It is not usually a compliment to describe music as 'cheesy', but Lyoba Revisited, the new album from Swiss pianist Thierry Lang on the ACT label, comes from the same pasture in the Fribourg region of West Switzerland as Gruyere.
Lyoba means 'a cowherd's chant', and Lang has arranged traditional Swiss folk melodies and choral music from the region - including the opening track Le Ranz des Vaches which has been used for centuries to call cows home from the field to be milked - for a chamber jazz ensemble, without drums, but featuring piano, flugelhorn, double bass and four cellos.
Like much of the music on ACT, Lyoba Revisited straddles the worlds of jazz and classical music, and Lang has experience in both fields. These arrangements are likely to appeal to those who enjoyed the Dag Arnesen Trio's Norwegian Song collection, and have the same sort of wistful, nostalgic mood.
Of the 11 tunes seven are credited to the priest and composer Joseph Bovet, including Le Ranz des Vaches which has been described as an 'unofficial Swiss national anthem'.
Lang says Bovet's melodies are 'Swiss standards', and although the priest wrote them down in the first half of the last century, most have been around for much longer.
'The people sing these melodies with devotion and from the heart,' he observes. 'For them these songs are almost like praying.'
The album is rounded out by two Lang originals with a similar mood - A Star to My Father and NAN - and two from Pierre Kaelin, another Swiss composer of devotional music who was Bovet's contemporary and shared his affinity for folk melodies.
Lang seems not to have considered the possibility that this distinctively Swiss music might have international appeal. He has already made two Lyoba albums for the Swiss market exclusively, but ACT founder Siegfried Loch heard them, and having already enjoyed some success with the Arnesen record perhaps thought that a Swiss counterpart might also cross over to a wider market.
Lyoba Revisited is interesting for different reasons, however. Where Arnesen adapted traditional tunes for a conventional jazz piano trio line-up, Lang has relied largely on Heiri Kanzig's double bass to provide an element of swing while using Matthieu Michel's breathy flugelhorn extensively as a lead instrumental voice.
Interwoven with their composed and improvised parts is an all-cello string quartet which echoes the choral textures familiar to the Swiss from Bovet and Kaelin's well-loved arrangements.
The Arnesen Trio came to Hong Kong for a memorable performance of their Norwegian Song music at the Fringe Club. This ensemble is more than twice that size, but it would be good to see them perform this music live here - it might even help sell a bit more Gruyere. Grappa's Cellar is busy on the live music front this month with five jazz events, plus an appearance on March 20 by the Pete Moore Band which includes several of our leading jazz musicians.
On Wednesday at 8pm trumpeter John Hubbard leads the Victoria Jazz Band through several swinging sets of small band jazz, while on Saturday at 8pm the Stray Katz Big Band assembles for a performance which draws on the history of big band arrangement. Each band appears on the first Wednesday and the first Saturday of each month respectively, and there is no cover charge.