Recording of the Week: Melissa Aldana, Back Home

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Melissa Aldana, Back Home

Aldana, tenor saxophone; Pablo Menares, bass; Jochen Rueckert, drums


Let’s get the labels out of the way first: saxophonist Aldana won the 2013 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition, making her the first (non-singer) woman to earn the award. Now is the time to acknowledge the generations of sexism on the jazz scene and also point out how there are an increasing number of female instrumentalists in jazz who are helping lead the music into the future (Mary Halvorson, Kris Davis, Ingrid Jensen, et al). Now, to the music.

This is a subtle and strong album, one that lingers in the memory and rewards repeated listening. Aldana is one of the growing number of saxophonists—most notably Noah Preminger—who come out of the warm, introverted sound of Joe Lovano. To that, she adds a particular taste for long, winding improvisational lines, which have a motion and an internal anchor that touch on the quality that made Tina Brooks so special.

The material is a mix of her originals, some tunes by Menares, two by Rueckert, and Weill’s “My Ship.” Outside of the Weill, which is a classic, the material is solid—Menares in particular has a way with tasty riffs and strong harmonic rhythm. But what mainly sticks in the memory is the effect of Aldana’s playing. Back Home is an advance on her previous release in that she’s found a way to play more subtlety while digging deeper.

There’s nothing here designed to knock your socks off, nothing to act as a hit or a hook for the rest of the album. It’s just fine trio playing, Menares and Rueckert are both strong as accompanists and soloists, and it’s the details of the ensemble that makes this rewarding. Aldana’s lyrical invention is sensitive to what is happening rhythmically underneath her, and Menares and Rueckert constantly respond to her and with sensitivity and creativity. An unexpected accent, a turn in a phrase that seems out of place but is then resolved through later logic, these are meant for attentive listening, because they offer up depths. The compelling charms have had me coming back to this one again and again.

Aldana will be playing music from Back Home at Birdland, March 30 & 31


Author: gtra1n

I'm a composer and musician, and I write about music—I do that here, for the New York Classical Review, at the Brooklyn Rail (I edit the music section there) and any place else that will have me, like New Music Box and Music & Literature. I also wrote the Miles Davis' Bitches Brew book in the 33 1/3 series.