Melissa Aldana, the young Chilean saxophonist, released her first CD entitled “Free Fall” in 2010. It was a dazzling foray into mature jazz. That is not to say that she was over her head because she was not. In fact, she seemed right at home in the classic quartet setting of piano, bass, drums and horn.
“Second Cycle” is her second sojourn but in the altered quartet of sax, trumpet (Gordon Au), bass (Joseph Lepore) and drums (Ross Pederson). The compositions are all by Melissa or Gordon Au with the exception of Sammy Fain’s “I’ll Be Seeing You.”
Like “Free Fall,” Melissa’s new CD is released on Greg Osby’s Inner Circle Music label. Osby knows how to back a winner. He has established a reputation as a cultivator of young talent and his label’s artist list reads like a collection of future legends.
Melissa Aldana is one of those future legends. She plays cool. She plays raw. She is soothing. She is thrilling. Her hometown of Santiago, Chile should be extremely proud of her.
The album kicks off with “Ellemeno” a mid-bop piece from trumpeter Gordon Au. It is a sure sign of Melissa’s confidence that her own CD opens with a piece dominated early on by the trumpet. When she takes her own solo, it is surely worth the wait. The piece closes with both horns in duet. They play well together.
Drummer Ross Pederson has appeared on several recordings and his performance on “Second Cycle” shows why. His talents are on display from the opening track as he seems to channel Elvin Jones.
“Meeting Them” is the second track and is an original composition by Melissa herself. It is easy to be taken by her understated approach as the rhythm section attempt to steal the show. Pederson gives a quasi-military introduction and at first it seems like Melissa misses the beat but it becomes immediately clear that she is exactly where she intends to be. The piece is almost avant-garde in its loose timing and rough riding. It is fascinating.
Gordon Au composed “Liquiescence” and is a lovely and intelligent work. The sax and trumpet work in great partnership. Think John Coltrane and Don Cherry.
This track is one of those examples where the listener should listen behind the front pieces because Joseph Lepore lays down some exquisite bass work underneath.
The following four pieces are all Melissa Aldana compositions. “First Cycle” is a bold experiment in rhythm and non-melody. I say that without criticism because Melissa performs the sax percussively rather than melodically and she does it with courage and attack.
Amazingly, while the listener is caught into the rhythm of the piece a melody does emerge that prepares the way for “Second Cycle.” It is tempting to categorize tracks 4-6 as a suite. They seem to belong together and surely this is what Melissa had in mind because the percussion of “First Cycle” gives way to the melody of “Second Cycle.” It is an aggressive melody that has an almost sultry kind of charm. Then this surrenders to a lively core progression melody that characterizes “Free Fall.” The rhythm section is harnessed in service of the punchy melody from the horns.
“My Own World” follows and is another original from Melissa. The title invokes imagery of wistful daydreams but the truth of the music is far from that. It is a commanding performance from Melissa and she is planting her flag in a sax player’s jazz world that clearly and deservedly belongs now to her. She is at home in this world of jazz saxophone and it is indeed her own world.
“Polyphemus” is composed by Gordon Au and it is as rousing and exciting as Homer’s epic figure of the Cyclops. The temptation is to make the mythological themes fit by hook or by crook into the motifs of Au’s music.
With that said, there is an intriguing interplay and counterplay which is evocative of the duping and blinding of the powerful Polyphemus by the shrewd Odysseus. This is brilliant trading between the horns and Melissa is as smoking hot as the ember that blinded the Cyclops.
In “Polyphemus” Melissa is at her skillful best. She is precise and articulate. She is energetic and she brings out the best in her fellow musicians.
The Sammy Fain tune “I’ll Be Seeing You” is sweet and satisfying and Melissa plays it just that way. It also features some of Joseph Lepore’s coolest upright bass work as Ross Pederson continues to exhibit his mastery— this time through the brushes.
The song is wonderful on its own merits but Melissa, Joseph and Ross successfully stamp their own images on it.
Melissa’s piece “The L Line” closes out the album and it is a fine finish. All of the musicians get their own moments before the close and they all take the opportunity to shine. There are the brilliant flashes that remind one of Bill Chase’s band in their power and cohesion and velocity.
As impressive as Melissa Aldana’s first CD was, with “Second Cycle” she has made a mature and melodic jump ahead. If the first rule of entertainment is “always leave them wanting more,” then she has accomplished that delightfully.
The recording can be previewed and purchased here: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/melissaaldana1
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