In 2017, Switzerland’s Cyril Bondi, German Christoph Schiller and Montréal-based Pierre-Yves Martel came together as the trio Tse (which means “here” in a Swiss mountain dialect) with Bondi playing harmonium and pitch pipes, Schiller spinet, and Martel on viola da gamba. Despite the early musical instruments, extemporization plays its part, as all three players are experienced improvisers. Their first music was improvised but soon became more structured by using pieces of paper with two, three or four pitches written on them to determine the form of their improvisations.
In November 2017, employing the methods described above, Tse recorded an album that was released on Another Timbre in May 2018, to enthusiastic reviews. At the end of a short European tour, Tse played London’s Café Oto in October 2018; after an opening performance by the trio, their guest violinist Angharad Davies played solo and then joined the trio to form a quartet which played the final set of the evening. The music on Awirë is that quartet set, recorded live that evening.
Because of its source, there were a couple of issues with the recording. Firstly, it picked up street noise from outside Café Oto (a common occurrence at the venue) which had to be cleaned up; fortunately, with Simon Reynell on the job, the sound quality is superb and bears no traces of such distractions. Secondly, as the quartet performance on the night ran for just over half-an-hour, that is the album length; as always in such cases, it is important to remember that quality always outweighs quantity, a view proven out by (too) many reissues that have been padded with unreleased takes of dubious quality. More does not necessarily mean better, nor does less equate to worse.
Although the quartet performance was a one-off—so far unrepeated and maybe likely to remain so—the four clearly clicked straight away, sounding as if they regularly played as a foursome. In particular, Davies readily took to the trio’s use of notes on pieces of paper to shape their improvisations—although that evening two of the pieces were blank, to encourage free improv. The end results feature all four players equally, with no-one leading or dominating unduly. The instruments’ sounds meld together into a blend that is very easy on the ear, with enough happening to keep it interesting throughout but not so much that it becomes cluttered. As the range of instruments played by the four suggests, there was plenty of scope to keep the soundscape fresh and varied—in Davies’ and Schiller’s cases by employing different playing methods.
As a whole, the piece is such a success that it is possible to envisage more improvisers adopting the ’pieces of paper’ methodology in future. For now, the only remaining mystery is why this quartet has not recorded together again, maybe in a studio, with more time at their disposal. On the evidence of Awirë the results should be quite special.