Wild Lines: Improvising Emily Dickinson
It seems only appropriate that the artist dubbed “the poet of the soprano saxophone” by acclaimed jazz critic Brian Priestly would honor one of America’s iconic poets. Jane Ira Bloom reimagines the poetry of 19th-century visionary Emily Dickinson in two different settings. Her double CD showcases her jazz quartet’s interpretation of Dickinson’s poetry and includes a second version for jazz quartet and spoken word featuring readings by popular stage and film actor Deborah Rush. This is Bloom’s seventeenth album and first venture into music and text.
If you love the pure sound of the soprano without the screeching and honking and free from electric accompaniment, this album is for you. The clarity of Bloom’s sound is soothing, comforting and majestic. Her distinctive sound resonates with her long-time band mates Dawn Clement (piano), Mark Helias (bass), and Bobby Previte (drums), all playing in the acoustic mode. The Emily Dickinson narrative joins the ensemble in several passages on the second disc. Bloom composed Wild Lines when she was awarded a 2015 CMA/ Doris Duke New Jazz Works commission.
After listening to the gorgeous rendering of 15 tracks on the first disc, the spoken words on the second disc, at first seem interruptive and distracting. It’s as if an unexpected visitor entered your quiet room. Words over music don’t work as well as the spoken word alone but except for just a few cuts where quartet members stretch out, most tracks are in the two-four minutes range. In other words, Bloom’s soprano sax is never absent for too long.
Bloom was inspired to compose the Dickinson material when she learned that the poet was a pianist and improviser herself, reconfirming what she’d always felt in the jazz-like quality of Dickinson’s phrasing. “I didn’t always understand her but I always felt Emily’s use of words mirrored the way a jazz musician uses notes. The album features fourteen Bloom originals inspired by fragments of Dickinson poetry and prose mined from both her collected works and envelope poems “The Gorgeous Nothings.” The album closes with a solo rendition of an American classic, Rodgers and Hart’s “It’s Easy to Remember.”
Wild Lines premiered at the poet’s home in Amherst, MA and subsequently at the Kennedy Center and the NYPL for the Performing Arts. The ensemble then headed into Avatar Studios in NYC to record in stereo and surround-sound with renowned audio engineer Jim Anderson. The sound is as pristine as it gets; remarkably clean. Excerpts of some spoken passages are displayed in the inside jacket.
While there are those that will focus on Dickinson’s prose and poetry, and others who may think this is an inaccessible, esoteric project; this writer highly recommends it for the beauty of the performance by Bloom and her quartet. Like wild lines of a flock of birds in the sky, the music just glides, lifts and soars.
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