San Francisco-based trumpeter/vocalist Sarah Wilson is gifted with idiosyncratic and fresh composing skills that are so rare in jazz musicians who have gone through the formal avenues of jazz education. Her career began when she composed and played music for the Bread and Puppet Theater troupe; continued by studying with esteemed trumpeters John McNeil
and Laurie Frink; absorbed the complex musical languages of Henry Threadgill
and Steve Coleman
; and gained experience in New York's flourishing Downtown scene. After her mother died, she began to write songs and sing.
This long and winding road brings together all the disparate elements of her career to this, her second album. It is an arresting set of beautiful compositions and songs that sound cerebral, made of far-flung resources, but at the same time sounding very melodic and organic, with a strong emotional appeal. Wilson swings naturally between genres and styles, blurring any stylistic boundaries with confidence and charm. Trapeze Project
reflects her return to the California, as she enlists an all-star quintet.
The album moves between changing moods and colors. It begins with a joyful, swinging "Blessing," dedicated to the musicians who played at legendary Blackhawk jazz club. The following slow and sad "She Stands in a Room," inspired by a glass sculpture by Nicolas Africano, features the quintet's tight interplay. The energetic "At Zebulon" features pianist Myra Melford
, setting the driving pulse, while Wilson and clarinetist Ben Goldberg
improvise above it. Her gentle, fragile singing on "Melancholy for Place" is reminiscent of Robin Holcomb
, as both reference old-time, Americana songs.
The lyrical "Himalayas" is dedicated to drummer Kenny Wollesen
's avant-brass band, for which Wilson composed music, and is structured around Jerome Harris
's pensive bass line. Drummer Scott Amendola
leads "In Resonance Light Take Place," based on a Pablo Neruda poem, and as this composition gains momentum, all members of the quintet add layers to the imaginative pulse. Wilson's restrained reading of Joy Division's Ian Curtis composition "Love Will Tear Us Apart," is a spare arrangement of this classic song, radiating a profound and humble understanding of complex relationships.
The fiery "Underneath the Soil" returns to a more optimistic course, but the most beautiful composition is the dramatic "Fall has Arrived," based on a Persian folk song, that begins with Goldberg's masterful solo, with all the players slowly joining and carefully adding their touches to this arresting melody. Wilson concludes this beautiful album with another gentle song, "From the River," and a heartfelt, modern marching blues, "To New Orleans," that captures her feelings after leaving New York, and the grave impacts of Katrina on her brother, a resident of New Orleans.