Monday, September 18, 2017

Straight Horning: Jane Ira Bloom - Wild Lines: Improvising Emily Dickinson

Last week it was a fairly new release, this week it’s a new release - Jane Ira Bloom’s
Wild Lines: Improvising Emily Dickinson (Outline). I’ve been looking forward to this one for a couple of months now. It features her long-time collaborator Bobby Previte on drums along with pianist Dawn Clement and bassist Mark Helias (who also have been in the Bloom orbit for a number of albums now). 

While I’m not super familiar with Bloom’s output (I have 3 or 4 albums and heard her once live about 5 years ago), I know there are certain things to expect - her signature soprano tone that is full of depth (as usual she doesn’t overdo the electronics), attention to detail, a tight ensemble sound (I enjoy the blend of the soprano and piano - not easy), and a nicely produced album.

Jazz and Poetry Emily DickinsonThat being said, I’ve had a harder time getting into Wild Lines than I did with previous album, Early Americans. But I think it has less to do with the playing, than it does with the album as a whole. One thing that was appealing to me about Wild Lines was the spoken word aspect featuring the work of Emily Dickinson. However, I wasn’t expecting 2 discs - the first being instrumental, and the second featuring the quartet augmented with Deborah Rush’s recitation of Dickinson. Each disc features the same pieces, albeit in a different order. Cool…double the music, lots of listen and comparing different takes.  Not quite. Rather than featuring totally different takes many of the pieces on the instrumental disc are essentially the same minus the vocal. For example, the pieces “Emily & Her Atoms” and “Alone & In a Circumstance” both feature the same music on each disc with the poetry spoken over the piano introduction. They are not all like that - “Dangerous times” features two different performances and I thought this would have been the standard approach. Even Bloom’s trademark solo rendition of a ballad (“It’s East to Remember” in this case) seems to be the same take on each disc.

It gave me the impression that the words were tacked on, spoken over an arranged/composed part of the music…. and then the band takes over for the rest of the piece. There doesn’t seem to be much in the way improvising while the poetry is spoken and as such, the spoken portion does not feel completely integrated into the performance. As I continued listening I started to feel that the words were acting as a preface to the music (or in the case of “Big Bill,” an afterword), and it started to work for me. But then why have the instrumental disc?  Could it possibly be for something a bit more radio/middle-of-the-road jazz audience friendly? Then why include the second disc with spoken word? I found this quite a distraction, and spent about as much time (maybe more) pondering this as I did enjoying the music. And that’s a shame as I am enjoying the performances. It’s maybe a little more composition orientated than I like, but Bloom sounds excellent - her tone is full of subtle shifts in color, vibrato, pitch, and dynamics. “Big Bill” appeared on her last album, Early Americans. And it’s nice to hear someone revisiting to one of their own tunes. It seems these days that standard procedure is to record 8 or 9 tunes for a specific project and then the tunes are shelved. Rarely are they tackled on later recordings (which feature another 8 or 9 new tunes), which may make harder to associate a set of tunes with an artist. But that's for another blog post.

Had Wild Lines come with only one disc (preferably with the spoken word), I think I would have quite a different listening experience over the last few days. But now, with my initial confusion out of the way, I can just relax and listen to the music.

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