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Sunday, May 3, 2020

Rachel Musson, Naoko Saito, Audrey Lauro - 点字呼吸の領域 [The Region of Braille Respiration] (Armageddon Nova, 2020) ****

By Keith Prosk

Rachel Musson, Naoko Saito, and Audrey Lauro each play sidelong solo saxophone improvisations brimming with spirit and energy on the compilation 点字呼吸の領域 [The Region of Braille Respiration]. The compilation comes from the improv imprint of Japanese black metal label Deathrash Armageddon, Armageddon Nova, which was created to release Now’s The Time? from saxophonist Aishi Oyauchi and bassist Deku, continued to release other Aishi Oyauchi efforts, and now focuses on saxophone solos, though I believe they’re open to other instruments and small ensembles. The Region of Braille Respiration can serve as the female-fronted companion to their 2017 Saxophone Anatomy compilation, with solos from Lao Dan, Rick Countryman, and Colin Webster showcasing inspired yet underrepresented voices in free jazz from around the world.

The English tenor Musson, probably the best-known player here with collaborations including Alex Ward, Mark Sanders, John Edwards, Pat Thomas, and Olie Brice, begins the compilation with the 18-minute “Improvisation.” The opening notes are a soulful melody, strong yet dolorous, with vibrato; it’s the kind of tune that sticks in your mind and might seem familiar - in a good way - to free jazz listeners. Musson quickly moves on to improvise on this melody. Tongue clicks and kisses, raspy overblows and moments of only breath through the bore, free flurries and jubilant squeals, and nimble flute-like fluttering and languorous sustain transmute the melody until a tone or two seems to glimpse the original tune. There’s a brief moment of an ascending spiral curve reminiscent of Braxton’s 106c or Rothenberg’s “Continuo After the Inuit” or “Strata” and indeed the entire track might gyre through cycles of high and low density and high and low volume. It’s an excellent medley of inside and outside aesthetics, combining elements characteristic of the free jazz giants of the ‘60s with a modern, extended timbral pallette.

Saito, a Japanese altoist for which I believe this is the first recording, continues with another long solo in the 17-minute “A Song 0923.” She toys with sunny melodies by hastening and slowing the tempo, ascending and descending the tune, subtracting and then adding back notes to the melody, and occasionally increasing or decreasing the volume. There are a couple skronkier interludes and some breathy fluttering, but extended techniques are sparse and the mood is consistently playful. If the other two soloists’ efforts here could be considered tragedies, this is certainly the comedy.

The Belgian altoist Lauro, perhaps best known through her collaborations with Pak Yan Lau and Giovanni Di Domenico, ends the compilation with four tracks across 19 minutes. Half of that time is the third track, “Plein Chant,” which begins with hard blows and overblows disjointed across the register in a kind of call without a response like a petulant foghorn before coalescing into proggy free noodling. The other half is the most timbrally interesting material on the CD. “Crane 1” is a short multiphonic piece of underlying breathy choo choos with distorted trainhorn overblows; a distressed melody like what you might hear on a ferry or airplane comes through. “Crane 2” is a similarly short multiphonic sketch, though with undulating breath and spit underlying piercing shrills whinnying like eddying steam. And “Dark Canyon” is an ominous, shadowy theme that builds and rebuilds to resonance, with throbbing swelling overtones and quickening pulses accented by a very memorable two-tone call.

The Region of Braille Respiration successfully showcases three underrepresented voices in free jazz and also provides rare solo recordings for Musson and Lauro, whose performances are particularly strong here. While there might be a notion that a compilation is not as definitive or cohesive as an individual recording from each musician, the juxtaposition of significantly distinct approaches from musicians using the same instrument, from similar musical backgrounds, in the same solo format is a beautiful statement that might not otherwise be realized. Almost like the label itself, it’s a celebration of the improvised saxophone solo. I recommend it.

点字呼吸の領域 [The Region of Braille Respiration] is a CD-only release at the time of this writing. Japanese sources include Plus1 A.D., diskunion, and Deathrash Armageddon’s bandcamp page (this might update to include a digital version); American sources include Squidco.