Monday, 14 January 2008

Mark Soskin...

After the disappointment of the ski-jumping being rained off just as the second round got underway at Valle De Fiemme last Saturday, I've understandably been quiet for a few days. It ended in spectacular style, Norwegian jumper Björn Einar Romoeren leaving the jump table with only one ski, landing hard on his pelvis 50 or 60 metres down the hill. Who ever heard of ski jumping being rained off? That's global warming for you.

First round leader Tom Hilde (Norway) ended up the victor of the shortened event, Four Hills winner Janne Ahonen only managing to come in fifth. Gregor Schlierenzauer clearly didn't like the wet conditions, finishing 6th and falling further behind compatriot Tommy Morgenstern in the overall standings.

This CD has nothing to do with ski jumping, although it was recorded on the shores of Lake Geneva. Leaving aside a few phonecalls from Leo Feigin (of Leo Records), it happens to be the only review I've ever written where I actually got some feedback direct from the artist. Soskin hunted down my email address from the magazine and wrote me an appreciative 'thank you' letter.

A nice touch, and feedback is always good. I've even enjoyed some of the negative feedback posted here on this page. As Chris Blackford used to say at the beginning of every issue of Rubberneck, I cater for everybody, and some people like to discover mistakes...

Homage To Sonny Rollins
White Foundation (WF233)

A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square; Airegin; Valse Hot; Tell Me You Love Me; Oleo; Reflections; Someone To Watch Over Me; H.S.; Tennessee Waltz; Time Remembered; Soulful Sonny; CD-Rom interview with Mark Soskin.

Mark Soskin (p).
Recorded 6/03

On the face of it, taking a pianist influenced by Debussy and Bill Evans to a Bösendorfer Imperial located in a grand salon on the shores of Lake Geneva is not the most likely of scenarios for a tribute to saxophone colossus Sonny Rollins. Yet Mark Soskin has impeccable credentials, occupying as he did the piano chair in Rollins’ band for some 15 years from 1978 onwards.

This collection is drawn from a marathon five hour recording session organised by Swiss resident producer, patron of the arts and owner of that salon with the Alpine aspects Jeremy White. All of the material is either composed by or closely associated with Rollins, though the homage suggested by the title may be a little disingenuous given that the saxophonist’s trademark blend of wry humour, audacity and gritty truculence are largely absent. Soskin’s tribute is more personal and oblique, perhaps shaped by the sonically perfect qualities of the recording space and the availability of such a regal instrument.

The opening ‘A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square’ is pure French impressionism, and its evocation of birdsong via upper register trills would have pleased that great composer-ornithologist Olivier Messiaen. Even such pieces as ‘Oleo’, ‘Airegin’ and ‘Valse Hot’ stop short of being low down or dirty, and are instead deconstructed and re-framed in new and unfamiliar ways. Perhaps the strongest connection to Rollins’ music is the way that Soskin takes pleasure in avoiding the obvious.

In the end, each piece is so absorbing that the incongruity between these improvisations and their dedicatee hardly matters. The pianist’ attack on the up-tempo selections such as ‘Oleo’ steers the recording away from chamber-jazz introspection, but when sensitivity is needed, as on Monk’s ‘Reflections’ or ‘Nightingale’, Soskin always improvises something heartfelt and out of the ordinary. Requiring studied concentration to extract it s many nuances, this recording shouldn’t let you down if you happily accept the rigourous demands made by the often austere and forbidding world of solo piano music.

Fred Grand
(Jazz Review, April 2004)

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