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Sophie Min - Open (2019)

Pianist Sophie Min has emerged as a creative force within Brisbane's modest jazz scene. Following collaborations with James Sherlock and Ben Shannon, Min's third release for 2019 is a slab of heartfelt free improvisation named Open. Taken from a single session in Sophie's home, local players Tim Green and Helen Svoboda appear on drums and bass to explore each other's styles across 5 concise tracks. The music might be dense and complex, but for avant-garde jazz it's refreshingly human.

Opening cut GBDF is stunningly intimate: cyclic melodies in Sophie's right hand struggle to maintain form as they're met with swells of lush percussion and stuttering bass. Each element overflows into a delicate push and pull of ideas where no one member ever takes control. Star Explosion starts out similarly serene, its title describing Min's sparse flecks of tonal colour dominating the piece. When melodies do emerge they're ambiguous and staggered, fighting to be heard behind constant shifts in atmosphere.

I've previously praised Sophie's duets for their freedom, something which thankfully isn't lost with her shift to a trio format. Open's added instrumentation feels somewhat liberating, giving all 3 players more space to experiment with ideas and bounce off one and other. Unlike Ben Shannon's rigid polyrhythms in Shamin, Tim's drumming here is far more explorative, centered around sustained cymbals to maintain mood while developing rhythmic subtleties. Helen's angular accompaniment is great too, frequently clashing with Sophie to create turbulent and emotive passages of improvisation.

Peppermint Talk sees their interaction on full display for three intense minutes. A fantastically odd cut, its knotty jams see Min and Svoboda at their most free, tumbling across brushed snare rolls to produce dazzling melodic cascades. It's criminally short yet brimming with ideas.

Helen's bass captivates once more on closing track The Counters as she relentlessly conjures descending bass passages to anchor the entire piece. Sophie and Tim expertly navigate these auditory obstacles to round Open out on a confusing-yet-gratifying final note. There isn't much to distinguish Counters as a closer but it's an enjoyable ending all the same.

So that's Open, Sophie Min's latest collaboration and her most complete statement as an artist thus far. It's a well titled record as all 3 players engage in un-tethered musical conversation across each track, delivering some of the most honest and expressive improv I've heard all year. It's out June 8th on burgeoning Brisbane jazz label Supersonic, standing as the first truly essential release in their growing catalogue. I've been nothing but impressed with Sophie's output at this early stage in her career and honestly can't wait to see where she goes next.


Review published on 4ZZZ's New Releases Show 7/6/19


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