I like albums to have one single concept, instead of a collection of loose pieces, just joined together to fill the space of the CD or LP. So usually, this lack of unity gets sanctioned by one star less in the ratings. Except for this album. Why? Because it is so good, and because Danish saxophonist Lotte Anker is so good.
The whole album is recorded at the Brda Contemporary Music Festival in Smartno, Slovenia in September of 2016. The first three tracks are solo performances by Anker in the local Saint Martin's church. The next four tracks are duo performances between Anker and Slovenian master percussionist Zlatko Kaučič at the House of Culture. The duo is then joined by Polish musicians Artur Majewski on trumpet and Rafal Mazur on acoustic bass guitar for the last track.
The solo performances by Anker are by themselves already worth the purchase of the album. In a little over thirty minutes, she demonstrates her skill of improvising compelling, emotional and lyrical sonic little stories. The first one agitated, the second more intense yet subdued, the third is technically really special with deep and high tones alternating.
Her solo performances get my preference. Her tone is so expressive, beautiful and it contains all the vulnerability and hesitancy that is relatively unique to free improvisation. There is no need to hurry, and the pace is great, and Anker takes the time it needs to explore her initial concept, expanding it, increasing the power and the depth without loosing focus. No doubt these are among the most beautiful sax solo pieces to be heard.
The dynamics change in her duets with Kaučič, with shorter bursts on the horn, the tone more abrasive, more violent, definitely in the first and third piece. The second is more cautious and sensitive. It shows a different facet of the same musician, challenged by the percussionist in a variety of ways, including many different objects, a zither, different ways of hammering his drumkit, and despite the intensity, she remains intrinsically lyrical.
The third facet is to be heard with the quartet. The approach is real free improvisation, without conceived notions or structural foundations. Notes collide, explore and challenge, tentatively in the beginning, trying to find a common ground to move forward on, and the way it organically grows is interesting to witness, with increased momentum, intensity and cohesiveness, with both horns relentlessly propulsed forward by the bass and the drums, and all four musicians really go for it. Great to hear.
But we have come a long way. We've travelled a journey in different steps from the initial intimacy, fragile and sensuous to the exuberant power of the quartet. A radical change in a too short period of time, but then each part is really good. For once, I will accept the conceptual breaks. And feel free to listen to the different parts separately.
Without a doubt Lotte Anker's music is under-recorded. It would be good to hear more of her.