Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Darkly Focused, Kinetic Themes and Improvisations From Pianist Mara Rosenbloom

Pianist Mara Rosenbloom picked the most politically-charged possible title for her new album: Respiration. From George Floyd to the average corporate employee struggling for oxygen through his or her muzzle, that’s the one thing – other than basic human rights – that the world didn’t get enough of in 2020. To be clear, Rosenbloom made this record with her trio, bassist Sean Conly and drummer Chad Taylor, just prior to the lockdown. She got her start as an elegantly tuneful composer and bandleader, has very eclectic credits as a sidewoman and has drifted further into the more adventurous reaches of pure improvisation in the last couple of years.

The album – streaming at Bandcamp – doesn’t have the raw, feral intensity of what’s been her career-defining release so far, 2016’s Prairie Burn. It’s more somber and concise than viscerally crushing, if just as tuneful – as you would expect, with an intro based on a theme by the iconic Amina Claudine Myers. That turns out to be a loopy little latin-tinged thing with subtle accents from the bass.

Things pick up quickly from there with The Choo, which is just plain gorgeous. Rosenbloom’s warmly insistent, gospel-tinged lefthand anchors an increasingly anthemic soul song without words set to a muted shuffle beat, which she takes it down to a long, spare, summery, mostly solo outro.

The group improvise a lingering yet rhythmic transition aptly titled Daydream into a duskily otherworldly, rubato take of Caravan mashed up with Connie’s Groove, a similarly enigmatic, dancing Connie Crothers homage.

She keeps the uneasy modaliaties going in Uncertain Bird, veering in and out of purist, darkly ambered blues as the rhythm section kick things around, down to a tantalizingly fleeting, ghostly interlude and then back as an altered waltz. In The Ballad for Carolyn Trousers (Carol in Trousers), Rosenbloom skirts a famous Chopin theme and makes it vastly more lighthearted, once again blending in the blues over an allusive 3/4 groove.

Conly breaks out his bow and Taylor tumbles mutedly while the bandleader builds haunting, spacious minor-key lustre in their take of the spiritual Have Mercy Upon Us: her relentless, minimalist mantra of an outro is arguably the high point of the album.

She returns to the album’s opening circularity in Ramblin’ on Her Mind, inspired by the Lightnin’ Hopkins version of the blues standard. To close the record, Rosenbloom draws the band back into Caravan as a saturnine march out. You are going to see this on a lot of best-of-2020 pages this year.

November 17, 2020 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

July 20, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment