Saturday, August 13, 2016

CD Review: Catherine Sikora & Sylvie Courvoisier/ Mark Feldman/ Ikue Mori/ Evan Parker

Catherine Sikora
(Relative Pitch)

Another double review, connected by a common thread, which I'll get to at the bottom of this review....

Tenor saxophonist Catherine Sikora was born in West Cork, Ireland, but now makes her home in New York City, where she's played with people like Eric Mingus and Ross Hammond. On this disc, she headed into the studio alone, armed with just her tenor.

Jersey is one of those solo albums that makes the listener wonder what the performer hears while she performs. Are these sketches? Are they solo compositions or does Sikora hear a rhythm section playing beneath her, in her mind? These may be rhetorical questions but they indicate that the music sounds inviting, engaging the listener who can then get inside the music.

"Ripped" begins the session with some long high tones, but Sikora isn't a minimalist, content to let slight vibrations hang in the air. Although she seems interested in exploring the sonic contours of the tenor - using the sound that comes when switching between keys, teasing out overtones without fully lapsing into them - she ultimately sounds more interested in creating spontaneous compositions that simply blowing visceral sound. That focus results in plenty of variety through Jersey's 13 tracks, whether it's "Barn Door Open" which, to these ears, makes a nod to Coltrane or Rollins, or "Speedbag Swivel," where her fingering technique almost sounds like a backwards recording. The space between tracks doesn't last long, making everything segue together like an extended piece. But a delineation can be felt between them, which speaks legions about her approach. It also provides a good lead-in to our second offering....

Sylvie Courvoisier/ Mark Feldman/ Ikue Mori/ Evan Parker
Miller's Tale

Some free improvisers can hit the stage (or hit "record"), and operate at the same dynamic level with each piece,  the break between acting as little more than a chance to take a breath. The skilled free improvisers understand how to really sustain a performance, employing an array of dynamics, moods and even break-out groups within the whole ensemble.

These ideas were running through my head while listening to Miller's Tale, a September 2015 session that coincided with a performance the Roulette in Brooklyn. This came a year after saxophonist Evan Parker's weeklong residency at the Stone in New York, where he invited violinist Mark Feldman, pianist Sylvie Courvoisier and electronics whiz Ikue Mori to perform with him.

The album title and separate tracks are borrowed from Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman which takes place in Yonkers, where Miller's Tale was recorded. Rather than revel in the bleakness of the classic play, though, this music bursts with optimism, albeit the type that comes with wild, free improvising. Everyone moves so quickly and confidently in the music, it often becomes hard to tell who's playing what. The percussive thump in "Death of a Salesman" must be Courvoisier since there's no percussionist and she's not playing the keys at the moment. The sound of electrified faucet drips could be Feldman plinking away, but it's likely Mori, whose electric textures add great dimension to the set. The music rises and falls and begins with different ideas in each track. Courvoisier takes some time to stretch out during "The American Dream," expanding on droning low note that leads to a vast, Taylor-esque dance across the keyboard.

After five tracks of quartet interaction, Parker (who plays both soprano and tenor saxophones) plays duets with each of them, followed by a brief dialogue between Mori and Courvoisier. Whether the tracks flow past the 10-minute mark or keep it short, the musicians always seem to know how to apply variations to it, balancing the exciting frenzy of sounds with a wide dynamic range.

The liner notes to Sikora's Jersey (uncredited) talk about playing the album for Evan Parker while driving him to a show in Connecticut. The veteran saxophonist had nothing but compliments for the relative newcomer, saying her playing is free of cliches, adding that she "is both two seconds ahead and two seconds behind, which is the way you music play if you're going somewhere." That interpretation can be taken both literally and metaphorically, really.

But the biggest surprise - shock, even - comes in the last paragraph. After listening Jersey, the crew of the car then put on Steely Dan, "one of our guilty pleasures."

That's right - Evan Parker, legendary, sometimes-hard-to-get-into-but-always-pushing-it saxophonist Evan Parker likes the slick stylings of Steely freaking Dan. And I thought Anthony Braxton's fondness for Johnny Mathis was weird.

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