Let's agree that, by a consensus of one, Debbie Sanders recital of saxophonist Rachel Musson's thought-through and through-read play-by- metaphoric-play/lecture on improvisation gets annoying as all hell so quickly that one may find oneself searching madly for a bonus instrumental version. But the music on saxophonist Musson's I Went This Way is an ambitious, teasingly ambiguous album, all shift, riddle, and hijinks. And that's a really good thing because it takes a lot for anyone to be so sure of her path and her vision these dreary days.
A questing tenor, Musson, one of London's pioneering jazz outsiders and thus a practitioner of the multi-phonic narrative, is never satisfied with freedom.There is always more freedom somewhere, and that somewhere is the core of Musson's often ragged, often lilting compositions. Sure they dance but they cringe too. Don't we all?
Recorded live in June 2019 at Cafe Oto in London, Musson directs, conducts, and double dares her shape-shifting nonet to move where perhaps they hadn't thought of moving then find a circuitous route back from where they started. It is a head game for sure but Musson is built that way. You can hear it on such free-falling structures as those found on such recordings as drummer Federico Ughi's The Space Within (577 Records, 2000) and this year's howl fest with Shifa Live In Oslo with fellow vanguardists pianist Pat Thomas and drummer Mark Sanders. She likes to stretch and reach, then reach further.
Her players are well toned too, ready to expatiate and formulate around the leader's yoga-like idiosyncrasies. "Start" does just that with the seriousness of a hushed opera, as an intimate calligraphy of violinist Sarah Farmer, violist Richard Scott, and cellist Hannah Marshall readily and hauntingly establishes Musson's firm grip on larger compositional equations and how she adds, subtracts, and divides her chosen variables into oddly curved familiars. "Matched Up" is your more traditional free jazz Musson stylequintet sans strings darting and dinging like glancing meteors sharing some internal, gravitational understanding. The twenty-minute "For Pauline" tones in with a sawing menace courtesy of bassist Chris Mapp and Xhosa Cole's trapped butterfly flute, gives way to the half-hour-plus purring labyrinth "A Note" and I Went This Way certainly does go where it will.
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