Saturday, March 12, 2016

Melissa Aldana - Back Home (2016)

Label: Wommusic

When a gifted young jazz musician holds one hero above the rest, it can be hard to see past the anxiety of influence. “Back Home,” the fourth and finest album by the tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana, shows what can happen when that dynamic no longer feels so fraught. It’s a supremely focused statement that makes no attempt to blur its lineage and yet feels largely unburdened by legacy.

Ms. Aldana, 27, hails from Santiago, Chile, where she studied the saxophone with her father. But the home in “Back Home” refers to the midcentury style of Sonny Rollins, her North Star on the instrument. The title track, an original feint-and-parry routine between tenor saxophone and drums, recalls the playful gallantry of a Rollins album like “Way Out West,” from 1957.

As on that classic album — and “Melissa Aldana & Crash Trio,” released on Concord in 2014 — the instrumentation here consists of tenor saxophone, bass and drums. Ms. Aldana has retained the warmly assured bassist Pablo Menares and brought in the agile, flowing drummer Jochen Rueckert, calling not only on their hair-trigger alertness but also their skills as composers, with two songs apiece. (This trio appears at Birdland on March 30 and 31.)

Ms. Aldana has a dry but limpid sound on tenor and an expressive command that stretches into an altissimo register. This, along with some aspects of her phrasing, reveals influences other than Mr. Rollins, notably Mark Turner. But she has relaxed into her own style, and she often exudes a pragmatic calm, digging in with her rhythm team.

So she’s as coolly formidable on “Time,” her own wistful ballad, as on “En Otro Lugar,” a drifting groove by Mr. Menares. And the album’s superb sound — courtesy of James Farber, the engineer — puts you in the room as she finesses Kurt Weill’s standard “My Ship,” with a tip of the hat to Mr. Rollins and John Coltrane but also a persuasive self-possession.   Nate Chinen

01. Alegria
02. Desde La Lluvia
03. Obstacles
04. En Otro Lugar
05. My Ship
06. Servant #2
07. Before You
08. Time
09. Back Home

Melissa Aldana: saxophone
Pablo Menares: double bass
Jochen Rueckert: drums