Review: Julie Sassoon at Jazzwerkstatt Peitz

Julie Sassoon. Photo Credit: © Viola Förster-v.d.Lühe

Julie Sassoon at Jazzwerkstatt Peitz
(Jazzwerkstatt Pietz. 8th June 2013. Review by Oliver Weindling)

British pianist Julie Sassoon left London for Berlin four years ago with her husband, the clarinettist and saxophonist Lothar Ohlmeier.  So her group's performance at the Peitz Jazzwerkstatt festival, 100 miles from Berlin, was a chance to catch up with her latest music.

She left the UK at around the same time as Tom Arthurs, though we have heard from more from Tom as a BBC New Generation Artist, in his duo with Richard Fairhurst and most recently on the new ECM release by Julia Hülsmann.

In the intimate setting of the town hall antechamber, she performed with Ohlmeier, Arthurs and Swiss drummer Samuel Rohrer, known for his work with Colin Vallon and his quartet jointly led with Daniel Erdmann. Thus it merged together the line-up of Azilut with a long-standing trio with Ohlmeier and Arthurs to create a bass-less quartet. It also coincided with the launch of Sassoon's live solo album on the Jazzwerkstatt label.

The concert was fully acoustic, which made for an intriguing sound check: the band members made sure that they could hear each other by physically moving around their exact positions, including the drum kit. Nevertheless it took a few minutes for the natural balance to settle once the concert started. It wasn't helped by a mellow-sounding grand piano as it tended to muffle Sassoon's powerful left hand, an important part of her uniqueness and something that makes this line-up workable.

Over the 70 minutes of their set they played just five actual 'pieces', including ‘Land of Shadows’, the title track from the new album, one based on a melody of Sassoon's daughter, and ‘Infinite’ by Lothar Ohlmeier (also, covered on the duo album of Arthurs with Richard Fairhurst). They ended with ‘Shifting’ based on East European (Jewish?) modalities, with a playfulness reminiscent of a Bartok children's song.

Throughout, the empathy between the musicians was striking, as was their understanding of the acoustics of their interaction. Unsurprising as Ohlmeier and Arthurs have worked a lot with the Not Applicable circle which fuses electronics subtly with acoustic instruments. Samuel Rohrer also showed his sensitivity as a sonic artist as much as a pure drummer. Structurally there was a good understanding of the development of each piece which led us through various sections in free improvisations by soloists or in duo - one between piano and drums was especially effective, but also clarinet/trumpet and piano/drums - as well as giving a melodic direction.

Julie Sasson will be playing at Bishopsgate Institute on 17 November as part of the London Jazz Festival in a double bill with Enrico Pieranunzi.

Land of Shadows is available as a CD/DVD on the Jazzwerkstatt label.

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