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In the distinctly male world of jazz and improvised music, it is particularly good to hear music that sparkles with femaleness. The fact that a woman composes and plays that music is icing on the cake. Suddenly, everything seems to fit together. The gender. The sound. The dynamic.
And nothing could identify this femaleness more than Jane Ira Bloom's Mental Weather. She has placed herself adroitly in a band that has yet another woman, Dawn Clement, at the piano and a top-shelf rhythm section of Mark Helias on bass and Matt Wilson on drums.
From the recording's unaccompanied first phrase, Bloom's attack on her soprano broadcasts a touch that is tender and state of mind that is alert. It is the alertness which propels her sound. It is the awareness of her alertness that creates the music and makes the title for the recording sensible. For how weather fluctuates, so does the mind.
The piano and the soprano collect the listener's sensibility from the very beginning. Throughout, the piano weaves a chordal network on top of which Bloom can construct the sincerity of her process and establish the range of her progress.
Bloom's extraordinary tunefulness does nothing but vitalize the instruments of the band. She never sacrifices the melody as she explores and reaches for the highest pitches in the register. It is those high pitches which grab the heart. Nor does she take over the musicality that the group is displaying. She lets go of leadership and claims the role of participant. Her hint at melancholy in her solo in the last track ("First Thoughts/This Nearly Was Mine") is worth the entire recording.
Clement's piano acts in close partnership with Bloom's horn and in large part is an upfront player. She is confident and sharp, attuned to the rhythm that penetrates the silence as well as the sound. Her fingering is broad and stays mostly in mid-range to support the upper register in which the horn operates. The piano and soprano synchronize delightfully, or move in ostinato and melody streams that highlight the percussion's attentiveness to the colors and stabilization of tempo.
The delicacy of Wilson's stick and cymbal work manifest his sensitivity to the soprano to maximize the persistence of both to project a constant forwardness. His full drum set solo run in "Mental Weather" cracks open an unexpected coda. Helias's connection to the music is so deeply imbedded into the sound, one might think it isn't there. In the early part of "What To Wear," the bassist takes a solo pizzicato walk that emphasizes the nature of the texture that each instrument had participated in weaving.
Reed and brass player Joe McPhee once mentioned that the tenor sax is said to approximate the male voice. It is logical then that the soprano approximates the female voice. In the case of Mental Weather, the soprano is a voice that comforts, expresses and shines within this thoroughly interlocked quartet.
Track Listing: A More Beautiful Question; Ready for Anything; Multiple Choice; Mental Weather; Luminous Bridges; Electrochemistry; Cello on the Inside; What to Wear: Activewear, Easy Knit, The Reasons for Returns, Clothes That Question; First Thoughts/This Nearly Was Mine.
Personnel: Jane Ira Bloom: soprano saxophone, live electronics; Dawn Clement: piano, Fender Rhodes; Mark Helias: bass; Matt Wilson: drums.
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.