Many musicians have chosen their Blue Note moment to reveal themselves as the artist they are or intend to be. So it is not surprising that a young, gifted artist such as Grammy nominee Melissa Aldana, riding a sure, ascendant arc both creatively and professionally, goes big on her Blue Note debut.
From the start, 12 Stars is the exact antithesis of the parlance of isolation. It is a confab of equals. Though in her notes the saxophonist remarks that "Falling" is an active reflection of her life going to pieces, as the virus spread and she and her husband separated, the mood of the piece and its fervent interpretation by producer, co-writer & guitarist Lage Lund, ever enthused pianist Sullivan Fortner, drummer Kush Abadeywhose Jack DeJohnette reflexive impressionism gives 12 Stars its enduring, quiet power and longtime consigliere bassist Pablo Menares prove the piece to be just the opposite. From Menares' firm assertions that set the piece into motion, "Falling" is a conference of integrity over adversity and serves as a most fitting prelude to all that follows.
Aldana is an emotionally arresting player who balances vulnerability and victory; her horn at once looses whispery confessions and purposeful statements of strength and resolve. An open conversation where all have equal pull and sway, "The Bluest Eye" (named after a novel by Toni Morrison) exhibits an understated undertow which evolves more by feel than by any given chart, holding the quintet steady for them each to tell their story (as well as that of Morrison's antagonist) of witnessing, with open heart and mind, the interior light which overcome all darkness. "Emilia" is a dream story told by Aldana through diaphanous clouds of Lund's echoey guitar clusters and Fortner's clouds of Rhodes; a lullaby for a dream child.
Much like her bold, declarative "Frida" from Artemis (Blue Note, 2020), "Intuition" finds Aldana centerstage, finding all she needs within herself and lighting the fuse on a series of wide ranging, confident lyrical statements. Thoughtful of her conversant circle of peers, the forum is open, making jaunty, full-bodied tracks like "The Fool" and "Los Ojos de Chile" a friendly, familial parlay. Closing on the gravity-defying title composition, Fortner's emphatic touch on the Rhodes provides Aldana's sincere, reflective tone a nest from which to fly into new regions she and we will experience as her vision comes into fuller focus. Let the top discs of 2022 begin here.
Falling; Intuition; Intro to Emilia; Emilia; The Bluest Eye; The Fool; Los Ojos de Chile; 12 Stars.
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