Sunday, January 23, 2011

Voices of Melody and Thought

Wingwalker - Jane Ira Bloom (Outline Records) - Ms. Bloom is truly an original, a musician dedicated to one instrument (soprano saxophone) and to creating music that grows organically outward from her compositions and interactions with her fellow musicians.  Known for her striking sonic experiments (involving both acoustic and electronic sound manipulations), she has rarely, if ever, sacrificed melody for artifice.
This is her 14th recording as a leader (and co-leader) since 1978 (hard to believe she's been on the scene this many years) and she's joined by her current working group of Dawn Clement (piano, Fender Rhodes), Mark Helias (bass) and Bobby Previte (drums).  Previte has appeared on all but one of Ms Bloom's last 7 CDs with Helias and Clement on the her 2 most recent releases (counting this one.)  Since the beginning of her career, Ms Bloom has created impressive melodies to record - with the exception of the strikingly beautiful "I Could Have Danced All Night" (played as a solo piece), all these works are originals.  Only two are over 6 minutes with three under 4 minutes yet nothing drags on too long or feels rushed. What you may notice first is the immediacy of the sound; you hear it in the warmth of her soprano, Clement's clean piano tones, Helias' wonderfully melodic bass lines and Previte's creative percussion.  The electronic sounds feel "natural" not afterthoughts, adding depth to the phrases she plays.
Still, it is the music that truly stands out, from the beautiful ballad "Rooftops Speak Dreams" to the funky and witty "Freud's Convertible."  The former piece moves out from the rich and repetitive piano chords while the latter hints both rhythmically and melodically to Thelonious Monk.  The interactions of the musicians help the works come alive. The opening minute of "Rookie" rises on the interplay of soprano and piano, as if breathing together.   "Life on Cloud 8" is a subtle blues riff that rides easily atop the rhythm section with the theme ending on a quick riff. A sudden change in tempo leads to the solo section, the blues is forgotten and a sly Latin riff pushes the solo forward.  Throughout the CD, the songs move in fascinating directions, not going where one might expect and, when returning to the music, the solos seem to stand out more as does the accompaniment. 
It's been nearly 3 decades since Jane Ira Bloom recorded and released "Mighty Lights" on ENJA, a quartet date with Fred Hersch, Charlie Haden and Ed Blackwell. On that Lp, her 3rd, she recorded "Lost In the Stars."  Through her many and varied projects, Ms. Bloom has invited listeners into the stars and beyond, creating music that excites, soothes and always sounds fresh.  For more information, go to

Click here to listen to Jason Crane's fine interview with Ms. Bloom from "The Jazz Session" podcast.

Convergence - Lynne Arriale (Motema Music Corp) -For her previous Motema release "Nuance", Ms. Arriale introduced a new drummer, Anthony Pinciotti, and recruited 2 veteran jazzers, trumpeter Randy Brecker and bassist George Mraz. After a string of trio recordings, it was a treat to hear the fine pianist working with another voice, one who offered a unique approach to the material.  For her new effort, she has added bassist Omer Avital and utilized the fine saxophone work of Bill McHenry on half the tracks. She's also expanded the number of non-original pieces to include compositions by George Harrison, Sting, Nine Inch Nails, Mick Jagger & Keith Richard and Blondie. What she has not altered is her impressive approach to the material and how the other musicians are not sideman but equals in the process.
Bassist Avital is a wonderful addition, replacing long-time associate Jay Anderson (no slouch himself.)  He's an extremely melodic player whose rhythmic sensibilities mesh well with drummer Pinciotti - Avital is also a fine soloist whose solos are always interesting and fit nicely within the flow of the songs. Arriale composed "Dance of the Rain" for Avital's oud, a beautiful piece that combines Middle Eastern rhythms (fine hand drumming from Pinciotti) with a yearning melody.  "Paint It Black" has a Bedouin feel, opening with Avital's handsome solo then moving into a sensuous rhythm before the bass returns to state the theme.  A quiet turn through Sting's "Sister Moon" is filled with sweet bluesy piano lines and big, round, bass tones. The blues permeates the group's version of Trent Reznor's "Something I Can Never Have", with McHenry's piercing tenor saxophone tones riding atop the heavy bass and drums.  The saxophonist seems a bit more introspective on Blondie's "Call Me" - here, it is Arriale who shows her blues "chops."
The high-energy title track features rousing solos from the pianist and saxophonist, both of whom push back against the blazing rhythm section - Pinciotti gets his spotlight, creating percussive fireworks.  The CD closes with "The Simple Things", a hymn-like ballad with McHenry playing the lovely melody in the higher range of the tenor and a lovely, introspective, piano solo.
Lynne Arriale teaches at the University of North Florida and tours whenever she gets the opportunity.  In person, she is generous in the choice of material and allowing space for her bandmates to be a major part of the creative process. Her recordings have always been solid but "Convergence" and "Nuances", her 2 most recent releases, show her at her best.  To find out more, go to

She, too, has been a recent guest on "The Jazz Session" - listen to the fine give-and-take here.

Who Knows Where The Time Goes - Rondi Charleston (Motema Records) - Lynne Arriale makes an appearance on 4 tracks on the new recording by vocalist/composer Charleston, the tunes that she wrote the music for.  This attractive CD covers a lot of musical territory, from Broadway to the blues, Brazil to the Promised Land.  The band is high-quality, from the rhythm section of James Genus (bass) and Clarence Penn (drums) to arranger/guitarist Dave Stryker and pianist Brandon McCune.  
There is much to like in this program, from the fine musicianship to the classy blend of material.  The first 3 tracks range from Sandy Denny's folk-inspired title track (featuring fine acoustic guitar from Stryker and the sympathetic piano fills of McCune) to samba rhythms of Stevie Wonder's "Overjoyed" to the Brazilian bossa nova of Tom Jobim's "Wave." Penn and Genus fuel the fun on Frank Loesser's "I Hear Music", playfully darting around the vocal.  Later on, she and Stryker flirt pleasingly on Percy Mayfield's "Please Send Me Someone To Love."
For this listener, the real strength of the CD can be found on the 4 originals.  Here, Charleston mines her life, her family and her experiences to create music that touches the heart in more profound ways than the "covers." The "love" song that is "Dance of Time" is wondrous, richly melodic (more fine acoustic guitar) while "Song for the Ages" is a lovely duet with Arriale - the lyrics reach back to the Old Testament to find the words and images that celebrate the election of Barack Obama.  "Your Spirit Lingers" speaks through the voice of the lyricist's great grandmother, of the journey to the New World and the hardships endured.  The work of Genus and Penn beneath the vocal is just perfect, framing the voice in a way that does not call attention to their excellent musicality.  A family trip to Jerusalem and a wondrous snow storm (a rarity in that part of the world) is the the backdrop for "Land of Galilee" - here, it's the lovely melody one notices then the vocalist's wistful and wishful look at how the snow brought ancient enemies outdoors to revel in the heavenly cleansing. 
With repeated listenings, Rondi Charleston's music will grow on you. Her voice is facile but occasionally one-dimensional.   However, her choice of material is inspired and the original songs impressive.  To find out more, go to

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