As the album title and cover photo make plain, Joining Forces refers to the team of alto saxophonist Karolina Strassmayer and drummer Drori Mondlak, co-leaders of the Klaro! quartet. The title also signifies a fusion of their individual ideas and styles.
On Strassmayer’s third release as a leader, her sound has matured and she’s more distinctive as both a player and a composer. She builds compositions around intricate themes that are instantly engaging and memorable. For example, on “The Tragic Lives of Maximilian and Carlota,” a bittersweet, yearning ballad, Strassmayer expresses the melancholy theme with deep, bluesy conviction. Her far-reaching and complex improvisations are always mellifluousness. On the serpentine sonata “You’re Either a Goddess or a Doormat,” her bandmates create a sparse, Zen-like atmosphere that only enhances its emotional reach.
Mondlak’s melodic approach to the drum set results in considerable tonal color. This is best heard on the short but intense “Overtime,” an introspective drum solo that could almost be an homage to Max Roach. On “Promise to Myself,” his polyphonic percussion not only lays the foundation for the tune’s laid-back groove, but also adds another harmonic facet to its structure.
Having worked together for about a decade — and having recorded four previous albums — Mondlak and Strassmayer display an easy camaraderie. This fellowship is obvious from the first track, “Calling All Shadows.” Here, Strassmayer’s exuberant and gritty alto bursts forth like a geyser from the bedrock of Mondlak’s thunderous drums and cymbals. Meanwhile, the versatile Cary DeNigris wraps his resonant and edgy guitar around the funky melody, lending a sense of urgency to the piece.
A longtime member of Klaro!, DeNigris brings rock sensibilities to tracks like “What Was That” and a joyful, Django-esque virtuosity to “After All.” He imparts a deep-blues feel to the darkly hued “If You Could See Me Now,” which also features the angular bass of John Goldsby, who simultaneously anchors Strassmayer’s improvisation and pushes it forward.
Strassmayer and Mondlak have crafted a well-rounded, impeccable-sounding album. Bristling with creative energy, it represents a personal best for both artists.
— Hrayr Attarian