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One wonders what took Claire Arenius so long to record a CD such as When Worlds Touch You that is, one on which she is the leader. When Worlds Touch You reveals that Arenius is a sensitive drummer whose rhythmic assuredness and understated colorings embellish her trio's sound with crispness and unfolding sonic possibilities. More importantly, Arenius is an unconventional composer whose subtlely belies the complexity of her tunes. For example, "Oh, Really" seems to be a straightforward, relaxed and syncopated breeze through familiar changes, but oh, no it's not. Cleverly, Arenius clips off the final measure for a loping entry into the next chorus.
For the past 25 years, Arenius has been a presence in the New York and New England jazz scenes. Her influence has been strongly felt in Vermont, where she performed for Attila Zoller's nascent Vermont Jazz Center at its first lightly attended concert in a small Brattleboro club. Closely associated with Melba Liston when Liston was still able to tour, Arenius continued to work with leaders like Slide Hampton, Mose Allison and Archie Shepp. In addition, she backed up Sheila Jordan at Medellin's Millennium Jazz Festival in Colombia, as did the other two musicians on When Worlds Touch You. In fact, pianist Eugene Uman is one of the key presences, not only on the album, but also on the Vermont jazz scene, where he assumed leadership of the Vermont Jazz Center. His wife, who was born in Colombia, eased the group's transition into that country's society throughout the tourwhich, by the way, the Colombians greeted with great enthusiasm.
The comfort of the musicians in Arenius' trio is evident. Even as they negotiate slippery metrical changes or unexpected accents, they remain unified and supportive. "(Blues For) The Wizard" begins with bassist Thomson Kneeland's evocative solo enlivened by Uman's bells. Eventually, he breaks into the rhythmic theme of the piece, making clear the implications of his deconstructing solo, as Uman stresses the bass-led theme and Arenius shimmers and crackles. "When Worlds Touch You" open impressionistically with freely expressed and seemingly disconnected work before the tune settles down into a slow block-chorded ballad in a minor key. Like all of Arenius' tunes, though, the listener has to pay attention because one is never quite sure where the composition will lead nor where it will end.
"Samba du Noir" is anything but a conventional samba. Rather, it's an animation of a spirit as it's released through the energizing effect of music. As Arenius drums a Latin-tinged statement toward the end of the tune, it becomes clear that the piece consists of one long cresdendo that ends with dramatic impact.
"Cried For" is quite different in mood; it's actually a dirge constructed upon the outlines of the melody that Kneeland presents at the beginning of the piece. After real vocal lamentations by the group, the mournful waltz expresses the composer's sorrow for, no doubt, an accumulation of events on personal and abstract levels.
This self-produced CD makes available, possibly on a national and international level, the outstanding jazz being created in a state that, quoting Zoller, "had no jazz when I arrived." Now, Vermont certainly possesses its share of jazz worth seeking out, as When Worlds Touch You proves.
Track Listing: (Blues For) The Wizard, Oh Really, When Worlds Touch You, The Dream Is Almost Over, Samba du Noir, Cried For, C.E.T.
Jazz is a continuing revelation. The best show I ever attended was the
Roots Picnic at Penn's Landing in Philadelphia, or was it Robert
Glasper's Experiment at Lincoln Center, or was it Chick Corea with
Brian Blade at Oberlin College? Most of all I enjoy playing guitar and
composing beats with my Brooklyn-based group Space Captain.