The appeal of Bliss is simple: Lauren Sevian plays the deep, full-bodied baritone sax with the spry agility of an alto saxophonist. And while there are a few of Sevian’s peers that can claim the same, they aren’t partnered with bassist Christian McBride. Drummer E.J. Strickland and pianist Robert Rodriguez round out the star-spangled quartet. Alto saxophonist Alexa Tarantino, Sevian’s longtime friend and co-leader in the band LSAT, guests on three tracks and composes the lone non-Sevian original (“Square One”) among the 10 songs here.
Sevian, probably best known for her extended stint in the Mingus Big Band, understands that Bliss, her second album as a leader, is a career-crystallizing showcase, and she doesn’t whiff. The Coltrane-channeling opener, “Triple Water,” is a purposeful tour de force, with two separate, dazzling solos spiced with rapid modulation, extended high notes and low guttural runs. “Miss Lady” negotiates some thorny note clusters and then settles into carefree swing. “Lamb and Bunny” is a baton-pass of blistering solos, while “Evergreen” demonstrates Sevian’s patience and restraint.
McBride’s enormous sound is an ideal foil for the bari’s big metallic tone, and whether he’s galloping on “Lamb and Bunny,” championing the toe-tapping pulse of “In the Loop” or enlivening his timekeeping with pinpoint asides, his contributions are clean, penetrating and swinging. By contrast, Strickland and Rodriguez are relatively subdued. Sometimes Sevian flexes too much technique, unnecessarily agitating the would-be ballad “Goldies Chance” and siphoning the blues essence out of “Bluesishness” with phrases that would be more impressive in a standalone context. More often, however, this is a coming-out party to celebrate, capped by “Minimal Moves,” which uses the harmonic progression of “Giant Steps” for a memorable sendoff.
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