Jit imposed the 2020 lockdown prompted Julie Sassoon to dust off and release an inspired but long-running solo improv recording, If You Can’t Go Outside…Go Inside. Later that year, in a gap between lockdowns, she and her longtime quartet created this buzzing, conversational set. In these strikingly contrasting projects, the Manchester-born Berlin pianist/composer seemed to reflect the hesitations of the time between isolation and dreams of living together.
Sassoon is a fascinating original, her piano world inhabited by the lyricism and driving hooks of Keith Jarrett and the minimalism of Steve Reich, but perhaps more importantly, the resources she has accumulated through collaborations with improvisers unorthodox jazz and contemporary classics since the 1990s.
The quartet – with saxophonist Lothar Ohlmeier, his longtime musical and life partner, and the powerful bass/drum duo of Meinrad Kneer and Rudi Fischerlehner – toured Europe in February 2020 and then went on to record these originals reckless but lucidly eloquent in a Cologne Studio in November. Bumpy, darting Missed Calls join Ohlmeier’s Albert Ayleresque tenor sax howls to the rhythm of oompah chug and sharp stops. It occasionally recalls the sardonic vaudevillian mashups of Holland’s Instant Composers Pool or Willem Breuker’s Kollektief, albeit subtly juxtaposed with Sassoon’s keyboard ruminations, mandolin trills and sweet chords.
Bowed bass passages of dissonant rapture turn into murky lowlight smooches, then free sax swagger: Waltz With Me begins in a warmly open swing of triplets but turns into duck and band improvisational chatter. dive; the meditative, tiptoe sound poem Jerusalem is a showcase of abstract beauty for the whole band in turn, and the closing melody opens as an exhilarating, fast-tempo free explosion before evolving into a bewitching trembling tenderness.
It’s music that combines lyrical form with bursts of prisonerless abstraction, but Sassoon’s sensitivity to that balance here is as alert as his listeners would expect.
Also out this month
The immense promise of the 24-year-old American saxophonist Emmanuel Wilkins continues with The 7th Hand (Blue Note) – on which Wilkins and his hip young New York outfit nimbly combine heavy spiritual themes with the creation of light contemporary jazz. On Louise (ACT), effervescent French saxophonist Emile Parisian directs a classy American-European sextet through its poetically pensive or catchy originals, bobos, as well as a beautiful account of Madagascar by Joe Zawinul. And saxist/composer Marc Lockheart transforms his melodic cross-genre we into a dozen textured, perfectly relaxing themes with a quartet featuring original touches by Elliot Galvin on Dreamers (Edition). A little catchy for people prone to improvisation, but it grows in you.