Jessica Lurie Ensemble:Shop of Wild Dreams


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By: Dennis Cook

Artists that offer one tremendous satisfaction and surprise throughout their career are rare. The temptation to embrace a profitable rut is strong, especially in these downturn days. So, with a quiet smile glued to my face, I can report Jessica Lurie is such a rarity, a composer and instrumentalist of gliding power and true invention. Case in point, Shop of Wild Dreams (released in January on Zipa!Music), which begins with the post-bop electricity of the early '70s Atlantic Records jazz stable and then proceeds to morph through feeling soaked moods dappled with banjo, brass, gutsy singing, elemental soundscapes and emotionally potent observations.

Wild Dreams is some remove from her hard, angular honking in the The Tiptons Sax Quartet or some of Lurie's more outside festival jamming. For one thing, Lurie has matured into a really interesting, ear-snagging vocalist, buttery but capable of chilled, melted or slightly browned flavorings. “I don't care/ Just set your heart down anywhere," she growls on the aptly titled “I Don't Care If I Don't Care," which evokes primo Nancy Wilson given jittery, Monk-ish piano jump by Erik Deutsch and even more jittery electric guitar squall from Brandon Seabrook. In fact, the entire Ensemble - rounded out by Todd Sickafoose (acoustic bass), Allison Miller (drums) and Lurie's own thick arsenal of alto & tenor sax, flute, accordion and baritone ukulele - is bloody marvelous. Percussionist Elizabeth Pupo-Walker guests on two cuts, and baritone saxophonistTina Richerson appears on one cut. There's seriously great interplay, and the wide scope of their textures and interests sprinkles interesting bits all over this set. The totality of their playing, in service of continually strong Lurie compositions, makes for a deeply enjoyable listening experience that embodies both the lushness and the strangeness of great jazz-influenced music.

On Shop of Wild Dreams, Lurie and her collaborators exhibit a sophisticated, dare I say, mature approach that readily invites one in and then rewards them richly once they're in the room. Terrific lyrics, full-bodied production (courtesy of Lurie & Sickafoose), tasty arrangements and bang-up performances throughout, there's just so much to recommend this quietly turning jewel.

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