Thoughtful, Tunefully Arranged Piano Jazz from Mara Rosenbloom
Pianist Mara Rosenbloom’s latest album Songs from the Ground is elegant and purposefuly crafted, with recurrent, sonata-like thematic variations. But there’s a tension here, intentional or not. Alto saxophonist Darius Jones is a hard bop guy: brevity is not necessarily his thing. Rosenbloom is judicious to a fault and anything but showy: she’s all about the tunes. Sometimes that dichotomy provides contrast; in places, it’s jarring. Bassist Sean Conly and drummer Nick Anderson team up for an understated, dancing bounce. True to the album title, everyone keeps things close to the ground: there’s a lot of space here, and nobody uses it more effectively than Rosenbloom.
She also contributes a couple of solo interludes. The album opens with Relief, which builds to a victoriously stately, chordally-fueled third-stream majesty; later, Rosenbloom improvises an insistently crescendoing miniature. The first ensemble track, Whistle Stop, looks back to 80s jazz-pop but with considerably more rhythmic sophistication. taking on a folk-dance pulse on the wings of Rosenbloom’s leaping chords. Small Finds works a simple, emphatic, looped piano figure in 7/4 against Jones’ balmy, gentle lines and eventually goes swinging. Likewise, Unison casts the sax as a string section against Rosenbloom’s circularity and then a marvelously judicious, spacious solo, Conly’s similarly considered solo kicking off an unexpectedly dusky modal drive out. Common Language cleverly takes a wry blues drag and makes an anthem out of it with an expansive but nimbly orchestrated series of exchanges between the sax and piano.
The album winds up with the title track, a rainy-day pastoral epic that rises slowly out of the mist, shifting tempos from a pretty straight-up jazz waltz to a 6/8 sway, Anderson’s tersely emphatic rolls finally signaling a release from restraint for a soaring Jones, moving up and down from carefully considered to a scampering dance. It’s ridiculously catchy, very accessible and just as smartly assembled and played. Not bad for somebody playing with a surgically reconstructed elbow. If it holds up – and let’s hope it does – maybe someday Mara Rosenbloom and Tommy John will have more in common than they realize.
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