Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Lena Bloch & Feathery, Rose of Lifta


As I write this article the winter has begun to bluster where I am. And that first blustering reminds you to keep safe, if nothing else has in the past few years. And then listening to some good music reassures how good things help you through less good things. That transcends all seasons. Today the good something comes in the form of a new album by tenor saxophonist Lena Bloch, who I have appreciated over the years, reviewed on these pages (type her name in the index box above), and now comes at us with Lena Bloch & Feathery in an album entitled Rose of Lfta (Fresh Sound Records FSR-CD 5115).

A poetic phrase on the back cover by Iman Annab puts us in mind of a thematic view: "Against all odds the rose will continue to climb." And perhaps that's a kind of parable for all of us? That life now perhaps as ever but maybe never so much as now--that life requires us to continue against all odds? I suspect so.

The music comes to us in the form of a ready-to-hand quartet of Lena on tenor. Russ Lossing on piano, Cameron Brown on bass and Billy Mintz on drums. The band and compositions by Lena and Russ call to mind in some ways the old Jarrett Quartet with Redman, Haden and Motian, in its lyrical and dramatic sprawl, except perhaps a bit more of a Mideastern flavor in the minor tinge of it at key points. And too each player and the group as a whole remains beyond that Jarrett precursor, remains steadfastly original in good ways.

It is music played with a loose freedom that nonetheless is grounded in each composition and retains the general form of the song/changes/tonality. The improvisations are seamless with the compositional parts so it all flows together--and it that way is a group showcase more so than a sort of solo centered approach. Bloch and Lossing acquit themselves nicely in the ad lib aspects nonetheless and the rhythm team swings with a looseness that is modern and appealing.

The mix of cogent composition and ear opening expressive looseness and improvisation is very appealing and substantial. It is a happy album to hear repeatedly and reminds us that Lena has artistry in reserve. Bravo! Recommended highly if you are in a Modern Avant Jazz mindset.

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Sara Schoenbeck, Sara Schoenbeck, Free Improvisational Encounters for Bassoon


Karen Borca in her recordings with Jimmy Lyons and others first impressed me as a world class avant improvisational Jazz bassoonist. I still appreciate her pioneering style. Today there is someone happily new for me, another Free Jazz bassoonist with her own fleet and concentric power, one Sara Schoenbeck. Her self-titled album (Pyroclastic PR16) is recently out and I must say I am impressed.

She is a bassoonist with a robust, full throated tone, with excellent sound color control, limber delivery and inventive line weaving abilities. And with this ambitious album of chamber avant improv she shows herself to be an ideal improv partner who listens and adds just the right interaction to push the music forward, which is saying a great deal. And what an impressive and exciting roster of improv mates.

We are talking about drummer Harris Eisenstadt, flutist Nicole Mitchell, guitarist Nels Cline, saxophonist  Roscoe Mitchell, pianist  Matt Mitchell, bassist Mark Dresser, the keyboards and electronics of Wayne Horovitz, cellist Peggy Lee, and pianist vocalist Robin Holcomb.

I will not try to describe each of the nine duo interactions except to say they are vibrant, happily varied, contrasting and superlative. You come away with a real appreciation for Schoenbeck's artistry, imagination and happy collaborations without fail.

You might not at first blush think this a game changing album. But no, put it on a few times. It is excellent in all ways, whether you are a bassoon aficionado or just a music lover in search of new and good things. Sara makes me want to hear more, lots more. Hurrah!