The Who Trio presents “The Who Zoo”

The Who ZooFrom the opening, assured double bass note and urgent cymbal tapping to piano notes peeking shyly out, the quality of The Who Zoo is apparent. The acoustic side of this limited release, double album uphold the trio’s aim: to respectfully work on the art of improvisation.

It sounds like a whale singing of unrequited love

The track Rembellarun stands out for feeling like an actual composition, all be it a dreamlike one with Michel Wintsch at his melancholic best and Gerry Hemingway providing an edge by literally scraping the side of a cymbal. It sounds like a whale singing of unrequited love. Just when the percussive ideas begin to dominate, in rides a piano rebuff – a few notes delivered with confidence and defiance.

Hemingway is a constant imaginative presence sensitively patting out ideas and allowing cymbals to whisper sweet nothings around the hook line in Demmpa. Bänz Oester tunes in, but asserts his own ideas with an intimate knowledge of strokes, caresses and pulls of his bass strings. The inventiveness of his playing borders on the magical.

I like it when they get raw and primal

I didn’t like Sloeperr to begin with, then at nine minutes in, on maybe the third listen, I got goosebumps and almost tears in my eyes as the warped hymn lines and piano poundings, bass vibrations and beatings and rattling drum funk entangled me in an emotional net. I like it when they get raw and primal. They can handle it without resorting to cliché. There are times when I’m certain Hemingway could get in chops and licks but he keeps it organic, all three staying riveted to the present moment. This favouring of the integrated ‘group solo’ enables an uninterrupted onslaught.

Hemingway was a name in the ‘loft scene’ of 1970s New York where free jazz had laid the foundation and was developed by new creatives such as Joe McPhee, Don Pullen and David Murray. His presence is powerful but his depth of experience is matched by Oester and Wintsch. Michel embroiders the music with runs that sound like glass beads scattering and exquisite melodies that seem to trickle from a Peter Greenaway film soundtrack.

How I’d love to hear Oester on electric bass

The second CD is mis-titled as ‘Electric’. I was expecting Wintsch on Fender Rhodes and how I’d love to hear Oester on electric bass, but in fact at the core of these longer improvisations are the acoustic instruments with what seems to be decorative strokes of synthesiser, electric sound effects and noodlings. ‘Acoustic Plus’ may have been a better description.

This release has a multitude of textures and thoughts: dry, scraping grief, assertive fury and vulnerable beauty. Although I wouldn’t have complained at even more variety, it’s quite an achievement to capture improvised music as it should be heard – live. The Who Zoo is an exploration of the potency of improvisation and all venues interested in such music should book them now.

The WHO Trio, The Who Zoo (Auricle Records / Nagual Music)
The Who Trio
Auricle Records

Who Trio @Festival Jazz Onze+

Who Trio_HemingwayWhen I hear a band like Who Trio, I feel I need to get out from under my rock and listen to a lot more Swiss-based music. Playing together since 1995, they thrilled Lausanne’s Jazz Onze+ Festival last week with highlights such as drummer Gerry Hemingway losing himself in a cave of pounding beats that never hit us like falling rocks but swung with such power and groove we could hardly stay in our seats. But I’m getting ahead of myself – a key to imagining their performance is to know how they looked.

Three toddlers, who are black belts in music improvisation

Who Trio_WintschPut simply, three toddlers. Who are black belts in music improvisation. The way they played, stroked, tweaked, plucked and beat the living daylights out of their instruments, was as creatively done as it could be. Michel Wintsch was often hunched over the piano like Schroeder from Charlie Brown as if to control his delicate touch, or plucking strings under the hood of the piano like a car mechanic. Gerry also used physicality to direct energy into his drum kit, emphasizing beats be they furious or almost inaudible. He’d throw his head back and release vocally, serving us with scraps of a monologue; mutterings of the crazy guy who loiters on a street corner. Inventive sounds and ideas were continually mushrooming from this trio.

animalistic whines, walking bass, scratches…

Who Trio_Oester

Whatever Baenz Oester created with his double bass there was clarity and conviction: animalistic whines, walking bass, scratches, deep twangs and a series of Bach-like notes that I found particularly moving. It was the trio’s emotion and revealing of vulnerability that stood their performance apart and gave it resonance. Michel’s work as a film and theatre composer showed itself in glimmers of exquisite melodies and perfectly imagined chords that were authoritative yet melancholic.

It is a feat to improvise a full set without pausing but I wanted breaks in the music so we, the audience, could express and release our responses and also so the trio had a chance to start a piece, afresh. There was a tendency to build the tension, bring it down, then re-build the sound and this became a little predictable as a landscape. However, the music never was and the view was continually riveting. I can’t wait to hear more.


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