On one level, the Russian-born, New York-based tenor saxophonist Lena Bloch's debut album is like stepping into a time machine; on the other hand, one could argue that her approach to music in general and jazz in particular is timeless. Foremost among Bloch's influences are Lee Konitz, Warne Marsh and Lennie Tristano, and the mood on Feathery clearly reflects those associations. In fact, the word "feathery" could serve as an apt description of Bloch's style, which is for the most part silken and even-tempered but no less earnest because of it.
Comparisons to Marsh and Konitz are unavoidable, even though Konitz plays alto sax and Bloch the tenor, as did Marsh, in part because Bloch approaches improvisation from a similarly oblique angle, using space as an ally and making the most of every note. On tunes like "Star Eyes" (here renamed for some undefined reason "Starry-Eyed"), Bloch's high-register tenor comes close to emulating Konitz' gossamer alto, even though Roberta Piket says in her well-reasoned liner notes that Bloch "reharmonized" the Don Raye / Gene DePaul standard as a tribute to Marsh.
Warne's influence is more readily apparent on the following number, "Marshmallow," or on "Featherbed" (based on the standard "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To"), each of which motors breezily along much as the Marsh / Konitz collaborations once did, lending contemporary jazz a fresh and thought-provoking perspective. The album opens and closes with Bloch's salute to Konitz, "Hi-Lee," the first of her three compositions. Guitarist Dave Miller wrote "Rubato," bassist Cameron Brown "Baby Suite," drummer Billy Mintz "Beautiful You," Ted Brown "Featherbed." Most themes are lucent and plain-spoken, with only the shady "Rubato" veering from that path, and then only briefly.
Speaking of Miller, Brown and Mintz, it should go without saying that music such as this demands a rhythm section that can do much more than merely keep time, and Bloch has chosen her partners with that in mind. It's clear from the outset that they share with her a firm understanding of and appreciation for the music, which enables them not only to follow Bloch's lead without pause but to solo impressively whenever called upon to do so. Those who are familiar with the music of Konitz, Marsh and Tristano should have a pretty good idea of what to expect on Feathery. For those who aren't, it is enough to affirm that this is high-level jazz emblematic of the "cool school" once championed by that groundbreaking trio of free-thinking pioneers.
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