Dating back at least to Barbara Thompson from the late sixties onwards, London has boasted a steady stream of fine female improvising saxophonists over the years. Whether from the UK or further afield, names such as Chefa Alonso, Dee Byrne, Julie Kjaer, Caroline Kraabel, Ingrid Laubrock, Sue Lynch, Rachel Musson and Cath Roberts give a sense of the breadth and depth of the talent that has called the capital home, with all those named having played in numerous ensembles including the London Improvisers Orchestra. In recent years, Rachel Musson has been an increasingly prominent presence in London, often being the sole female player in groups with such luminaries as Alex Ward, Dominic Lash, John Edwards, Olie Brice and Steve Beresford.
The trio of Musson on tenor sax, Pat Thomas on piano and Mark Sanders on drums — known collectively as Shifa, the Arabic word for 'healing' — dates back to early 2018; the three were already familiar with one another, Musson having previously played regularly with Sanders in a trio with bassist Edwards, and with Thomas in the group Black Top, while Sanders and Thomas had recorded in a trio with bassist Lash. Shifa — Live in Oslo is the trio's second album release, following Shifa — Live at Café Oto which was recorded in June 2018 and released on Brooklyn's 577 Records in July 2019. Recorded in August 2019 at Blow Out, Oslo, the music on Shifa — Live in Oslo comprises one thirty-four-minute track which plays continuously and, judging by the prolonged applause at its end, is probably the trio's set at the festival.
Throughout, all three members play nearly all the time, with the boundaries between soloing and accompanying being blurred. It is obvious they are all constantly listening to their bandmates and reacting to them, activities which seem to be second nature for them. As with any grouping in which he plays, Sanders is not there as a timekeeper but underpins the playing of the other two with his varied punctuation and coloration; without him, the music would be far sparser and not as listenable. As an improvising saxophonist, Musson has the ability to occupy the spotlight for prolonged periods without seeming to do so. She is adept at varying her breathing to subtly change the emotions conveyed by her playing, being particularly good at communicating melancholy and sentiment in ways that make affecting listening. Thomas' reactions to her show that he picks up on such nuances of her playing; the two bring out the best of each other and work well together. In fact, the three players fit like the pieces of a jigsaw. Happy listening.
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