Alexa Tarantino is a woodwind virtuoso who has a fluid, swinging style with remarkable tone. In that sense, the album title is fitting. Clarity is her second release as a bandleader following last year’s Posi tone Winds of Change. She is also a composer and educator. Tarantino is the principal soloist in front of the rhythm section of pianist Steven Feifke, bassist Joe Martin, and drummer Rudy Royston. Tarantino was named one of the “Top 5 Alto Saxophonists of 2019” by the JazzTimes Critics’ Poll.
Tarantino performs and tours regularly as a leader and side musician in a wide variety of ensembles and genres, including the Cecile McLorin Salvant Quintet, Cecile McLorin Salvant’s OGRESSE Ensemble, Ulysses Owens Jr.’s Generation Y, LSAT (quintet co-led with baritone saxophonist Lauren Sevian), Arturo O’Farrill & The Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra, Sherrie Maricle & the DIVA Jazz Orchestra. Tarantino is currently on faculty for Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Youth Programs (High School Jazz Academy, Let Freedom Swing/Jazz for Young People) and represents the organization as a Clinician and Educator for various schools, festivals, and workshops. She holds a Master’s degree in Jazz Studies from The Juilliard School and Bachelor’s degrees in Jazz Saxophone Performance and Music Education from the Eastman School of Music. Tarantino is also the Founder and Director of the Rockport Jazz Workshop in Rockport, Massachusetts. So, with this considerable resume, we move to her latest project.
These are all compositions written within the past year. She begins with “Through” a modal piece on which she plays flute, challenging herself to play it in an edgier setting than usual. She’s on her main instrument, the alto sax, for “A Race Against Yourself,” a complex, at times frenetic piece that not only demonstrates her command on the instrument but the strength of her rhythm mates especially her conversations with Royston on the eights. “La Puerta’ is when this writer took exceptional notice to her wonderful tone, so clean and expressive. Here is her humble commentary on the piece, “This has become one of my favorite songs to play. I first encountered this song when I was performing with Arturo O’Farrill’s Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra at Birdland Jazz Club. The legendary Bobby Porcelli was the lead alto player at the time, and I was lucky enough to sit next to him each week while he played this piece. This is my “thank you” to Bobby for his beautiful sound and generous spirit.”
“A Unified Front” is another post-bop composition delivered on the alto, with strong melodic support from Fiefke’s piano. The first four bars were collectively created from a group of friends, each by contributing one note at time, thus the title. She stays in a similar mode covering Horace Silver’s “Gregory Is Here,” this time on soprano where her ‘clarity’ is equally impressive. Silver’s recording first appeared on his In Pursuit of the 27th Man and she adds her own special groove to it as Fiefke turns to the electric piano.
At her behest, Feifke contributed ‘Karma” another post-bop groove exercise with Tarantino on alto and it, of course, gives the pianist plenty of room to stretch out as well. The rich harmonic ballad “Breaking Cycles” comes from her Eastman School of Music friend and composer, saxophonist Levi Saelula. “Thank You for Your Silence’ is a swinging number where Tarantino’s alto is pushed by stout support from Royston and Martin. With a bookend effect, she returns to flute, alto flute in this case, for the closing cover of the pensive Miles Davis’ My Ship, interpreting the version heard on Miles Ahead. It’s breathtakingly gorgeous and the perfect way to end this terrific album. We hope that Tarantino stays on this track of releasing an album per year as a leader – she is an amazing talent.
- Jim Hynes