Louis Moholo / Irène Schweizer

Irene Schweizer & Louis Moholo

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The recorded pairing in 1987 of pianist Irene Schweizer and African drummer Louis Moholo at the Zurich International Jazz Festival is one of the high points in both artists' careers. Though the set is just a shade under 40 minutes, the communication and sheer magic that exists between these two percussionists (Schweizer often plays the piano the way it was designed) is almost unparalleled in the music on disc or vinyl. Consisting of three collective improvisations -- including "Exile," a long, three-part suite that closes the set, and a heartbreakingly beautiful rendition of the late Dudu Pakwana's "Angel" -- the music here bears more of Moholo's melodic African origins than Schweizer's European free improv magic, though it is undoubtedly present. From the opening ninths in "Free Mandela!" Schweizer seems bent on exploring harmonic territory that is, for her at least, not conventional in that it resembles conventional Western harmonic interplay. There is a twist, however: the figures introduced by her own influences -- Abdullah Ibrahim, bassist Johnny Dyani, to whom the opening movement of "Exile" is dedicated, and Pakwana -- are everywhere present in the architecture of her solos and "singing" lines, as well as her chordal and tonal inquiry. Timbral notions are all left in the wind here, as the idea of song is what seems to transfix both Moholo with his shifting rolls, cymbal trills, and waterfall left handed tom-tomming, ever falling like water for the benefit of Schweizer's cascading skeins of large chords immediately followed by brief runs of 16ths and even 32nd notes on their tail. In fact, as chords and right hand runs move against each other in a kind of organic counterpoint, it's Moholo who bridges the harmonics and equals out the dynamic range. The emotions here run so high, one can feel the exhaustion level begin to equal the exuberance at the particularly knotty and strident tempo in the last part of "Exile," "We Will Win the War." Indeed, if they had only known how decisively and powerfully they did, they may have recorded another series of duets. Heavenly.

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