Wednesday 20 November 2013

Julie Sassoon – Land of Shadows (Jazzwerkstatt)

Land of Shadows is a suite of solitude for just Julie Sassoon and her piano (obviously that just is inaccurate). The music doesn’t exist outside the world, an argument sometimes made by theorists who favour the idea of music as pure abstraction; rather, it contains the world inside it. 

The CD documents a trio of concerts made in Germany in April 2012, and makes for a coherent, unified statement, as well as simulating the free flow of an inner reverie. From the very beginning (‘Just So’), when silence is broken by spare notes ranging from touch sensitive to ringing velocity, the prevailing introspection is challenged by Sassoon’s need to track her emotions to their raw source. Tranquility is habitually over-toppled by overwhelming feelings.    

As a description, ‘hypnotic’ errs towards cliche, but it fits, because Sassoon’s music is always marked by intense concentration, complete surrender to the moment and manages the trick of suspending time for her listeners. Phase and rhythm are her chief means: melody is almost an accidental byproduct, albeit a stunningly beautiful accident.

In 2009 Julie Sassoon followed her muse from Manchester to Berlin. Her adopted home, with its violent past and special history, has inspired her best work yet. Like the best improvisers, her work is susceptible to the influence of place, and the move seems to have awakened an awareness of her Jewish identity. On pieces like ‘What the Church Bells Saw’ and ‘Forty-Four’ she bristles, rails, and finally submits to the flow. Her art is to conquer disquiet with a sense of the sublime. Similarly, something equivocal and momentous occurs during ‘New Life’, which is not a straightforward celebration of motherhood but acknowledges suffering as well as joy. ‘Land of Shadows’ offers her wordless, keening vocals, which are more affecting than Keith Jarrett’s grunts. Jarrett, incidentally, is an artist with whom Sassoon shares a language and a tradition. Indeed, Land of Shadows might be thought of as The Cologne Concert after Jarrett’s The Köln Concert. It deserves (and, given a chance, will receive) the same kind of recognition and adulation. 

An accompanying DVD, of an alternative performance of ‘What the Church Bells Saw’, affords an opportunity to unpick the constituents of composition and improvisation in Sassoon’s work.

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