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Julie Sassoon: Fourtune

Duncan Heining By

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Fourtune is British pianist-composer Julie Sassoon's first quartet recording. Sassoon's musical approach draws in equal measure on her classical training and on a love of jazz and improvised music. This marriage goes far beyond the translation of a pianistic technique from one musical area to another but becomes something far deeper and more powerfully emotionally moving in her hands.

The CD features life-and musical partner Lothar Ohlmeier on reeds, along with a remarkably strong rhythm pairing in bassist Meinrad Kneer and drummer Rudi Fischerlehner. From the outset, the sense is of a group where the primary virtues are mutual respect, empathy and a confidence in each other's abilities. Its gently punning title is no accident.

The record opens slowly and delicately with "Cloud" and a long introduction with piano and drums, the ringing tones of the piano contrasting beautifully with chattering cymbals. Here and elsewhere, Sassoon is aware of the musical value of silence and she uses the sustain pedal to fine effect. There is a feeling of being held until Ohlmeier and Kneer enter to state the theme of the piece. In fact, it surprises how one's emotional reactions fluctuate as the music unfolds—from reflection and almost puzzlement to sadness, quiet wonder and a tentative joy.

Kneer opens "To Be" with a series of sustained notes that lead into a solo with an almost Spanish feel and then to a brief duet with the piano before drums and then soprano sax enter. It becomes clear that the architecture and thematic development of these pieces is built in this way, that is as a series of transitions between solos, duos, trios and the quartet. There is here, and elsewhere, a song-like quality to Sassoon's melodies established first through the repetition and then elaboration of musical motifs.

"This One's a Boy" begins with a fragmented dialogue between Ohlmeier on bass clarinet and Fischerlehner. The feeling here is tense and edgy before the quartet pick up a riff with a strong backbeat before the tune again fractures, leading into a piano-led section with keening voice punctuated at various by drums, clarinet or bass. With wave upon musical wave rising and falling, the main theme re-emerges this time slowly and less forcefully. Kneer's ensemble playing on this track is quite exceptional. Again, on "Wake Up Call," Sassoon builds tension through the episodic nature of the composition, quiet and ruminative at one moment, a steady pulse the next, a frantic outpouring the next. "Wake Up Call" features Fischerlehner to fine effect, his solo marking a contrast with the wild group performance led by Ohlmeier on soprano and quieter passage that preceded it. The quartet return briefly to the main theme before the piece closes abruptly. "Wake Up Call" is perhaps the strongest composition on what is a very strong set rich in unusual rhythms and harmonies.

"Expectations" and "White Notes (For JKM)" both add trumpeter Tom Arthurs. "Expectations" is unexpected, even for a record so full of surprises. It opens almost ballad-like, tempting the listener to "expect" something more conventional but eventually explodes dramatically over repeating pedals from the piano and bass. "White Notes (For JKM)" begins with an exquisite trumpet cadenza and is the most simply piece compositionally. Arthurs' playing is heartfelt and deeply affecting and makes for a perfect close to a near perfect record.

Musical life in her adopted home of Berlin clearly suits Sassoon. Always a distinctive and bold voice as a performer and composer, Fourtune finds her matched with four strong, individual but sympathetic musicians able to meet the challenges of her music and realise her vision.

Track Listing: Cloud; To Be; This One’s a Boy; Wake Up Call; Expectations; White Notes (for JKM).

Personnel: Julie Sassoon piano; Lothar Ohlmeier soprano saxophone, bass clarinet; Meinrad Kneer bass; Rudi Fischerlehner drums; Tom Arthurs trumpet on “Expectations” and “White Notes (for JKM)” only.

Title: Fourtune | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Jazzwerkstatt

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