Jane Ira Bloom - Wingwalker (2011)


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By Pico

In preparing to assess Jane Ira Bloom's brand new CD Wingwalker, I pulled out the prior one, the excellent Mental Weather from 2008. The striking comparison between the two became obvious before I even pulled the CD from the sleeve; I quickly noticed that both of the CD covers featured Bloom performing in motion, the photos both blurred to illustrate her soprano sax moving from side to side. It makes several statements about this artist: one, she moves around a lot with her instrument when she's performing, a habit that she has noted is spontaneous and intuitive; and secondly, her music is anything but static, it is always moving and swaying from one single idea to another. Aside from lyrical, committed and fluid voice of her soprano saxophone, this is what has made her a major figure in jazz for a quite a while, now.

Having reviewed Mental Weather three years ago, I came into Wingwalker a little more informed about Bloom's background. The approach and style applied to the former is largely applied to the latter, a nice continuity from what I thought was one of the better jazz records of 2008. Again, the hint is on the CD sleeve: only drummer Bobby Previte (a major jazz figure on his own) is not a carryover from the earlier disc, though the two have worked together for too many years to count. Pianist Dawn Clement and bassist Mark Helias again assume the roles they played on Weather.

Bloom encourages spontaneity in the studio, which is easier for her to do when her musical partners are ones with whom she's played with for at least six or seven years and developed some deep trust to enhance the sketches of songs she presents to them. I think it's also why she gets the “avant-garde" tag affixed to her music sometimes, and I often forget that it's out of the mainstream part of jazz because even when conventional song structures are discarded, her music is always melodic, flowing down natural paths.

If there's any distinction about Wingwalker from its highly regarded predecessor, it would be that there's perhaps a greater emphasis on space; there's rarely the swing of a sharply defined 4/4 beat; songs move in suspension of time. It's not until we get to track #8 ("Rookie") when we find that familiar jazz cadence all throughout her song. But rest assured, it's all jazz, just with Bloom's distinctive articulation. “Her Exacting Light" centers around Clements dulcet chord progressions with Helias finding some nice counteracting bass lines and Previte raining down a light shower of cymbals. All Bloom has to do is spin some harmonies in her signature discreet, warm manner.

“Life On Cloud 8" begin with a slinky bass riff doubled on piano, but true to her form, Bloom doesn't stand pat on that. The song soon moves into a more up-tempo phase, and during the soloing her is where her electronically modified sound comes into focus for the first time. She leverages the technology wisely, making her horn sound like two horns at time (dispensing with the need for a second horn player to fill out the harmonics) and always employing a light enough touch so that her performance remains the main attraction, not the device. “Ending Red Songs" is one of her tender ballads, the highlight being Clement's perfect touch on the piano. “Freud's Convertible" appears as if it's going to be just straight ahead blues, until the group takes some improvisational side diversions well into the song that first goes cosmic and then funky. “Airspace" goes even further out, with Bloom and Clement playing light and fanciful over a standard rhythm. Sometimes playing some very complex lines in perfect unison, this is one of several instances on this record where the strong rapport from having played together for so long is apparent. Other tracks follow the template established by these first five or so, although “Wingwalker" is notable for Helias' almost piano-like bass solo. Putting into action her belief that “some solos can only be played when there's great silence" and indulging in her deep love for the Great American Songbook, Bloom ends the tracklist with the only standard, a sensitive reading of Lerner and Loewe's “I Could Have Danced All Night."

In addition to the “proper" CD, Bloom as before on Weather tossed in an mp3 track, “Wingwalker Singularity," a Cliff Notes version of the entire album summed up in less than six minutes. It's intended to simulate the flow of one song to another as its done in Bloom's live performances, but in a more condensed form.

It's a fair assessment to call Wingwalker a straight continuation of Mental Weather. Since that last release was so good, it's also fair to state that this one too is good. Though she might be repeating herself a bit, Jane Ira Bloom remains uniquely creative among her peers. Her restless disposition so vividly demonstrated on her album covers wouldn't allow her to blend in with the crowd, anyway.

Released last week, Wingwalker is distributed by Bloom's own Outline label.

Photo: Tom Lau

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