2:08pm

Fri January 31, 2014
Music Reviews

Too Much Of A Good Thing? Jane Ira Bloom's Beautiful Ballads

When soprano saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom plays Kurt Weill's "My Ship" on her new album Sixteen Sunsets, a pale glow around her notes comes from a simple special effect: pointing her horn under the hood of a piano whose strings are free to resonate. Bloom has always been preoccupied with sound, and has one of the prettiest, clearest tones around on soprano. She never sounds better than in ballads, and on Sixteen Sunsets she plays more than a dozen, including a few associated with Billie Holiday. You can tell Bloom knows the words to "Good Morning Heartache," even when her phrases depart from the lyric.

Billie Holiday is a good role model for how to vary and honor a melody at once; how to put in heart and bring out the blues. Jane Ira Bloom can tap into the soprano's piercing quality, but her default tone is round and overtone-rich. It's almost as pure as a classical saxophonist's, but Bloom the jazz musician may custom-tailor each note, inflecting it with a distinct vibrato or shading the pitch. She may let a note linger or clip it short, play it clean or coarse, or ascend to her steely high register.

Bassist Cameron Brown and drummer Matt Wilson keep those slow tempos moving on Sixteen Sunsets. The younger Brooklyn pianist Dominic Fallacaro has the sweet and sweeping stuff down, but I wish he always caught the bluesy undercurrents in the standard ballads, the way he does in Billie Holiday tunes like "Left Alone."

One reason Bloom's ballads are usually so effective is the contrast with her fast numbers. On Sixteen Sunsets, only a couple of songs outrun or even approach a medium tempo. One of those is her oldie "Ice Dancing," a bright tune with a tango tinge and an ending that's catchy like a mousetrap snapping shut.

In the long run, this program of non-stop beautiful ballads starts to seem like too much of a good thing. Yeah, that's right — we're complaining about an overabundance of riches.

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Transcript

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

Jazz critic Ken Whitehead has long admired the sound Jane Ira Bloom gets on the problematic soprano saxophone, which can be hard to play in tune. Kevin says Bloom's new album "Sixteen Sunsets" really plays to her strengths.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY SHIP")

KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: Kurt Weill's "My Ship" played by Jane Ira Bloom. That glow around her notes comes from a very simple special effect - pointing her horn under the hood of a piano. The strings are free to resonate. Bloom has always been preoccupied with sound, and has one of the prettiest, clearest tones around on soprano saxophone.

She never sounds better than on ballads, and on her new ablum "Sixteen Sunsets" she plays more than a dozen, including a few associated with Billie Holiday. You can tell Bloom knows the lyrics to "Good Morning Heartache," even when her phrases depart from the words.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOOD MORNING HEARTACHE")

WHITEHEAD: Billie Holiday is a good role model for how to vary and honor a melody at once, how to put in some heart and bring out the blues in it. Jane Ira Bloom can tap into the soprano's piercing quality, but her default tone is round and overtone-rich. It's almost as pure as a classical saxophonist, but Bloom the jazz musician may custom-tailor each note, inflecting it with a distinct vibrato or shading the pitch. She may let a note linger or clip it short, play it clean or coarse, or ascend to a steely high register.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DARN THAT DREAM")

WHITEHEAD: Jane Ira Bloom on "Darn That Dream." Bassist Cameron Brown and drummer Matt Wilson keep those slow tempos moving. The younger Brooklyn pianist Dominic Fallacaro has the sweet and sweeping stuff down, but I wish he always caught the bluesy undercurrents in the standard ballads, the way he does on the Billie Holiday tunes. This is her "Left Alone."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LEFT ALONE")

WHITEHEAD: One reason Jane Ira Bloom's ballads are usually so effective is the contrast with her fast numbers. On "Sixteen Sunsets," only a couple of songs outrun or even approach a medium tempo. One of those is her oldie "Ice Dancing," a bright tune with a tango tinge and a catchy ending like a mousetrap snapping shut.

But in the long run, this program of non-stop beautiful ballads starts to seem like too much of a good thing. Yeah, that's right - we're complaining about an overabundance of riches.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DAVIES: Kevin Whitehead writes for Point of Departure, Downbeat, and eMusic, and is the author of "Why Jazz?" He reviewed "Sixteen Sunsets," the new album by saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom. Coming up, Maureen Corrigan tells us about a new memoir by Diane Johnson which takes us to small-town life in the Midwest before the advent of television. This is FRESH AIR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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