Jane Ira Bloom (soprano saxophone); Mark Helias (bass); Bobby Previte (drums)
Recorded July 16 & 17, 2015
This is another remarkable set from soprano maestro, Jane Ira Bloom, and even a departure for the saxophonist herself being her first trio album, and thus abandoning (temporarily at least) the quartet format in which she has made her home in recent years.
Stepping away from having a chordal instrument as a harmonic crutch is often a leap of faith for many musicians, but as a specialist in the treacherously pitched soprano saxophone, you are not only confronting your own skills and intuition as an improviser but also, as the only lead voice and main soloist having to dispel the preconceptions of others as to the wisdom of such a move.
If any of the above entered Bloom’s thought processes when contemplating this recording, then she certainly does not let it show. Her playing is as flawless as one has come to expect and once again she has produced music of great individuality and originality that could belong to no one else. With the somewhat small and limited legacy of fellow soprano specialist, she is beholden to no one and fearless in the way she exerts her own authority and personality upon this difficult instrument.
She does this in a number of different ways, not least in the choice of musical companions to follow her on this journey in bassist Mark Helias with whom she has worked regularly since the 1970’s and the innovative drummer, Bobby Previte who has also graced a number of the saxophonist’s recording over the last sixteen years or so. The other big plus in this set is the material itself. Listening to this music one gets the impression that a lot of thought and careful preparation has gone into the compositions, presumably written especially with the trio in mind. In fact the only common denominator with recent albums is the inclusion of a solo reading of a standard, in this case Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s ‘Somewhere’ that concludes the set. Elsewhere we are presented with eleven original compositions, ten for the trio and another solo piece in a beautiful homage to the late Kenny Wheeler, ‘Nearly’.
Of the trio pieces, what is impressive is the way they explore a range of musical territories that retains the identity of the trio as opposed to just being a disparate series of compositions with nothing to hold them together. Throughout her long career, Bloom has retained and refined her own distinctive voice on the soprano, but this now takes on a different perspective within the paired down line up. She is not afraid to colour or dirty her tone, and can bend the fish horn to her own will producing the most gorgeous declamatory and song like lines on ‘Song Patrol’ and ‘Hips & Sticks’ to the melancholy yearning of ‘Mind Gray River’, and the tautly articulated ‘Dangerous Times’. She conjures up images of the East on ‘Rhyme Or Rhythm’ and lets fly on ‘Cornets of Paradise’ and the hard driving ‘Gateway To Progress’ with her ideas coming thick and fast of the propulsive thrust fro Helias and Previte.
If the soprano is the unruly child of the saxophone family, then it should be nigh on impossible to tame the straight horn is such a convincing manner, and it is truly remarkable that Jane Ira Bloom has over the course of sixteen albums as leader maintained such a high level of creativity, and with this latest release truly confounded all expectations.
So refreshing is Early Americans is that can perhaps be viewed as new journey for the saxophonist that will lead to further creative highs in what is already remarkable and consistent discography.