|J A Z Z W O R D R E V I E W S
|Reviews that mention Michel Wintsch
Unit Records CD Nr. 4435
Ten years is a long time, but it’s been that protracted period since the exceptional Swiss-British improvising ensemble Whisperings has put out a CD. Luckily this session rectifies the situation, quickly proving that the quartet’s sympathetic interaction has only intensified over the years. On these four instant compositions British guitarist Fred Frith plus keyboardist Michel Wintsch, drummer Lionel Friedli and soundsinger/electronics manipulator Franziska Baumann – all Swiss – demonstrate a luminous intensity that unites suggestions of rock, jazz, improv, notated and electronic music into a satisfying whole.
“The chemistry was amazing,” reflects Baumann, who is also a professor at the Berne University of Music. “The session was lots of fun but also profoundly serious. With our different backgrounds we were ready for the unexpected.” Equally proficient creating timed synthesizer pulses or clipping piano licks, as he demonstrates on “Alive But Lucid”, Wintsch has been in a rock band, composed for film and theatre, and been part of a well-regarded jazz trio with American drummer Gerry Hemingway. Friedli is an indomitable presence on the Swiss scene, while Frith’s experience ranges from his membership in the seminal art-rock band Henry Cow, to extensive improvisation plus compositions for creative ensembles, dance and films.
The band members’ compositional skills come to the fore during the tracks’ multi-faceted textural explorations and lightening quick transitions. Plus these tropes are blended with the musicians’ improvisational freedom and awesome technical virtuosity. On the title tune, for instance Baumann moves from child-like lyricism to dervish screams and hisses, while the guitarist bends notes and the pianist syncopates strongly. Meanwhile her vocals on “Alive But Lucid” move from bel-canto warbling to panting breaths, encompass aleatoric verbal gibberish and climax with heartfelt sentiments in English. “Black Body Radiation” even pairs grainy verbal cries with backbeat drumming and clunking guitar runs. Throughout all four selections, electronic wave forms come in and out of focus, while altered, doubled and overdubbed vocals pulsate in the background.
Besides his work at California’s Mills College, Frith now spends part of the year teaching advanced improvisation in Switzerland. This raises hopes for more Whisperings sessions. Certainly the excellent program captured here demands an encore.
Booklet Notes By Ken Waxman
(www.jazzword.com) Toronto February 2013
April 26, 2013
Winter & Winter 910 093-2
The Current Underneath
Leo CD LR 379
Two approaches to the standard jazz piano trio end up with vastly different results with only one making a major statement.
On THE CURRENT UNDERNEATH, Swiss pianist Michel Wintsch puts aside the sentimental streak that undermined earlier efforts with his Euro-American WHO Trio to create nine slices of thoughtful improvised music. Japanese pianist Masabumi Kikuchi and his two famous American sidemen in Tethered Moon, seems to have picked up all the indolent romanticism cast aside by Wintsch however, making EXPERIENCING TOSCA, a torpid and somewhat lugubrious exercise, more notable for lockstep methodology and top-flight recording sound than a range of emotions.
Kikuchi insists that he doesnt like opera, because the visual aspect undermines his imagination. But the melodramatic details of Giacomo Puccinis tale of the painter Cavaradossi, awaiting execution, thinking of his beloved Tosca are so established in Western musical thought that the mere act of homage to the composer provides a syrupy undertone to the eight improvisations.
Intentionally or not this back story isnt helped by the fact that the pianist is a musical chameleon. He has dabbled in everything from contemporary jazz with trumpeter Terumasa Hino and as part of drummer Elvin Jones combo to funk with his All-Night All-Right Off-White Boogie Band. Tethered Moon, formed in 1990, has released earlier tribute CDs to singer Edith Piaf and composer Kurt Weill. It also happens to be completed by veteran bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Paul Motian, both of whom put in time in the bands of two of jazzs Ur-romantic pianists: Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett.
That means that almost every tune here is taken adagio or andante with the odd blues change or outright swinging section making its incongruent appearance like a hand-made clay bowl in the midst of a room full of fine crystal. Not that theres too much of that either. One tune is even labeled a blues, but its not the sort of blues Bobby Timmons or even Oscar Peterson would recognize. Motian may highlight powerful cross sticking and Peacock a thumping beat, but the pianists standard changes, characterized by a single, flashy glissando, dont re-imagine the form, the way someone like Uri Caine has down with lieder.
