Nicolas Masson - Travelers

Label: ECM, 2018

Personnel - Nicolas Masson: tenor and soprano saxophone; Collin Vallon: piano; Patrice Moret: double bass; Lionel Friedli: drums.


Swiss reedman Nicolas Masson teams up with three associates who have accompanied him for more than a decade under the name of Nicolas Masson’s Parallels. They are Collin Vallon on piano, Patrice Moret on double bass, and Lionel Friedli on drums. Comprehending quiescent and slumbering soundscapes, the album Travelers was released on the ECM Records, label whose catalog includes a couple of works by the Third Reel, a modern creative trio co-led by the saxophonist.

The CD’s opener, “Gagarine” is a monochromatic exercise that doesn’t take us to the moon but displays a dangly rhythmic flow that oozes energy uninterruptedly.

Painted lightly with chiaroscuro, “Fuchsia” incorporates some nostalgia and a wide sense of loneliness that sometimes is turned into anguish, in its melodic and harmonic canvas. This reflective mood persists in other tunes like “Almost Forty”, which falls into an attractive final vamp over which the bandleader improvises, also in “Travelers”, whose crystalline complexion is reinforced by the interpolation of entrancing melodies, and “Wood”, which still feels contemplative despite the tenuous tension infused by relentless piano notes, cadenced bass lines, and weeping sax phrases.

The initial moments of “Philae” promise a change in direction as the group’s dynamic is slightly intensified. One can enjoy an addictive bass groove with occasional exclamative licks, and the all-embracing percussive initiatives by Friedli, which gain further dimension on “The Deep” with the exertion of multiple metal clangs, gongs, and forceful tom-tom activity. This particular piece, paradoxically reflective and vastly percussive, called my attention through the well-oiled collective mechanisms that incorporate sensitive piano arpeggios and bright clarinet moves conveying a sensation of immensity.

The real strength of the recording resides in the musicians’ convergence, reciprocity, and team spirit. They denote a clear understanding of one another’s moves.

More reserved than effusive, Masson’s music dawns slowly, subverting unnecessary stunts while describing through lightly smoky soundscapes the magical realism of a hermetic, personal world. Regardless if their storytelling is deep or shallow, the quartet engages in the commitment of wringing every emotion from a song.

        Grade  B

        Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
03 - Almost Forty ► 04 - The Deep ► 06 - Philae