Saturday, March 12, 2016

CD Review: Melissa Aldana - Back Home

Melissa Aldana
Back Home

Melissa Aldana has received a nice amount of buzz in recent times. She won the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition in 2013, at the relatively young age of 24. An album with her Crash Trio appeared on Concord Records a year later, which kicked the media attention into high gear. Jazz, of course, loves a young lion, especially a female who is not a singer.

But minutes into her newest album  with the trio, it's clear that Aldana is more than just a young media sensation. The Chilean native possesses a tone with a richness and depth that combines with a sharp melodic sense. Having discovered Sonny Rollins at the age of 6, she has already taken the time to absorb his music and realizes how to channel his lessons into her own idiosyncratic authority.

The open quality of a tenor/bass/drums format puts a player's chops to the test, and Aldana proves her tenacity but what she plays and what she doesn't play. Bassist Pablo Menares and drummer Jochen Rueckert accompany her in a manner that keeps the structure close at hand. Sometimes she floats over them, with a lithe tone that seems to contemplate the variety of moves she can make. In "Obstacles," written by Rueckert, she starts off restrained, going against the rhythm section's brisk tempo. Eventually, she catches up, adding some fast arpeggios to wrap up her solo. She ends "En Otro Lugar" with some long tones, which she bends slightly, adding a few upper register squeaks as a final statement.

Back Home features compositions from all three trio members (Aldana wrote four, her mates each contributed two). The sole cover is Kurt Weill's "My Ship" which she delivers in a classic tenor mold: deep tone, full of breath that plays up its lyrical quality. Wisely, perhaps, the group keeps it simple, with a theme and just a bit of embellishment before taking it out.

Aldana's own compositions often sound like familiar themes that offer surprise when they take different turns. The opening phrases of "Time" begins like a classic ballad that has been played umpteen times. But the saxophonist creates a new line, with some rubato accompaniment from Menares and Rueckert, whose mallets and cymbal rolls give it a muscular opening. Aldana wisely put the title track at the end of the album. Here, she sounds closest to Rollins, with a boppish line that offers yet another update to a straightahead style. By this time, there's no doubt that Aldana's new path links with tradition but won't be limited to just that.

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