Julie Sassoon Quartet

Jazzwerkstatt JW 169

A refinement and expansion of her solo piano work, Fourtune expresses British pianist Julie Sassoon’s compositional ideas through additional voices. By daubing these intricacies into the metaphoric corners of the performances, it ends up that like the specifics of a painting, telling nuances are apparent throughout the entire expanse. Illuminatingly, although the instrumentation resembles that of sleeker and more soothing sessions, while the performers aren’t afraid of playing beautifully, they’re not swaddled by it. There’s a core of cerebral experimentation that comes to the surface like seals instantaneously poking and retracting their heads from sea.

Testifying to music’s universality are Sassoon’s associates, each of whom comes from a different country and has extensive experience elsewhere. The quartet is filled out by Dutch-born Lothar Ohlmeier, who plays soprano saxophone and bass clarinet; German bassist Meinrad Kneer; and Austrian drummer Rudi Fischerlehner. Like an artisan who adds decorative colors to an existing bas relief, British trumpeter Tom Arthurs makes the group a quintet for two final expansive tracks.

Divided into sequences that encompass a romantic piano interlude and Arthurs’ understated obbligatos, “Expectations” gains its distinctive shape from the tension release expressed by the saxophonist’s clean harmonies and double bass thumps that frame a mid-section of free form exploration from Sassoon. As dramatic as soundtrack scene-setting the concluding “White Notes (for JKM)” creates an air of desolation via distant bell pealing and splashes from Fischerlehner’s cymbals plus bleak currents of air forced through his horn by Arthurs. As every part locks in place like well-assembled furniture, Ohlmeier’s bass clarinet growls are echoed by focused comping from Sassoon with the landscape contours defined wholly by the composition’s mood.

Gentle attitudes and the soprano saxophone’s tendency to list toward delicacy are combated on other tracks, especially when it takes shrewdness to ensure keyboard patterns don’t follow the languid routes set up by Bill Evans or Keith Jarrett. Frequently melodic fragility is jerked into toughness by Kneer’s archer-like string resonations on as “To Be”. Subsequently the pianist marshals her force enough to transform the theme into an unaffected showcase of chord emphasize and resolution. Key jabs, arco string vibrations from the bassist, rolls and double smacks from the drummer and jarring kazoo-like blats from Ohlmeier make “This One’s a Boy” the most raucous, near-atonal track on the CD. But even here among a gout of scattering notes from Sassoon the crescendo includes a tinge of tenderness which decisively completes the story.

This CD confirms Sassoon and company’s rare ability to balance dynamism and vulnerability. Like new functions arriving with the update of computer software, adding another musical voice on the final two tracks make the exposition even more notable. Maybe it’s time for Sassoon the composer to ruminate about incorporating even more sonic voices into her work.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Cloud 2. To Be 3. This One’s a Boy 4. Wake Up Call 5. Expectations* 6. White Notes (for JKM)*

Personnel: Tom Arthurs (trumpet)*; Lothar Ohlmeier (soprano saxophone and bass clarinet); Julie Sassoon (piano); Meinrad Kneer (bass) and Rudi Fischerlehner (drums)