Never Ending

Release Date: 2020-11-28
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Album Review

Nicolas Masson has built a solid reputation as a fine saxophonist and composer over the course of eight albums with different groups. Three of these were recorded for ECM Records, a pair of albums from the collective trio, Third Wheel, and Travelers, a quartet recording under his own name. If each of the ECM albums show how Masson's music is evolving overtime, none demonstrate this quite so succinctly as this latest release, Never Ending.

Spending two days in the studio Masson stripped everything back. A solo recording with some sketches, original compositions and a three Paul Motian pieces thrown in for good measure, the saxophonist set out to explore his sound, methodology and inner self all expressed through his chosen instruments.

The resulting music is very intimate. It is often very quiet, patient, and almost subdued. The effect that this generates is not of a musician tentatively peeking out from the chosen material, but someone taking a good hard look at themeselves and their music.

'Fast Forward' which features Masson on tenor saxophone unashamedly brings out the saxophonist's interest in improvised music, yet also gives indication of his innate sense and love of melody that is such a dominant feature of this set. Listen, for example, to the delightful 'Song For Titch'; a wonderful melody that is patiently developed with not a note wasted. The jaunty theme of 'Wood' that closes side one is at odds with the pure melody of the former, but is exploratory in nature and carefully examined and executed.

Side Two opens with 'White', a more expansive piece for tenor saxophone that develops organically with a delicate and lyrical tone from the larger horn. Following a similar path, 'Granit' finds Masson playing clarinet in another patiently developed piece that revels in the contrasting sounds produced in the instruments upper and lower registers, and becomes so absorbing that it is over too soon. Returning to tenor for the title track, once again the emphasis is on the melodic development and how each note relates to the next. Masson does this with a command of the instrument that allows very subtle variations in sound and tonal inflexions enhance the music and also hint at other avenues that may be taken.

Of the Paul Motian compositions, Masson thoroughly explores 'Cabala' with effective use of the upper register of his soprano. '5 Miles To Wrentham' is also played on soprano, and the emphasis is again on the melodic and thematic development, and the album closes with a beautiful, but all too brief, reading of 'Last Call'.

And that perhaps sums up this lovely album. An intimate exploration of sound, timbre and melodic development that comes from deep within Masson's inner self. If in recording Never Ending was a quiet and reflective journey of discovery for the saxophonist, we should be glad that he has been willing to share this journey with us.
- Nick Lea