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Thursday, December 13, 2018

The latest from Catherine Sikora

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

Catherine Sikora / Brian Chase – Untitled: After (Chaikin Records, 2018) ****

Τhere’s a reason i’m not so eager to meet artists I appreciate and love their work in person. It is the fear of disappointment, of meeting someone who doesn’t live up, as a person, to his or hers work. Agree or disagree, I do not see any artist as a special human being, but rather as someone who can contribute to the way a better society could be built.

Having met Catherine Sikora through the sometimes wonderful networks on the internet, I must say that her music reflects the impressions she gives as a human being: a feeling of warmth and cordiality. Her instrument of choice, the saxophone, is, even in 2018, another reminder of the patriarchy that dominates the western world- also in arts. To cut a long story short, in reality, we need more women making music (and treated as equals of course) today.

Brian Chase’s music trajectory is a rare one. Back in my indie rock days I was very fond of his most well known group, the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s. He has participated in other formations and groupings of this word that does not come up very often in this blog ( meaning rock…), but now it seems that his main focus (also through his own Chaikin Records) is the ever expanding universe of improvisational music.

Untitled: After, the second release from Chaikin Records, is a cd collectively made by the two. It successfully combines the more melodic, even bluesy approach of Sikora (in tracks like 'So' and 'Ice Clad') with the energetic playing of Chase who also uses cymbals a lot as a way, maybe, of devaluating rock’s clichés. The first track, 'Death', is a free jazz give and take between the two, were a very energetic and rich dialogue takes place: passionate sax lines with free drumming. The second track, 'Dear As He Was', is more intimate, like it’s title, and sees the two musicians follow parallel but very similar ways, reminding me the wonderful 70’s collaborations of Max Roach and Archie Shepp. 'On Hand To Hand' we listen to the only track of the album -maybe as a clear antithesis to their intentions- that each of them follows his and hers way. On 'Brightly Forged', Sikora’s circular breathing is accompanied by an ascension of playful improvisational drumming.

Untitled: After is pretty enjoyable and moving. Through a trajectory of not so wild but intense collective improvisational gestures they make their way abolishing their egos. This way is paved by a sax (mostly tenor but also a soprano) that illustrates a balance between melody and improv lines, while on the drum set we listen Chase who clearly uses his, from many different sources gained, skills for the collective outcome.

Catherine Sikora /Christopher Culpo – The Spectral Life of Things (Sikora-Culpo, 2018)

My problem, as a listener, with jazz pianists is that they tend to dominate a recording or, at least, that they require more room to breathe as soloists. On this, recorded in Paris on April 2017, duo this is definitely not the case.

Catherine Sikora on the saxophone and Christopher Culpo on the piano present us a recording which is open to interactions and operate clearly by being responsive to one another’s gestures and, sometimes, musical provocations. Flexible sax melodies flow in a parallel way with ethereal piano chords. They possess the warmness of a late 50’s post bop atmosphere. But this is not even close to a tribute performance or a way to give praise to any great master.

Full of new compositions (I wonder if they all were recorded in one take) they have the urgency of an improvisation but, at the same time, they appear to be a fully realized idea in both minds. The summation of their efforts is a collective one. Each track contains small challenges put from one artist to the other. In a playful mood these challenges tend to pose questions that both of them do not intend to give clear answers. They prefer to leave that to the listener.

The music is a constant flow of notes and melodies built from solos that are followed by strong collective playing. A linear trajectory of musical gestures that provide no pauses for the listener (i really liked that) with the compositional and more structured moments overcoming the improvisational mood. But it’s those improv parts of the recording that add up to the exploratory final result.

I pretty much enjoyed and got stimulated by this great recording (one of my favorites for 2018) that I have to nag a little…The medium of the cassette (with only 100 copies made), always prone to wearing down, is unsuitable for The Spectral Life Of Things, which is a demanding recording in need to be listened over and over for numerous times.

Han-earl Park, Catherine Sikora and Nick Didkovsky - Eris 136199 (Busterandfriends, 2018) ****

Han-earl Park is a guitarist and an improviser who calls himself a constructor. When listening to his recordings of the guitar (or should I say his fragments of guitar sounds?), this description sounds quite accurate and not at all exaggerated. By trying to describe his music another term came to my mind: flexibility. Following a tradition of guitar improvisers that dismantled the rock guitar solo pose by turning the instrument into something much more elastic and introverted (hail, hail Derek Bailey), he seems very open to collaborations.

This time, he teams up with Sikora’s tenor saxophone and the metallic sounds of Nick Didkovsky’s guitar. Two guitars and a saxophone might seem as a muscular pair but definitely – but thankfully -it is not. Even though the saxophone struggles from time to time to be heard behind the feedback and noise of two roaring guitars, this is a recording based on multidimensional timbres and atmosphere.

Surely different from the other two Sikora recordings in this feature, we hear a sax that many times, like in 'Therianthropy III', tries to keep (struggles as I already mentioned) with the velocity of electricity. The four part suite, 'Therianthropy', that opens the album is a constant battle of metallic guitar sounds and the organic feel of the saxophone. Mind you though, what you listen is the result of like-minded improvisers who try to find their way through collective thinking and playing.

The three part 'Adaptive Radiation' that follows right up resembles a free jazz blow out from time to time, leading up to a catharsis that mellows out the jagged guitar chords and skronky sax lines. Sikora’s sax instills melody to the recording. After listening repeatedly to her recordings I clearly see a musician who fears not taking risks and blurring her image as an improviser. The two guitarists are, as I have not heard so much of their past recordings, a welcome entry to my favorites list. They present themselves as totally open to new paths and they are quite receptive to the challenges that this recording provides.

Eris 136199 is an album that blossoms after repeated listenings and deserves more than a quick listen. I know, this is probably a lot to ask nowadays, but this is the case here.



Han-earl Park said...

Thank you so much for listening, and thank you for the kind words.

And, yes, Catherine’s is a sound without equal.