Soprano saxophonist/composer Jane Ira Bloom
follows up her trio album Early Americans
(Outline Records, 2016) with a concept album for quartet. In fact several of these tunes appeared in more open trio versions on the earlier album: "Dangerous Times," "Singing The Triangle," "Other Eyes," "Mind Gray River," "Cornets Of Paradise," and "Big Bill"so she has evidently been working on this music for some time. Bassist Mark Helias
and drummer Bobby Previte
are joined by longtime collaborator pianist Dawn Clement
for a double CD of music inspired by Emily Dickinson's poetry. The first disc features quartet music inspired by the poetry, while the second disc incorporates actress Deborah Rush's narration (if that name sounds familiar, Rush is a Broadway and film veteran, seen most recently playing Piper's mom on TV on Orange Is the New Black
Bloom says she was inspired to interpret Dickinson musically when she learned that the poet was a pianist and improviser herself, confirming the jazz-like quality she had always felt in Dickinson's phrasing. Nevertheless the first, instrumental disc shows no apparent direct reflection of the poetry, apart from some of the titles. "Emily & Her Atoms" opens the set with a snaking, scalar theme, and the bridge employs a bit of live electronic treatment. "Singing The Triangle" has a strong Americana tinge, and a celebratory tone that becomes clearer with the poetry on the second disc. It's a striking composition that can clearly stand on its own, though.
"Mind Gray River" develops slowly over a majestic bass ostinato pattern. "One Note From One Bird" has a knotty, convoluted theme that contradicts the simplicity implied by the title, but it inspires an especially free saxophone solo, followed by a similar piano solo. "Hymn: You Wish You Had Eyes in Your Pages" may not be exactly hymn-like, but it has a wonderful sing-song vocal quality. The Latin groove of "Big Bill" is another memorable entry. Both discs end with Bloom's solo soliloquy on the Rodgers and Hart standard "It's Easy To Remember."
The poetry disc contains the same fifteen tracks, but in a different order. Along with the addition of narration there are small differences in the editing. Deborah Rush begins with a brief unaccompanied recitation before the group launches into "Wild Lines." After that it's the same performance as on the first disc, but with the addition of a longer coda at the end as Bloom blows her soprano into the piano strings, producing a shimmering, ghostly accompaniment.
"Emily & Her Atoms" features piano accompaniment to the poetry, which morphs into an introduction to the tune. "Singing The Triangle" turns out to be about a circus processing into Amherst via Triangle Street, so the parade atmosphere of the music is a bit of tone-painting. The poem mentions drums, so the reading is accompanied by drums and double bass in a martial style for marching (the instrumental version had a saxophone/double bass introduction in its place). After the playing of "Big Bill" ends, there's a brief recitation, giving Dickinson the last word before "It's Easy To Remember" again closes the set.
This is a splendid suite of music, in either versionDickinson's poetry really does seem to have inspired Bloom's composing to go into new places. Her band has never sounded better, and Deborah Rush was an inspired choice for narrator. Even though both discs contain substantially the same music, it is remarkable how much the narration, sequencing and editing changes the effect. They're like two views of the material, each with its own charms.
Jane Ira Bloom: soprano saxophone; Dawn Clement: piano; Mark Helias: bass; Bobby Previte: drums; Deborah Rush: voice.