Three years on from the ballad standards of Sixteen Sunsets
(Outline, 2013), Jane Ira Bloomone of the few specialist soprano saxophonistsreturns with a lustrous collection of originals. At one extreme, the trio of Bloom, Mark Helias
and Bobby Previte
fairly bristles with collective energy; at the other, it seduces with caressing, impressionistic lyricism. At whatever tempi, however, Bloom's melodic improvisations and the rhythm section's industry and nuance are never less than captivating.
Helias and Previte plied the rhythmic furrows together on Bloom's Wingwalker
(Outline, 2011) and once again their grooving yet elastic sense of time is at the very heart of the music. On "Song Patrol," bouyant ostinato and frisky drum patterns underpin Bloom's dancing lines. On "Dangerous Times," brooding arco and tribal snare-cum-tambourine conjure an Indianas in early Americanswar council; here, Bloom's searching solo, tinged with Celtic-toned embellishments, unfolds with the guile of a master storytellerher carefully weighed statements punctuated by startling exclamations.
Bloom pays very personal homage to the late Kenny Wheeler
on the solo saxophone piece "Nearly," a gently arresting tone poem that seems to convey the man's quiet elegance. Bloom's long-standing recording engineer Jim Anderson also plays his part, snaring hazy edges on Bloom's soprano that echo into the ether. The suggestively titled "Hips and Sticks" follows with seductive melody and infectious rhythms entwined.
The juxtaposition of slower, meditative tunes with cooking trio workouts is a recurring feature; nowhere are the contrasts more markedor more effectivethan in the sequence of the swinging "Singing the Triangle," with Bloom and Helias in expansive form, which gives onto the bluesy melancholy of the saxophone/bass duet "Other Eyes," followed by the wickedly grooving, melodically snaking "Rhyme or Rhythm"the latter which is surely a podium contender for the most infectious tune of the year.
The blues is at the core of Bloom's softly crying lines on the slow-churning "Mind Gray River," while a restless energy imbues the saxophonist's narrative on the slightly enigmatic "Cornets of Paradise," which walks a teasing line between swing and free-jazz chomping. A lack of rhythmic pulse colors "Say More," a spacious melodic meditation. And, like day following night, the fast-walking bass, chittering drums and freely singing soprano of "Gateway to Paradise" once more leads the trio up a wildly divergent path.
Mantra-like bass, skipping drums and Bloom's infectious motif largely define "Big Bill," fleshed out by Helias' lithe solo, and culminating with dramatic finality. The last word goes to Bloom with an unaccompanied, fairly faithful interpretation of Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim's "Somewhere." It makes for a soothing parenthesis, though the overarching appeal of Early Americans
resides in the burning, deeply empathetic trio chemistry. Scintillating and alluring stuff that demands an encore.