Review: Dana Jessen – Carve

CarveBassoonist Dana Jessen is losing herself, finding herself, losing herself. The four longest pieces on Carve are the works of guest composers, all of which generate strange new realities for Jessen to inhabit. They are wastelands drenched in a precipitation of glitches, deathly sunsets over panoramic countryside, field recordings that shift suddenly through zones of geography and time. I hear the bassoon trying to comprehend its transient surroundings, using improvisation as an echolocative tool by bouncing melodic flourishes against trees and sky and urban traffic, or trialling different emotional modes to find a hue that fits her landscape. At points, she is confronted with refracted extracts of her own performance played back at her; skewed snippets of breath and reed vibration, reshaped into shudders of noise or whirls of squeak and resonance. Between each of these guest works are short bouts of acoustic improvisation, and I hear these pieces as vigorous reassertions of self – mindful rediscoveries of body and impulse, re-engaging Jessen with her own desires and rinsing the foreign emotions away. Once cleansed, she’s ready to embrace another elsewhere.

The composers all utilise Jessen as a means of atmospheric agitation rather than as a complimentary proponent of their vision. On Kyle Bruckmann’s “Cadenza & Degradations”, the instrument is attacked by swarms of high-pitched electronics, left whimpering and cowering in panic, before being subdivided and twisted into huffing, screaming ensembles of overdubbed self. On “Points Against Fields, tombeau de Bernard Parmegiani”, Jessen uses curt low blasts to disperse an oncoming blizzard of noise and digital processing, straining and wheezing in the cold, dodging the waves of debris. She alternates between careful, methodical utterances – long high tones that quiver and sing, extended into the noise like fingers testing the texture of her surroundings – and blasts of overcharged impulse, allowing herself to be guided by both deliberative logic and her primal sense of direction. I’m transfixed by the elegance with which she sways between these modes of mind, unravelling foresight and concentration into passages of profound grace, before swiping all rationality away to stumble forward, brazen and vulnerable, with her eyes completely shut.