Despite the groans of many contemporary jazz listeners, I happen to believe that we’re living in a particularly exciting period for jazz. There is a truly mind-boggling array of talent out there, both known and unknown, and it’s a great joy to listen to it grow and expand. The early 21st century might well go down in history as the most fertile jazz era since the fifties.
If I were to voice one complaint about jazz these days, it would be this: there still aren’t enough female instrumentalists recording. With a few notable exceptions – Mary Lou Williams and Marian McPartland being two of the most notable – instrumental jazz has been a men’s only club for more than a century. What’s the deal? There’s no reason women can’t play jazz. A great many women do, in fact, although only a few gain real notoriety. Why should this be? I can’t provide any easy answer, except that label executives seem congenitally unable to notice female musicians unless they are (a) pretty and (b) singers. This helps explain the great success of the Norahs and Dianas of this world. So here’s a memo to Bruce Lundvall and anybody else who’s looking for “the next big thing” in jazz: Take a listen to Hush by Seattle-based pianist Dawn Clement.
Here’s an exceptional pianist who seems to have everything going for her: chops, a highly personalized style, youth, talent, professionalism, and a seemingly boundless genius for playing the right note at the right time. If Dawn Clement were a man, I’m sure Jazz Times would be proclaiming her the next Keith Jarrett or Chick Corea right now. As it is, very few people seem to know her name. More’s the pity.
Hush finds the talented Ms. Clement in the sympathetic company of fellow Northwesterners Geoff Cooke on bass, Jose Martinez on drums, and Hans Teuber on saxophones, clarinet, and flute. She plays with these musicians in various combinations, showing herself to be completely at ease in even the most challenging surroundings (as on the dynamic “Tension Tamer”). Having written almost half of the tunes on the album, Clement also proves herself to be a composer to be reckoned with. As an interpreter of other people’s material, she is equally impressive. Her version of Billy Strayhorn’s “The Star-Crossed Lovers” is lovely, and the album’s closer – a version of the grossly under-recorded Tom Waits’ tune, “Midnight Lullaby” – is charming in its childlike simplicity.
I’m sure Dawn Clement isn’t interested in being anybody’s cause, but when I see a musician of this caliber go virtually unnoticed, it makes me see red. (And then you see black, right on your computer screen.) This isn’t a terrific debut recording from a female artist; this is a terrific debut recording, full stop.
Listen, and listen well: you don’t need a Y chromosome to play jazz.
Personnel: Dawn Clement, piano; Jose Martinez, drums; Geoff Cooke, bass; Hans Teuber, saxophone, clarinet,