AMN Reviews: Catherine Sikora – Corners (2021; Bandcamp)

In May 2021, saxophonist Catherine Sikora spent an afternoon in the Brooklyn Navy Yard giving one-on-one solo performances for fourteen individuals. She recorded these unique pieces as an afterthought and ultimately decided that they would benefit from a formal release. Twelve appear on Corners, each about 7-9 minutes in length.

My first few listens to the album lacked this context (I often listen “blind” initially, intentionally avoiding liner notes). Thus, my impression was colored by a few observations. First is how Sikora, known for being an exploratory musician, managed to fill this role without going explicitly outside. Her works are not exactly “tuneful” in the jazz sense, but there are distinct melodic progressions throughout these unconventional improvisations.

Second is how she manages to use her technical chops as a bedrock upon which to carve out a palette of emotions. Indeed, the last 22 months have been a series of visceral waves – ups and downs not unlike the pandemic itself. A sense of lamentation informs her playing, though it is colored with moments of hope, beauty, and even a bit of fluttering playfulness in between melancholy passages.

Third, the Brooklyn Navy Yard provides resonance that allows Sikora to use the space between notes, as well as the notes themselves, to communicate. In some brief motifs, she seems to be waiting to hear an echoing response from the walls before continuing.

Corners is a long, but worthwhile, listening effort. This is not just another “pandemic album” of solo improvisation – or if one wants to use such as categorization, this is one of the best. It is exquisitely played and is an offering that transcends current events by making a timeless representation of the human condition. Very, very well done.