Nicole Johänntgen


There must be something about the environment where saxophonist Nicole Johänntgen has lived that informs the airiness and sonic arrangement of her playing and compositions. Not only is there space, but there’s also color: pacific blue, coral pink and cloudy white.

Solo opens with “Sternenhimmel,” an extended sonic amalgamation of rich tones and meditative notes that Johänntgen appears to deliver seamlessly, summoning visions of water and whales, and the feel of the salt air on your arms. A guttural, industrial fog-horn sound follows on “Nebelkleid.” Highlighting Johänntgen’s ability to create the illusion of harmony in a solo setting, she moves from the upper to lower register with precise timing that tricks the ear into hearing two notes simultaneously. Although this second tune is even longer, clocking in at about 21 minutes, the array of sounds that the saxophonist coaxes out of her instrument invites the listener to hang in there.

Solo likely won’t satisfy every listener’s desires. But with her first unaccompanied outing Johänntgen steps into a tradition of performers who were intent on exploring the limits of the saxophone.