Foto © Silvia Kuckner
Born 1941, piano, drums.
Irène Schweizer's interest in music was particularly sparked by the dancebands she heard in her father's restaurant and by the opportunity to investigate the various instruments that had been left lying around. From around the age of twelve she began to experiment with early jazz styles on the piano and then at fourteen started to play the drums. Three years later she was beginning to move to 'modern jazz' and in 1960 the group that she was in entered an amateur festival in Zurich.
In 1961/62 she worked as an au pair in England and also took piano lessons, particularly with the blind pianist Eddie Thompson from who she learned styles from stride to bebop. At this time she was playing hard bop and soul jazz similar to the music of Horace Silver.
On her return to Switzerland, she formed a trio with drummer Mani Neumeier and Uli Trepte and, through the exposure at the African Jazz Cafe in Zurich to South African players such as Dollar Brand, Louis Moholo, Johnny Dyani and others, and listening to free jazz - particularly Ornette Coleman's Free jazz - the music gradually took on a new twist. As she told Hale (1997), 'In 1966 we were invited to the Frankfurt Jazz Festival and we started to get known outside Switzerland. We also started to hear musicians like Peter Kowald, and Peter Brötzmann and the sounds of Berlin's Total Music Meeting. After a while we got tired of playing changes and rhythm. One day when we were rehearsing, something changed. We didn't really know how it happened; we just left all these systems behind'. Gustafsson (n.d.) reports that from around the same time Schweizer had been very influenced by Cecil Taylor but that once she heard him live, in 1966, she seriously considered giving up the piano as there was nowhere left to go.
Instead, she combined this disappointment with her knowledge of jazz styles and particularly her search for her own creativity, her own style, into a music that developed in a very individual way. As the only woman around at the time she also felt, on occasions, pushed to play more aggressively than she otherwise might have done.
From 1968 to 1970 she formed a trio with Pierre Favre and Peter Kowald and after a time Evan Parker joined to make it a quartet. Her performances as a solo pianist began with an appearance at the Willisau Jazz Festival in 1976, and by this time she had also formed her long-standing partnership with Rüdiger Carl, begun in 1973 and continuing, through a variety of guises, to the present day. Over the years, Irène Schweizer has seemed particularly attracted to perform with percussionists and, on record, there are duos with Han Bennink, Andrew Cyrille, Pierre Favre, Louis Moholo, Mani Neumeier, and Günter Sommer.
In the late 1970s Schweizer joined the Feminist Improvising Group whose members already included Lindsay Cooper, Maggie Nichols and Sally Potter. In 1983 FIG evolved into the European Women's Improvising Group: 'The name Feminist Improvising Group was chosen because we were all so involved in the women's movement, but in the '80s people began to criticise the name and say it was too political... So we renamed it to make it more international and open. The initials EWIG mean eternal in German' (Hale, 1997). Arising from this an intermittently performing group, Les Diaboliques with Joëlle Léandre and Maggie Nichols was formed in the early 1990s. Schweizer was a founding member of the Taktlos Festival and one of the organisers of the Canaille festivals (see, for example, Canaille and Canaille 91). She is also one of the partners in Intakt Records.
http://www.allaboutjazz.com/REVIEWS/R1099_93.HTM (mit PIERRE FAVRE)
Joëlle Léandre started playing recorder but quickly moved to piano and from the age of 9 to 14 studied both piano and double bass in her home town of Aix-en-Provence. Her double bass teacher, Pierre Delescluse, encouraged her to apply to the Conservatoire National Superieur de Musique de Paris where she won first prize for double bass. In 1976 she received a scholarship to the Center for Creative and Performing Arts in Buffalo, a time that was to prove particularly influential due to encounters with Morton Feldman, and the music of Earl Brown, John Cage and Giacinto Scelsi. At the same time, she was able to experience the downtown New York music scene and continue her involvement in improvised music.
Joëlle Léandre has continued to be involved with contemporary 'straight' music, not only as a member of contemporary music ensembles such as 2E2M, Itinéraire and l'Ensemble Intercontemporain but particularly through the works of Cage and Scelsi, several of which have been recorded by her. Of Cage, she told Machart (1994):
"He will always be my spiritual father. I had already read For the birds before meeting him. It is an important book. John made me listen to the world around me: 'Let sound be what it is'. He opened up a field of possibilities; he gave me confidence; he cooked for me (he was a very good cook), with his friend Cunningham; he was good. A friend. He was the first to smile when I played my piece Taxi in the hall at Columbia University - I can still remember it!"
