Lucid Culture


Rising Star Tenor Saxophonist Melissa Aldana Takes Her Sound to the Next Level

Unlike a lot of jazz musicians, tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana grew up in the idiom. She represents the third generation of a formidable Chilean musical family. She’s gone on record citing her latest album, Back Home, as an example of a more mature sound for her. Major understatement: it’s her breakthrough, the material to match the fearsome chops that put her on the map when she became the first South American and the first woman to win the Thelonious Monk competition six years ago. With her regular rhythm section, bassist Pablo Menares and drummer Jochen Rueckert, this is her second trio release, streaming at Spotify.

The rhythm section begin Aldana’s opening track, Alegria, with a tightly spinning, springl-loaded rumble as Aldana plays a terse melody overhead and builds methodically toward a carefree, gently triumphant vibe. There’s some defiantly individualistic Sonny Rollins in there, but there’s also the catchy, impactful “jukebox jazz” of JD Allen, as well as a tight, familiar chemistry similar to Allen’s long-running trio. Short, punchy figures and an emphasis on Aldana’s upper registers figure prominently throughout the album.

Before You has a fetching, hey-wait-a-minute-don’t-leave-yet feel over a shifting clave (Aldana wrote it for her boyfriend…awww). Rueckert’s misterioso, stygian cymbals and Menares’ precise, tiptoeing lines amplify the brooding mood of Aldana’s spacious, airy approach throughout Time. The album’s title track is its most trad yet carefree: Aldana has a great sense of humor and that really comes through here. And it’s contagious.

As a writer, Menares is represented by two tracks. The first, Desde La Lluvia is e minimalistic, lyrical jazz waltz where Aldana waits til the third time around before she goes dancing where the clouds used to be, in a bright after-the-rain scenario. Menares opens his other number, En Otro Lugar, with a bit of a solo ghost ballet before Rueckert gets a brisk clave going and Aldana lingers toward the back, choosing her spots: you can hear some of the considered yet fearlessly warped tones of an old mentor, George Garzone in there.

Rueckert brings two numbers to the album. Obstacles, the first, anchors judiciously considered variations on its hook in subtle rhythmic shifts, building to a floating swing capped off with a wryly galloping drum solo. Menares loops a cachy riff as Servant shifts in an out of a spinning triplet drive, Aldana once again hanging back with an austere, bluesy purism. The lone cover here is a sparse, misty, wee-hours bass-and-sax take of the Kurt Weill/George Gershwin tune My Ship.

In an era where so many players bleat and blow like a four-year-old with a jar of bubble soap, Aldana’s restraint and sense of purpose here are a breath of fresh air.

March 23, 2016 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rising Star Tenor Saxophonist Melissa Aldana Brings Her Purposeful Trio Sound to Harlem

Tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana leads what you could call two thirds of her Crash Trio with Pablo Menares on bass and Jochen Rueckert taking over the drum chair for Francisco Mela, Friday and Saturday night, May 22-23 at Minton’s uptown with sets at 7:30 and 9:30 PM. As is generally the case here, your best bet is to grab a seat at the bar, considerably cheaper – $25 – than at the tables, which will probably be full anyway since the place is a big weekend hangout. If you’ve followed jazz lately, Aldana has been riding a mighty wave of buzz in the wake of some prominent competition victories. A cynic might argue that’s what you have to do if you’re a woman of Chilean extraction trying to make your mark in a field dominated by American men – notwithstanding that she represents a three-generation legacy of prestigious Chilean saxophonists.

Aldana has smoke in her tone and often pushes the upper limits of her axe’s register, no surprise considering that she began her career as a teenage altoist. Although she can fire off febrile Sonny Rollins-inflected blasts of bop when she’s in the mood, more often than not her music is considered and spacious, and the band follows suit. In a trio setting, Menares gets plenty of room to color the music and solo, something Rueckert will fit in well with here. Her most recent trio album, from last year, is on the contemplative side, a mix of melodic, swinging postbop, a small handful of balmy ballads and a couple of detours into south-of-the-border and Brazilian sounds. However, this gig will no doubt feature a lot of new material from Aldana’s forthcoming second Crash Trio album, due out next month. One suspects she’s going to pick up the pace since this place is earning a reputation as a very high-energy room.

May 19, 2015 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert | , , , , , | Leave a comment