Since 2000, Chamber Music America has put its imprint on jazz by supporting projects by (among others) Dave Douglas, Ben Allison, Don Byron and Ryan Cohan. But while Cohan's multi-hued plea for peace One Sky (Justin Time, 2008) operates on a macro scale, saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom's Mental Weather is much more intimate, though no less creative. Bloom has benefited from CMA's largesse before, so they must think she's a good investment. Given the stunning beauty Bloom has created, CMA's hunch looks like a good one.
Bloom and Dawn Clement set the date's creative direction with "A More Beautiful Question," a marvelously introspective piece that has Bloom and Clement spinning a web of haunting sound while Mark Helias effortlessly embroiders around them. The space in Bloom's soaring-yet-spare solo seems to be the key, as her effects-tinged soprano sax embodies the protagonist's inner debate: Stay in the "safety" of the solitude the protagonist has created, or go out into the world, touch and be touched and risk being hurt. Bloom and Clement musically hash out the positives and negatives, with Clement's expressive piano offering both steel-strong support and outstanding counterpoint.
If "Question" sets up the protagonist's conundrum, "Ready for Anything" sets the scene, taking the listener into an urban setting that is easily visualized; Clement's airy piano figure evokes a towering skyline framed by a clear, sunny sky as Bloom's protagonist ventures into a day that pulses with increasing energy. Helias' groove adds speed to that urgency, while Matt Wilson introduces faraway chaos with cymbals-based percussion that clangs, rings and hisses. Wilson does his best work in the background on Weather, though his muscular drum solo on the frenetic title track is a definite attention-getter.
The sights of the city really fuels Bloom's writing: "Luminous Bridges" calls up nighttime images of steel spans shimmering in a cool spring drizzle, while "Multiple Choice" and "Electrochemistry" simulates the whirlwind speed with which the elements of the city come at you, embrace you and then fly on by towards parts unknown. Bloom wraps metaphor around the protagonist's search for connection in the four-part suite "What to Wear." Hereparticularly on the third movement "The Reasons for Returns"relationships can be equated with clothes: an outfit is returned because it doesn't fit, or clashes with something someone is used to. Either way, it's a rejection, no matter how beautiful the music may be.
Bloom and Clement's chemistry is magical, especially when they fly formation on Bloom's initial melodies; Clement's Fender also accentuates Helias' outstanding foundation on "Multiple Choice." At the end, though, we are left with Bloom's forlorn, in-the-clear take on Rodgers & Hammerstein's "This Nearly Was Mine." The protagonist gambled and lost in the end. Even so, hope still lives in the midst of the loss. A sub-reference to Johnny Mathis' "Wonderful, Wonderful" says the loss hurts, but the moment was so worth itwhich means it's worth trying again tomorrow. Mental Weather is sunny, stormy, very real, and a real achievement.
Personnel: Jane Ira Bloom: soprano saxophone, live electronics; Dawn Clement: piano, Fender Rhodes; Mark Helias: bass;
Matt Wilson: drums, percussion.