Claire Daly Quintet – Mary Joyce Project: Nothing to Lose [9/1/11] – Daly Bread Records, 51:17 ***1/2:
(Claire Daly – baritone & alto saxophone, flute, vocals (track 8), producer; Steve Hudson – piano; Mary Ann McSweeney – bass; Peter Grant – drums; Napoleon Maddox – human beat box)
Some artists look forward and some artists contemplate the past for inspiration. Saxophonist Claire Daly does both on her latest release, Mary Joyce Project: Nothing to Lose. The genesis for Daly’s 11-track, 51-minute record is the rugged individualist Mary Joyce, Daly’s father’s first cousin and a woman who lived in Alaska and had some amazing adventures in The Last Frontier prior to, during and after the second world war, including but not limited to being a nurse, a bush pilot, a saloon owner and a ham radio operator.
The material (three tracks by Daly, four by pianist Steve Hudson and four co-written by Daly and Hudson) was composed as a counterpoint to Joyce’s journal of a three-month, 1,000-mile dogsled trip she took from Juneau to Fairbanks in 1935-36, a grueling journey which few non-natives had done, not to mention any non-Alaskan women. Joyce’s spirit, style and courage permeate the music and provide an undercurrent of exploration, discovery and progression.
Daly blends traditional jazz tones with unusual touches such as the occasional assistance of human beat box Napoleon Maddox, who uses his voice to replicate electronic and rhythmic effects akin to some of Bobby McFerrin’s exploits; Daly’s spoken-word anecdotes; and indigenous Alaskan cadences which gesture through opening number, “Guidance,” which is dedicated to the Tlingit guides (misspelled as Tlinkit in the liner notes) who traveled with Joyce on various legs of her long trek.
Daly’s sax glides softly and surely on the quietly endearing ballad “Lonely Wilderness,” which evokes the isolated Taku Lodge where Joyce resided for a time. The melodic lines echo what it must have been like to stay in the remote wilderness year-round. There is an eager energy on the bop-ish “Kluane,” about a huge Yukon lake which Joyce traversed when it was frozen over, despite the advice of more experienced locals. Bassist Mary Ann McSweeney and Maddox have a particularly intriguing duet during the tune’s latter half, and Daly and Hudson also trade lines back and forth. Maddox and McSweeney also furnish rhythmic variations throughout the percussively-inclined “Who’s Crazy?,” based on what some people thought about Joyce’s planned route to Fairbanks in the dead of winter when temperatures fell to forty below zero.
One of the most joyous cuts is the upbeat “Tippin’,” titled after Joyce’s lead sled dog, Tip. Here – as almost everywhere else on this album – Daly illustrates her command of the baritone sax, an instrument which rarely gets as much attention as alto, tenor and soprano saxes. Daly’s rich timbre and engaging melody helps keep “Tippin’” brisk and jumping, as does Peter Grant’s lively cymbals. Daly concludes with the nudging “Epilogue,” where Daly quotes directly from the last paragraphs of Joyce’s journal and where Daly shares her own thoughts on Joyce’s intrepid determination. The spoken-word sections have a universal spiritualism which transcends any specific time or space and connects listeners with Joyce’s own longings, desires and yearnings.
2. Homage to Freedom
4. Lonely Wilderness
5. Complicated Love
7. Who’s Crazy?
9. Gotta Go
— Doug Simpson
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