Sara Schoenbeck is a member of a very select club. She is a jazz improviser who plays bassoon. Honestly, I didn’t know there were any improvising bassoon players before this album showed up in my mailbox. I just haven’t been looking in the right places. Schoenbeck has worked with innovative composers and improvisers including Anthony Braxton, Henry Threadgill, Wadada Leo Smith, George Lewis and Yusef Lateef (among others). So she has a world of experience working with some of the most impressive players of our age.
For this self titled album, Sara decided to concentrate on duo performances with many of the people she’s been collaborating with over the years. The duo format is an intimate setting which suits the quiet, woody sound of the bassoon. She tailored each of the pieces to her collaboration partners. She chose compositions by Robin Holcomb, Matt Mitchell and the slow core band, Low. The remaining duets were improvisations or Schoenback compositions.
The record opens with “O’Saris,” a duet with musical and life partner, drummer Harris Eisenstadt. Harris provides understated, sympathetic counterpoint to Sara’s melodic playing. Guitarist, Nels Cline (Wilco) joins Sara on their interpretation of Low’s song, “Lullaby.” It’s fun to hear the interplay between woodwinds on “Sand Dune Trillogy” with Nicole Mitchell and “Chordata” with Art Ensemble of Chicago icon, Roscoe Mitchell. The album ends with the closest thing to a pop song, “Sugar.” That final song features Robin Holcomb on piano and vocals.
I hope Sara provides inspiration to a new generation of players. It doesn’t really matter what instrument you play. What matters is having the imagination to see the possibilities inherent in the instrument. (As someone who was told over and over again as a schoolboy that trombone was not a solo instrument, I wish I’d learned that lesson then).