Nothing can prepare the ear and the heart for the voice of Roxy Coss, if heard for the first time. The raw beauty of her principal instrument, the tenor saxophone, is expressed in moist, hot gushes of breath. The cascades of notes that dapple her soli weave in and out of her exuberant melodies. She has a darting intellect that arms her playing to the teeth. As a result, she is able to find the right notes, then, as if to tantalize the ear delightfully, turning their sequence inside out, or beginning in the middle of a phrase, then continuing as if it were a logical beginning, leading to a surprising conclusion. Most notably of all, and quite rare among young musicians today, she has an acute sense of history and her place in it. In this regard she is somewhat like another seldom recognized saxophonist, JD Allen
, who is virtually alone in conjuring up the spirits of the long line of jazz and blues masters that went before him.
On her eponymously titled debut, Coss hits her stride from the first notes she sounds, with great bursts of air that follow the svelte trumpet of her compatriot, Kate Miller
, on "Wandering One." As this aching melody unravels, so, too, does Coss' voice, with seemingly perfect pitch, when it comes to "singing" in hushed tones and burnished textures through an instrument that recalls the great moments of tenor saxophonists such as Ben Webster
, Joe Henderson
, and, sometimes, even Pharoah Sanders
. Coss' voice is, of course, quite her own. She is expressive, has extraordinary intonation and modulation, and it appears that no parts of the tenor saxophone registers may escape her sense of adventure. Not enough praise can also be reserved for the manner in which she dances to the interior and exterior rhythms of her compositions.
Coss also has a great sense of balladry, her own "Lately" and "Enlightenment" absolutely magnificent examples. Her undulating, loping lines in slow tempo are as sensuous as any singing and dancing that has ever been expressively done on the tenor. And she never overstates her case, playing just as many solo bars as is appropriate to communicate deep feelings; always aided by contrapuntal lines, played by another musicianusually the equally burnished horn of Miller, pianist Justin Kauflin
even, on occasion, guitarist Ryan Brennan.
It would be remiss not to mention the fluttering beauty of Coss' flute playing; her stellar turns on "A New Time" also indicate that she has a competent feel for Cuban son montuno
. This is yet another surprise on the album, and is suggestive of how flexible and adventurous Coss is likely to be in the future. Coss' single song expressed on the soprano saxophone is also quite memorable, and she does not shy away from pushing the high pitches of that horn to their limits. With this album there is every indication that Roxy Coss' time has arrived.
Personnel: Roxy Coss: tenor and soprano saxophones, flute; Kate Miller: trumpet, flugelhorn; Ryan Brennan: guitar; Justin Kauflin: piano, Fender Rhodes; Kellen Harrison bass; Shawn Baltazor: drums, percussion.