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Melissa Aldana: 12 Stars


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Melissa Aldana: 12 Stars
Before we get into tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana's album—which is excellent, so hang on in there—a word about press releases and publicity campaigns. Specifically, those from Blue Note.

The label's headquarters in Los Angeles is in danger of becoming known for award-winning b.s. in this regard, as demonstrated during the campaign for Aldana's label debut. Here is an example: 12 Stars, we are told, "grapples with concepts of childrearing, familial forgiveness, acceptance, and self-love." Given that there is not one spoken word on the entire album, or any clues in the track titles, this is a fatuous statement. Heaven knows what Alfred Lion would have thunk.

On to better things. Aldana fronts a quintet which includes three members of the quartet she has led since 2017: guitarist Lage Lund, who also produced and who co-wrote with Aldana all but the thirty-nine second snippet "Intro To Emilia," bassist Pablo Menares (who wrote "Intro To Emilia") and drummer Kush Abadey. The fifth member is pianist Sullivan Fortner.

Aldana studied with George Garzone at Berklee and, after graduating, moved to New York to study with George Coleman. She names both players as "dear friends" in the album credits but, since debuting with Free Fall (Inner Circle, 2010), she has developed a style which outwardly owes little to either of them. It could be described as "active meditation" in that it comes across as inward looking but is infused with a degree of energy and movement not normally part of meditation practice. It is, perhaps, the cerebral version of another apparent oxymoron, "hot yoga."

Anyway, call it what you will, Aldana has got it down. So, too, her sound, which most often inhabits the middle and upper registers of the tenor, entirely avoiding harmonics and broken or vocalized tones. It is a pure, clean, athletic sound, with just a trace of vibrato on extended notes. Aldana is the key soloist throughout and so beautiful is her playing, and so inventive her ideas, that Lund and Fortner's occasional brief solos almost (almost) seem like a distraction. Fortner swaps the acoustic piano for a Rhodes on two tracks, on which he and Lund, who is credited with "gizmos" as well as guitar, conjure an enjoyably trippy ambiance. 12 Stars merits a solid four stars.

Track Listing

Falling; Intuition; Intro to Emilia; Emilia; The Bluest Eye; The Fool; Los Ojos de Chile; 12 Stars.


Melissa Aldana: saxophone; Lage Lund: guitar; Pablo Menares: bass; Sullivan Fortner: piano; Kush Abadey: drums.

Album information

Title: 12 Stars | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: Blue Note Records

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