AMN Reviews: Two From Catherine Sikora

Catherine Sikora is an exceptionally expressive and versatile purveyor of the saxophone who explores her instrument in collaborations and solo works.  Today, she releases a pair of albums, one from each of these categories.

Catherine Sikora and Ethan Winogrand – Things To Do In Paris (2020; Bandcamp)

Recorded in 2014 during Sikora’s first residency at the Centre Culturel Irlandais in Paris, she is joined by drummer Winogrand for a largely impromptu set of five pieces. Sikora’s approach varies from melodic to angular to breathy. While never quite going fully outside, she holds notes for effect and hits a few harsh tones. Winogrand provides skittering and loosely-structured contributions that tend to match the mood of Sikora’s playing. Nonetheless, in true free improv fashion, neither musician takes leading or backing roles, and instead Things To Do In Paris comes off as a pairing of equals. There is an urgency to the album, however, perhaps exemplified best by Victor’s Arena with its rapid and unconventional themes coupled with an uneasy atmosphere.

Catherine Sikora – Sanctuary (Live at the Centre Culturel Irlandais Paris) (2020; Bandcamp)

This solo album, consisting of a single 23-minute track, was also recorded at the Centre Culturel Irlandais in Paris, but nearly six years later. As reflected by the title, the mood is different. Sikora approaches the recording with a sense of peace and safety. Her tones are softer. This not to say that the piece is an easy listen – it still pushes boundaries and explores a range of tempos and textures. Like the best improvisers, Sikora eschews the platform of solo performance as being an academic exercise or a setting for completely indiscriminate expression. Instead, Sanctuary tells a story through inter-linked themes and tones without needing to fall back on routine structures.