Sarah Wilson: Trapeze Project (2010)
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Few contemporary jazz musicians can have paid their dues in the esoteric environment of a puppet theater, but for Sarah Wilson the Bread and Butter Puppet Theater proved to be an invaluable part of her musical education. Trapeze Project, the trumpeter's second album, is such an engaging and evocative recording that maybe more jazz players should spend their apprenticeships with puppets.
Wilson's playing is considered and thoughtful. It may lack power at times, but this lends her tone a slightly melancholy air which works beautifully with Ben Goldberg's soft and melodic clarinet. "She Stands in a Room" showcases this playing partnership to particularly good effect, the tune's quiet sadness being expressed exquisitely by the two musicians, underpinned by Scott Amendola's oddly sorrowful drum rolls. "At Zebulon" opens with some funky piano courtesy of Myra Melford. Amendola's drumming is again central to the tune's feel, but this time it's more frenetic and angular.
Bassist Jerome Harris' warm and organic sound pervades the album. Harriswho has played both bass and guitar in Sonny Rollins' bandsfavors the electro-acoustic bass guitarunusual for jazzand this helps to give his playing its distinctiveness. But it's his feel for the underlying emotion of the tunes, his ability to heighten these emotions without intruding on them, which is invaluable. His simple but expressive opening lines on "Himalayas" set up the mood of the tune and his upper register playing during his solo readily conjures up images of jagged mountain peaks.
Some of the finest moments on Trapeze Project arise when Wilson sings. Her voice, like her trumpet playing, has a melancholy edge and there is a fragility to it that heightens rather than diminishes its effectiveness. The sound is by no means a standard jazz soundit's much more akin to Americana-style singers such as Laura Veirs or Hem's wonderful Sally Ellyson.
"Love Will Tear Us Apart" is one of the great songs of failed relationshipsa classic song by late-70s post-punk band Joy Division. The lyricist, Ian Curtis, was almost certainly telling of the breakdown of his own marriageonly a few months after Joy Division recorded the song, Curtis committed suicide. The members of the band all perform with admirable restraint and understanding, but Harris' sparse, tight bass and Wilson's voice are key to this version's slow and beautiful sadness.
Wilson's own composition, "From the River," is a more upbeat song. There is still a sadness but the tune is brighter, more celebratory, as Wilson sings with great charm of the calmness and joy she gets, from the river. In a way, this song sums up Trapeze Projectreflective, a little nostalgic, melancholy but optimistic. A small gem of delight.
Track Listing: Blessing; She Stands in a Room; At Zebulon; Melancholy for Place; Himalayas; In Resonance Light Takes Place; Love Will Tear Us Apart; Underneath the Soil; Fall Has Arrived; Possibility; From the River; To New Orleans.
Personnel: Sarah Wilson: trumpet, vocals; Myra Melford: piano; Ben Goldberg: clarinet; Jerome Harris: bass; Scott Amendola: drums.
Record Label: Brass Tonic
Style: Modern Jazz