Fans of alto saxophonist Angelika Niescier already know her to be one of the most exciting voices on her instrumentsomeone who can shift instantly from pensive reveries to tempestuous maelstroms. And she has worked with a growing list of top-shelf partners, including drummer Tyshawn Sorey and bassist Chris Tordini, both of whom appeared on her excellent Berlin Concert (Intakt Records, 2018), and drummer Gerald Cleaver and trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson, who joined Tordini and Niescier on her New York Trio (Intakt Records, 2019). Now she has recruited the expert skills of cellist Tomeka Reid and drummer Savannah Harris, who possess an uncanny understanding of Niescier's concept, enabling them to create an enticing, often riveting set of music on Beyond Dragons.
Niescier's intricate compositions have always been one of her greatest assets, and there is plenty of proof of that here. The bounding energy of the opener, "Hic Svnt Dracones," animated by an arduous ostinato from Reid, pulses with life, as Niescier's cascading torrents come crashing in a seemingly limitless supply. Reid's nimble maneuverings are always a marvel, while Harris has an especially punchy snare attack that she uses to spur the music forward. But the piece takes a turn midway through, reducing the heat to a simmer as Niescier teases out brief fragments of phrases, and sometimes just a repeated note; she then cedes some ground to her partners, as Reid's and Harris' own volubility emerges and the trio generate some suspenseful excitement through a gradual crescendo of intensity, with Niescier riding a staccato, single-note attack to the finish, and Reid and Harris in lock-step with her all the way to the thrilling end. It is a master class in demonstrating how to build, release and recreate tension over the course of the piece's eleven-plus minutes.
The trio is at its best in its most vigorous moments, but Niescier has a darker, more mysterious aspect as well, revealed in "Oscillating Madness," which gives Reid a chance to trace the nuances of the track with her superlative arco playing while Niescier stays in a ruminative, slightly tremulous vein and Harris provides color and texture. But even here, the trio's barely-contained energy seethes just below the surface. "Tannhauser Gate" is a spare, haunting track, with Niescier's breathy lower register offering the ideal complement to Reid's imaginative, often luminous arco. On pieces like "Risse," or "Morphoizm," however, the trio once again lets loose fully, with Niescier's astonishing stamina and range catalyzing the vitality of her colleagues. And sometimes it is when Niescier strips the music down to its essence that it carries the most power. Her rhythmic dexterity allows her to make a single, repeated note speak volumes, and with Harris and Reid attuned to her every move, it is the three musicians acting as one that gives this music its potency.
Hic Svnt Dracones; Oscillating Madness; Risse; Morphoizm; Tannhauser Gate; A Dance, to Never End; Blue Line.
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