When you think about it, it's not that hard to see the affinity between soprano saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom and Emily Dickinson. Despite their fame coming from two different artistic worlds (although not completely different, as it turns out, as Dickinson was apparently a talented pianist), they do have a good deal in common. Bloom is a fiercely independent artist, sticking with her trademark soprano saxophone for her entire career, just as Dickinson forged her own path as a poet with an inimitable style and unique voice; and of course, both are women who established themselves at the peak of their craft in fields typically dominated by men. Finally, as Bloom suggests in her own thoughts on Dickinson, "I always felt Emily's use of words mirrored the way a jazz musician uses notes." There's a certain improvisational quality to Dickinson's offbeat and unusual poetic expressions, just as Bloom has always brought an unpredictable and chance-taking attitude to her own body of work. Hence the title of Bloom's two-CD project, Wild Lines: Improvising Emily Dickinson
has a double meaning: it refers not only to Bloom's musical interpretations of Dickinson's poetry, but it also honors Dickinson's own jazz- like spirit.
Bloom's band includes veterans she's worked with extensively on previous records, especially drummer Bobby Previte
and bassist Mark Helias
. Pianist Dawn Clement
is a more recent addition, but she's held the piano duties for Bloom on a few records now, and she's a great fit with this group. In fact, this is the second time this quartet has appeared on record since 2010's Wingwalker
, so they're hardly strangers to one another. And it shows, as their undeniable rapport is evident throughout the album, with fourteen original compositions by Bloom (plus Rodgers and Hart's "It's Easy to Remember") putting a premium on concise, focused solo statements and tight interaction among the four musicians, whose unity of purpose and temperament is evident from the first note to the last.
The double-disc format presents the music in two ways. Disc one has the fifteen pieces in slightly abbreviated form, without the spoken-word excerpts of Dickinson's poetry and writings that are included on disc two, with actor Deborah Rush's skilled recitations offering the perfect blend of earnestness, whimsy and occasional sense of ominous fear that characterize Dickinson's idiosyncratic worldview. Most listeners will probably find the first disc their go-to resource for repeated listening, since the music on this album is so exceptionally fine that Rush's presence, valuable as it is, can sometimes become distracting. But this is not to suggest that Rush's contributions are an afterthought or that they don't illuminate the music in their own way. When Rush intones "I lived on Dread; to those who know the stimulus there is in danger, other impetus is numb and vital-less..." over the top of Previte's martial drumbeat at the beginning of "Dangerous Times," there's no question that it adds a dimension of mystery and unease to the music. And her recounting of Dickinson's thoughts on a circus passing through town (in "Singing the Triangle") is the perfect companion to the jaunty rhythm sketched out by Helias and Previte, bringing Dickinson into the music in a playful and memorable fashion.
Rush's terrific contributions notwithstanding, the album simply couldn't succeed without the top-flight musicianship of Bloom and her partners. Bloom's soaring, lyrical soprano saxophone is a case study in how to make musical statements that are both technically stunning and melodically rich; and her bandmates can do it all, with music that is by turns energetic, pensive, and amusing. It's a consummate effort from four (and counting Rush, five) masters at work, and it's yet another gem of a record from Bloom, who seemingly can do no wrong at this stage of her storied career.
Jane Ira Bloom: soprano saxophone; Dawn Clement: piano; Mark Helias: bass; Bobby Previte: drums; Deborah Rush: voice.