Recent Listening: Bloom, Clayton, Allen

Jane Ira Bloom, Mental Weather (Outline). This 2008 quartet album by the soprano saxophonist deserved Rifftides attention long before now. Bloom is noted for her control, Mental Weather.jpgintonation and full-bodied sound on a notoriously thin and cranky instrument, but those qualities merely serve her creativity, which is at a high level here. She teams with drummer Matt Wilson, bassist Mark Helias and pianist Dawn Clement. Electronic effects sparingly employed on a few tracks enhance the precision and clarity of Bloom’s placement of lines and the freedom of her interaction with the rhythm section. Helias and Wilson solo impressively and, in Wilson’s case, with his customary wit. Their contributions as ensemble players account for a good deal of the album’s richness.
Clement’s playing in this collection further explains why musicians on both coasts are recruiting her for her craftsmanship and the imagination of her soloing. The tone and dynamic variation of her keyboard touch are important elements in her individualism. Clement and Bloom have an ability to anticipate one another that prevents splatter in the execution of a challenging concept like the metric escapades of the title tune. Bloom’s compositions embrace the unsentimental romanticism of “Cello on the Inside” as well as the adventurism of “Electrochemistry,” which is the sort of thing Lennie Tristano might be doing if he were still around. She wrote all of the pieces except “This Nearly Was Mine.” Bloom plays the Rodgers and Hammerstein ballad unaccompanied in one ravishing chorus of melody. This one goes into the permanent collection.
Gerald Clayton, Two Shade (Decca). In one dimension, Clayton brings to mind predecessors like Junior Mance, Monty Alexander, Oscar Peterson and Bobby Timmons. The spirit and verve of that brand of full-bodied pianism come across powerfully in “Boogablues” and his vibrant take on “All of You, ” among other tracks. He displays further aspects in the ethereal “Casiotone Pothole,” incorporating harmonized wordless voices and justGerald Clayton.jpg enough electronic manipulation not to do serious damage; the pointillism of “Trapped in a Dream;” and the prayerful quality of “Sunny Day Go,” with its intimation of Chopin. Bassist Joe Sanders and drummer Justin Brown help make this a substantial debut album by a pianist who has developed dramatically in the decade since I first heard him as a 16-year-old sitting in with his father, the bassist John Clayton. His power, judgment, taste and maturity are evident in the integrated, cooperative nature of the trio. This band is the antithesis of piano with rhythm accompaniment. Still Clayton’s six-minute performance alone of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Con Alma” all but steals the CD. His ad lib introduction is a composition unto itself, the fruit of a fertile mind.
Harry Allen, New York State Of Mind (Challenge). Has Harry Allen been around so long now that people take him for granted? That would be a mistake. He is only 44. He got an early start. Great tenor playing is never out of style, and Allen has long since melded his primary influences–Ben Webster, Lester Young, Stan Getz, Zoot Sims–into an approach with Harry Allen NY State.jpgtonal and rhythmic qualities all his own. In this collection of songs about New York, he seems occasionally to also have Al Cohn on his mind. Allen’s rhythm section is drummer Chuck Riggs, bassist Joel Forbes and the young Italian pianist Rossano Sportiello, who can manage in the course of one solo to evoke both Fats Waller and Al Haig. On six of the 11 tunes, the great trombonist John Allred is Allen’s instrumental foil. Their romp through the elusive metering of Irving Berlin’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz” is nearly worth the price of the CD. Their out-of-tempo reading of the rarely-heard verse of “Autumn in New York” seals the deal. In his tag to “Broadway Melody,” Allen comes about as close to quarter tones as a saxophone can handle. When is the last time you heard “Sidewalks of New York” or “Chinatown My Chinatown” as serious jazz vehicles? Not since Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong? Maybe it’s time to hear what updated harmonies can do for warhorses. Serious doesn’t mean solemn.

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