Soprano saxophonist finds that three is the perfect number.
Jane Ira Bloom – Early Americans [TrackList follows] Outline OTL142, 52:18 [5/13/16] ****:
(Jane Ira Bloom – soprano saxophone, co-producer; Mark Helias – bass; Bobby Previte – drums)
Soprano saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom does something new on her latest album, the 52-minute Early Americans. On her 16th release as a leader, she strips the proceedings down to a trio format. The result is a dozen Bloom originals (and one Broadway standard) which crackle with sustained fortitude, snap with swing and groove, and pop out from the speakers or headphones with auditory aplomb. Bloom is joined by two longtime musical friends: bassist Mark Helias (who first collaborated with Bloom in the mid-70s) and drummer Bobby Previte (who has worked with Bloom for 15 years). It’s not hard to imagine the simpatico synergy which filters through each tune, and listening confirms Bloom, Previte and Helias’ uncanny communication.
There are many standouts. The CD opens with two memorable pieces. “Song Patrol” introduces a magnificent melodic theme via Bloom’s sincere soprano, while Helias and Previte contribute freely-moving rhythms. This is modern jazz but doesn’t stray into free or avant-garde territory. There’s a lithe bass/drum duet near the two-minute mark which accentuates the contemporary feel. The 4:21 “Dangerous Times” has a sonorous characteristic, highlighted by Helias’ sawing arco bass lines and plucked notes, Bloom’s earthy sax (yes, soprano can be soulful) and Previte’s distinct percussive measures, including shakers, deft use of snare and cymbals, and a staggered tempo. Two upbeat tracks bring out the trio’s possibilities for energy. “Rhyme or Rhythm” opts for a fast rhythmic quotient. The rhythm section stays gated together on a hearty groove while Bloom hangs above, favoring lower notes and keeping things slightly off-balance with occasional spirals of horn (as if she suddenly circles away the microphone, which may not be far from the truth). The personality portrayal, “Big Bill,” has a strong enthusiasm and includes Bloom’s dazzlingly inspired improvisational phrases. And the rhythm team nurtures a commanding cadence which is reviving and revolving.
Bloom and her trio offset the momentum-enriched moments with spare melancholy throughout Early Americans. One track in particular marries both sensibilities. The 5:23 “Singing the Triangle” begins with a soprano and bass duet, where triangle indeed is used. But then the pace shifts higher, and the threesome snags the reins and flies outward. Bloom showcases her expressiveness and touch for adventure on her soloing, while Previte and Bloom take the melody into some unique but always swinging rhythmic sequences. There are two pieces which lie on the quiet side. Solemnity is discernable on the sober “Other Eyes,” an indigo-hued sax/bass duet which is the audio equivalent of slow, steady rain coursing down a cracked window pane. There’s also a gentle liquidity to “Mind Gray River,” which has a meaningful thoughtfulness. Bloom’s soprano seems to reach heavenwards (she effortlessly hits some high notes), while Previte and Helias sustain a soil-bound rhythm foundation which almost appears to be in contrast with what Bloom does on her sax.
Bloom goes it alone on the shortest cut, the 1:52 “Nearly,” a tribute to the late great trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, who passed away in 2014. This is a beautiful and poetic piece which memorializes with the seclusion and succinctness of Emily Dickinson’s verse. The only other solo Bloom excursion is a lingering, careful adaptation of Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s “Somewhere,” from West Side Story. The tune is well-known for its sense of hope amid the conflict of loss and love, and Bloom catches that spirit during this lamenting but not maudlin interpretation. While the packaging for Early Americans is sparse (no liner notes; a few appropriately sepia-shaded photos; and credits), the fecund production is worthy of mention. Recording engineer, co-producer and mixer Jim Anderson creates a splendid stereo sound. There’s a sonic richness and closeness to the material, a shared aesthetic between performer and production. With any luck, Bloom can return her trio to the studio and enlist the assistance of Anderson.
TrackList: Song Patrol; Dangerous Times; Nearly (for Kenny Wheeler); Hips & Sticks; Singing the Triangle; Other Eyes; Rhyme or Rhythm; Mind Gray River; Cornets of Paradise; Say More; Gateway to Progress; Big Bill; Somewhere.