While group playing, even duos, seem to me to be essentially external conversations in music, the solo performance is a deeply personal and internal affair. An audience may be present, but it’s still a conversation between the artist and their inner self, maybe their past, maybe even their future.
This solo performance by Julie Sassoon is all that. Julie was born in Manchester but her grandparents were German Jews who managed to escape to Britain near the start of the Second World War. Her grandmother’s parents died in Auschwitz. After studying classical music, and then exploring improvisation in Britain, Julie moved to Berlin, married a German and now has a daughter.
This album is dedicated to her grandmother and the final track, called New Life, was written when she was pregnant. The album was recorded live at the Neue Synagoge in Berlin, the Bauhaus in Dessau and the Loft on Cologne. As Bert Noglik expresses it in the liner notes: “Each and every Jew in Berlin has a different story to tell. By striking the keys of the piano, she tells a part of her story and that of her ancestors.”
You don’t need to know all that but it helps to have some inkling of the thoughts, reflections and inspiration in Sassoon’s head and heart while she is producing this extraordinary music.
She uses repetitive phrases which she develops and returns to, and has an acute sense of narrative which sweeps the attentive listener along on what is sometimes a gentle, meandering, reflective stroll and sometimes a volatile roller-coaster of a trip.
In addition she sometimes sings wordlessly over the piano – it’s highly effective, especially against the oscillating right hand notes in Land Of Shadows. (And, just in case this has you thinking of Keith Jarrett, no Julie’s singing is not out of tune and, yes, it is integral to the music, and a very welcome addition, too.)
What The Churchbells Saw has some of that jumbling, jangling organised chaos of the bells but also a sense of distance and view, as if we are all up there in the belfry. There is a DVD of Julie playing this included with the CD, and it confirms what is already clear from the music: that she puts everything into a performance, making it a kind of trance-like meditation as well as an artistic performance.
- You can see Julie Sassoon playing solo at the EFG London Jazz Festival this evening. She is at Bishopsgate Institute in a double bill with Italian pianist Enrico Pieranunzi. Full details here.
- You can buy Julie Sassoon’s Land Of Shadows here.