And, to the same interviewer on Scelsi:
"Another meeting; as important as meeting Cage; he respected the freedom of my actions; there was almost a feminine intimacy between us. His music overwhelmed me; it is one of the truest, because it speaks to us of our conscience, of our human condition. When I listen to this music it affects me most deeply. There isn't a 'geography' to it; there are waves which we make vibrate. I love to play his several pieces for double bassbecause they provide me with a complete soundworld. This music is paradoxical because it is at once complex and simple. I have known Scelsi since 1978, in Rome, after a stay at Buffalo University where I discovered Okanagon, one of his most extraordinary pieces. We rapidly became friends. Ten years later, I was there, on the 8 August 1988, at his death. It was as if he just faded away."
After listening to jazz (Mingus, Cecil Taylor, Monk, Dolphy), "I quickly got into the free, improvised realm where, for me, Derek Bailey is extremely important, also George Lewis and Irène Schweizer, and for sure, Anthony Braxton. Meeting Derek in New York several years ago had nearly the same impact on me as meeting Cage" (Kanach, 1991). Léandre recorded with Bailey on Les douze sons and on the Company disc Trios, and has worked with a wide range of improvisors, for example: Maggie Nicols, Lindsay Cooper, Irène Schweizer, Fred Frith, Evan Parker, Eric Watson, Lol Coxhill, Peter Kowald, William Parker (described by Morris (1991)), and Barre Philips. She is a member of the European Women's Improvising Group (recorded on Intakt 002). She has recorded one of the weirdest records (even by free improvising standards) in Les domestiques with Jon Rose - a collection of domestic noises set to musical effect - and more recently has formed The Canvas Trio with long-term associates Rüdiger Carl and Carlos Zingaro.
In 1994 Joëlle Léandre was the DAAD (Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst) artist in residence in the city of Berlin; from November 1997 to June 1998 she took up a residence in Metz, north-east France teaching and giving master classes at academic institutions in the region and playing concerts with a range of improvisors that included Eric Watson, Lauren Newton, Carlos Zingaro and Paul Lovens.
Maggie Nicols (Scotland) - the well-known vocal trapeze artist - has worked on almost every kind of project.
At the age of 15 she left school and started to work as a dancer at the Windmill Theatre. Her first singing engagement was in a strip club in Manchester at the age of 16. About that time she became obsessed with Jazz and was singing with the great pianist Dennis Rose, one of the initiators of bebop in Britain. From then on she sang in pubs, clubs, hotels and in dance bands with some of the finest jazz musicians around.
In the midst of all this she worked abroad for a year as a dancer (including a six-month stint at the Moulin Rouge in Paris).
She joined the Spontaneous Music Ensemble (one of the first European Improvisation groups) in 1968, recording the album Oliv with John Stevens, Trevor Watts and Johnny Dyani. They played at the First Total Music Meeting in Berlin in 1968.
In the early 70s she began running voice workshops at the Oval House Theatre (one of the most important centres for pioneer fringe theatre groups). She both acted in some of the productions and rehearsed regularly with a local rock band.
Shortly after she became part of Keith Tippett's magnificent fifty piece band Centipede which included Julie Tippetts, Phil Minton, Robert Wyatt, Dudu Pukwana and Bob Fripp. Julie, Phil and Maggie got together with Brian Ely and formed the vocal group Voice and recorded an album of the same name for Ogun.
In 1977 she became involved in feminism and was a founder member of the women's group OVA. Later that year Maggie Nicols and Lindsay Cooper co-founded The Feminist Improvising Group, which was instrumental in bringing improvised music and performance to a wider audience.
Her more recent work includes:
acting and singing with I.O.U. Theatre, Monstrous Regiment, The Womens Theatre Group, Changing Women Theatre Group and others
working with European Improvising musicians such as Irene Schweizer, Joelle Leandre, Conny Bauer, Baby Sommer, Anna Marie Roelofs and many more.
a long standing musical relationship with pianist Pete Nu, with whom she recently recorded a duo album for Leo Records. Both of them work also with Lol Coxhill.
She started the womens workshop performance group Contradictions in 1980, which explored both prepared work and improvisation in the field of music, dance, theatre and visuals. As a large open group, this has also been a meeting place for many women, and small groups and projects such as Salmag And Shirl have emerged from it
solo performances in theatres and festivals such as Moers Music Festival, Berlin Academie of Free Music, Bracknell Jazz Festival, Racketts and the Bull And Gate, Kentish Town
an album with the Loverly band and co-composing the music for a Channel 4 series Women in Sport
work with lighting designer Sue Neal on an ongoing project Light And Shade
singing duos with her daughter Aura Marina
Furthermore she was involved with many other groups, such as the acapella group Inspiration (former Brixton Youth), Trevor Watts Moire Music, Very Varied, The Lewis Riley Quartet, No Rules OK, Pulse, Gustt and Al Dente.
