Melissa Aldana: Visions (Motéma)

A review of the Chilean tenor saxophonist's album inspired by Frida Kahlo

Visions by Melissa Aldana
The cover of Visions by Melissa Aldana.

Chilean tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana invokes the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo as the inspiration for Visions, which was originally commissioned as a suite, with its world premiere at Jazz Gallery last June. The disc showcases a stellar quintet, featuring pianist Sam Harris, bassist Pablo Menares, drummer Tommy Crane, and vibraphonist Joel Ross, on board for all but three of the 11 tracks. (Aldana had led a chordless trio on her past two records and hadn’t used a pianist since her 2010 debut.)

Aldana has always been a precocious player and composer—she won the 2013 Monk Competition at age 24—who enjoys incorporating into her work complex harmonies and flowing changes in mood and tone. Kahlo’s example took on added resonance as Aldana’s research revealed how much pain and sacrifice the painter endured to sustain her art. Still, Aldana eschews melodrama. She and Harris both take burning solos on the title cut, with Ross accentuating her gestures and pivots. On the third song, “La Madrina,” for the “Godmother” who supposedly gave Kahlo the option of a long, painful life or the release of death, you can hear the contemplative gusts in which Aldana says she has “written layers and tension and resolution into the music.”

The rustling calm of “La Madrina” yields to the lush, wistful “Perdon,” with Aldana a model of restraint as she pares her notes between a flicker and a fade and then returns after Harris’ long solo with low notes that flutter and swoop. After the exquisitely gentle “Abre Tus Ojos,” “Elsewhere” is a more raucous quintet affair, as Aldana pays tribute to her idol Sonny Rollins, with a low-toned, clarion bleat at solo’s end. The nine-minute closer, “El Castillo de Velenje,” unfurls the duality of Kahlo, her curiosity for the mysteries in life and her assertive strength to see it through.

Preview, buy or download Visions on Amazon!

Listen to “Elsewhere,” from Visions