Saxophonist/composer Roxy Coss
migrated east ten years ago from her native Seattle, seeking a life and career in jazz in New York City. That time has seen her develop a strong and focused voice both as a musician and as an advocate and activist for female artists in America's quintessential art form.
Coss gained international recognition touring with trumpeter Jeremy Pelt
, shedding light on her past two releases, Restless Idealism
(Origin,2016), and Chasing the Unicorn
(Posi- Tone, 2017). On her new release The Future is Female
(Posi- Tone, 2018), Coss uses her activism to inspire 10 compositions, performed with her touring quintet that includes front line partner, guitarist Alex Wintz
Coss was raised in perhaps the most liberal and socially aware city in America, by parents who are both noted artists. Her upbringing in Seattle, and her family environment gave her a keen sense of social responsibility, a dedication to artful expressionism, and a vision to ultimately blend the two. "I had a musical family background, an artistic background, amazing programs, and a feminist family, " recalls Coss. The Future is Female
arrives in concert with the #MeToo movement that is changing the social dynamic in America in terms of gender equity and justice. While the social narrative is compelling, and extremely important, it must be stated that musically, Coss has found a very unique and personal sound steeped in the tradition of the post bop masters that have preceded her, such as Joe Henderson
and Charlie Rouse
. This record is a progression forward for her in purely musical terms as well as sociological significance.
After suffering the disillusionment of the 2016 presidential election, Coss participated in the National Women's March in January of 2017. "After the presidential election, I felt hopeless and confused, but I came together with millions of women around the globe to reclaim our voices. I carried a protest sign to the march that read, 'The Future Is Female,' "says Coss.
Inspired by the movement, Coss penned ten compositions that outline the current state of feminism through the lens of her personal experience. The tunes clearly display her mastery of the genre interpreted on both tenor and soprano saxophones, as well as bass clarinet. The album is essentially straight ahead, hard swinging, with a melodic sense that evokes emotIons that express the unique blending of post bop sensitivity, and a social narrative that for decades has been hidden below the surface of progressive social movement.
"One thing that stands out for me after meeting all these other women is we all have had a very similar experience. Almost everyone I have talked to has been sexually abused, harassed, or assaulted from male jazz mentors at some point. A lot of us have multiple instances of that. It can be anything from extremely overt, like rape, to just very subtle ways of manipulating power over you," states Coss emphatically. The Future is Female
in support of modern feminism in 2017 carries the same importance to its cause as Max Roach
's We Insist!
(Candid,1960) did for the civil rights movement of the 1960's. The broad musical difference of course, is Roach's historic effort contained a lyrical narrative expressed brilliantly by vocalist Abbey Lincoln
. Coss expresses solidarity by instrumental means, inspiring social change in a soulful, uncompromising way.
The opener, "Nevertheless She Persisted," draws its title from words uttered by Senator Mitch McConnell during the process to silence Senator Elizabeth Warren from raising objection to the confirmation of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General. Coss' decision to make this record with her established band, as opposed to utilizing an all female lineup comes to light here with guitarist Wintz providing a dynamic counterpoint to Coss' rich, deep tenor sound. The band also includes bassist Rick Rosato
, pianist Miki Yamanaka
, and drummer Jimmy Macbride
. The quintet has developed a chemistry which clearly assists the expression of the musical narrative penned by Coss. "We discussed whether it should be an all-female band, and I was like, 'Well, I've been building my band for so long. I really want to use my band.' I was questioning those sorts of decisions," says Coss, reflecting on the many variables involved in creating this project.
Persistence is indeed a quality a woman jazz musician must possess, a reality that is also touched upon with the tune, "She Needed a Hero." The piece carries an almost dark somber tone, with sparks of light provided by pianist Yamanaka acting as fleeting rays of hope and positivity. A sense of tension can be felt, a spirit drowning in solitude seeking absolution. It speaks to a time when Coss was close to quitting, of letting go of her dream, until spending time with veteran trumpeter Ingrid Jensen
. It was the mentorship provided by Jensen that reassured and encouraged Coss to continue forward. She became that hero she so definitively needed.
"I was thinking I was going to quit. I had a lot of challenging things happening. I just thought, 'Why don't I just take a lesson with Ingrid?' She's a woman that's actually doing what I want to do. She was amazing," remarks Coss. She continues, "We had a great lesson, and she just explained to me that if I just keep playing, she promises everything will be fine. Just keep the instrument in my mouth at all times." Coss creates a mood of revival with a lilting, hovering soprano solo, pushed by the polyrhythmic nuances of drummer MacBride. That mood is accelerated energetically by guitarist Wintz, who contributes a powerful, thick toned solo.
"Mr. President" begins in full in march mode, spinning forward into an all out, hard bop edged tenor solo from Coss that depicts her full bodied tonality, and intuitive, probing sensibility. The emotional aspect of the piece expresses the frustration and disappointment of the modern feminist movement with the election of the current president.
"When 45 was elected, I shared a deep sense of mourning with many people around the world. What do we do when we realize what has been there all along: a society built on misogyny, racism, bigotry, xenophobia, fear, hate, greed, and lies? If we elected this person to be our leader, what does that say about us? This tune reveals my vision of the presidency: an over-the-top facade of happiness and progress, vacillating between despair and hilarity, ultimately giving way to destruction and collapse."
"Ode to a Generation" is a call to action for Coss' milennial peers to create a better future by separating themselves from the past. Lucas Pino guests on bass clarinet, creating a triad of counterpoint and harmony with Coss and Wintz on this beautifully conceived melody. The tune never returns to the original melody, as Pino and Coss build upon each other's statements, creating different moods and directions much like life through generations. It illustrates how an established norm can evolve into something more compassionate and just over time through creativity and interaction.
"#MeToo" begins as a meandering bass clarinet intro, like a calm pool, building to a Wintz guitar solo that acts like a large stone cast into the calm waters of the indecent social status quo, creating a rippling effect, a movement spreading in all directions at an accelerated pace.
Coss is the founder of WIJO, Women In Jazz Organization, which was formed last summer with the aim of empowerment, solidarity and advocacy. The organization sheds light on a growing awareness within the jazz community on the subjects of sexism and gender equality. The aim of WIJO is reflected throughout the music on The Future is Female
. It is a message of solidarity, inclusiveness in the jazz community, and modern society as a whole. It is a narrative shared by both men and women. The ten compositions present unity as strength and awareness of the positive impact on the music that inclusiveness provides.
The statement the album makes is positive. While there is acknowledgement of the struggle, the essential premise is strength and solidarity. It is a vision of hope. Courage and creativity combine to create a force for positive change within the person, and musician Coss has become. On The Future is Female
, both the musician and activist take a leap of faith. It is undoubtedly a leap forward, unafraid of the consequences, providing hope for positive change within the jazz community, and abroad.