Sure, there are more enticing ways to open a jazz album than by turning to “We Are the Champions” for inspiration. Yet pianist Monika Herzig’s harmonically fresh treatment of the Queen anthem works surprisingly well on Eternal Dance, for several reasons. Besides establishing the album’s embracing, often exultant tone, the performance swiftly reveals Herzig’s strengths as an arranger while showcasing the depth and finesse of her Sheroes ensemble. Save for the album’s striking solo closer, the keyboardist is in excellent company throughout this session, supported by a rotating cast of players: flutist Jamie Baum, trombonist Reut Regev, bassist Jennifer Vincent, drummer Rosa Avila, alto saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin, guitarist Leni Stern, cellist Akua Dixon, and percussionist Mayra Casales. Small wonder, given the stellar lineup and almost palpable camaraderie, Herzig chose one more pop tune for the occasion: a newly redubbed and empowering version of David Bowie’s “We Can Be (S)Heroes.”
Still, the best is yet to come. Three tracks immediately stand out: Stern’s whimsically animated “Rabbit”; “Dear Geri,” Herzig’s richly evocative tribute to the late Geri Allen; and Baum’s insinuating “Seas of Change,” dedicated to Greta Thunberg. Elsewhere, though often lyrical, Herzig’s tunes are laced with unexpected diversions, insistent pedal tones, odd intervals, and conversational gambits. Generously showcased, her collaborators consistently enhance the arrangements, even as the focus shifts from melodic and atmospheric settings to funk, blues, and odd-meter excursions. The album’s spiritual spine and centerpiece, however, is “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child.” And as for its aforementioned coda, no doubt Herzig’s poignant elegy “Memories of Petra” will strike a particularly resonant chord for many listeners in these unsettling times.