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Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Massimo Magee – Networking (Orbit577, 2023)

By Nick Ostrum

In the depths of the pandemic on December 20, 2020, London-based saxophonist Massimo Magee conceived of a distance series of collaborations. He began recording saxophone tracks – some just for himself and some with specific collaborators in mind. He then circulated the recordings to several choice artists, who, over the next ten months, added their own parts. The result is Networking.

Magee is not the only musician to resort to file-share collaborations like this during the lockdowns, quarantines and social distancing of early 2020s. It seems almost every creative musicians who was not doubling-down on their solo explorations or digging back into their hard-drives and session tapes for archival releases embarked on some kind of virtual collaboration project. Some were merely experiments. Many likely never saw the light of day in the end. Some, however, really worked. Networking is among the latter, in part because of the range of musicians who partook.

Networkingbegins with Signal Flare, a 2:45 minute solo of warm, jumpy scales that seems a jazzier nod to Braxton’s untouchable For Alto . Then, Magee turns to the collaborations. The first two, Echopraxia and Consolamentum are duos with electronicist Travis D. Johnson and percussionist Tim Green. They take Magee recordings in the ilk of Signal Flare and pull them into glitchier territory. Johnson seems to double Magee’s lines adding glimmering streaks and creaks to fill it out. Green adds a busy, atmospheric percussive backdrop. However, when Magee gets to his collaborations with guitarist Jonathan Weizel, something changes. The cuts that follow are sparse and Magee drops the blues and scales for space and extended techniques, which he follows through the rest of the album, almost progressively, as the album moves from the crackling electronic cascades of A.F Jonese to the raw sax-bass duo with Thomas Milovac and the peculiar sound-collage of Blinkenlights, his collaboration with Lance Austin Olsen. By this point, the sax is reduced to a series of hums buried amongst various other skittery scraps and circuitry.

The final track, Networking Outro, is the second solo piece. The music sounds less hurried, and maybe more deliberate. In a sense, it brings the album full circle, ending the wide-reaching journey that Magee and his compadres embarked on with hints of where it started.

As pandemic restrictions are now things of the past and live music seems to have returned to its pre-pandemic state, I am not sure whether Magee and the others (Olsen excluded) will return to this strategy of creation. Then again, maybe that shines light on what, exactly, this is: a product that is both a reflection of and struggle against its times. Then again, isn’t this what the best live show, or most studio album aspires to be? Networking plays in that space, and, even several years removed from its origins, it works, both as a sort of time-bounded (and distance-defying) narrative and a genuine gem in its own right. It might be that we, and especially I, should stop looking at some of these releases primarily as Covid recordings and start thinking of them simply as good music.

Networkingis available as a CD and download on Bandcamp.