Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Angelika Niescier in Berlin on Intakt Records

Recently, I have been trying to catch up on releases from Intakt Records, which, in spite of the fact that it is based in Switzerland, seems to have secured itself as my favorite label for adventurous jazz. That reputation was established through the husband-and-wife couple of pianists, Alexander von Schlippenbach and Aki Takase; but they fostered a high level of trust in the label’s production values, from which I could branch out into other interests. The latest branch I have encountered involves Polish saxophonist (soprano and alto) Angelika Niescier.

Angelika Niescier at the 2015 Reykjavik Jazz Festival (photograph by Hreinn Gudlaugsson, from Wikimedia Commons, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license)

Sadly (but not unexpectedly), the English-language Wikipedia has not yet discovered Niescier. Fortunately, she can be found on the German Wikipedia site; and, thanks to Google, there is a reasonably acceptable English version of her Wikipedia page. My quest to learn about her was prompted by last month’s release on Intakt of her trio concert given at the Berlin Jazzfest 2017. The rhythm section of her trio consisted on Christopher Tordini on bass and Tyshawn Sorey on drums. Sorey is well established in the United States, and in 2017 he was the Festival’s Artist in Residence.

Within the first minute of listening to the opening track, entitled “Kundry,” I found memory transporting me back to my obsession with recordings by John Coltrane (but not Richard Wagner) during my student days, an obsession that was rewarded with a visit by Coltrane and his quartet to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (This took place shortly after Alice Coltrane replaced McCoy Tyner as the quartet’s pianist.) As a result, I was not surprised to discover on that Wikipedia page that Niescier referred to herself as “Coltrane-damaged.” Needless to say, I view that “damage” as an asset, rather than a liability; and I suspect that Niescier does, too.

There is an old joke that, when you steal from one writer, it is plagiarism; but, when you steal from many, it is research. Niescier never gives any sense that she is “stealing” from Coltrane. Instead, she seems to have caught the spirit well enough to steer it in new directions. However, Coltrane’s is not the only spirit behind her playing. “5.8” almost sounds as if Niescier went through a period of listening to as many recordings of Thelonious Monk that she could obtain, leading to a delightful pot-au-feu in which, while Monk may constitute a variety of different chunks of meat for the soup, the diversity of added vegetables is nothing short of awe-inspiring. In sharp contrast, on the other hand, the final track, “The Surge,” sees her venturing into the coarser sonorities one tended to encounter in those early days of Ornette Coleman’s contributions to the free jazz movement.

This is definitely an album for those who take listening to jazz seriously, particularly when the performers are not afraid to seek out adventurous new directions. Our numbers may be modest. Hopefully, we can make up for those numbers with our enthusiasm!

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