Jane Ira Bloom: Sixteen Sunsets
Acclaimed soprano saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom brings thirty-plus years of experience to her fifteenth recording and first all-ballads album Sixteen Sunsets. She's covered standards before—Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson's “Lost in the Stars” on Art and Aviation and Hoagy Carmichael and Ned Washington's “The Nearness of You” on The Nearness, to cite but two examples—but does so even more plentifully on Sixteen Sunsets, which complements nine American songbook classics with five of her own compositions. But don't think for a moment that Bloom has phoned in, so to speak, these performances. Though she's no doubt played the pieces countless times, the material sounds startlingly fresh on this recording, and alive, too, due to the amazing multi-dimensional clarity the surround sound recording brings to her playing (the saxophone was literally surrounded by an array of microphones for the sessions), something especially audible in her solo saxophone treatment of Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin's “My Ship.”
Bloom less plays the melodies in the standard so much as caresses them and lovingly at that. In that regard, there's maybe no more exquisite moment on the recording than the sound of Bloom wrapping her voice around the heartfelt melodies in “I Loves You Porgy,” and though she delivers the songs' themes with deep feeling, she goes deeper in the solos where it truly feels like she's trying to penetrate into the material to get at its heart (one example of many: her solo in Billie Holiday and Mal Waldron's “Left Alone”). One of the recording's great pleasures comes from observing how Bloom straddles the line between hewing closely to a given song's melodies and straying from it with soloistic embellishments. Put simply, her handling of the album content suggests not only an acquaintance of long-standing but one of deep affection, too, all of which makes Sixteen Sunsets noteworthy for presenting some of the most emotional playing of Bloom's on record.
Though she has become well-known for the application of live electronics to her playing, Sixteen Sunsets features her soprano saxophone playing in its pure form. Pianist Dominic Fallacaro, bassist Cameron Brown, and drummer Matt Wilson provide tasteful support, their relative unobtrusiveness not unwelcome in a date of this kind. Fallacaro stands out for the elegance of his playing, but so too do the others; consider the magnificent support the trio gives Bloom for her haunting rendition of Jimmy Van Heusen's “Darn That Dream” as evidence.
Highlights are plentiful, and from the first moments of “For All We Know,” the tender side of Bloom's playing is on full display, and what a wonderful a thing it is to witness. Her own bluesy composition “What She Wanted” exudes such a classic ballad quality, it feels perfectly at home within such esteemed company, especially when the also-bluesy “Good Morning Heartache” and “Left Alone” are also featured. She covers a standard of her own in featuring a new version of “Ice Dancing (for Torvill & Dean),” which originally appeared on the late-‘80s Slalom and whose lilting swing and serpentine melodies sound as good today as they did then. Her breezy “Primary Colors” also adds a welcome moment of uptempo swing to a recording whose focus is otherwise on slow tempi.One of the most well-known historical precursors to Sixteen Sunsets is, of course, Coltrane's Ballads, which likewise features a sax-led quartet interpreting an album's worth of timeless romantic standards. Fifty years after Coltrane's recording first appeared, Bloom perpetuates the tradition with a beautiful one of her own that can't be praised too highly.