Once you meet Christophe Schweizer, you'll never forget him. Tall, lean, clean-topped" — in other words, striking. Clearly balanced between brawn and lank, but clearly uncommon. Like his music. From his instruments — the trombone and the composer's pen — his music is as much about its makeup as it is its execution. It is kinetic, vividly hard-hitting sound painting, rhythmically and timbrally provocative, full of twists and turns and surprises — not only for the listener, but for the performer as well.
[M]y music is certainly not meant to sound like a display of technical and mental prowess of any sort," explains Christophe. If these pieces make our listeners feel like opening their ears, and if they are uplifted by what they hear, it would make me feel very happy. You don't have to 'know' anything to enjoy what we tried to do."
This from a person who, at the outset, knew he wanted to improvise — something often at odds with the early classical training he received in his native Switzerland, with its emphasis on technique, precision, and the composer's (not the performer's) intention. Adds Christophe, I had a certain urge to do things that had never been done before, or to do old things in new ways, which got me kicked out of most schools I ever tried to go to."
I was fortunate to be around classical players who had some of the most pure sounds I have ever heard to this day, and I knew that was much closer to the sound I was looking for than most of the 'jazz' sounds I heard," recounts Christophe on his desire to incorporate classical techniques into his performance discipline. Along the way I performed in orchestras, chamber groups and as a soloist. Once I began playing as an improviser more and more, and especially after I started my own projects, there simply was less room for that other world."
His technical grounding in that other world" included studies with progressive teachers, including renowned Swiss classical trombonist Branimir Slokar, whose repertoire ranges from Mozart and Albrechtsberger to Arutiunian and even Gershwin. That grounding, along with extensive gigging on both classical and jazz dates and further studies with improvisers Conrad Herwig and David Taylor, helped land Christophe a finalist's position in the European Jazz Competition Leverkusen 1991.
Between time spent living in New York and on frequent visits back home to Europe, Christophe has worked with the Mingus Big Band, Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra, and George Gruntz Concert Jazz Band, and has appeared with Joe Lovano, Dave Holland, Dave Douglas, Abdullah Ibrahim, Joviñho, Anthony Braxton, Paolo Moura, Lee Konitz, and others.
Christophe was recognized in 1998 as Finalist in the ASCAP Morton Gould Awards for Young Composers. He has studied classical music theory and composition, but he says his compositional prowess has been informed and inspired particularly by his playing trombone, as opposed to another instrument. Trombone is a talking sound, and I do think of music in terms of language," explains Christophe, one of the languages that allows us to say the things where spoken language gets in the way or has no words." Understandably, he demurs when asked to talk about his compositions or their inspiration, noting that that leaves only technical aspects that he fears would distract listeners from what is essential."
He likewise downplays the notion of conscious inspiration in lieu of his need — like many artists — to express and communicate his impressions to sensory and emotional input. Listening to other musicians' work, looking at art, and a number of other activities help me find terms to understand the voices and pictures in my imagination," acknowledges Christophe. Equally important is the need to simply be with other musicians and to play with them for people. It feels good. Music is a language, and it communicates what goes on between the people on stage and in the audience, and between many other things — imagine all the possible lines of communication on all levels that are going on!"
He describes his compositions as musical lenses that focus the individual and collective energies of his various groups. In his organ quartet Full Circle Rainbow, which includes drummer Billy Hart and tenor saxophonist Ohad Talmor (of the MOB Trio and The Other Quartet), Christophe's compositions provide an updated link to the classic jazz organ records of the '60s. His quintet 5SIX7, with rhythm section and an alto sax/trombone front line, he describes as a labyrinth of driving rhythms, an energetic soundscape, filled with urban emotion and free spirit."
In his (anything-but) Normal Garden, the subject of this recording, the size and diversity of the musical aggregate allows him to blur the line between composition and improvisation. Aptly titled Physique, it allows Christophe-the-Composer to guide seven disparate energies in exploring the physical structure of the group, its own bodily makeup.
Between the reserve and precision of German bassist Johannes Weidenmueller and the unpredictable interventions of pianist Ethan Iverson, the Septet's sound is shaped by the flying cascades of Donny McCaslin's warm tenor saxophone, the soulful Russian evocations of trumpeter Alexander Sipiagin, the rhythmic originality of Eric Rasmussen's alto playing, and the inventiveness and spirit of legendary drummer Billy Hart. The preeminent Hart is a regular member of Normal Garden (not a ringer" for the recording session) — quite a tribute to the upward mobility of Christophe's musicianship. Full of twists and turns and surprises, Normal Garden's in full bloom here.
If the music of Physique isn't enough to make an impression, looming over the Normal Garden is Christophe's physique, standing there, taking it all in and percolating something new, admitting I can't talk about all my feelings about what is documented here, but probably those who listen will guess them."