WARRIOR / SIKORA: 1 W. 2 A. 3 R. 4 R. 5 I. 6 O. 7 R / Catherine Sikora, s-sax / self-produced album, available at bandcamp
Saxist Catherine Sikora, whose album with Eric Mingus I praised in a previous review, has intrepidly recorded and produced a second collection of her own compositions. This one is dedicated to “the many women who give me hope in today’s world, on days when I sometimes can’t see a reason for it.” The album consists of seven pieces, played a cappella by Sikora, with titles simply given to the seven letters in the word “warrior.”
The first piece almost sounds like a lament, using a minor-key theme as the source of her extremely interesting variations. Sikora, though very much a modern player, does not fit into the prefab mold of so many jazz musicians today. She is a deep thinker, one who cares about what she plays and gives great attention to form and structure no matter how bitonal or atonal her playing is. Her improvised playing on this track is simply astounding, using chromatic eighths and triplets to create snake-like shapes that somehow manage to relate to one another. Much of her solo fits within somewhat narrow parameters, perhaps an octave and a half, yet she says so much and makes great sense out of it. Following the busy section she dips into the lower end of her instrument. She has a phenomenal command of her instrument but eschews sheer technique in lieu of expression.
The second piece is edgier, using some purposely raw-sounding notes, and even more convoluted in moving from eighths to sixteenths, yet it follows a similar pattern to the first despite its more “desperate” sound.
The third track is the longest at 11:02 and, if anything, there seems to be even more despair in her opening statement, the sad melody sometimes interrupted by pauses. Here her rapid passages seem less dependent on chromatics, though they are certainly present, but seem to hover in a shadow-land between keys. Frequent but very subtle changes of key keep the listener off-balance and ever attentive to the substance of her creation. Her keen ear for structure remains steadfast, however, thus the trained ear will be able to follow her train of thought as surely as if this were a written piece of music. She uses tempo changes as well as mood shifts to make this longer work more varied and interesting. I was literally stunned by the range of colors and emotions she draws from her instrument on this and the other tracks; she is quite clearly an instrumentalist of such mastery that I think that even the late Eric Dolphy would be amazed by her talent.
Indeed, as the album continues one becomes less concerned about what track she’s on and just focuses in on the Zen-like concentration of her playing. Dividing the album into seven sections may just have been an easy device for her to segment her work; there is such an incredible wholeness to the full album that I, for one, would never think of “excerpting” it, but just listen again and again to the whole thing. It has that much interest and structural integrity. By the fourth piece, one realizes that she is improvising on her prior improvisations, thus expanding what she has previously stated exponentially.
And—as a woman, dare I say it?—there is incredible sensuality in her playing, but not the sexual energy of a woman “coming on” to a man, as I hear far too often in the soft-voiced, touchy-feely lounge lizard singers of today. It is more the energy of a woman proud to be a woman, proud that she can play just as potently and yet far differently than a man. Yes, there are moments of pure sensuality here—listen particularly to band five—that no male jazz musician could possibly reproduce, but it seems more an expression of universal love for womankind and possibly her own personal expression of what it means to be a woman and not a man. This may be beyond many of my readers to understand without trying to read something sexual into it, but I think other women, reading this review, will completely get what I’m talking about. For us, love and sex are not always the same thing, and Sikora’s music is deeply imbued with love. In the seventh and last piece, her playing seems to have found its calm center at last; having purged her anger and frustration earlier on and moved through sensuality, she is at peace with herself. I was particularly struck by the upward-rising figures she plays towards the end.
Despite these being a cappella pieces, one could easily visualize an imaginative and sympathetic arranger coming up with equally inventive support for these solos, which would add some richness and depth to them, but I believe that Sikora wanted them to be naked and personal statements whose very starkness is the key to their raison d’être. This is, simply, a phenomenal album, and I urge all those who like it to spend the mere $7 she is asking to download it as a digital album or, better yet, send it as a gift to the female warrior in your life.
—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley
Follow me on Twitter (@artmusiclounge) or Facebook (as Monique Musique)