Live reviews

Julie Sassoon Quartet/ Therese Hämer – Charlotte Salomon – ‘It is my whole life’ in Vienna

Julie Sassoon Quartet/ Therese Hämer. – “It is my whole life” (Charlotte Salomon Project)

Hamakom Theatre Vienna, 10 April 2022. Review by Oliver Weindling)

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Julie Sassoon Quartet. Photo by Oliver Weindling

Since moving to Berlin from London in 2009, pianist Julie Sassoon has broadened and evolved her piano playing, which now incorporates stronger elements of both minimalism and free improvisation, the latter reflected particularly in her duo with drummer Willi Kellers. Her developing career has been helped by unstinting support from the jazzwerkstatt label, from German radio. Her collaborations with her partner saxophonist Lothar Ohlmeier have been another important strand.

Julie Sassoon had two important and well-received releases in 2021: a solo piano album, ‘When You Can’t go Outside…Go Inside’ and the quartet album ‘Voyages’, which was shortlisted for the German Jazz Critics’ Album of the Year and also singled out as Jazz Album of the Month in The Guardian. (LJN’s 2021 feature by John Fordham also explores this).

She has also been inspired to dig deeper into her Jewish roots; her mother’s family escaped Nazism. For her this is clearly a a thoughtful and spiritual endeavour, and has recently led to her involvement in a collaborative project reinterpreting through music the visual art of Charlotte Salomon (1917-1943) .

Salomon was inspired to paint what could be a sort of graphic autobiographical novel about her life in Berlin, having escaped from the city in 1940. “Leben? Oder Theater?” (life? or theatre?) consists of 1325 gouaches. Two years of obsessive painting while in hiding in France were terminated abruptly by her being denounced. She was killed at Auschwitz in October 1943. She could perhaps be thought of as a visual parallel to Anne Frank. Salomon’s work is only rarely available for the public to view. A major selection is displayed HERE

Therese Hämer. Photo by Oliver Weindling

At a performance at the Hamakom Theatre in Vienna, the scene was set in the first half. It was effectively a one-woman monologue by an actress well-known in the German-speaking world, Therese Hämer, describing vividly Salomon’s life and turmoil leading to her betrayal and sad end.

For the second, Julie Sassoon with her quartet, of Lothar Ohlmeier on reeds, Meinrad Kneer (bass) and Rudi Fischerlehner (drums), then evoked through music the depths of Salomon’s spirituality and energy. Very few of the titles were directly linked to Salomon’s painting, but had strong links to the trauma that would have been faced by both her and Sassoon’s mother’s family. Rippling, ostinato, and almost minimalist, piano lines allowed the other instruments to build out their parts. All seemed very aware of the range and opportunity of their instruments. The quartet has been playing together regularly for over five years and this is very clear from their interplay. Sassoon provides an implicit leadership to this tight group. Momentum was not required from simple bass lines or rhythmic drumming. An extended drum solo by Fischerlehner (on ‘Waltz with Me’) seemed to grow out naturally from the music. Ohlmeier was able to have a great dialogue with Kneer on Expectations.

Julie Sassoon’s music has lost nothing of its capacity to lead the listener mesmerizingly on an emotional journey.

Voyages is released on jazzwerkstatt.

Julie Sassoon and Lothar Ohlmeier’s duo Inside Colours can be heard on a broadcast from 15.04.2022 on Bayern Klassik – LINK.

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