When it comes to incorporating various ethno-musics – particularly those culled from the African and Middle Eastern diasporas, respectively-then recontexualizing them through the lens of modern jazz and asserting a definitive voice, Edith Lettner has few peers.
The Austrian alto and soprano saxophonist accomplishes the lofty artistic pursuit with graceful ingenuity, as she fronts her longstanding combo, Freemotion. She wields a grainy, vigorous tone on saxophones, and often favors searing melodies that brim with braying and growling dissonance. And while the compositions on Taking Off undoubtedly tilt toward the avant-garde, the music still can swing hard
It’s on Lettner’s “Treibholz/Driftwood,” the disc’s final cut, however, that it seems as if all of the band’s powers coalesce. Recorded live in Vienna during 2016, the episodic composition features Lettner play ing the duduk (an Armenian double-reed instrument) and alto, as the rhythmic pulse continuously morphs while the ensemble crafts alluring melodicism, virtuosic showmanship and surging emotional warmth.
-John Murph – Downbeat Magazine, July 2018
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“[The new album from Freemotion, Edith Lettner’s band] has an appropriate title: Taking Off. And that’s exactly what this quartet does from the first note onward . . . Lettner’s horn always fronting the group though she never imposes her will upon the other players, giving them equal time to solo.
The music is compact and right there. Filled with so many moods and colors. Comping, swinging, juxtaposing ideas, sounds, feelings. Lettner has this unique, trippy inside revelation of sound energies. Bright. Happy yet suddenly filled with dark auras and restraint . . . She has a tight full melodic sound/tone – not crushed yet residing somewhere inside the gravitational pull while hovering just above the atmosphere. Clarity and density. Melody versus the underlying, at times non-linearity of what is the logical, oft times omitted foundation of music.
[with Taking Off] Lettner and company bring disparate genres of Jazz together, providing evidence for the proven and yet to be proven. Here we are steeped in daring yet practical decisions. The artist alone with his or her river to cross and the artist who jumps right in. Lettner and the others are not afraid to take the leap. Listen. Challenge yourself. Absorb. Then take that leap with them”.
steve dalachinsky – Berlin September 2017 – music reviewer, and man-about town in the New York jazz and contemporary music scene.
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“Edith Lettner’s music is worthy of a smoke-filled room lost to another age. The saxophonist has been casting her vision of creative music throughout Europe and during frequent, regular stays in New York City for years, tangling horns with some of the best improvisers on both continents, always proving herself as utterly unique, thoroughly gifted. Lettner’s strange and beautiful alto and soprano saxophones offer a vibrato that speaks to jazz of the 1920s and early 30s over a language strictly post-1960. Herein, Bechet swirls through Trane and Dolphy, doubles back to Yellow Nunez, Johnny Dodds and Pee Wee Russell, and then cries and barks like Ornette, moody, drifting, swinging, funky odd-time signatures, sometimes all in one piece. The effect is haunting. And Lettner’s use of modal works stream from her roots in Austria, ancient Germanic motifs concurrently lamentative and joyous”
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John Pietaro – New York, November, 2017 – writer, journalist, and creator/wordsmith of The Culture Worker
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“Beyond her obvious virtuosity, talent, and technical skills, there is that intangible grail sought by all musicians – that ‘certain something – and Lettner has it, and she has it in spades”.
J. F. O’Niel – Vienna 2017 – freelance journalist & reviewer English language press in Europe
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“However one might try to pigeonhole Edith Lettner’s and her African Jazz Spirit ensemble’s style, there really isn’t one suited category that can be identified. The music of the saxophonist-composer is simply too rich in various different musical influences. What’s happening here is a bridging between jazz and traditional African sounds, a successful and exciting merging of two very different musical forms into one.
As is well known, the saxophonist-composer Edith Lettner pushed back the frontiers of traditional jazz a long time ago. Always putting out feelers toward other ways of playing and new styles, the globetrotter’s . . . music reflects pure joy of life and many musical languages. Optimistic, dynamic and full of infectious energy. While her compositions have an instrumentally very demanding character, they never seem cumbersome . . . or artificially overly intellectual. Edith Lettner and her ensemble African Jazz Spirit seem to move effortlessly between the different musical worlds, create connections and interweave the seemingly incompatible. They let go of all traditional thought and embark on a journey that leads them from the technical sobriety and instrumental perfection of European jazz to the fiery passion of African music to finally lead to an atmospheric and multifarious union. . . [her] music is a wonderfully un-dogmatic exactly because it does not compulsively stick to traditions. What prevails is joy in the freedom to create . . .”
