Jane Ira Bloom: Early Americans
Sono Luminus SLE-70005
Jane Ira Bloom (soprano saxophone)
Mark Helias (bass)
Bobby Previte (drums)
Review by Mark Werlin - December 8, 2016
"Early Americans" is the second Blu-Ray Audio disc released by saxophonist-composer Jane Ira Bloom, and the first to be distributed by the contemporary classical music label Sono Luminus. The album received enthusiastic critical response in its CD edition on Bloom's Outline label, and now appears in the original recording resolution of 96/24 in stereo and MCH on this Blu-Ray disc.
More newly-recorded jazz music titles (recordings made within the past 5-10 years, as opposed to reissues of 1950s and 1960s classics) are becoming available as hi-res downloads, but hardly any are being released as Blu-Ray audio discs. Bottlenecks in duplication and the collapse of several international music distributors made the endeavor, launched only a few years ago, prohibitively expensive and risky. The willingness of Sono Luminus to issue "Early Americans" as a hi-res disc should be commended. The musical performances and the sound quality more than justify the investment on artistic grounds.
The head melody of the album's opening tune "Song Patrol", with its echoes of Dave Holland's "Four Winds" from the classic ECM session "Conference of the Birds", sets the tone for the whole set: a three-way conversation among musical equals.
Jane Ira Bloom has been characterized as a post-Coltrane saxophonist, but her stylistic orientation is both uniquely personal and clearly situated in modernist jazz tradition. She has a distinctive, post-bop harmonic sensibility and good musical taste that rises above mere technique. Her relatively small recorded output (16 albums as a leader from 1978 to present) testifies to the close attention she pays to the quality of her work. She's not in it for the money, and it shows.
Bloom's embrace of the troublesome soprano saxophone, which so many other players relegate to the second horn in their bag, is unconditional. She can produce timbres of classical purity and harsh noise with equal skill. In the brief unaccompanied solo feature "Nearly", dedicated to her friend, the late and much-lamented trumpetist Kenny Wheeler, she makes a persuasive case for the soprano as the most poignantly expressive of the saxophone family.
"Hips & Sticks", based on a repetitive North African-style bass line, shifts rhythmic attention to drummer Bobby Previte's energetic rolls and fills. Previte, whose sprawling discography documents decades of work in the avant-garde "downtown" New York jazz scene of the 1980s and 90s, has been Jane Ira Bloom's first-choice drummer on her albums since 1995's "The Nearness". Tempered by age and experience, Previte's drumming is never overemphatic, and his percussion palette is well-supplied with tone colors. His mallet work on floor toms lends earthiness to the bluesy "Mind Gray River" and underscores the spare abstraction of "Say More".
"Singing the Triangle" spotlights bassist Mark Helias in solos and a duet with drummer Previte. Helias, like Bloom, is a graduate of Yale University's school of music, and an accomplished composer in his own right. He's a virtuoso but disinclined to extravagant displays of technique. With his superb tone and perfect intonation, he invites favorable comparison to elder statesmen like Gary Peacock and Eddie Gomez. Helias can also be heard in high resolution on two Songlines SACDs: Benoît Delbecq Unit: Phonetics and Quinsin Nachoff: Magic Numbers.
The album concludes with an unaccompanied performance of Leonard Bernstein's "Somewhere" from the musical "West Side Story". Bloom "sings" the vocal line through her horn with a simplicity reminiscent of Miles Davis' minimal statements of melody. With subtle shading, gently-slurred intervals and insightful phrasing, she breathes new life into a classic "early American" song.
"Early Americans" was engineered and co-produced by Jim Anderson, best known to audiophiles as the man with the golden ears behind the mixing board on Patricia Barber's sessions. Anderson recorded in the spacious live acoustic of Avatar Studios with an array of state of the art microphones that capture Bloom periodically (and with rhythmic precision) shifting between the left and right channels, while in MCH she can be heard roaming freely around the soundstage.
The disc can be purchased as a standalone RBCD on Outline Records or single-disc Blu-Ray on Sono Luminus, 96/24 stereo and MCH. The Blu-Ray has a simple onscreen menu but can be navigated without a monitor with the controls on a Blu-Ray player's remote. The Blu-Ray disc also contains the complete album in three computer-friendly formats: 16/44.1 WAV; 320 kbs MP3; and 96/24 FLAC stereo.
Copyright © 2016 Mark Werlin and HRAudio.net