Saturday, August 26, 2017

Jane Ira Bloom - "Wild Lines: Improvising Emily Dickinson"

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

“At an age when most creative people are settling into comfortable work patterns, soprano saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom continues finding ways for her artistry to evolve. These days, her music often aims to capture the      i spontaneous nature of creativity itself.”
- James Hale, Downbeat

"Jane Ira Bloom's music is a gift to the world from a consummate musician, composer and teacher."
- the editorial staff at JazzProfiles

Sometimes it seems to me that too much emphasis is placed on Jane Ira Bloom’s many academic distinctions, awards, and credentials, and not enough weight is given to her musicianship and the relative merits of her music.

Not that she isn’t deserving of kudos for her many scholarly accomplishments and, let’s face it, they help provide a financial base for her Jazz explorations, but I think too much attentiveness to this sort of thing ultimately detracts from the creative explorations contained in her music.

So while they are considerable, I am not going to include her trophy case of degrees, grants, poll rankings, et al that make up so much of the media releases that accompany her latest double CD - Jane Ira Bloom - Wild Lines: Improvising Emily Dickinson [Outline OTL 143] - but I am going to share my observations and opinions about the music on it as composed and improvised by Jane Ira on soprano sax, Dawn Clement on piano, Mark Helias on bass and Bobby Previte on drums. “Adding the Emily Dickinson narrative to the ensemble on Disc 2 is the acclaimed actor Deborah Rush.”

Just to be clear, Disc one is Jane’s quartet performing 14 tracks of music that Jane Ira composed based on excerpts of the poet Emily Dickinson’s collective works and envelope poems; Disc 2 contains the same 14 tracks, rearranged with spoken word added by Deborah Rush. The album closes with Jane’s solo interpretation of Rodgers and Hart’s It’s Easy to Remember.

The arrival of Wild Lines: Improvising Emily Dickinson made me harken back to my earliest days as a Jazz musician based in California when Poetry spoken over a Jazz accompaniment [sometimes it sounded as though it was the other way around] was all the rage in coffee houses in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Jane’s latest Jazz & Poetry CD prompted me to pull out of my collection Jazz Canto Vol.1: An Anthology of Poetry and Jazz. Issued in 1961 at the height of the Jazz-Poetry experience on World Pacific Records [1409] the LP containes poems by Walt Whitman, Dylan Thomas, William Carlos Williams, Langston Hughes, Lawrence Lipton [who co-produced it with long time Pacific Jazz photographer William Claxton], Philip Whalen and Lawrence Ferlinghetti as interpreted by John Carradine, Hoagy Carmichael, Ben Wright, Roy Glenn and Bob Dorough performed with the music of Gerry Mulligan, Chico Hamilton, Fred Katz and Jack Montrose.

In his introduction to Jazz Canto Vol.1: An Anthology of Poetry and Jazz, Lawrence Lipton commented:

“Since the advent of Jazz West Coast, nothing has so excited the listening interest of the public, the press and jazz musicians alike as the emergence - again on the West Coast -- of Poetry and Jazz. This album presents various ways of approaching the problem of bringing verbal content back into jazz music and restoring poetry and music to their proper and historic integration as related arts.

To avoid the errors and confusions of such terms as "poetry and jazz" and "poetry with jazz," background music, accompaniment, etc., which have marked and, I think, marred, the more or less hit-or-miss club, concert and recorded "P & J" of the past, I have decided to call it Jazz Canto. Jazz, because it is in the modern American idiom. Canto, because it is poetry, a word derived out of the Latin cantus, singing, which in English came to mean verse. Jazz Canto derives from the American "talking blues" and is related to the German Sprechstimme, the Italian commedia deli arte all' improvise, and similar forms all the way back to the Greek goat-plays and primitive ritual word-chant with music. …”

Mr Lipton closes his annotation with this prediction: “I feel that with ]azz Canto Vol. 1 "Poetry and Jazz" comes of age, approaching something like an art form that will endure and grow and become a part of the standard repertoire of both poetry and jazz performance.”