MICA – the Music Information Center Austria, November 2013
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“[at the Sargfabrik (coffin workshop)] In Vienna, Edith Lettner merges musical worlds into one harmonious entity. Under her direction no less than two bands enthralled the international audience . . . You didn’t have to be a prophet to get a sense of the audience’s reaction to . . . Lettner’s performance . . . It was spot-on . . . People were expecting jazz that stirs the soul and that’s exactly what they got.
[in the first set, Lettner’s] saxophone sets the groove, playful, soft, then evocative, confusingly framed by oriental sounds from [Edith’s] band “freemotion”. A weightless melancholy hits the saxophone buttons. Surrounded by bass, drums and duduk, the artist Lettner gives a performance where the silent meets the strident and improvisations become a ladder to emotions.
[During the second set] there is a change of rhythm and a change of bands. [Lettner’s band] African Jazz Spirit beats to another tune: lighter and freer. Senegalese vocals tell of home. One octave higher, [the ensemble’s musicians] throb at another place in the sound cosmos. . . While Lettner is Austrian, her constant exchange with international artists make her a truly cosmopolitan jazz musician. . . [her music] made a lasting impression on the audience”.
Claudia Magler – Bizerk Zeitung Vienna
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” , , , Edith often plays the alto like a tenor. It makes you feel wonderful, like in the company of hospitable Bedouins in the desert, drinking tea and smoking a hookah by a campfire . . . With her soft and somber timbre, Edith Lettner stresses her way of seeing music as an emotional means of expression, bringing another, very moving tone color to the musical tapestry. . . [at other times] Lettner comes in and hell breaks loose . . . [then with] sounds calming and beautiful with . . . precise and straightforward melodies which you won’t soon get out of your head. Minimalistic, impressive and clear as seawater . . . Edith Lettner presents herself worldly-wise calm on the duduk and then almost profoundly sad on the alto-saxophone. . . [hers] is some impressive music, complex, energetic and soothing all at the same time. . . a broad, unique presentation of wonderful, memorable music that is without equal . . . you won’t forget [Lettner’s music] and you could even get hooked”.
Karl Fritsche – Extraplatte
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“Mixing jazz and African music is an irresistible challenge, one deeply rooted in history, but surprisingly tricky to handle. Edith Lettner and African Jazz Spirit have managed a beautifully balanced meetings of genres. . . Lettner’s saxophone converses easily with Sissoko’s kora . . . Senegalese vocals—the timeless voice of the griot. . . Lettner’s own compositions reveal impressive intimacy with West African rhythmic and melodic sensibilities . . .”
Banning Eyre, Senior Editor for afropop.org
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” . . . [Lettner/ Aanderud / Hecht trio] The Mexican-Austrian Tequila mélange works beautifully, from the first sound. They meet on stage, start without much ado and yet they are focused and harmonious right from the first tune. . . long melodious arcs Aanderlud leaves much space for his colleagues which is congenially filled by Lettner on the saxophones (damn good) and drummer Hecht. . . mesmerizing circular motions, beautifully played [and] charged with ever more tension until they eruptively discharge in the finale. . . Here’s hoping it won’t be the last encounter of Lettner, Aanderud & Hecht”.
freiStil – Magazine for Music and Surroundings April/May 2012 (Austrian)
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“. . . saxophonist Edith Lettner (who also play the Armenian duduk) presents herself in an exceedingly clairaudient improvisational union with veteran percussionist Warren Smith . . . Lettner proves to be a sensitive and virtuoso instrumentalist who doesn’t dread leaving her comfort zone while she trenchantly interacts with her partner . . . It’s a treat hearing how Lettner can get persistently wound up in small motifs and particles while she continuously refines them as if she were possessed (in the most positive sense of the word, naturally)”.
bertl Freistil-56 (Austrian contemporary music magazine)
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“. . . saxophonist Edith Lettner has all the technical, musical and creative skills and in addition to that, a very sensitive and clear sound “.
Franz Zamazal, OÖ Nachrichten (Austrian newspaper)