AMN Reviews: Sara Schoenbeck – Sara Schoenbeck (2021; Pyroclastic Records)

Bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck recorded a series of duets over the course of two years, which serve as the material for this self-titled release. Her collaborators include Harris Eisenstadt, Nels Cline, the Mitchells (Nicole, Roscoe, and Matt), Mark Dresser, Wayne Horvitz, Peggy Lee, and Robin Holcomb. Schoenbeck has appeared on a wide range of recordings and played live over the last two decades with these individuals, as well as Anthony Braxton, SEM Ensemble, Wet Ink, Marty Ehrlich, Henry Threadgill, and many others.

Bassoon is the musical equivalent of salt – when incorporated into just about any mix, it seems to make the result better. Here, Schoenbeck uses these pieces not only to explore and expand upon her relationships with other musicians but also with her instrument as well. Thus, her playing exhibits a wide range of colors, textures, and feelings through the course of the album, while exploring the bassoon’s unique sounds from the perspective of a classically-trained experimentalist.

On the duet with drummer Harris Eisenstadt, she sets forth a plaintive, almost primitive, melody over subtle cymbal-driven percussion. Her collaboration with Nels Cline, in contrast, begins darker, slower, and more experimental, with Cline providing scrapes and effects atop arpeggiated chords. The pace slowly picks up before falling again, with the tone remaining disquieting throughout.

Schoenbeck and Roscoe Mitchell provide what appears to be a freely-improvised piece. Short at only three minutes, the two explore unstructured sounds and textures that continuously dovetail and separate. Her work with Matt Mitchell is quite different, with the latter supplying his signature labyrinthine piano lines in a longer, highly-structured chamber offering that compellingly employs snippets of quiet. Perhaps the most similar player to Schoenbeck represented here is cellist Peggy Lee, who also is comfortable across a spectrum of styles. Together, they are unpredictably engaging, neither fully inside nor outside in their playing.

Sara Schoenbeck will be released on November 26 by Pyroclastic Records.