Saxophonist Claire Daly has always been a true original and, as it turns out, part of that is in her DNA. Mary Joyce Project: Nothing To Lose is a musical/genealogical journey through the life of Daly's father's first cousin, Mary Joyce, who lived her life the way she wanted to, rather than succumbing to societal expectations for women during the '30s and beyond. As the press materials note, "She satisfied a restless and courageous spirit with a wide range of adventurous exploitsHollywood actress, nurse, stewardess, bush pilot, and bar owner. She was the first non-native Alaskan to dogsled the 1000 mile run between Juneau and Fairbanks (in 1936), the first ham radio operator in the Alaskan Territories, and the only woman to run supplies for the Allies by dogsled in World War II."
Daly and pianist Steve Hudson put together a diverse program of originals in an effort to pay tribute to Joyce and all that she accomplished, and like Joyce herself, the music often defies expectations. Numbers like "Shine," with Daly's vocals coasting over steady bass and placid piano, and "Guidance," with vocal chants nodding to the Tlinkit Indians that guided Joyce on her long sled journey, fit the Alaskan image to a T, but the rest of the music is as free-spirited and far-reaching as Joyce herself. Daly gets funky on flute ("Determined"), moves to alto saxophone when she enters ballad country ("Lonely Wilderness"), mixes light Brazilian flavors into the program on "Complicated Love," and even bookends the hymn-like core of "Epilogue" with spoken word recitations about Joyce. While Daly delivers the goods, regardless of the horn in her hands, she is primarily known for her baritone saxophone work, and her playing on "Gotta Go" and the wonderfully churchy "Tippin'" demonstrates why.
While Daly and Hudson are primarily responsible for the vision of this album, all five musicians on this date are responsible for turning a concept into full-fledged aural artwork. Drummer Peter Grant has an unassuming way of providing the perfect part, whether sedate or lively, and bassist Mary Ann McSweeney is the heartbeat of this band. Trying to integrate beat boxing into this music is no easy feat, but Napolean Maddox makes it work more often than not. While Maddox's work can be over the top (""Who's Crazy?") or cheesy ("Homage To Freedom") on occasion, that's the exception, not the rule. He shows great skill and imagination throughout the album, as he successfully weaves his beat boxing into the aural tapestry of the music ("Gotta Go").
While Daly set out to honor Joyce and her accomplishments with this record, she went even further. Mary Joyce Project: Nothing To Lose is a tribute to the very idea of charting one's own path through life, regardless of conventions or expectations.