Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Jane Ira Bloom - "Sixteen Sunsets"

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

"an artist beyond category."
- Nat Hentoff

"A true jazz original...a restlessly creative spirit, and a modern day role model for any aspiring musician who dares to follow his or her own vision."
- Bill Milkowski

To be honest with you, until Amanda Bloom and Jim Eigo of Jazz Promo Services contacted me with an offer to listen to Jane Ira Bloom’s Sixteen Sunsets [Outline OTL 141], I didn’t know anything about the music of Jane Ira Bloom.

I had heard the name - “Jane Ira Bloom” - and I liked it because of the way it sounded and because it is not often that you hear a three name reference made up of three, single syllables. I liked the name, too, because it reminded me of Blossom Dearie, a unique song stylist whose music has always been among my favorites.

But after reading the following background information on Jane Ira Bloom, I thought I might be missing something.

© -Jim Eigo/JazzPromoServices, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Jane Ira Bloom has been developing her unique voice on the soprano sax for over 30 years. A pioneer in the use of live electronics and movement in jazz, she is a seven-time winner of the Jazz Journalists Award for Soprano Saxophone, winner of the Downbeat International Critics Poll for soprano sax, and a recipient of the prestigious Guggenheim fellowship. Her continued commitment to new music has led to collaborations with Charlie Haden, Ed Blackwell, Kenny Wheeler, Rufus Reid, Matt Wilson, Bob Brookmeyer, Julian Priester, Mark Dresser, Bobby Previte, Billy Hart, Mark Helias, Min Xiao-Fen and Fred Hersch among others.

With 15 albums as leader/producer and a constant live performance schedule with her trio and quartet, JIB has performed at Carnegie Hall, Jazz at Lincoln Center, The Kennedy Center, the United Nations, The Smithsonian, New York's Museum of Modern Art, and Cathedral of St. John the Divine, as well as leading Jazz Festivals including: Montreal, JVC, and San Francisco. JIB has also been involved in world music collaborations. She has participated in several international and 'remote' events for large ensemble including a performance at the United Nations that linked musicians in Korea, China, New York and San Diego.

With numerous awards for her creativity including a 2007 Guggenheim Fellowship in music composition and a 2009 residency at the Baryshnikov Arts Center, JIB is also the recipient of the 2007 Mary Lou Williams Women In Jazz Award for lifetime service to jazz, the Jazz Journalists Award For Soprano Sax of the Year for 2001, 2003, 2006, 2008, 2011, 2012 & 2014, the Downbeat International Critics Poll for Soprano Saxophone, the Charlie Parker Fellowship for Jazz Innovation and the International Women in Jazz: Masters Award. She is also the first musician commissioned by the NASA Art Program and even has an asteroid named in her honor by the International Astronomical Union, named asteroid 6083janeirabloom. Her latest release Sixteen Sunsets was nominated for a 2014 Grammy Award for best surround-sound album.

The subject of numerous media profiles on network television, on radio, and in major national magazines, JIB has recorded and produced 15 album projects since 1977 for CBS, Arabesque, ENJA and Artistshare Records, and founded her own record label & publishing company (Outline Music). A professor at the New School for Jazz & Contemporary Music in New York City, she holds degrees from Yale University, the Yale School of Music, and continues to find inspiration in creating exploratory music with improvising musicians from around the world.”

And after I listened to the music on Jane Ira Bloom’s Sixteen Sunsets [Outline OTL 141], I knew I had been missing something - the music of Jane Ira Bloom was a revelation, to say the least.

The CD title Sixteen Sunsets is derived from the following quotation by Joseph Allen, a US Astronaut:

“The sun truly ‘comes up like thunder,’ and it sets just as fast. Each sunrise and sunset lasts only a few seconds. But in that time you see at least eight different bands of color come and go, from a brilliant red to the brightest and deepest blue. And you see sixteen sunrises and sixteen sunsets every day you’re in space. No sunrise or sunset is ever the same.”

I have long thought that the ephemeral nature of Jazz was best served when the music was played as a ballad. Slower tempos give the musician a chance to think and if the tune they are improvising on has an interesting structure, they can create beautiful alternate melodies because the slower time allows them more space with which to work.

No sunrise or sunset is ever the same.”

I think the same can be said for Jazz improvisations that are weaved over slower or ballad tempos because the musician has time to think about the chord progression and not just react to it as is often the case with faster tempos.

Over the years, I talked about this observation with a large number of musicians and I received comments back ranging from “Does anyone play slow tempos anymore?” [Bud Shank] to “These days, whenever I play a ballad, I expect a bottle to come flying over my head.” [Bill Perkins]

The implication of those remarks by Bud and Bill is that playing beautiful tunes at slower tempos had fallen out of favor with today’s Jazz audience.

Imagine my surprise then when I played Jane Ira Bloom’s Sixteen Sunsets, for not only she she play beautiful tunes at slower tempos, but she plays them all on soprano saxophone, an instrument that I had come to dread because of the muscular way it had be handled by John Coltrane imitators in the years since John’s death in 1967.

Drawn from The Great American Songbook [with the exception of Billie Holiday and Mal Waldron’s  Left Alone], Jane Ira Bloom renders fourteen exquisite improvisations that have time to breathe, grow and develop and which almost single-handedly seem to make a concerted case for reinstating the ballad to a prominent place in the Jazz repertoire.