Its the same story for most of the other numbers, low frequency ballads for the most part, filled with vibrated fantasia. In Part II for instance, the output is so subdued and tasteful that it almost sounds as if Kikuchi is referencing It Came Upon A Midnight Clear. Should you want to hear a link to Jarrett or Peterson, however, that comes via the piano mans over-recorded vocalisms. Grunts, retches and groans punctuate the daintiest etudes.
As all this is going on Peacock, whose ability to fit in with any situation has allowed him to work with folks as disparate as ethereal guitarist Ralph Towner and New Thing sax pioneer Albert Ayler, sticks to the pianist like seaweed on rice. Every time Kikuchi makes a particularly salient point, its echoed by the perfect tone from the bassist -- arco or pizzicato. Additionally, when Kikuchi rouses himself from ravishing impressionistic harmonies to showcase swinging left-handed pressure or tremolo voicings, Motians right there, adding a wasabi of knife-sharp cymbal slaps or spherical ratamacues.
Anything but skyward bound, the performances on the CD are actually tethered to the ground, rather than the moon.
Together for a shorter period, The Who Trio has fused into an exceptional performance unit. Peripatetic American drummer Gerry Hemingway, who is occupied with numerous bands on both sides of the Atlantic, adds pinpoint percussion accents exactly where needed, and Swiss bassist Bänz Oester is the consummate accompanist. Chief composer Wintsch, who as a rule sounds less-than-comfortable in freer situations like his CD with guitarist Fred Frith and vocalist Franziska Baumann, may have found the perfect setting for his ideas.
This is made most clear on Seduna in Wallis parts1 and 2, which combined are 14¼-minutes of definite EuroJazz, designated that way because the two draw on both the jazz and classical traditions without straining. A sensible swinger that begins with flashing octaves and key pats from Wintsch, its extended by Hemingways steady snare and cymbal beats plus prickly bent notes from Oester.
Moving into part 2, the tune is decorated with anthem-like harmonies and two handed, two tempo piano notes arriving from different places to intersect. Soon hard-handed touch and pedal extensions ratchet up the tautness and excitement level, as one of Wintschs hands appears to be reaching out across the keyboard to stroke different patterns, augmented with forearm force. Speedy arpeggios roll back and forth with contrasting patterns in either hand, with the pianist generating a dramatic waterfall of slinky, bent notes. Rocketing up the impetus, the drummer contributes rim and cymbal shots and a military tattoo on snare, riding nearly every part of the kit with double flams, bounces and rebounds. Finally the tension dissipates after ponticello shuffle bowing from Oester and what seems to be Wintsch playing the opening strain from Ornette Colemans Focus On Sanity.
European chansonnier-linked ballads make their appearance here as they did on earlier WHO CDs. Yet this time the pianist overcomes their innate mawkishness, using
key clips, pedal pumps and other pragmatic strategies to strip them down to the musical core. Thus a piece like Ma ptite chanson, aided by Oesters thwacks and string-stretching evolves from tinkly piano fluff to a polyrhythmic exercise in tempo changing abstraction. Would that Kikuchi had done the same on his disc.
Other compositions -- by Wintsch, other pop tunesmiths or jointly from the trio --benefit from other surprises. Clacking railway track sounds from the drummer and strummed octaves and cross-handed exercises from pianist livens them up. Meanwhile, the bassists invention is characterized by slapping bow wood against the bull fiddles wood for effect or riding the strings pizzicato like a skateboarder on an incline.
Trombonist Ray Anderson adds his slurring plunger work to the final tune with Wintsch introducing echoing electric piano tones. Yet with WHO members functioning on the same high level as before, Jirai is more a conformation of their talents than a change of pace.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Current: 1. Quartier Lointain 2. Swantra 3. Jerusalem 4. Seduna in Wallis, part 1 5. Seduna in Wallis, part 2 6. Ma ptite chanson 7. Rabin's cat 8. Mir mag halt niemert öppis günnee 9. Jirai*
Personnel: Current: Ray Anderson (trombone)*; Michel Wintsch (piano, electric piano*); Bänz Oester (bass); Gerry Hemingway (drums)
Track Listing: Tosca: 1. Prologue 2. Part I 3. Part II 4. Part III 5. Homage to Puccini 6. Ballad 7. Blues for Tosca 8. Part IV
Personnel: Tosca: Masabumi Kikuchi (piano); Gary Peacock (bass); Paul Motian (drums)
July 12, 2004
Altrisuoni AS 108
RecRec Music CD 75 EFA 05179
Swiss pianist Michel Wintsch posses a streak of romanticism thats a mile wide and just as deep. How else would you explain the inclusion on his trio session of tunes by chansonniers Jacques Brel, Gilbert Bécaud and other Continental sentimentalists?
