Julie Sassoon Quartet: Voyages review – the sound of a fascinating original

·2 min read

The pianist and her long-running quartet’s buzzing and lucidly eloquent set mirrors lockdown’s swerves between isolation and longing

The enforced confinement of 2020 spurred Julie Sassoon to dust off and release an inspired but long-shelved solo improv recording, If You Can’t Go Outside… Go Inside. Later that year, in a gap between lockdowns, she and her long-running quartet made this buzzing and conversational set. In those starkly contrasting projects, the Manchester-born Berlin-based pianist/composer seemed to be mirroring the period’s swerves between isolation and dreams of shared life.

Sassoon is a fascinating original, her piano world inhabited by Keith Jarrett’s lyricism and driving hooks and Steve Reich’s minimalism, but perhaps most significantly, the resources she has been accumulating through collaborations with unorthodox jazz and contemporary classical improvisers since the 1990s.

The quartet – with saxophonist Lothar Ohlmeier, her long-time musical and life partner, and the powerful bass/drums pairing of Meinrad Kneer and Rudi Fischerlehner – toured Europe in February 2020, then went on to record these headlong yet lucidly eloquent originals in a Cologne studio that November. The bumpy, darting Missed Calls joins Ohlmeier’s squalling Albert Ayleresque tenor sax clamours to oompah-rhythm chug and dead halts. It sometimes recalls the sardonic vaudevillian mashups of the Netherlands’ Instant Composers Pool or Willem Breuker’s Kollektief, albeit subtly juxtaposed with Sassoon’s keyboard ruminations, her mandolin-like trills and soft chording.

Dissonantly rapturous bowed-bass passages turn to bleary low-lights smooches and then to free-sax blusters: Waltz With Me starts in a warmly open triplet sway but becomes a duck-and-dive group improv chatter; the meditative, tiptoeing tone-poem Jerusalem is an abstractly beautiful showcase for all the band in turn, and the closing Melody opens as an exhilarating, fast-tempo free blast before evolving into hauntingly tremulous tenderness.

This is music that splices lyrical shapeliness with bursts of take-no-prisoners abstraction, but Sassoon’s sensitivity to that balance is as alert here as her listeners have come to expect.

Also out this month

The immense promise of the 24-year-old American saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins surges on with The 7th Hand (Blue Note) – on which Wilkins and his hip young New York lineup nimbly join heavyweight spiritual themes to light-footed contemporary jazz-making. On Louise (ACT), effervescent French saxophonist Emile Parisien steers a classy US-European sextet through his poetically pensive or driving, boppish originals, plus a fine account of Joe Zawinul’s Madagascar. And saxist/composer Mark Lockheart turns his cross-genre melodic nous to a dozen synth-textured, fitfully chilled-out themes with a quartet including keys original Elliot Galvin on Dreamers (Edition). A bit hook-and-vamp-bound for the improv-inclined, but it grows on you.

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