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Alexa Tarantino: Clarity

Dan Bilawsky By

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Alexa Tarantino: Clarity
Alto saxophonist Alexa Tarantino is an indefatigable spirit, plain and simple. In the past two years alone she's worked with everybody from trumpeter Wynton Marsalis to vocalist Cecile McLorin Salvant, held down the lead alto chair in The DIVA Jazz Orchestra, co-led the fiery LSAT quintet with baritone saxophonist Lauren Sevian, directed her self-founded Rockport Jazz Workshop, and appeared on more than a half dozen albums, including three collective-minded gatherings on the Posi-Tone imprint and her own debut for the label. Even homebound, in the age of COVID-19, she remains one of the busiest musicians on the scene. In the short span between late March and June of 2020 she launched a themed online concert series with pianist Steven Feifke, a Zoom chat called 'The Well-Rounded Musician" through Jazz at Lincoln Center, the musically-minded Alexa Abroad travel blog, and an online summer camp—also in partnership with Feifke—called A Step Ahead Jazz.

The aforementioned list is just a partial breakdown of what Tarantino's been up to, so to say she's busy and call her a rising star is a gross understatement. But to what does she owe all of that success and demand? Strong musical skills? Absolutely. A positive attitude toward work and personal improvement? Without a doubt. But it's more than that. If you boil it down to one word, it's clarity. There's clear understanding and meaning behind every artistic endeavor she creates and every job she takes on, and that most certainly includes the mantle of leadership. On Winds of Change (Posi-Tone, 2019) Tarantino demonstrated that by serving up a cross-section of material from different stages of her development, and with this follow-up date she changes gears by focusing on the now. Her originals, which account for about half of the playlist, were all penned within the year prior to this album's release, and the program in its entirety speaks to her strengths as a front figure, collaborator, composer, arranger and multi-instrumentalist.

Leading a well-built quartet that includes Feifke, bassist Joe Martin and drummer Rudy Royston, Tarantino toggles between instruments and moods like nobody's business. The album opens on "Through," a modal vehicle for her flute. Presenting with both cool traces and hard edges, it proves to be an alluring entrance to the set. "A Race Against Yourself," Tarantino's nod to her own internal drive and the difficulties inherent in keeping pace, follows. Providing the expected burn and a marked contrast to the opener, it also offers strong statements from the leader, Feifke and a rumbling Royston. Her two additional originals, spaced out across the album, further the picture of a musician who's both a team player and confident leader. "A Unified Front," which sourced the melody line of its first four bars by having each person in a group of friends provide one note apiece, rides an appealingly swinging line, and "Thank You For Your Silence," a groove-morphing vehicle that serves as a statement of self-trust, charms with its surprises.

The remaining material points to a variety of inspirations and ideals. Luis Demetrio's "La Puerta," a mellow and melodious vehicle which came to Tarantino through her work with Arturo O'Farrill's Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra, is capped by a gorgeous alto cadenza. Horace Silver's "Gregory is Here," from In Pursuit of the 27th Man (Blue Note, 1973), finds a light Fender Rhodes glaze supporting a seductive soprano. Feifke's "Karma," with pivoting rhythmic posts guiding (or matching) the melody's direction, and saxophonist Levi Saelua's "Breaking Cycles," drawing from a bright harmonic palette, were both commissioned by Tarantino. And Kurt Weill's "My Ship," a balladic sendoff for the leader's alto flute, floats the album across its finish line.

There's a good chance that Tarantino will have moved on to 10 other ideas or projects by the time these words are published, but that likelihood doesn't lessen the impact surrounding what she's accomplished here. Channeling personal resolve, passion and determination into a single statement, Alexa Tarantino provides a direct look at what clarity is all about.

Track Listing

Through; A Race Against Yourself; La Puerta; A Unified Front; Gregory is Here; Karma; Breaking Cycles; Thank You For Your Silence; My Ship.

Personnel

Alexa Tarantino: saxophone, alto; Steven Feifke: piano; Joe Martin: bass, acoustic; Rudy Royston: drums.

Album information

Title: Clarity | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Posi-Tone Records

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