Since 1995 these Swiss veterans of the European free improv scene have been seeking out and successfully adapting to a vast array of musical contexts. Although I haven't heard their 1997 encounter with Cuban son players, Fidel (Intakt), their collaboration with the traditional Egyptian octet En Nil Troop on Heavy Cairo Traffic (Intuition, 1997) is astonishing. The two ensembles come together to forge an improv-heavy form of shaabi (Egyptian street pop) with funky but never overwhelming Western undercurrents. The instrumentation is also beautifully balanced: drummer Fredy Studer's assertive kit work beautifully complements polyrhythmic hand drumming; Hans Koch's clarinet and saxophone converse fluently with Moustapha Abdel Aziz's ululating arghoul (a twin-reeded woodwind), and Martin Schutz's acoustic and electric cello lines hypnotically interweave with an assortment of piercing string instruments. The trio again proved their creative elasticity by teaming up with New York illbient artists I-Sound and M. Singe for 1999's Roots and Wires (Intakt), a set of texture-oriented pieces peppered with flashes of drum 'n' bass, squelchy analog synth colors, and unidentifiable samples. But their debut release, Hardcore Chamber Jazz (Intakt, 1995), is still the best showcase of their versatility. Some passages sound like the raging Japanese prog-punkers Ruins, others are delicately chamberish, and every composition is crammed with episodic rises and falls and marked by telepathic interplay. This is the group's Chicago debut and the final night of the eighth annual Empty Bottle Festival of Jazz and Improvised Music. Drummer Robert Barry and cornetist Josh Berman open, followed by Holland's Klass Hekman, who'll play a solo set on the rarely heard bass saxophone. Saturday, April 24, 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600 or 800-594-8499.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Ben Huggler.