If you enjoy pretty music, music that absorbs your senses, music that touches your imagination with the magnitude of its beauty, then the music on Sixteen Sunsets is for you.

Here are more comments and insights about Jane Ira Bloom and the music on her new CD from the media release information put together by Jim Eigo.

© -Jim Eigo/JazzPromoServices, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

"Absolutely Mesmerizing!"
-John Henry/Audiophiie Audition

"Sixteen Sunsets... shows the infinite possibilities of the soprano saxophone."
-Marc Phillips/ The Vinyl Anachronist

" one of the most gorgeous tones and hauntingly lyrical ballad conceptions of any soprano saxophonist"
-Kevin Whitehead

“Award winning soprano saxophonist Jane ira Bloom has always had a special feeling for ballad performances and she's finally released a project that showcases her expressive interpretations of American songbook standards and slow tempo originals. Sixteen Sunsets is her first all-ballads album, her 15th album as leader and fifth recording on the Outline label. The project pairs Bloom with long-time bandmates Cameron Brown on bass, drummer Matt Wilson, and newcomer pianist Dominic Fallacaro. She had been working on this slow tempo repertoire in concerts in NYC in the two years since her last "Wingwalker" release and then brought this band together to record in May 2013. Sixteen Sunsets was recorded in 5.1 high resolution surround sound at Avatar Studio B in NYC with renowned audio engineer and co-producer Jim Anderson. The album features nine American songbook classics including Gershwin's "I Loves You Porgy" and Kern's "The Way You Look Tonight" in addition to five originals from Bloom's own ballad book. Photographic legend Jay Maisel contributed the breathtaking image for the album cover artwork. In addition to the stereo CD on Outline Records (OTL141) Sixteen Sunsets is available in 5,1 high resolution surround sound on Pure Audio Blu-ray (Pure Audio Records 55017) and was nominated for a 2014 Grammy Award for best surround-sound album.

"I grew up listening to these songs and knowing the lyrics. They were a part of my earliest listening experiences so playing them is like breathing to me. As time's gone by it's been easier to let the meaning of the songs come through the horn."
- Jl Bloom

Bloom has been developing her unique voice on the soprano sax for over 30 years. She's a seven-time winner of the Jazz Journalists Award for Soprano Saxophone and recipient of the prestigious Guggenheim fellowship. Her music is lyrical and provocative.”

My three favorites tracks on Sixteen Sunsets are But Not for Me, Darn That Dream and My Ship [Kurt Weill].

We've drawn annotations about the first, two tunes from Ted Gioia's The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire, and developed the video that concludes this features using My Ship as the soundtrack to give you a taste of Jane Ira Bloom’s playing on the CD.

Sixteen Sunsets may have been my first exposure to Jane Ira Bloom’s music, but I can assure you that it won’t be my last.

But Not for Me [ [paraphrased, p. 51]

“On Ella Fitzgerald’s But Not For Me collaboration with Andre Previn, Previn offers a clever reharmonization during his solo, reminding us of why he once had a sizable following among jazz fans, while Fitzgerald, for her part, is in top form.

The song gained some traction with jazz players during the 1940’s —Harry James even enjoyed a modest hit with his 1941 recording, which featured vocalist Helen Forrest—but Gershwin's composition was better suited for the cool jazz stars of the 1950’s. Chet Baker may have lacked Ella's technique and range, but his 1954 recording of "But Not for Me" ranks among his finest moments in the studio, both for its quintessentially cool vocal and his lyrical trumpet solo, four months later, Miles Davis recorded the song for his Bags' Groove album, and his two released takes find him playing it initially in a medium tempo similar to Baker's approach, while the second take is faster, and a better setting for his front-line bandmate Sonny Rollins. Ahmad Jamal delivered an appealingly understated piano performance on his live recording from the Pershing from 1958, which was one of the best-selling jazz albums of the period. The Modern Jazz Quartet and Kenny Burrell offered similarly subdued interpretations around this same time.

Most later jazz renditions of "But Not for Me" have kept to the cool ethos. But Coltrane offered a dissenting view with his 1960 recording from his My Favorite Things album. He incorporates his "Giant Steps" chord substitution scheme into the Gershwin piece, and the result is a case study in the advanced harmonic concepts of the time, worthy of inclusion in the curriculum of any jazz educational institution. Dexter Gordon dispenses with the Coltrane chord changes but achieves a similar energy level on his 1967 recording in Copenhagen, an intense 15-minute outing on "But Not for Me"—including nine full tenor choruses that persuasively demonstrate why this saxophonist was such a formidable combatant at a jam session.”

Darn that Dream [Paraphrased, p. 76]

“I've recorded it myself, and was attracted to the song because of Van Heusen's skill in building sturdy harmonic structures with minimal reliance on conventional circle-of-fifths movement. The melody, filled with spacious interval leaps that move up in thirds and fourths, effectively matches the yearning sentiments of the words. The bridge is a bit of a letdown after such a lively main theme, but works well in context as a sedate interlude before the finale, in which the lyrics both bless and curse dreamtime visions of romantic bliss.

Even song connoisseur Alec Wilder ... praises the spirit of "sophistication and chance-taking" this song represents, and suggests that it was only the pervasiveness of jazz in American culture at the time that allowed listeners to accept such a daring composition. By the same token, I find it almost inconceivable that a song this complex could receive significant airplay or sales nowadays.”

My Ship

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