Window Steps is both the title of Pierre Favre's new recording and the name of this "band of band-leaders" bought together by the Swiss drummer. Though between them they have covered most of the options in contemporary improvisation, these players have in common an advanced melodic understanding. They are, above all, lyrical improvisers. The same may be claimed for the drummer himself who, even in the turbulent era of European free jazz'z "emancipation" stood apart from his contemporaries in his sensitivity to the tone of his instrument. Pursuing his investigations of the melodic potential of the drum set into the early 70s, Favre, originally a self-taught player, felt he was approaching the demarcation line that separated "drummer" from "composer". To learn more about the subject, he studied classical composition and immersed himself in the diverse percussion musics of the wider world, particularly those of India, Africa and Brazil, gradually consolidating all of this new information in the "sound-color poems" he was writing for his Singing Drums group. His sensitivity as a percussionist has been evident on many ECM recordings including projects with John Surman (Such Winters Of Memory), Barre Phillips (Music By), Dino Saluzzi (Once Upon A Time - Far Away In The South), Arvo Pärt (Sarah was Ninety Years Old), Paul Giger (Alpstein) as well as his duet recordings with singer Tamia (de la nuit...le jour and Solitudes). The diversity of his experiences has clearly helped him as a writer. The tunes he has composed for this project have a reach that extends beyond "jazz" (the piece "Cold Nose", for example has a strong "Nordic folklore" feeling that seems to share a kinship with the writing of another drummer-leader, Edward Vesala). At the same time, as a percussionist, Favre is able to balance extreme sophistication with an earthiness, a simple delight in the sound of sticks striking skins, that connects him to some of early jazz's drumming greats - Baby Dodds, Big Sid Catlett, Sonny Greer. His playing has a clarity and sense of flow that underlines Sid Catlett's definition of swing as "my idea of how a melody should go". Part of Favre's plan for Window Steps incorporates the "orchestration" of his drum-derived melodies with the scaled-down "horn section" and "string section" provided by his bandmate.
Born 1944, Goldap (East Prussia); accordion, saxophone, clarinet, arranger, composer.
Rüdiger Carl has been involved in improvised music from 1968, recording his first record in January 1972 and then playing with a wide range of musicians including Arjen Gorter, Makaya Ntshoko, Louis Moholo, Maarten van Regteren Altena, Tristan Honsinger, Johnny Dyani and Han Bennink. His long-standing partnership with Irene Schweizer began in 1973 and continues to the present day and for a three year period, from 1973 to 1976 he was also a member of Globe Unity Orchestra. He began to give solo performances in 1977 and in 1978 started two other long-term professional partnerships, with Sven-Åke Johansson and Hans Reichel. All three musicians were members of the Bergisch-Brandenburgisches Quartett (the fourth member being Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky) and they have both appeared in duos with Carl, Carl and Johansson are members of the 'Swing Dance Band' (with Alexander von Schlippenbach and Jay Oliver), Carl and Reichel have been members of the September Band since 1993, and the trio of Carl/Reichel/Johansson has itself been performing since 1994 (see below).
Rüdiger Carl has probably made the most striking change in improvised music, virtually forsaking the quintessentially jazz instrument - the tenor saxophone - and taking up one with totally different associations and means of expression: the accordion. This was manifest in recordings on Buben, his duets with Hans Reichel, and though he continued to play the two instruments virtually side-by-side ( in addition to clarinet), the - what some might deem to be drastic - move was completed and cemented on Vorn which even featured a version of Paul McCartney's Those were the days. Following this recording, the COWWS Quintet was formed, continuing Carl's musical relationship with Schweizer and adding Philipp Wachsmann, Jay Oliver and Stephen Wittwer. While quite varied moods are apparent from the recorded output of the group, the lasting impression is one of folk and song influences, emphasised by Carl's accordion. With the death of Oliver in 1993, the bass chair was taken by Barre Phillips for approximately one year and then by Arjen Gorter.
Rüdiger Carl has continued to work with other musicians in addition to COWWS. Thus, the Canvas Trio was formed in 1991 with Joëlle Léandre and Carlos Zingaro, and in the same year he played in duos with Mayo Thompson of the Red Crayolas (who contributed to the second COWWS record) and Joëlle Léandre. From 1988 to 1992 he was concert organiser of 'Musik im Portikus' in Frankfurt/M. and from 1994 has been leader of the F.I.M. Orchester in Frankfurt/M.
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