Monday, June 03, 2013

CD Review: Mara Rosenbloom Quartet - Songs from the Ground

While in Ohio over the weekend, I didn't have internet access and I wasn't the writing fiend I had hoped to be. But I did bang out one review and have motivation to continue tomorrow morning (my prime writing time). In the meantime...

Mara Rosenbloom Quartet
Songs from the Ground
(Fresh Sound New Talent)

With alto saxophonist Darius Jones as the sole horn in her quartet, pianist Mara Rosenbloom made a clever choice. Although he usually swings a bit more to the left in his own free music, Jones plays in a more straightforward manner here, yet his crisp, tart tone is a good contrast to Rosenbloom’s more tranquil, meditative playing. Born in Madison, WI, her music does bear a sense of reflection for that serenity of her Middle American environment, and Jones adds to that — serving as a reminder that she’s now based in New York City.

After a brief solo exposition, Rosenbloom leads the quartet (with bassist Sean Conly and drummer Nick Anderson) into the mid-tempo 7/4 groove of “Whistle Stop.” It reveals both the strengths and weaknesses of the band. On the positive side, the sweet, upper-register piano melody gains a bit of edge when Jones takes it from Rosenbloom. His two solos feature some pungent, low register jumps and growls that kick up the energy a notch. On the minus side, the theme is based on a riff gets repetitive quickly and takes too long to resolve into another section for contrast.

“Unison” maintains the subdued mood, but adds a few harmonic twists. Beginning with a piano riff that sounds like a slowed-down hard bop groove, it moves into a different setting for solos, in which Rosenbloom rises from spare, thoughtful notes into a full bloom. Jones starts simple with some grooves, but gets a little push from the rhythm section to take it up a notch. Even when he limits himself to long tones or buzzing notes in the closing, he pulls out the ones that contrast appropriately with the changes. Conly gets a brief solo of double-stops too.

Rosenbloom lets the quartet stretch out on her pieces, and four of the seven tracks on Songs From the Ground last around 10 minutes, with the title track going beyond the 15-minute mark. But in a number of cases they seem to casually roll along rather than use the time to get somewhere. “Common Language” moves slowly on gospel-tinged piano riff without much drive underneath. Likewise the title track, the longest one of the bunch, devotes too much time to its extended theme. While Anderson does try to kick up a little dust during this tune, he and Conly are predominantly relegated to supporting Rosenbloom and Jones, instead of interacting with them. Considering Conly’s affiliation with Jones in the wild Grass Roots quartet (who released an album on AUM Fidelity last year) it’s surprising that they don’t have more of a push-and-pull rapport going on here. Rosenbloom is a thoughtful pianist whose melodies can be evocative, but her work seems to missing some elements on the follow-through.

No comments: