Mary Joyce, a cousin of baritone saxophonist Claire Daly’s father, was a Wisconsin native who made history as a long-distance dogsledder in pre-statehood Alaska. On this beautifully realized album, Daly captures Joyce’s adventurous spirit, determination and love of her surroundings while radiating similar qualities herself.
Informed by Joyce’s journals, the songs were written by Daly and/or pianist Steve Hudson. Doubling on alto sax and also playing flute, Daly brings a sweet melodic clarity to her bop-driven narrative, helped immeasurably by engineer Jim Czak’s clean, open sound. We get a lyrical sense of the wide-open surroundings and of the intimacy between artist and subject. While Nothing to Lose doesn’t chart new ground the way Joyce did as a woman and non-Alaskan, its unusual storyline and supplemental effects make it unique.
Daly contributes an appealing vocal and spoken-word tribute. The excellent band, including bassist Mary Ann McSweeney, drummer Peter Grant and human beatboxer Napoleon Maddox, mixes in Tlingit Indian chants and other atmospheric touches. One song-chapter leads irresistibly to the next. “Epilogue,” which incorporates one of Joyce’s favorite standards, “When I Grow Too Old to Dream,” skates a bit on sentimentality, but it’s well earned.