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AMN Reviews: Laura Schuler Quartet – Sueños Paralelos (2023; (Antidro Records)

On her latest album, Swiss composer and violinist Laura Schuler attempts to capture the chaos of New York City across six tracks of classical and rock infected avant-jazz. And “chaos” is perhaps the best word to describe this work, despite the fact that Schuler’s writing keeps the group focused and directed as they work their way through labyrinthine patterns. Joining her are countrymen Lionel Friedli on drums and Hans-Peter Pfammatter on synth, as well as American saxophonist Tony Malaby.

When Everything Falls into Place starts the album with a mind-bending blast of layered violin and sax along with Schuler’s wordless chants. Malaby breaks into a deceptively sweet theme that is in contrast to the tension provided by the other three. This tension eventually takes the fore with complex staccato lines from Pfammatter and Friedli accompanying contrapuntal dueling between Schuler and Malaby. The latter two then break apart into simultaneous harsh themes accompanied by gritty synth and oddly-timed patterns from Friedli.

Indeed, Friedli is worthy of special attention given how he uses simple-sounding rock-oriented stylings as a base and varies them into much more. His rhythms on Easy, for example, are rather straightforward even as the rest of the band is well-positioned in left field. But Friedli slowly builds his playing with a staggered denseness that heads toward (but stops just short of) free jazz. Put another way, he has a penchant for hitting beats in unexpected schemas.

Other tracks, such as Prospect Park, take a more relaxed course with the musicians employing an approach that resembles traditional jazz. Their lines are catchy yet hint at an unusual level of sophistication and intellect.

Feed Your Power includes a knotty melodic structure from Schuler over oddly punctuated time signatures. Malaby once again plays the antagonist with a more straightforward set of parallel themes. Baby it’s Freejazz wraps things up with a more open-ended direction full of slow-moving abstractions and start-stop motifs. The track finishes the album not unlike how it began, with intricate interplay between Schular and Malaby as well as Schular’s vocalizations. It also includes what sounds like an acoustic bass track, though that could have been generated by the synths.

The album is a huge accomplishment for Schuler and her bandmates. Her playing and composing are top notch, and provide a unique voice to the crowded modern jazz scene.

Sueños Paralelos will be released on March 10 by Antidro Records. Don’t hesitate – this is an early album-of-the-year candidate.

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