I should begin by declaring an interest: the piece written by Rachel Musson for the new Rachel Musson Mark Sanders Ensemble has been commissioned by TDE Promotions.
I have just attended two days of rehearsal of the new piece, entitled I Went This Way, written for the new nonet, and I am very excited about the piece, which will be premiered on Saturday 21st April as part of the Surge 11 Festival at mac, details and booking here.
The piece features an integrated approach to spoken word and improvised music in what I find to be a very unique and special variation on other approaches to improvisation. The words, which are spoken by Debbie Sanders, tell the story of Rachel Musson’s process of learning to improvise and developing her own individual voice. This might initially seem a little self-indulgent, but the actual words are so beautiful and poetic and the way that the composed music and the improvisations of the members of the ensemble underpin and amplify the words is stunning. At times the voice is dominant, at others the instrumentalists are dominant and the voice becomes just one element of the overall sound.
What struck me most about the music as it developed over the past two days was how well the words and the music are integrated; more importantly perhaps, how there was a momentum about the playing that created that integration. There was certainly lots of variety, but that variety had a unity about it with the result that the piece felt to be a very satisfying and complete statement.
The group is very strong; in addition to Rachel on tenor sax, Mark on drums and Debbie on spoken word, it has Sarah Farmer on violin, Richard Scott on viola and Hannah Marshall on cello, forming a string section, Chris Mapp on double bass, forming part of the string section at times and acting as a rhythm instrument at others, and in the saxophone section, it has Lee Griffiths on alto sax and Xhosa Cole on tenor sax and flute, plus Rachel of course. The piece moves seamlessly between the written and the improvised sections, the latter including passages for soloists, Hannah Marshall’s solo being particularly impressive, to duos – I particularly remember a passage with Chris Mapp and Mark – to sequences by the string or sax sections and, finally, full ensemble passages. There is some great writing for the ensemble and for the different instrumental sections; I particularly remember a short passage when the saxophones sounded almost Ellingtonian, and also some intense improvising by the strings.
The concert will take place at 4pm in the Main Theatre at mac. Other main events in the Surge 11 Festival are Juice Aleem with the Surge Orchestra and the Palestinian clarinet player Mohamed Najem and Friends blending Arabic music with jazz. There is also lots of good music round the different spaces at mac all starting at 12noon.