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Review: Rachel Musson’s Skein

Rachel Musson with Liam Noble and Mark Sanders, plus Skein
(Vortex, CD launch gig, December 6th 2010, photo credit: Richard Kaby)

Forethought, planning and persuasiveness are required to achieve anything, And courage, too. Barely two years since graduating from Trinity College of Music’s jazz course, Rachel Musson seems to have the first three in abundance. Last night at the Vortex she had put together a thoughtfully constructed and contrasted double bill, for the last of three dates launching her debut CD Flight Line.

But she also has no shortage of courage . For the first set she had given herself no mean challenge: launching – with a quick sound check rather than a rehearsal , I was told – straight into a forty-minute completely freely improvised set with older musicians: pianist Liam Noble and drummer Mark Sanders. It is to Musson’s – and their – immense credit that it worked so well, and really held the audience’s attention throughout.

Noble has tonal and harmonic resources, and the capacity to take the listener on a journey like very few other pianists in Britain. Sanders has constantly bubbling creativity and an astonishing range of expression. I sensed towards the end of the second of the trio’s two improvisations that he really started to relax. He was reaching out and producing resonant pings from a spare music stand, and from one of the structural steel pillars of the Vortex. Is that pillar a regular port of call for free drummers? A Vortex habitue, perhaps, will be able to enlighten LondonJazz readers. Rachel Musson played with an authority and a variety of timbre which are bound to continue to grow. .

In the second half her band Skein, consisting of musicians of a younger generation, took to the stage and played material from the CD Flight Line. Two things about the album keep drawing me back to it. Firstly, there are Musson’s compositions. One tune, Scrumpy has a curiously engaging and playful swagger; another, That Reminds me of the Time is full of twists and turns – the tune as hide-and-seek. Secondly, her dialogue and interplay with pianist Alcyona Mick is always fascinating. Skein is a double drum quintet which must be very hard to balance live. It may have been where I was sitting – but the two drummers (Josh Morrison and Javier Carmona) had a tendency to overpower and sometimes to detract rather than add. Will Collier on bass was solid throughout, and was also impressive when he occasionally stepped into the limelight.

The Vortex continues to programme coherently, thoughtfully, and to support young, developing musicians from the surrounding districts. Which also takes courage.

Flight Line is available from F-Ire.com

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