Jane Ira Bloom has always been a lyrical player, but on her first ballads collection, stripped of technical enhancements, this elite soprano saxophonist reveals new depths. Leading a quartet including Dominic Fallacaro, a young pianist with a nice light touch, she commands a double album’s worth of the slow stuff, rarely raising her voice or taking a predictable path.
Moving seamlessly between standards and originals, Sixteen Sunsets unfolds with a luminous intensity. It’s difficult to recall a more powerfully contained reading of “I Loves You, Porgy.” Framed by Bloom’s “Gershwin’s Skyline” and treated to just the right amount of blues expression, the classic radiates dignity in the face of sorrow. Bloom’s slow, calmly reflective reading of “The Way You Look Tonight” hits you in a way it rarely does, stripped of sentimentality.
When she allows herself to climb the scale and cut loose, as on “Good Morning Heartache,” the effect is powerful. But as taken as Bloom has always been with flight, she is equally compelling on terra firma, as she demonstrates with her bold melody statement, brilliant sliding phrases and pas de deux with Fallacaro on “Ice Dancing (for Torvill & Dean),” a song originally featured, as was “Gershwin’s Skyline/I Loves You, Porgy,” on her 1988 album, Slalom. Throughout, her gorgeous full notes and assertive tone are a welcome relief from the wispy sound of many soprano saxophonists.
Veterans that they are, bassist Cameron Brown (providing the same graceful support he has given singer Sheila Jordan) and drummer Matt Wilson are smartly unobtrusive partners. It’s worth noting that Sixteen Sunsets was recorded in 5.1 high-resolution Surround Sound by esteemed engineer Jim Anderson, which only enhances Bloom’s enveloping powers.