Early Americans, due for release later this month, is soprano sax specialist Jane Ira Bloom’s follow-up to her 2014 album Sixteen Sunsets. While the earlier album was devoted entirely to ballads, the new disc has Bloom working with a variety of rhythms. While Sixteen Sunsets had a program fairly evenly divided between original compositions and standards, Early Americans consists almost entirely of original pieces. The one exception is Bloom’s solo version of the West Side Story ballad “Somewhere” which closes the 13-tune set. While Sunsets had bloom working with a quartet, here she is pared down to a trio—with Mark Helias on bass and Bobby Previte on drums.
Now, on the other hand, there is one thing this new project has in common with the older album, and that one thing is some truly great music from an artist who knows how to get the most out of her instrument. She makes her “straight horn” sing through the breadth of its sound palate. From the lightly filigreed to the densely rich, from the melodically mellow to the otherworldly exotic, she plumbs the soprano sax’s full range. The album is a tour de force. Were she a classical artist, one might be tempted to describe her album as a set of etudes for the soprano saxophone. On the other hand, great jazz played with stylish verve and technical expertise is no mean descriptor.
The original pieces run the gamut from the darkly ominous “Dangerous Times” to the Latin flavors of “Rhyme or Rhythm,” from the swinging “Cornets of Paradise” and “Big Bill” to the jumping bop of “Gateway to Progress.” At times subtle, at times direct, the ensemble interplay on tunes like “Hips and Sticks,” “Singing the Triangle,” and “Mind Gray River” is impressive, indeed it is impressive throughout the album. “Song Patrol,” “Nearly (For Kenny Wheeler),” “Other Eyes,” and “Say More” round out the album set list.
When it comes to truly creative work with the soprano sax today, Jane Ira Bloom is the name to remember.