I have thought tenor saxophonist Lena Bloch a remarkable player in the too-few times I have seen and heard her.
Last Sunday (Mother’s Day 2011) I finally had an opportunity to experience her in a most intriguing duo with pianist Evgeny Sivtsov, appearing at Caffe Vivaldi (32 Jones Street in West Greenwich Village, New York City).
Duet playing is a fascinating balancing act. As in any other relationship where two people have strong personalities and solidly established selves, the paradox emerges immediately that each one must be ready, at a moment’s notice, to switch roles.
And it’s much more subtle than Leader and Follower — in this case, Lena and Evgeny didn’t always follow the typical patterns, but they engage in playful, often dramatic dialogues. At times I thought of Steve Lacy, other moments reminded me of Al Cohn and Jimmy Rowles, of Ted Brown and Michael Kanan — all fine echoes and resonances.
At first, Evgeny impressed me as a powerful, imposing player (although he is tall and thin), making great clusters of sound — more THE GREAT GATES OF KIEV than FIFTY-SECOND STREET THEME, but beneath his apparent ferocity was a playful self that emerged later in the set, where I heard prancing echoes of Erroll Garner, or Johnny Guarneri.
Lena has her own sound and conceptions. She has a beautiful tone (even when she chooses to make it dry for a moment) and she understands melodic playing. She is no rhapsodist, but an explorer, not afraid of venturing outside the contours of the expected melody. But she never uses her tenor saxophone to make sounds that might assault us.
This session found Lena and Evgeny inventing inspired dialogues — a set of improvisations on standard songs that made the familiar fresh, with Lena’s tenor lines often riding the currents of Evgeny’s piano — a little boat in powerful currents, able to ride them without ever going under. Exultant music — serious, playful, unpredictable.
And from behind my video camera, I found the faces and bodies of the two players visually fascinating, their artless movements and expressions compelling proof of how music moves us. Watch Evgeny as he bravely makes his way through the thickets — unknown territory! — bobbing and weaving like the truly impassioned man he is. And observe the wonderful way Lena’s face, while she was listening and leaning, reflects every note and nuance she heard on the piano.
Great, playful art.
Cole Porter’s I LOVE YOU:
I’LL REMEMBER APRIL. (And I’ll smile):
I HEAR A RHAPSODY (an accurate title):
EVERYTHING HAPPENS TO ME (with its serious, grieving air):
YOU STEPPED OUT OF A DREAM:
Frank Loesser’s jaunty IVE NEVER BEEN IN LOVE BEFORE:
LONG AGO AND FAR AWAY: