Julie Sassoon Quartet, Voyages, Jazzwerkstatt ****

It has been a long while since we have heard anything by UK pianist Julie Sassoon who now lives in Germany (her UK-based singer-pianist brother Jeremy Sassoon is very active on the home scene still) so this is welcome. Sassoon has also released a …

Published: 30 Dec 2021. Updated: 7 months.

It has been a long while since we have heard anything by UK pianist Julie Sassoon who now lives in Germany (her UK-based singer-pianist brother Jeremy Sassoon is very active on the home scene still) so this is welcome. Sassoon has also released a solo piano record this year. Sometimes here you close your eyes and you are in a classical mood, otherwise it's avant-garde adventure all part of the arc of what is a carefully paced album.

The six tracks are no trifles and you get a weight to the pieces that says much for Sassoon's compositional skill, pianism and rapport with reedist Lothar Ohlmeier, bassist Meinrad Kneer and drummer Rudi Fischerlehner. Ohlmeier is a very robust player and on 'Jerusalem' ideas burst out as the piece becomes tense and ultimately tender.

Sassoon is best when she is at her most expansive as waves of energy heap up to roll in from nowhere on 'Outside' or navigate to another place entirely in the push-and-pull abundance of 'Missed Calls'. The quietly complex tone gradations and moods of 'Shifting' contribute to some of the finest aspects of what is a very satisying album. Photo: Tom Schweers

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Latest podcast: We look back to the return of live jazz in 2021 and wonder if we can expect a further detour ahead

2021 has been an unusual year to say the least. Going out to hear live jazz wasn't possible in England until venues reopened in the spring. On the first night back at Ronnie's in late-May there was a certain sense of relief to say the least and …

Published: 30 Dec 2021. Updated: 7 months.

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2021 has been an unusual year to say the least. Going out to hear live jazz wasn't possible in England until venues reopened in the spring. On the first night back at Ronnie's in late-May there was a certain sense of relief to say the least and upstairs that first night back Django Reinhardt was the presiding inspiration for guitarists Harry Diplock and Jeremie Coullon. That seemed fitting somehow certainly the strolling motion and momentum building and building then releasing to tease out lightly amplified melody that joyfully rang out to let out something inside so strong. Over the next few months going to a range of venues was a different experience however than in previous years. Audiences were terribly small, sometimes you felt it was a case of rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic for venues scanning empty rooms, only increasing in the autumn, partly because of imposed restrictions and partly because a lot of people until relatively late on in the year did not have their second vaccinations or were simply being cautious.

But it was certainly good to actually be able to hear live music again back in the spring. Listening to records without that live reality did not mean the same. It was more an academic exercise when you couldn't actually see and hear real live musicians.

Looking ahead things are uncertain again. Stricter rules in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland make life very difficult for musicians and audiences there. Venues in England will count themselves lucky that New Year's Eve events are still allowed.

Will the jazz festival circuit fully return for the first time in two years in 2022 or can there be a detour ahead? That sector has been even worse hit than clubs and small venues although the live return of the London Jazz Festival in November was a big boost with US musicians, largely a much-missed absence since early-2020, able to be booked in significant numbers once again.

But anyone putting on festivals in the early part of 2022 such as the Bath Jazz Weekend in January will be riding on a wing and a prayer.

Harry Diplock, top left, and Jeremie Coullon playing upstairs in Ronnie's on the first night back in May after the long Lockdown had closed the UK home of jazz for months

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