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Sara Schoenbeck — Sara Schoenbeck
(Bandcamp Pyroclastic Records PR 16, 2021, CD / DL)

by Jon Davis, Published 2022-12-14

Sara Schoenbeck Cover art

After many years of appearing on other people’s records, bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck has now released the first album solely under her own name. She presents nine tracks, each a collaborative duo with another musician, most of whom she has recorded with before. These are generally sparse, intimate, and highly improvised pieces where both players stray from ordinary playing. The first piece features drummer Harris Eisenstadt, who has worked with Schoenbeck on several of Adam Rudolph’s Go: Organic recordings. Their engaging dialog is fun and ranges from drones and tom rolls to something that could be construed as a rolling groove. Schoenbeck has a variety of non-standard techniques in her palette, including overblowing and humming while also blowing through the reeds. “Sand Dune Trilogy” brings flutist Nicole Mitchell on board. She’s another Go: Organic alum, and the two woodwind instruments twine around each other, sometimes echoing each other’s phrases, sometimes taking off in imaginative flights of fancy. Nels Cline joins her on bass and guitar for “Lullaby,” which is a loose cover of the song by Low. The quiet melancholy of the original is captured and taken into new territory with the weird effects on the instruments, and is the only time where there seem to be overdubs — I definitely hear two bassoon parts that don’t fit in with looping. Schoenbeck’s playing on this piece in particular shows that bassoon can definitely be a jazz instrument. Other collaborators include free jazz icon Roscoe Mitchell, bassist Mark Dresser, cellist Peggy Lee, and three different pianists: Matt Mitchell, Wayne Horvitz, and Robin Holcomb. While each track has a distinctive character, the common thread of Schoenbeck’s bassoon provides a unifying factor, and it is testament to her taste and skill that such stark exposure does not wear thin on a listener. Taken as a whole, these pieces expertly balance composition and improvisation, the familiar and the unexpected, and I can’t recommend the album highly enough. Certainly not for everyone, but a remarkable achievement.

Filed under: New releases, 2021 releases

Related artist(s): Nels Cline, Wayne Horvitz, Sara Schoenbeck

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