Alas, unfortunately this was not to be the case. Although both Jazz and Poetry have endured, the have not done so together. As far as the aesthetic tastes - perhaps, too generous a phrase -  of today’s general public are concerned, it is a wonder that either have survived at all!

Both Jazz and Poetry are intellectual arts - it takes a good deal of brainpower to play the former and a significant amount of mental ability to create the latter.

Given the late bassist, composer and bandleader Charles Mingus’ admonition - “You gotta improvise on something” - and the psychological and emotional forces that create both Jazz and Poetry, it is surprising that a closer affinity hasn’t evolved between both of these arts.

I suppose the missing link is the awareness of one intellectual art to seek out the other.

And this is where Jane Ira’s brilliance - if you’ll pardon the play on words - blooms!  For as she explains: “I didn’t always understand her but I always felt Emily’s use of words mirrored the way a Jazz musician uses notes.”

The first CD allows the listener to experience the music on Wild Lines: Improvising Emily Dickinson on a standalone basis while the second CD allows for the music to be heard in conjunction with the spoken word of the excerpt that a particular theme [track] is based on as sensitively interpreted by Deborah Rush.

I experimented with the music by recombining it so that the musical version of the poetry excerpt was followed immediately by the spoken word version such that Jane Ira’s melody lingered in my mind while I heard Emily Dickinson’s poetry as read by Deborah. The separation and the sequencing were a revelation in terms of how well Jane Ira’s melodic interpretation of Emily Dickinson’s poetry works; not only does one compliment the other, but one also complements the other.

Poetry readings require a certain control and clarity, enunciated dynamics to underscore or stress particular elements in the poem, but above all, they require rhythmic space and pacing so that the impact of what the piece is about can be felt and not just understood or intellectualized.

Amazingly, Jane Ira’s music contains all these elements: control, clarity, dynamics, space and pacing to such a degree that one hears her melodies as what Mr. Lipton refers to in his introduction to Jazz Canto Vol.1: An Anthology of Poetry and Jazz “...  the Latin cantus, singing.”

To come at this conception another way, the canticle quality of Jane Ira’s compositions on Wild Lines: Improvising Emily Dickinson conjures up a phrase often associated with the late pianist Bill Evans - “How My Heart Sings.” In effect, what Jane Ira has accomplished is to transliterate Emily Dickinson’s poems into cantica or songs.

And speaking of Bill Evans, pianist Dawn Clements work, which was new to me on this recording, reflects a pianism marked by a touch that is simply exquisite and very reminiscent of Bill’s.

Bassist Mark Helias and drummer Bobby Previte reflect the “wedding bells” that legendary bassist Chuck Israels always wants to hear when he listens to a bassist and drummer playing together. It’s almost as though they were created as a rhythm section expressly for the purpose of working with Jane Ira and helping to interpret her music.

To extend the Bill Evans analogy a bit further, Bill’s earliest trios were one of the first forms of collaborative Jazz and the music as played by Jane Ira, Dawn, Mark, and Bobby on Wild Lines: Improvising Emily Dickinson is a true continuation and extension of this approach to Jazz.

The audio aura in which the music takes place is a tribute to recording engineer Jim Anderson and his team and associates. The sound is spellbindingly clear so much so that it wraps the music in an additional layer of intimacy. The sound quality is so “alive” that you get the impression that the music is being played in your living room [would that it were].

At some point, all the descriptive adjectives in the world become inadequate as a means of depicting music and poetry so at this point I’ll stop trying to do so and allow you to experience both for yourself in terms of what’s on offer in Jane Ira Bloom’s Wild Lines: Improvising Emily Dickinson.

The release date for the CD is September 8, 2017 and it will be available through and iTunes. Jim Eigo is handling the national press campaign and you can reach him at and Jane Ira at and at|JaneIraBloom.

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