Andreas Schaerer – The Big Wig
(ACT 9824-2. CD & DVD review by Jon Turney)
Listen to any of Andreas Schaerer’s work, and you can hear that he thinks orchestrally. The phenomenal Swiss vocalist and composer – also human trumpet and beatboxer – can conjure the effect of several people at once when he performs solo. His sextet Hildegard Lernt Fliegen, works cleverly wrought scores that often make them sound like a much weightier ensemble. Here, on a CD billed as “Hildegard Lernt Fliegen meets the Orchestra of the Lucerne Festival Academy”, he takes his orchestral ambitions to a new level.
The Academy is a 60-strong conglomeration of international music students up for anything, and a lynchpin of the Festival. They join the sextet for six exuberant pieces commissioned from Schaerer, and recorded live in 2015. Three have been heard before on Hildegard’s splendid 2014 release The Fundamental Rhythm of Unpolished Brains. Seven Oaks opens both CDs, and immediately signals that the new project delivers rich dividends. Expanding it for ten times as many players creates a stupendous sound, but with no loss of rhythmic energy. You can even still hear (most of) the words, though the printed version supplied with the earlier CD, but not by ACT, helps if you want to follow the sometimes clotted lyric.
The risk of the regular band being overwhelmed looms large. Yet through the whole set, Schaerer revels in the depth of resources at his command, but still succeeds in deploying them so that the jazz sextet sound like a natural part of the orchestra. The soloists – Andreas Tschopp on trombone, Matthias Wenger on saxes and flute and Benedikt Reising on baritone sax and bass clarinet, have gorgeously textured new settings which nevertheless leave them plenty of room to stretch out. Thus Tschopp gets to duet with the enormous brass section on one of the new pieces, Preludium, while Wenger is suitably inflammatory on Der Zeusler, the fire raiser. Reising’s best moment comes on Wig Alert, a feature for the orchestra’s six percussionists, with Christoph Steiner’s and the vocalist’s own percussion effects spurring on the energetically virtuosic youngsters.
The CD comes with a beautifully shot concert DVD, a welcome record of such an unlikely-to-be-repeated event. Like the project as a whole, it is a rare success, and confirms that the composer and performer at the centre of things here is the lynchpin. He sings sometimes with the orchestra, sometimes against the orchestra. When he takes over conducting duties from Mariano Chiacchiarini, the DVD viewer following his eloquent repertoire of baton-free gestures gets a strong impression of Schaerer playing the whole orchestra. In his head, I guess, he always is. This set feels like hearing what he was striving for all along.