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As an improvising bassoonist, Sara Schoenbeck is definitely a rarity. She has also forged a singular style that reflects the extent of her diverse influences. Her eponymous release, on the Pyroclastic label, showcases her uniqueness with nine stimulating duets, each with a different musician, that redefine creative spontaneity.
The cinematic “Sand Dune Trilogy” pairs Schoenbeck with flutist Nicole Mitchell. The space between Schoenbeck’s warm, reverberating lines and Mitchell’s agile and muscular flute crackles with tension. At times their joint musings are laced with languid Eastern lyricism and at others they are as angular and crisp as a fugue. Their conversation, however, remains enveloped in bittersweet melancholy from first note to last.
In contrast, Schoenbeck’s meeting with the inimitable reedman Roscoe Mitchell is a study in pure sound. “Chordata” consists of exchanges of honks and squawks between extremes of the register, the low, growly bassoon and the high, flittering sopranino saxophone. In addition to these note clusters, Schoenbeck and Mitchell use silent pauses, carefully building an abstract piece that bridges both the sonic and generational gaps.
There are also mesmerizing soundscapes like “Absence” with bassist Mark Dresser whose resonant con arco phrases open the haunting tune. As Schoenbeck weaves a contemplative melody, Dresser punctuates with short bows and pizzicato refrains. The resulting exchange of meandering woodwind and percussive strings is like a sensual dance that flows softly, as if in a dream.
The album closes with the serene “Sugar,” which features Robin Holcomb’s wistful pianism and evocative voice. As Holcomb articulates the moving words, Schoenbeck blows pensive and mellifluous phrases that float over the crystalline cascade of keys like a pre-storm wind blowing over waves.
This captivating album is more than just a collection of encounters, albeit with artists with whom Schoenbeck has built a superb rapport. It is a cohesive work that establishes Schoenbeck as an accomplished practitioner of both the bassoon and improvised music.