Sure by the time hes finished with a tune like Bécauds Et Maintenant -- which English-speakers know as What Now My Love -- hes deconstructed it into a potent improv exercise. But many times at the beginning or middle of standards or his own lush compositions, he appears to be reigning in his emotions just before he stumbles into André Gagnon or Roger Williams territory.
Luckily, the Geneva-based pianists choice of playing partners here, American drummer Gerry Hemingway, and bassist Bänz Oester from Bern, who it must be admitted does do pop and chanson gigs, are solid enough to act like musical Viagara. Their presence stiffens up the performances before they dive into mawkishness. Thats what makes OPEN SONGS a memorable disc.
WHISPERINGS is notable for another reason. With the other musicians from a definite non-jazz background -- British guitarist Fred Frith is an improv/art rocker; experimental Swiss vocalist Franziska Baumann a specialist in electronically processed sound; and drummer Bernard Trontin is a member of Swiss sampling pioneers The Young Gods -- its usually up to the keyboardist to try to move the sound away from rocks version of sentimentality. Unfortunately he doesnt succeed as often as he should.
To deal with OPEN SONGS first, the trios nearly 16-minute version of the Bécaud tune provides an example of how the three treat the material here. Commencing with a simple, pianistic run-through of the melody, by the five-minute mark Wintsch is creating fleet-fingered variations, jockeying with the chords, pitch and tempos, slowing down and speeding up. Soon, as he begins exploring the left side of the keyboard with a weightlifters touch and massaging the pedals -- and before Hemingway bears down on his toms, snare and cymbals at a steam engine pace -- Oester has a short, understated solo. Soon you can hear Wintsch jabbing more sharply and more fiercely at the chords as the bassist produces some forceful flamenco-style strumming. Finally, at the bull fiddles highest pitch, Oester sounds out the theme.
A similar transformation occurs with Angel Cabral and Enrique Dizeos La Foule. Although it too is a slice of Euro-romanticism, the pianists playing is laser sharp so that the notes are separated enough to not allow the tune to fall into a mawkish, nightclub ambiance. After some two-handed variations on the theme, with the occasional locked hand accent, Wintsch indulges in some rococo double timing, rousing to applause the audience at the Swiss jazz festival where the track was recorded.
Conversely, the instant compositions such as Isablue recall some of the less histrionic improvisations of pianist Keith Jarretts Standards trio. As the pianist circles around the melody, the bassist tugs out a counter melody of his own, producing some bluesy asides as the drummer tries for a wavering shuffle beat. Other pieces include the sort of swing that most folks would designate as so-called real jazz. However, the brief 2 pm, rife with inside-the-piano rumbles and clink of bass strings, as if Wintsch and Oester were performing in a New music recital.
If there is a weakness here it relates to the soppy melancholy which is as generic to the chanson as profanity is to rap. Playing some of the melodies a little too straight sometimes leaves the listener with the feeling that he may have wandered into an all-instrumental concert made up of Barry Manilows or Peter Allens greatest hits.
No singer is present on OPEN SONGS, but most of the 11 murmurings on WHISPERINGS include vocalized interpolations from Baumann. Bern-based and someone who claims to have developed her so-called acoustic scenery through projects spanning several media, she has also recorded with other experimenters like violinist Charlotte Hug and drummer Fritz Hauser. Here though, the vocal product sounds like a weird amalgam of the styles of No waver Lydia Lunch, New Thing vocalist Patty Waters, disco diva Donna Summer and the Teutonic recitations of early Velvet Underground chanteuse, Nico.
On Purple line, for instance, her falsetto cries and reverberating screeches are straight from No Wave territory, as is her speaking in tongues. Someone -- Frith? -- seems to be creating pile driver, bandsaw-like, heavy metal guitar runs, which appear to bring forward a dance-like rhythm from Wintsch on electric keyboards. Similarly, despite his pedigree, drummer Trontin, apparently can produce nothing more than standard rock beats. Things are even less coherent on Reversed Bridges with the percussionist sounding as if hes replicating the drum machine from Herbie Hancocks Rockit, the pianist producing lazy electric piano washes, the guitar chirping like a cricket and the vocalists yodeling joined by French-accented mumbling from a male voice.
