American jazz listeners.