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Thursday, December 21, 2023

Angelika Niescier, Tomeka Reid, Savannah Harris - Beyond Dragons (Intakt Records, 2023)

By Paul Acquaro

Colonge based Angelika Niescier is a brilliant force on alto saxophone. Whether she's playing melodious lines or blasting out searing ones, she is a musician with complete control of her instrument and flush with ideas. What can then be said of cellist Tomeka Reid? Hailing from the incubator of effusive jazz in the heart of America, Reid's wide range of expression - as adept in classical as she is in jazz - has been dazzling listeners for years from her work with a AACM and Roscoe Mitchell to her own projects, and other other collaborations like Hear in Now. Finally, drummer Savannah Harris, somewhat new on the scene, has been racking up an impressive CV working with folks like Peter Evans, Maria Grand and Petter Eldhs, among many others. Beyond Dragons seems to be the first recording is her discography and it could not be more of an auspicious debut.

Pedigrees aside, if one takes Alexander Hawkins liner notes to heart, what we have here a group that take the notion of "here be dragons" - medieval cartographer speak for the unknown territories on the maps they drew - and goes beyond. From the opening moments of the opening track 'hic sunt dracones' (yes, 'here be dragons') one knows that Mr. Hawkins is trustworthy soul. The tune is simply ablaze from the moment it begins with an urgent repetitive line from Reid prodded along by Harris' pulsating melodic drumming. Then, Niescier enters and immediately begins pushing the energy higher. While she is insistent, there is no over playing, Reid and Harris hold the line on the tempo, which seems like it could easily veer out of control in less capable hands. Then, four minutes in, the group pulls back (by the way, in the ratio of note to time, you have quite good value here) and then cycling through a series of rhythmic motifs, they quickly build back to the muscular expressiveness that begins the track.

Let's however remember that we're going beyond dragons here, so a track like "Tannhauser Gate" (a nod to Blade Runner perhaps?) is almost opposite of the opening track. Starting with exploratory palpitations from Niescier, and a textural sounds from Reid and Harris, the track slowly breathes to life. Between the cello and the saxophone, it's almost hard to tell whose playing the atonal melody. Then, a "classical" melody emerges from the cellist and is slowly answered by the saxophonist. Harris meanwhile is in the background, providing an underlayment of sound. By the time we reach the penultimate track "A Dance, to Never End,' we've been lured into uncharted territories.

Beyond Dragons is all the above, and so much more. The jaunty rhythm of the aforementioned 'A Dance, to Never End' does feel like a dance over an uneven rhythm, each phrase rolling into the next, and a tune like say 'Morphoizm' conjurers other magics that promise untold treasures and adventure without end.


Kruse said...

Really nice review of a very fine album, one that I've listened to repeatedly.