Jane Ira Bloom: Mental Weather (2008)
Jane Ira Bloom is a pixie. An electronicized pixie, to be precise. This is not entirely a musical image, but also a description of her onstage demeanor. Mental Weather's chief quality is one of capering lightness, as the quartet leader's soprano saxophone negotiates the tricky lines set up by the composing half of her brain, navigating around hyperventilating themes that are tightly twinned with the similarly stippling piano and Fender Rhodes of Dawn Clement. The bass and drums of Mark Helias and Matt Wilson are cast in a surprisingly funky role, bringing these airy women down to earth.
This very quartet played a one-nighter at New York's Iridium in late January, 2008, but the turnout was tragically low, imparting a windswept sense of desolation to the normally well-filled club. This is 'cool' music to begin with, so a smattering of ten or fifteen audience members only exacerbated its stark chamber qualities, with few bodies around to soak up the hard edges. Despite these circumstances, Bloom gave a strong performance, with the pieces turning out to be coated with more grit than their sleeker album versions.
On the album, Bloom and Clement often produce a lingering after-ring, whether naturally or through the use of delay effects. Wilson makes effective use of light bell-chimes, gong-bending and soft cymbal strokes, while Helias adopts an extremely tactile feel to his riff-dominated contributions; the title piece features a wonderfully compulsive bass repeat. Bloom stresses that her electronics are 'live', directly affecting her improvisation as each translucent solo unravels. Her applied sounds are never as weeblingly tasteless as those adopted by, for example, Pat Metheny, the extensions and alterations nestling beside the horn's natural timbre, while still transforming its sound into the cry of an alien beast. Her very motion is part of the sound, as she hops from foot to foot, sweeping her horn from microphone to microphone. There's even an image of this blurring action on the album's cover. The sonic effect of this movement is even more pronounced in the live domain. Nevertheless, Bloom's steely precision still has an emotional root. As a bonus, the disc also includes an MP3 file that presents the music as a seamless experience, with a different running order, its aim being to reflect an unfolding concert experience.
Track Listing: A More Beautiful Question; Ready For Anything; Multiple Choice; Mental Weather; Luminous Bridges; Electrochemistry; Cello On The Inside; What To Wear; First Thoughts/This Nearly Was Mine.
Personnel: Jane Ira Bloom: soprano saxophone, live electronics; Dawn Clement: piano, Fender Rhodes; Mark Helias: bass; Matt Wilson: drums, percussion.