Jessica Lurie came to many people's attention through the Billy Tipton Memorial Saxophone Quartet, an energetic group from Seattle named for the circa '50s saxophonist better known for living and passing as a man than for her music. Their first release Saxhouse, (1993, Knitting Factory Records) seemed radical not just for the group's name but for being an all-female horn band, something still rare to see 16 years later.
Lurie and Amy Denio, the two principles of the quartet, have kept the band going (with some changes in membership) fairly steadily, while taking on an impressive variety of projects outside the band. Lurie has pushed herself as an improvising instrumentalist as well as blurring the lines between her jazz and pop interests. And on Shop of Wild Dreams she presents a wide variety of musical ideas while managing to create a seamless hour of listening.
Lurie herself plays saxophones, flute, accordion, ukulele and sings on the album, already suggesting a diversity of intentions. And her quintet moves easily through cinematic jazz, gypsy inflection, vocal songs and the occasional light instrumental. Particularly effective is Brandon Seabrook, whose guitar and banjo can fit quietly into the background only to turn to surprising drive. The rhythm section (Erik Deutsch on piano and keyboards, Todd Sickafoose on bass and Allison Miller on drums) proves to be effective and flexible, but it is Lurie in the foreground most of the time. (Tipton saxophonist Tina Richerson and former Tipton drummer Elizabeth Pupo-Walker also make appearances.)
But despite a strong band, more impressive is the way Lurie as bandleader crafts the whole. Her songs, in other hands, could come off as something between Sarah Brightman and Joni Mitchell jazz, but interspersed across the disc and with her warm voice and intelligent lyrics, they gain a bit more weight.
The group now known simply as "The Tiptons Sax Quartet," however, is a bit of a grittier affair. Interestingly, two of the tunes from Wild Dreams (the title track and "Number Six") appear here as well, allowing an opportunity to see the differing approaches of the two bands. Certainly four saxophones plus drums (the Tiptons have always employed a percussionist) is more rugged than the lush expanses of piano and bass, but the Tiptons trade in texture. They've always been smart arrangers and the energy of Laws of Motion might appeal to more jazz fans.
As a vocalist, Lurie pushes herself harder on the Tipton's version of "Wild Dreams" than she does anywhere on her quintet's group, as if her longtime band mate's presence is pushing her. Denio has a rich career in jazz, song and improv; Asian and European folk musics have been touchstones for her arrangements of traditional Gypsy and Taiwanese songs, as well as a piece by the Italian vocalist Gabriella Schiavone and to the richness of the always-satisfying Tiptons' latest effort.
Tracks and Personnel
Shop of Wild Dreams
Tracks: Number Six; I Don't Care If I Don't Care; The Usual Things; Grey Ocean; Grinch; Shop of Wild Dreams; Pinjur; Circus Rain; Flying Man; Anthem.
Personnel: Jessica Lurie: alto and tenor sax, flute, accordion, baritone ukulele, voice; Eric Deutsch: piano, electric keyboard, Rhodes; Brandon Seabrook: guitar, banjo, tape recorder; Todd Sickafoose: acoustic bass; Allison Miller: drums; Elizabeth Pupo-Walker: percussion; Tina Richerson: baritone sax.
Laws of Motion
Tracks: Fallout; Raisa; Sind; Number Six; Yugo a Go Go; The Shop of WIld Dreams; Jumpstop; Anthem; Laws of Motion; Marjan; Mi Yo Mei.
Personnel: Amy Denio: alto sax, clarinet, voice; Jessica Lurie: alto & tenor sax, voice; Sue Orfield: tenor sax, voice; Tina Richerson: baritone sax, voice; Chris Stromquist: drums and percussion.