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Jan Leder: Passage to Freedom

AAJ Staff By

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There’s art and there’s commerce. The musician needs gigs, to hone her craft, and reputation, to get more gigs. And the fastest way to build a reputation is through a recording – which is hard to make without a reputation. As one musician put it, “It’s as if no matter how well you play, you really don’t exist until you’ve recorded.” Such is the case with Jan Leder. A student of Lennie Tristano, author of the reference book Women In Jazz: A Discography of Instrumentalists (1985), she had worked as a musician nearly twenty years before this album, her first as a leader. And, shortly after its release, the record label went out of business, before the disc had gotten a single review! That’s commerce.

The disc opens nicely with “Passage to Freedom”. We get a chewy bass line from Yosuke Inoue, the drums tap a Latin pattern, and then, amidst the moodiness – a flute. And not a chirping bird flute; Jan emphasizes the lower notes of her instrument, resulting in a dark sound well suited to this somber track. Pianist Jon Davis responds with two-hand unison playing, and crashing chords reminiscent of McCoy Tyner. Art Lillard’s drumming sets a mood too: his part is all pounding tom-toms and clicking cymbals. It all sets the table for that rare creature: a flute that doesn’t sound happy. An intriguing beginning which makes you go further. That’s art.

Jan’s sound is brighter on “Shiny Stockings”, and the depression fades away. Hers is an unusual flute sound, with little of the metallic ring which marks a lot of flute playing. Her notes seem fuller, and somehow rounder, like the notes from a wooden flute. Her solo is mid-tempo, again avoiding the cliché of trills. There’s also a cute reference to “Kelly Blue”, a ‘Fifties number with prominent flute. Yosuke Inoue has a deep woody bass sound, and has a nice solo. (Sadly, some of this is lost in the piano’s comping, which is a bit loud.)

Davis opens “When Sunny Gets Blue” with a slow meditative intro, hinting Bill Evans in a few places. Then Jan steps in with the theme, played with a pleasing vibrato. It’s neat to hear her vary her moods and her approach to the instrument; often flutists neglect this. Davis then gets a beautiful solo, the first section using a three-note pattern, varied and repeated at breakneck speed. His solo changes style four times, and recalls at least as many pianists. The audience appreciates his effort. Jan comes back with a pure sound free of vibrato. She takes the theme home, and the applause goes on.

With Charlie Parker’s “Ornithology” we get a swinger, and Jan plays the happy bird, sounding a little like Herbie Mann. Davis gets slightly dissonant in a cascade of notes (I think I can hear the “Giant Steps” chords in there.) A deep solo from Lillard on tom-toms, and Jan flies away with the theme.

The album’s homestretch is interesting. A pretty version of “Bluesette” melts into “All Blues”; the theme of the latter is hinted throughout but only stated at the end. The tempo change between the two tunes is artfully masked by a drum solo; Jan handles the Miles tune with the deep tone we heard earlier. “El A Carioca” brings in guest artist Mark McCarron on guitar, and he pushes this samba along as Jan gently plays, a little vibrato getting in. McCarron’s solo is clean and liquid, getting some nice chording into play. Inoue gets a nice solo, but this is McCarron’s track. We end with “Yardbird Suite”, another Charlie Parker composition; like “Ornithology”, Jan is bright and sunny on this. Davis’ solo is juicy and full of chords. When Jan trades fours with Davis, her slow gracious swing contrasts nicely with Davis’ aggressive surge. The theme ties it up, and a strong album ends with a sweet finish.

The group shows a lot of interplay, and the leader shows us a very full bag of tricks, confident that her first album will not be her last. The distributor is sold out; all I can suggest is to search your local store. If you can’t find it, remember the name Jan Leder – I suspect you will hear it again.


Title: Passage to Freedom | Year Released: 1999 | Record Label: Monad Records

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