Tenacity, creativity and courage!

Selmabird Records
Nicole Johänntgen (alto, soprano & baritone saxophone)
Recorded 11 August 2021

Saxophonist Nicole Johänntgen once again returns to the solo format, and in what could be perceived as a risky move proves that the compelling music created on Solo (2020) was no fluke, and that she has the tenacity, creativity and courage to present a further set of solo saxophone improvisations that demonstrate the urge to take her playing to the next level.

Busy as a performer in a range of different musical genres, she is currently on tour with the singer, Cæcilie Norby, the saxophonist has always maintained a self-belief and sense of development in her playing that is to be admired. Modest about her music and her own playing, the best sense of where she comes from and where she is heading can be found in her music.

Recorded in the Cappella di San Gottardo, a small chapel located at an altitude of 2100 metres on the crest of the famous Alpine pass road, the building has a wonderful acoustic and a natural reverberation that lends itself to solo playing.

In stepping into the chapel to make this recording Johänntgen is at one with her surroundings and has captured the beauty of her saxophone sound using the space and echo within to create a recording that is quite different to her earlier effort.

The lyricism and sense of song remains but there is an increased awareness of time, sound and the space in which she is performing. Her control of dynamics, tone and the use of the natural reverberation is astonishing on the opening ‘Les Nuages Filent’, allowing her phrases to work with the building.

Finding her place within the space and the music, Nicole allows herself the luxury of slowly developing her ideas on the alto saxophone, both melodic and rhythmic, while retaining a spaciousness in her phrasing that ensures the sound is captured and nothing is rushed.

Switching to soprano for ‘Echoes Of The Mountains’ she is declamatory in her statements, and the melodic development prevails with phrases echoing around the chapel to be swept up in rhythmic and tonal variations. ‘Gotthard Momentum’ takes the sound concept further with melodic lines working against little motifs that use the saxophone’s harmonics as well as the natural echo.

As a continuing exploration of her surroundings Johänntgen brings out the baritone sax on ‘Bergluft’ is a tentative piece in which she works down the horn in stages from the opening section that focusses on the upper and middle register of the saxophone, before plunging into the depths of the resonant bell notes.

The concluding ‘The Unknown’ once again utilises the deep sonorities of the baritone along with Nicole’s voice singing a response to her own phrases. A compelling conclusion to a fine album, that perhaps suggests another avenue worthy of exploration for the saxophonist.

Reviewed by Nick Lea