If the solo album is a rite of passage for a woodwind player, then adventurous British saxophonist Rachel Musson passes with flying colors. Musson has found a mentor in 577 Records label boss Federico Ughi, a collaborator during his sojourn in London in the early 2000s. Consequently, the imprint has issued a stream of strong releases showcasing her talents, including Shifa -Live At Cafe Oto (2019) and Shifa -Live In Oslo (2020) with the titular collective completed by pianist Pat Thomas and drummer Mark Sanders, and I Went This Way (2020) which presents Musson's compelling take on blending notation, improvisation and words.
On tenor saxophone Musson packs a remarkable breadth of expression into 16 self-contained miniatures in a 36-minute program, of which only two breach the three minute barrier. She exploits the lexicon of the modern reed armory, including the use of multiphonics, alternate fingerings, buzzes, airy exhalations, key clicks, overblown notes, and the like, but deploys technique as an unselfconscious means to an end. The overall feel is organic rather than the purposeful sonic investigation of, say, an Anthony Braxton solo outing. She invests each sound with tremendous detail, thanks to close miking which reveals the physical minutiae of breath and mechanics to supply another layer of intrigue and feeling.
Moods run the gamut from abrasive ("Parakeet Pete") to introspective ("Twelveses") to lyrical ("Slinks") to jazzy ("Meloose"). But within such wide- ranging characterizations, fine gradations exist. Although the opener "Reeling" starts with the sort of gruff clarion call that Peter Brötzmann would be proud to unleash, she caps each phrase by soaring gracefully into the stratosphere. That is followed by an interlude of carefully nuanced delicacy, before a return to the opening gambit which creates an appealing whiff of form and logic, discernible throughout the disc.
Musson also deploys her voice, not only as perhaps might be anticipated by shading notes with vocal overtones, but also, in a departure from the norm, by declaiming her prosaic yet poetic texts, most notably on the episodic "For Pauline," but also on the wistful melodicism of "Syncope," (both being pieces which also appear on I Went This Way). Through the inclusion of her unaffected speech, she not only disrupts expectations and conjures a deeply personal slant, but also ups the charm quotient at the same time. Short but sweet, Dreamsing stands as a wonderful statement of intent from an artist on the rise.
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