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Karolina Strassmayer and Drori Mondlak: Of Mystery and Beauty

Hrayr Attarian By

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Over the past decade and a half Austrian saxophonist Karolina Strassmayer has established herself as a superbly consummate musician. Her multifaceted compositions are always subtly, engagingly inventive and brim with brilliant wit and lyricism. As an improviser she plays with a reserved intensity and a captivating and suave spontaneity. Her seventh release Of Mystery and Beauty showcases again her unique style that has matured and ripened without losing any of its vibrant energy.

Like all of Strassmayer's previous albums this one is also in collaboration with American drummer Drori Mondlak. An undisputed master percussionist Mondlak, with his virtuosity and bold, explorative spirit, is the indispensible driving force behind the pair's music. Case in point; his unaccompanied solo "Cascades" is breathtakingly spirited and unexpectedly tuneful.

Together with their quartet Klaro! Strassmayer and Mondlak interpret the ten originals with a sublime mix of magical ethereality and visceral earthiness. The title track for instance opens with bassist John Goldsby's contemplative reverberating strings. Pianist Rainer Böhm's resonant chiming keys and Mondlak's softly propulsive beats create an expectant ambience for Strassmayer's yearning poetry. Heavily tinged with mysticism. Strassmayer lets loose intricate meandering alto lines that build an intriguing and passionate melody. After Böhm's shimmering, incandescent deluge of notes tense sonic fragments usher in the darkly hued conclusion.

The dramatic and provocative "Four Us All" has an otherworldly mood and lilting cadence. Mondlak's primal rumble and rustling sticks together with Goldsby's thumping vamps and Böhm's sparse, haunting chords form a loose and angular rhythmic framework. Strassmayer fills this gripping harmonic shell with her free flowing and open-ended extemporization making the piece one of the most innovative on the record.

Elsewhere on the funky and emotive "Side by Side" Strassmayer's blues-drenched saxophone dances seductively and with muscular phrases around the main theme. Böhm's buoyant piano echoes and expands on the altoist's mordant and acerbic tones and stirring wail.

The vigorous "Fanfare From Another World," meanwhile, features Böhm's lithe pianism. His breathtaking acrobatics are equal parts technical prowess and elegant artistry. Strassmayer blows with fiery gusto the bubbling head over her band-mates hard swinging refrains. Mondlak bisects the tune with his thunderous thumps and complex, overlapping polyrhythms.

This captivating record closes with the hypnotic and gorgeous ballad "Still In Her Ears." This Strassmayer and Böhm duet spotlights the former's thick breathy flute as it undulates gracefully over the latter's introspective and classically influenced performance.

Simultaneously unconventional and accessible Of Mystery and Beauty is an imaginative work. With charm and intelligence it eschews both abstruseness and banality. It engrosses with its diversity yet remains conceptually cohesive. It stimulates and moves with its ingenious complexity and fascinating fluidity. In short it is, to date, Strassmayer and Mondlak's finest disc and one that surely will stand the test of time.

Track Listing: From Her Pale Blue Home; Of Mystery and Beauty; Postcard From a Quiet Place; Fanfare From Another World; Wandering; Gently Spoke The Mermaid; Four Us All; Of Space And Rest; Side To Side; Cascades; Still In Her Ears.

Personnel: Karolina Strassmayer: alto saxophone, flute; Drori Mondlak: drums; John Goldsby: bass; Rainer Böhm: piano.

Title: Of Mystery and Beauty | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: BR Klassik

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