Lucid Culture


Melissa Aldana Brings Her Simmering Intensity to the Charlie Parker Festival

This year’s concluding installment of the annual Charlie Parker Festival, which returns to Tompkins Square Park on August 28, has something for everyone. Purist postbop guitarist Pasquale Grasso, who continues the tradition in a Peter Bernstein vein, opens at 3 with his group. At 4, swing trumpeter and singer Bria Skonberg revisits an era from a decade or two before. Representing newer styles, tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana brings many different levels of meaning with her group at 5. A multi-generational band including sax legend Archie Shepp and pianist Jason Moran with the irrepressible and brilliant Cecile Mclorin Salvant on vocals close out the show.

Aldana is the wild card in this deck. In recent years the scion of a major Chilean jazz legacy has fine-tuned a laser focus that has always been far more American than latin simply because that’s where her interests seem to be. There, and the tarot deck, which she explores musically on her latest album 12 Stories, streaming at youtube. It’s a relentlessly unsettled, distantly haunting record, a potent reflection on a society at the brink of a totalitarian abyss. The level of control, yet also the microtonal woundedness in Aldana’s attack, will hold you rapt in many places here.

She opens the first number, Falling, with a simmering, brooding intensity, underscored by guitarist Lage Lund’s icily ominous chords and pianist Sullivan Fortner’s judicious, incisive accents in tandem with bassist Pablo Menares as drummer Kush Abadey chews the scenery. Aldana’s clustering modalities finally give way to a characteristic phantasmagorical flourish and then a similarly uneasy solo from Fortner.

Aldana follows a similar template with the second number, Intuition, this time working the upper registers as the rhythm section punch in and out with an enigmatic tension. Lund provides a surreal, lingering solo intro to Emilia, a delicately spare ballad, carefully moving the clouds away as Fortner builds an enigmatically reflective gleam on Fender Rhodes. This time it’s Aldana, with her steady lines, who resists any hint of resolution.

The rhythm section play tug-of-war as Aldana strolls with a pensive, bittersweet intensity through the beginning of The Bluest Eye. Finally, she lightens with a series of increasingly ebullient spirals, Fortner playing sly leaps and bounds much as he does with Salvant. Lund’s percolating solo fuels a darkly swirling coda that fades out almost cruelly – we know how this ends, but the details would be helpful!

The Fool – a reference to the tarot card, which is actually a rugged individualist archetype – has a moody sway, Fortner and Lund’s allusively churning bolero over Abadey’s grimly triumphant, crescendoing drive. Aldana chooses her spots on the way out.

Los Ojos de Chile is the most animated number here, Fortner rising out of variations on a cheery riff with his usual saturnine energy, Lund setting up Aldana’s determined drive out. The hazy title tableau leaves the listener wondering what’s coming next: may we all survive to hear Aldana’s next album after this brilliant, career-best collection.


August 21, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Smart, Energetic, Purist Debut Album By Rising Star Jazz Singer Samara Joy

Samara Joy won the 2019 Sarah Vaughan Vocal Competition and presumably got a debut album – streaming at Bandcamp – out of the deal. It’s not every day that a newcomer gets to record with an allstar veteran crew comprising guitarist Pasquale Grasso, bassist Ari Roland and drummer Kenny Washington, but she holds her own on this collection of standards, which was no doubt delayed by the lockdown.

What distinguishes this from the pile of audio resumes released every year – until last year, anyway – by aspiring lounge singers? Attention to emotional and musical detail, pure chops, and a diversity of moods beyond heartbreak and pining for affection. There’s a lot of energy on this record, which closes with Sophisticated Lady, an apt description for the singer.

The first notes you hear are Grasso’s elegantly serpentine upward cascade in a spare, intimate duo take of Stardust. Samara Joy distinguishes herself with a nuanced, uncluttered mezzo-soprano that reminds of Cecile McLorin Salvant‘s earliest work. The band give a jaunty bounce to Everything Happens to Me in contrast to the bandleader’s understated, rainy-day delivery, Roland bowing a solo that splits the difference between the two dynamics.

The take of If You Never Fall in Love With Me here is a boisterous doppelganger for Blossom Dearie’s Everything I’ve Got, Washington having fun adding some Brazilian flavor. They ought to retitle this version of Let’s Dream in the Moonlight as Let’s Take a Midnight Sprint: Grasso’s quicksilver legato is breathtaking. Then they slow down, returning to the sparkly/serious dichotomy for It Only Happens Once; Samara Joy teases with her spline-tinglinig upper register rather than going for broke this time out.

Jim – the song – has not aged well. Passive-aggressive, emotionally withholding dudes are not worth holding onto. Homegirls, are you listening?

The coy interplay between guitar and vocals in a briskly swinging version of The Trouble With Me Is You is a welcome touch. The group waltz elegantly through If You’d Stay the Way I Dream About You, then pick up the pace a smidge with a moody 6/8 take of Lover Man.

Samara Joy works the trajectory from angst to guarded ecstasy with a visceral intensity in Only a Moment Ago as the bass and guitar intertwine. Her plush, swinging take of Moonglow gives Grasso a launching pad for lots of sparkle and spirals. And Grasso caps off the duo version of But Beautiful with a  characteristically crystalline, purposeful solo.

July 10, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment