Women's History Month Begins with Melissa Aldana, Marta Sanchez, Brandee Younger and Julieta Eugenio
Melissa Aldana, "12 Stars"
As she was formulating the concept behind 12 Stars, her stunning debut as a leader for Blue Note, tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana had her mind's eye turned toward the major arcana — core elements of tarot. The title track, which refers to the 12 stars traditionally found on a crown worn by the The Empress, is a piece she began writing at the start of the pandemic, in March of 2020, and completed one year later. "To me, finishing this tune also meant the closure of a period in my life because, as the legend goes, a phoenix obtains new life by rising from the ashes of its predecessor," Aldana reflects in press materials. A visualizer for the song, created by Nicole Clarizio, traces some of the symbology associated with tarot. As for the track itself, Aldana's warm, centered tone leads an expedition of determined interiority — superbly supported, as on the rest of the album, by guitarist and producer Lage Lund, pianist Sullivan Fortner (heard here on Fender Rhodes), bassist Pablo Menares and drummer Kush Abadey.
The Melissa Aldana Quintet appears through Sunday at The Village Vanguard.
Marta Sanchez, "The Eternal Stillness"
The exquisitely calibrated music on SAAM (Spanish American Art Museum) also comes from a place of deep personal expression. It was composed by Marta Sanchez during lockdown, a period of time in which she lost her mother — and was unable to travel to Madrid to see her. Some of the pain and tenderness of that experience can be heard on "The Eternal Stillness," which opens with a braided line for Alex Lore's alto saxophone and Roman Filiú's tenor, before a ruminative, restless bass solo by Rashaan Carter. When Sanchez ventures her own improvisation at the piano, working with and against the tidal flow of Allan Mednard's drumming, it's with an air of stoic determination — as if to acknowledge a difficult truth by staring it head on.
Brandee Younger, "Unrest II"
In a recent panel discussion with WBGO for Black History Month, harpist Brandee Younger acknowledged that she has largely shied away from bringing expressions of protest or political commentary into her work. But there can be no mistaking the intention behind a two-part single she released last month, titled "Unrest." Created with commissioning funds from the Jazz Coalition, it's a minor-key meditation that, as the title implies, dwells in harmonic irresolution. The first movement is a solo piece for harp; in the second, Younger is joined by the same rhythm team heard behind Marta Sanchez, Rashaan Carter on bass and Allan Mednard on drums. "One thing is true for every person hearing this piece," Younger says in a press statement. "We've all witnessed unrest as the nation grapples with its past and present — all in the midst of quarantine and major political change."
Brandee Younger performs at The Falcon, as part of Jazz Sundays, on March 20.
Julieta Eugenio, "La Jungla"
Julieta Eugenio moved to New York from Buenos Aires nearly a decade ago, to pursue her masters at Queens College. A tenor saxophonist with a deep, dark tone, she's been on the scene for a while now, but will make her first full-length statement with JUMP, due out on Greenleaf Music this Friday. The album finds Eugenio in that most exposed of settings, the pianoless tenor trio, with Matt Dwonszyk on bass and Jonathan Barber on drums. Another byproduct of the pandemic, it's an admirably focused effort that often evokes the calm at the center of a storm — an image easily conjured on "La Jungla," a polyrhythmic workout whose title refers not to any part of her native Argentina, but rather the concrete jungle of Manhattan.
Lisa Ullén / Elsa Bergman / Anna Lund, "Circle of Security"
Pianist Lisa Ullén, bassist Elsa Bergman and drummer Anna Lund comprise a collective Swedish trio, working at the interstices of free jazz and classical new music. They recorded their debut album, Space, at Fylkingen - New Music and Intermedia, a Stockholm venue well known in the Scandinavian avant-garde. Their rapport reflects an extraordinary sensitivity to color and texture, along with some deep, responsive listening. On a freely improvised piece titled "Circle of Security," it's fascinating to track how an almost tentative rustle of overtones gradually escalates into a Cecil Taylor-esque torrent of sound. This is fearless music that thrives on communality.