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Lena Bloch

Heart Knows

FRESH SOUND NEW TALENT FSNT 531

 

 

 

Lateef Suite (Lena Bloch) 12:02
Heart Knows (Lena Bloch) 7:47
Three Treasures (Russ Lossing) 6:32
French Twist (Russ Lossing) 12:54
Esmeh (Lena Bloch) 10:35
Counter Clockwise (Russ Lossing) 4:34
Munir (Lena Bloch) 8:53
Newfoundsong (Russ Lossing) 7:23

Lena Bloch (tenor sax)

Russ Lossing (piano)

Cameron Brown (bass)

Billy Mintz (drums)

Recorded at Charlestown Road Studio, Hampton (NJ)

July 27, 2017

A few months ago, browsing on Spotify, I came across an album called Feathery, by Lena Bloch. Her name meant almost nothing to me (only a vague memory of having come across it before), but a happy instinct led me to play it. I was immediately captured by the album and listened to it several times that evening and over the next few days. Some online research informed me that Feathery (Thirteenth Note Records, 2014) was a debut album. It struck me as remarkably subtle and personal work for a debut album, most such things being submerged by influences not yet fully absorbed. Though, listening to Feathery, I was once or twice reminded of Warne Marsh, there was no sense of mere ‘imitation’ or excessive indebtedness in the music on the album. Further research gradually made it clear that Lena Bloch had brought to her first album a wealth of experience in life and art, which might explain its mature individuality.

Bloch was born in Moscow (perhaps around 1970?) and brought up there. She studied piano and opera, and discovered jazz, taking up the tenor saxophone as a result. In 1990 she emigrated to Israel and studied at the Rubin Academy of Music and Dance in Jerusalem. She subsequently spent spells in Italy, Holland and Germany, and seems to have been based in the USA since the early 2000s. Along the way, her commitment and eagerness to learn and develop led her to periods of study with many notable jazz figures, including Yusef Lateef, Keith Copeland, the late John Taylor, Dave Holland, Lee Konitz, Joe Lovano and Kenny Werner. She seems always to have been determined that she should not become trapped within the ‘predictabilities’ of any single musical language. So, while in Germany, she took a good deal of interest in the music of the expatriate communities of Turks an Iranians. In an interview with Joe Patitucci – which can be accessed via Ms. Bloch’s website (lenabloch.com) she recounts that “in 1997 I met my Persian teacher, the great [player of the setar] and vocalist Kaveh Dalir-Azar, he taught me about Persian classical music and its tonal material. I feel very attracted by the sound and expressive techniques of instruments like oud, nay, setar and tar” (Something of decided relevance to tracks such as ‘Esmeh’ and ‘Munir’ on the CD under review).

On this, Bloch’s second album, ‘Feathery’ seems to have become the name of the group, the album itself being called Heart Knows, issued by Jordi Pujol’s ever-enterprising label Fresh Sounds Records, based in Barcelona. It is even better than its predecessor. The music ‘floats’, rather as the word ‘feathery’ might suggest, though never aimlessly. Though each piece begins with a written theme (four by the leader, four by Lossing), what follows is largely a matter of group improvisation, in a tradition that goes all the way back to tracks such as ‘Intuition’ and ‘Digression’ recorded by Lennie Tristano (with a group including Warne Marsh( as long ago as 1949. But, it must be stressed, Bloch is no nostalgic revivalist. Hers is new and decidedly distinctive music, full of freshness and looking forward more than its looks backward. The many musical idioms Bloch has studied have all been absorbed and interiorised, re-made in a synthesis with elements drawn from her own musical personality

There is one change of personnel between Bloch’s two albums. Guitarist David Miller is replaced by pianist Russ Lossing. I have no complaints about Miller or his contributions to Feathery, but Lossing seems to me to be an even more compatible partner for Bloch; indeed the intuitive relationship between the two sometimes makes them sound like twin aspects of the same musical mind.

The music on Heart Knows (I am reminded of Pascal’s aphorism that “The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing”) is adventurous but disciplined, intuitively coherent, as it were. In the Press Release accompanying the CD, Bloch is quoted thus: “We are not trying to produce something already contrived beforehand …Jazz doesn’t have to be risk free – on the contrary, I think risk is a great factor! Because I trust the professionalism and experience of these people, risk and challenge only facilitate the result. The less safe we all feel, the better it is for the music”. The results on this CD have that special frisson that comes from risks taken and negotiated successfully, of surprises created and received between the four members of the group. If your idea of ‘free’ jazz is derived primarily from the wilder excesses of the free jazz movement of the 1960s, I urge you to sample this CD. I feel sure that you will be very pleasantly surprised. (I note that Heart Knows is now on Spotify alongside Feathery, and I dare say it can be found on other streaming services too, if you want to try it before ordering a copy).

Surely any lover of jazz not absolutely wedded exclusively to, say, the Armstrong of the 1920s or the Benny Goodman of the 1930s, will find him/herself enjoying the spontaneous interplay in ‘Lateef Suite’ (a tribute to the spirit of a remarkable man, rather than to the sounds of his music) or the ravishing beauty of the lyrical ‘Heart Knows’. Or, indeed, the musical wit and charm in the performance of Lossing’s ‘French Twist’, a re-harmonising of materials from Bach’s French Suite in D minor (BWV 812). Equally hard to resist is the gorgeous ‘Munir’ with its middle-eastern references and some wonderful work by veteran bassist Cameron Brown – a thing of great beauty. I might enumerate every individual track, but let me just say that the whole CD a marvelous example of the kind of empathy that underlies most great jazz. Do try to hear it!

Glyn Pursglove

 

 


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