The Allison Au Quartet, led by the utterly masterful alto saxophonist who has not only given her name to the ensemble but largely shaped its path-breaking direction, keeps reaffirmed its position as one of the finest young ensembles. And with each new recording Miss Au has solidified her own reputation as a composer with a ceaselessly questing sensibility. Her music has a unique spatial sense into which melodies seem to enter as if by magic to occupy imaginary musical architecture made of enchanted designs that takes on a life of its own after the long-standing members of the quartet breathe their way into it. The aptly named Wander Wonder takes the music of the quartet to a whole new level of imagination that is pressed into a gossamer-like aural fabric with the probing virtuosity of each of the musicians.
Miss Au plays her instrument with gilded splendour. Her melodic phrases and long, loping lines arc into gentle parabolas that often break away with gently ululating tremolos that dart and swing as they collide with the often climatic harmonies provided by pianist Todd Pentney, who anticipates the direction in which the music is headed even as he proffers ideas that take shape in darting, swerving lines of his own. Every note sounds fresh and alive and Miss Au’s touch perfectly enunciates the mood of each piece with Mr Pentney seemingly ever so spontaneous and never far behind. Miss Au makes the black dots literally leap off the page and she is also exquisitely complemented by bassist Jon Maharaj and drummer Fabio Ragnelli; all of the musicians are, as ever, completely attuned to her vision and artistry.
This album makes use of more electronics – Mr Pentney adds the ululations of a Prophet Rev2 to his piano excursions – and there is, as a result, a scintillating new dimension that comes in cascades of sound that splash onto the music creating an altogether dreamy acoustic that one has not heard from Miss Au and the quartet in previous recordings. There also seems to be an altogether new urgency to this music while the visual nature of Miss Au’s writing still remains. The music also swings harder, dances more vigourously seeming to transcend altogether the usual restraints of conventional song form, becoming in the musicians’ hands vehicles for Miss Au’s impassioned feelings about musical components such as melody, harmony and rhythm.
The bold, almost defiant character of pieces such as “Looking Up” and “Red Herring” is palpably fiery. These are but examples of the kind of “new” Miss Au that we have come to find in this music. The entire repertoire is born of arresting ideas that continues into what sounds like one extended improvisation from the start of the album to the maddeningly angular rhythms and the play of light and dark shadows in “A Trick of the Moonlight”. Mr Pentney shares compositional duties with Miss Au in “Force Majeure”, another magical piece on this album to absolutely die for…
Track list – 1: The Valley; 2: Future Self; 3: The Rest Is Up To You; 4: Looking Up; 5: Morning ; 6: The Lie That Saves Us All ; 7: Red Herring; 8: Grounds; 9: Force Majeure; 10: A Trick Of The Moonlight
Personnel – Allison Au: alto saxophone; Todd Pentney: piano and Prophet Rev2; Jon Maharaj: contrabass and electric bass; Fabio Ragnelli: drums
Released – 2018
Label – Independent
Runtime – 53:29