Daily Archives: March 16, 2014

FEATHERY MUSIC, GENTLE QUESTIONS: LENA BLOCH

I’ve always heard that attorneys only ask questions to which they know the answers. I have nothing against them individually or as a group, but this seems like a closed loop of an endeavor.  The tenor saxophonist Lena Bloch is on a more inspiring track: she asks questions for which there might be no simple answer, no single answer.  Asking the question is the purpose and the rewarding result. I have been admiring her musical inquiries as often as possible during the last few years our paths have intersected in New York City, and have seen her as a very authentic player — someone devoted to melodic explorations that, while gentle, have weight and seriousness to balance off their soaring possibilities.

ajazz bloch

Lena has a wonderful new CD, FEATHERY — it’s her debut CD as a leader, and as you read this it will be available, as a physical CD or as downloads, with sound samples, hereShould you prefer to voyage up the Amazon, you can ask your own questions and purchase a copy here. It’s on Thirteenth Note Records, and Lena’s curious, inventive colleagues are drummer Billy Mintz, string bassist Cameron Brown, guitarist Dave Miller.

Knowing can easily be confused with wisdom. Lena Bloch, Dave Miller, Cameron Brown, and Billy Mintz are deeply aware that real wisdom is in the tireless asking of questions, not an irritable straining to come up with the one right answer.  Their willingness to inquire, this gentle wondering, informs their music.   Rather than treat this grouping of players and voices as it usually is done (ensemble line, solos, drum fours, ensemble), they often take the opportunity to ask questions of the music itself.

The music created by these four artists is far more subtle and affecting than hearing another jazz quartet working its own variations on Playing What We Already Know.  The art – for let us call it by its right name – is feathery-light and durable.  I hear Lester Young and Brahms, sorrows and exultations, Eastern meditation and collective invention.

The music is strong and sweet, dense and welcoming.  The musicians have sensations to share with us, secrets made tangible, their language too deep for words.

Lena Bloch does not announce herself as courageous, and I think she would start giggling if you told her this was the case.  But she surely is.  Her artistic courage is not a matter of being big, bold, and loud. She approaches the music with tender reverence.  But she is not afraid to venture into new spaces in pursuit of beauty.  Her models and mentors  knew that the cosmos could be dark and terrifying, but the only human response to the void was to speak, through playing and composing, know how to keep terrors at bay.  I will fill the air with floating sounds. I will be brave enough to say WHO IS OUT THERE? I will soar above on feathers of melody.

Lena’s friends and colleagues on this disc are equally inspired. They trust themselves, and their loving energy comes through in every note sounded.  They fly happily. No sun dares to melt their wings.

And the music on this disc continues to resonate once the disc has concluded.  Billy, Dave, and Cameron are great painters of sound. They listen to their hearts; they listen to their instruments; they listen to each other. They create a world where Beauty is not only possible, but inevitable. Their sounds will guide us into the darkness and into the light.  Hear them, and be uplifted.

I’m not the only one who admires Lena’s questing spirit and FEATHERY: here is Dan McCleneghan’s review in All About Jazz.

Once you’ve visited Lena’s website and seen more of the videos there, once you’ve heard FEATHERY, you could attend a quartet gig at the most convivial of spaces, The Drawing Room, on 56 Willoughby Street in Brooklyn, New York: Sunday, March 30, at 7:30, and the group will be Lena, Putter Smith, string bass; Dave Miller, and Billy Mintz.

Whatever ways you can, find and find out more about Lena Bloch.

May your happiness increase!

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SWING STREET COMES TO NICASIO (Part One): THE IVORY CLUB BOYS: PAUL MEHLING, EVAN PRICE, CLINT BAKER, SAM ROCHA, and MIKE LIPSKIN (March 2, 2014)

On Sunday, March 2, 2014, while the rest of America was watching the Oscars, the Beloved and I were muggin’ lightly with the Ivory Club Boys (presented by the Hot Club of San Francisco) paying tribute to Stuff Smith and his Onyx Club Boys, at Rancho Nicasio in Nicasio, California.

The Ivories were (for this occasion) Paul Mehling, guitar and vocal; Evan Price, violin; Clint Baker, trumpet, euphonium, clarinet, and vocal; Sam Rocha, string bass, and guest star Mike Lipskin, piano.

And before we proceed: the Ivories aren’t a repertory band devoted to reproducing Stuff and Jonah’s hot ecstasies right off the record — so the scholars among us may find a certain liberty in their improvisations.  My goodness, they even perform songs Stuff never recorded!  But they don’t want to make history; they just want to swing. Four-four, if you don’t mind. Charlie Christian and Teddy Bunn are at the bar, too.

Here are eight rocking numbers from their first set:

CRAZY RHYTHM:

SARATOGA SWING:

I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY (vocal by Paul Mehling):

DESERT SANDS (a Stuff original, very atmospheric):

CHINA BOY (Mike strides in):

I’M CONFESSIN’ (with commentary by Mister Lipskin at the start):

JEEPERS CREEPERS (ditto and likewise — hear the band shift into tempo after the verse!):

ONE HOUR (vocal by Clint Baker after Mike’s lovely exposition of the verse):

We were with them two hours that night, and the band was so very rewarding.  I’m looking forward to their next gig, their CD, their DVD, the world tour, the t-shirts, keychains, their own Facebook page. Until the real thing comes along, enjoy this set — and there’s more to come.

May your happiness increase!