Angelika Niescier Dwells in Possibility


Saxophonist and bandleader Angelika Niescier has issued three consecutive discs on Intakt. The latest is New York Trio.

(Photo: Arne Reimer)

Improvisers craft their expression around the question, “What does the music need right now?” And saxophonist-composer Angelika Niescier creates opportunities to explore the answers.

Niescier, who’s based in Cologne, Germany, issued her past two recordings on Swiss imprint Intakt, and with her latest effort, New York Trio, the bandleader varies her composition style from one track to the next, using each as a “vessel” through which her ensemble can react more honestly to the music and the moment.

“I was searching for different ways of organizing the material in order to open up different [pathways] for the improvisations,” she said. “I consider the compositions a draft for research, [having] a structure to allow us to start off somewhere and then elevate [the material].”

Putting together a new project, Niescier first considers sound—what she’s hearing in her mind’s ear. And she describes the new recording’s ensemble—longtime collaborator bassist Christopher Tordini, drummer Gerald Cleaver, trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson—as up for anything.

Tordini and Niescier met in 2011, the morning of their first concert together in Germany. The bassist remembers an immediate connection. “From the first note, it was so easy to make music with Angelika,” he said. “She is a fearless improviser and is always listening and searching.”

From Niescier’s perspective, Tordini is the ideal collaborator for her sound. “He just does the right thing,” she said. “Everything is there—the sound, the punch, but also the ideas and the adventurous thinking.”

Because openness is a force in Niescier’s artistry, her charts dwell in possibility. And while much of her music includes a melodic theme or harmonic outline, Niescier opens New York Trio with “The Surge,” which she describes as purely textural. “It hits, and the free improvisation carries on the main idea from the head,” she said. “The harmonic implications are not outlined in the composition.”

In pushing herself compositionally, Niescier finds she evolves three-dimensionally. And as she begins writing new music, the bandleader reflects on what she calls John Coltrane’s “search for ‘it.’”

“I’m still on it,” she said. “I think I understand it more and more as the throwing of oneself into the music, and really trying to completely be in the moment. That’s the most rewarding—but also the most challenging—thing.” DB

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July 2021
Julian Lage
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