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Melissa Aldana: Visions

Friedrich Kunzmann By

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Compositional and instrumental virtuosity always walks along a razor's edge between self-indulgence and purposeful accomplishment. On Visions, sought after saxophonist Melissa Aldana proves that she doesn't only master balancing this edge but that she can also go beyond the complexities of structure, scales and improvisation and naturally create her very own musical aesthetic. In interplay with an all-star cast of equally dynamic sidemen—Sam Harris on keys, Pablo Menares on bass, as well as drummer Tommy Crane and Joel Ross adding some melodic embellishments on vibraphone—Aldana lives up to great expectations and then some.

As opposed to what might be expected from her, due to her being of Chilean descent and the album being largely inspired by the work of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, the compositions here don't burst of Latin American influence, neither in their rhythmic nor melodic nature, but only subtly incorporate some of those elements. However, the opening title track is everything but subtle, and immediately confronts the listener with the hard-bopping talents at hand. A harmonically as well as rhythmically intricate head is introduced by sax and vibes in unison while piano and drums restlessly stack patterns to lively bass stabs.

Here and throughout the album, Harris' piano accompaniment as well as solo improvisation show just how far his harmonic understanding reaches and how deeply into the tradition of his idols—most prominently Thelonious Monk—he is able to dig. The slight dissonances that derive from his harmonic framing are rebelliously undermined by Tommy Crane's ferocious drumming.

Even on the quieter takes, such as ballads "Abre Tus Ojos" or "Never Let Me Go," the sole standard on this set, the band plays with an urgency that is contagious. Harris' chromatic harmonic side stepping on the latter tune emulates a smirk that is as sassy as they come, reminiscent of his contemporary Sullivan Fortner in style and temperament.

Speed and quantity of notes are characteristics Aldana couldn't care less about. Her playing is subtle and elegant and of a highly melodic nature while the saxophone's tone is contrastingly dry in the mix, thereby not the center of attention but part of the whole, like any color in camouflage. Contrary to camouflage however, the colorful palette on display here is everything other than inconspicuous. It has the flashy traits of fauvism mixed with the neon of Warhol and a graceful finish like fine brush strokes on canvas.

Melissa Aldana's Visions proves itself a highlight of this year.

Track Listing: Visions; Acceptance; La Madrina; Perdón; Abre Tus Ojos; Elsewhere; Dos Casas Un Puente; Never Let Me Go; The Search; Su Tragedia; El Castillo de Velenje; Camino al Sol.

Personnel: Melissa Aldana: saxophone; Sam Harris: piano; Joel Ross: vibraphone; Pablo Menares: bass; Tommy Crane: drums.

Title: Visions | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Motéma Music

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