Review: Rusconi – Zurich Sounds series

Stefan Rusconi at Zurich Sounds, August 2012. . Photo credit: House of Switzerland

(Zurich Sounds Series, House of Swizerland freestage, Glazier’s Hall, SE1, 2nd Aug. 2012. Review by Alison Bentley)

Rusconi, the Zurich-based piano trio, bring a rock spectacle to their mix of jazz, free improv and experimental art-noise- all played on real instruments. Like e.s.t. and Medeski, Martin and Wood, the trio often play in rock venues.

They’ve learned from theatre projects how to bring an impact to their well-paced sets- from strobe lights and dry ice to dramatic changes of mood within a tune. Their House of Switzerland open air freestage gig – the first of four jazz gigs, and eight gigs in total, in the Zurich Sounds series – had it all. The evening also had a uniquely celebratory feel emanating from on-stage, since the band were all set to head back to Switzerland the following morning for Stefan Rusconi’s wedding.

The trio are especially popular in S.E. Asia, and in Yogya Trip (collectively composed) Stefan Rusconi‘s prepared piano evoked the eerie shimmering overtones of the gamelan with rawlplugs between the piano strings! A rock groove emerged: Stefan Rusconi studied with the Bad Plus’ Ethan Iverson, and some of that band’s impish virtuosity showed here – also recalling Neil Cowley.

Then the atmosphere changed: Fabian Gisler‘s propulsive bass became slow, booming, atonal and then arco, with scorching distorted effects.

Massage the History Again (another original) had a memorable syncopated tune with strong backbeats- Claudio Strüby‘s Tony Williams-influenced, full, expressive drum sound really stood out. Thom Yorke-like ethereal vocal harmonies led into a bluesy, rootsy bass solo with bent strings and double stopping, like Danny Thompson’s jazzier work with John Martyn. A free, slow section evoked the mesmeric Portico Quartet.

Rusconi’s 2010 album It’s A Sonic Life (Sony Music, 2010) features jazz covers of art-noise band Sonic Youth’s songs. Stefan Rusconi is rooted in jazz, citing Paul Bley and Jason Moran as influences, and Hoarfrost had gorgeous reharmonised jazzy chords over the structure of the original song. Various phases developed: a meditative trip-hoppy vibe, a cascading piano solo, Lou Reed-esque vocals. UK avant-garde guitarist Fred Frith (Henry Cow, Derek Bailey) guests on the new album Revolution, and the trio’s music often has a 70s art-rock vibe. One of Strüby’s distinctive sounds is tambourine played in place of the hi-hat, evoking the Velvet Underground. (To quote Stefan: ‘a hippy sound’)

Another Sonic Youth tune, Hits of Sunshine, concluded the set. This had raw energy and great musicality with the trio’s close rapport at its most exciting. Stefan Rusconi recreated the searing sounds of the original by slipping artefacts (notably a red balloon) along the piano strings like slide guitar, sending shivers up the spine. He calls it the ‘biggest guitar in the world’. He uses a Space Echo effects unit (heard also in Radiohead’s electronica) and created arcs of sound worthy of Stockhausen, before settling into the three chord groove from Milestones (Gisler cites Miles Davis as an influence.)

The new album Revolution (Qilin Records, 2012) comes after a break with a major label, bringing freedom to pursue new creativity, both in their art and the way they distribute their music- again, Radiohead’s model. Fans can download it for whatever they feel they should pay (or free with the purchase of the lovingly-produced 12″ analogue vinyl version) DIRECT FROM THE BAND’S WEBSITE.

With their controlled, creative anarchy, Rusconi show yet another way to keep jazz alive – by exposing it to new, eclectic influences – and by imbuing it with their own fresh and infectious sense of fun.

Forthcoming concerts in the Zurich Sounds series at the House of Switzerland free-stage: Ronin August 8th, Yves Theiler, August 9th, Ingrid Lukas August 10th.

Categories: miscellaneous

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