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Susan Alcorn, Patrick Holmes and Ryan Sawyer: From Union Pool


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Susan Alcorn, Patrick Holmes and Ryan Sawyer: From Union Pool
The inimitable pedal steel guitarist Susan Alcorn seemingly knows no bounds when it comes to the range of textures, tones and timbres she can coax out of her instrument. She is also a consummate improvisational partner, whether working in free or composed contexts. And she has forged a terrific partnership with Relative Pitch Records, which has now released four albums with Alcorn featured prominently—the most recent being her outstanding Pedernal, from 2020. Here she is part of a free-improv trio, recorded at Brooklyn's Union Pool in 2022 with clarinetist Patrick Holmes and drummer Ryan Sawyer, and it offers yet another glimpse into Alcorn's peerless artistry.

Like Alcorn, Sawyer has chameleonic tendencies, having worked with Nate Wooley, Charles Gayle, and Tony Malaby, not to mention Alcorn herself, as Sawyer was behind the kit on Pedernal. But that covers only the avant- jazz side of his resume, as his stints with TV on the Radio and At the Drive-In are indicative of his penchant for rocking out. Holmes is a more recent arrival on the scene, but a growing catalog with saxophonist Daniel Carter is earning him much wider recognition. Their Telepatia Liquida (577 Records, 2019), alongside Matthew Putman, Hilliard Greene, and Federico Ughi, is particularly worth exploring. A sensitive musician who is also capable of playing with fiery fervor, Holmes fits in well alongside Alcorn and Sawyer, as each member of the trio pushes the others toward greater expressiveness.

The three tracks—numbered, in Senegalese Wolof, "Benn," Ñaar," and "Ñett" ("One," "Two," and "Three")—begin in a somewhat tentative vein, with Holmes and Alcorn seeking a shared language, as Holmes teases out elongated notes and phrases while Alcorn produces dense waves of sound and atmospheric musings, and Sawyer looks for a way into the conversation. Eventually, Holmes becomes more animated, taking Alcorn and Sawyer with him, but the overall temper of the track remains somewhat subdued—at least in comparison with the next two cuts.

"Ñaar" elevates the heat considerably, as Alcorn's abrasive textures become even more sharply defined, and Sawyer reaches for a more visceral percussive punch. Holmes is more demonstrative as well, leading to some of the album's most exciting moments as the three take the sound into noisier extremes, with Alcorn's metallic shards leading the way, Holmes' banshee-like wails careening alongside Sawyer's thrashings. "Ñett" may not be quite as hair-raising by comparison, but the high level of improvisation remains. Alcorn produces endless streams of notes that run up against Holmes' wails and Sawyer's quickening fills, even bringing the house down temporarily as the crowd roars its approval, followed by a brief pause before the musicians continue plumbing their collective imagination for yet more possibilities to explore, and more opportunities to take flight. And they find them.

Track Listing

Benn; Ñaar; Ñett.


Susan Alcorn
guitar, steel
Patrick Holmes

Album information

Title: From Union Pool | Year Released: 2023 | Record Label: Relative Pitch Records

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