Elsewhere, some of the menacing electronic music with an overactive distortion pedal and echoing keyboard wooshes must have reminded Frith of his time with John Zorns avant-metal Naked City band. Considering the pure volume and density of some of the sounds, it would seem that overdubbing was used as well. Baumann tries some vaguely Arabic sounding vocalese at one point, then theres a section of Lunatic Fringe (sic), where the lyrics appear to be ga ga ga. Her buzz-like flute screeds also add little to the general conception, while the drummer often seems as likely to turn the beat around as to create constant repetitive hammering. Overall, it would seem that trying to transcend jazz-inflected improvised music has resulted in a conception of maudlin banality with overwhelming amplification and rhythms.
Perhaps if your preference is for rock-influenced, so-called experimentation, WHISPERINGS may rank higher on your hit parade. For the average improv fan, though, OPEN SONGS is the preferred disc here.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Open: 1. 1. Offret 2. La Plat Pays 3. Isablue 4. Ne Me Quittes Pas 5. Path of Rain 6. La Foule (Que nadie sepa mi sufrir) 7. Walking In 8. Et Maintenant 9. 2 pm
Personnel: Open: Michel Wintsch (piano); Bänz Oester (bass); Gerry Hemingway (drums)
Track Listing: Whisperings: 1. Sleeping in a Dream 2. Lunatic Fringe 3. Candles Ahead 4. Reversed Bridges 5. Sirènes 6. Curés omelette 7. Operatic tchaess 8. Purple line 9. Curious grass 10. Nice giant 11. Two stars (instead of one)
Personnel: Whisperings: Franziska Baumann (voice, flute, electronics); Fred Frith (guitars); Michel Wintsch (piano, electronics, samples); Bernard Trontin (drums, percussion)
September 16, 2002
Road Movie (Between The Lines btl 002/EFA 10172-2)
Swiss composer/pianist Michel Wintsch writes for theatre, opera, radio and film as well as working as a jazzman. Thus it seems that this album -- which is a literal record of a performance in Berlin in 1998 -- owes as much to theatrical "program music" as it does to freer improvisation.
Commissioned by a German bank, this session, while certainly professional, and at times even affecting, often sounds more like the results of a grant application than a unified piece of music. Are the so-called "serious" flourishes in the string writing throughout and boffo rock-style finale there to show his backers just how much more versatile he is than the average jazz pianist, you wonder? Even the way the suite is structured shouts "showcase" rather than expression: There are 12 tunes here on a CD that runs less than 52 minutes, and eight of those are less than four minutes long. ROAD MOVIE is even described as "a movie soundtrack for 10 leading roles" in the notes, causing you to wonder about extra-musical considerations.
Not that there's anything particularly wrong with commissions -- any money that goes to creative musicians is a bonus. It's just that a certain bloodless "professionalism" appears to have affected this soundtrack. It becomes apparent as early as the second track, "Night Train", where the string section expectedly mimics the sound of an accelerating locomotive in the background.
Elsewhere you get a hint of repetitive trance music on "Italik Part 2"; some wordless vocalizing from Baumann on "Play Time" that morphs into throat shredding speaking-in-tongues on "Hiver part 2"; and some oh-so-cool jazz pianisms from the composer himself on "Natalia". Later Schütz does his usual heavy-metal-cello freak out routine on "Trash Road", complete with bombastic, arena-filling drumming from the usually restrained Hemingway -- unless it's Niggli.
The drummer sounds more like his inventive self on other tracks and for restraint, if nothing else, he and muted trumpeter Schärli are the most consistent members of the crew on this journey.
Judging from the rapturous audience applause that closes the disc, that group and the banker backers were well pleased by this particular road trip. However something that can appear unique in a live setting may, under laser scrutiny, reveal itself as a cut-and-paste job of pretty melodies.
All in all ROAD MOVIE makes for agreeable background sounds, perfect for a short road trip. But Wintsch should be capable of much more. Let him write a longer, more unified composition that doesn't have shorter melodies lobbed off it like so many cheese slices. Perhaps that road will be the right one for him.
Tracks: 1. Postludique 2. Night Train 3. Re-Pyrrect 4. Play Time 5. Italik part 1 6. Italik part 2 7. Hiver part 1 8. Hiver part 2 9. Natalia 10. Chords 11. Trash Road 12. Le chien du héro*
Peter Schärli* (trumpet); Jean-Jacques Pendretti (trombone); Franziska Baumann (flute, vocals); Nathalie Saudan, Daniel Beltraminelli (violins); Michel Wintsch (piano); Jean-Philippe Zwahlen (guitar); Martin Schütz* (cello); Lucas Niggli, Gerry Hemingway (drums)
March 29, 2000