Thursday, January 15, 2009

Switzerland Meets New York

“We’re more exotic than you think,” Swiss jazz vocalist Beat Kaestli said of his musical countrymen. Performing on last night’s Switzerland Meets New York triple-bill at the Canal Room (co-sponsored by ObliqSound and the Swiss Consulate), Kaestli hoped their showcase would “show old Europe has some spice.” Kaestli’s swinging jazz vocals, followed by Swiss-American singer-songwriter Serena Jost and Leo Tardin’s Grand Pianoramax, certainly illustrated the diversity of contemporary Swiss music.

Kaestli credits American expat jazz vocalist Sandy Patton for beginning his jazz education in Switzerland, but was inevitably drawn to New York, arguably the jazz capitol of the world. However, you can hear a lot of international influences in his music, frequently including Latin rhythms, like his swinging adaptation of Bizet’s “Toreador Song” and the slightly bossa “Esso.” Kaestli also included a relatively recent addition to his repertoire, a Swiss song in dialect, the kind of material from his native land he “had to leave to come back to.” Given the strong tone of Kaestli’s voice and his facility for swinging a lyric, his stint with the Glen Miller band makes perfect sense. Backed by his working trio and violin, Kaestli well represented Swiss jazz with an impressive opening set.

With its clubby atmosphere, the Canal Room could be a tough venue for a singer-songwriter, but Folk-rocker Serena Jost exercised a remarkable degree of control over her audience, successfully hushing them for a particularly dramatic song. “I’ve just learned how to establish a rapport,” she later explained. Originally classically trained on the cello, Jost now considers herself primarily a singer-songwriter, but still incorporates some cello into her sets. Swiss-American, Jost has often played in Switzerland, and is in the process of planning another tour. During her set, she exhibited tremendous poise, and her originals display a knack for the catchy and dramatic.

Probably nobody showed as much diversity within their set as did the evening’s headlining Grand Pianoramax, led by Leo Tardin. Conceived as a core duo to be periodically expanded with rappers, spoken word artists, and other guests, Leo Tardin was joined on drums by Zurich-born Jojo Mayer. Equally adept in jazz and rock contexts, a significant portion of the audience had come out to hear him specifically.

Covering a lot of stylistic ground, Tardin started his set with “The Showdown,” a very adult superhero fable, expanded from the CD version with gusto by Mike Ladd, and closed with the most pronounced jazz moments of his set, featuring a guest appearance by Swiss jazz harmonica player Gregoire Maret. Having frequently collaborated with the high-concept jazz artist Vijay Iyer, Ladd proved a natural fit for Tardin’s jazz rooted, hip-hop influenced electronica. Known for his collaborations with Pat Metheny and Marcus Miller, Maret’s harmonica and Tardin’s keyboards made for a rich combination of soundsLikewise, Maret, perhaps best known for his collaborations with Pat Metheny and Marcus Miller, blended well with Tardin and Mayer, creating a rich aural fusion.

While no one was willing to suggest any discrete property that makes music uniquely Swiss, some common themes did arise, like the value of diversity and the adventurousness of Swiss musicians making their home in the world at large. Those who attended the entertaining Swiss showcase left with a wider conception of the country, beyond stereotype images of cuckoo clocks and private bank accounts. Following a number of European dates, Tardin’s next American performance will be in Miami on March 24th, followed by an April Fools Day gig at the Boulder Theater. New Yorkers can catch Serena Jost again when she plays Brooklyn’s Barbes on March 12th and Beat Kaelsti at Smoke on February 8th.