Lena Bloch’s “Rose of Lifta”


BLOCH: Promise of Return. Mad Mirror. Climbing Rose of Lifta. Mahmoud Darwish. LOSSING: New Home. Old Home. Wintry Mix / Lena Bloch and Feathery: Bloch, t-sax; Russ Lossing, pno; Cameron Brown, bs; Billy Mintz, bs / Fresh Sound New Talent FSNT-621

Saxophonist Lena Bloch has made one album previously with her group, Feathery, in 2017. This one, scheduled for release on October 8, explores themes of exile, loss and home, inspired by the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. But with so many so-called “jazz” recordings exploring similar themes due to the Covid-19 scamdemic, I was initially a bit wary about it until I started listening.

Where Bloch differs from so many similar projects in the past two years is that her music is interesting and has substance to it. Promise of Return opens with a typically Middle Eastern beat, and just grows from there as the quartet falls in one instrument at a time. One of the more interesting aspects of the performance is that, although this quartet is very much together musically, they play more like four separate individuals rather than as a synchro-mesh unit. You have to hear it to understand what I mean. Pianist Russ Lossing, who contributed three original pieces of his own to this set, plays a most interesting solo in which he combines the Eastern harmonies with some real Western jazz energy; Bloch’s tenor sax, ethereal yet earthy, makes its own statements through little fills and the way she leads the quartet in the middle section, which is a very interesting development of the initial theme. Her later solo is full of fascinating ruminations on this theme, first explored softly but eventually gaining in volume and power as she wends her way along. Bassist Cameron Brown then contributes a solo of his own, subtle and somewhat interesting if not quite on the same level as Lossing’s and Bloch’s.

Mad Mirror is a much slower piece, with Bloch opening it up a cappella with a bit of reverb on her horn, perhaps to express loneliness; it is surely a lonely-sounding theme. The music, again, really opens up through Lossing’s solo, which is full of asymmetric rhythms and subtle harmonic shifts set to a driving beat. But each track has its own surprises, as for instance on Lossing’s New Home, which is more of a traditional jazz ballad without any Middle Eastern allusions than its predecessors and successors. Although Bloch’s solo does contain a few references to Eastern music, it sounds, interestingly, more like Paul Desmond than any tenor saxist I could think of.

I’d be spoiling your sense of discovery, however, by describing each  track in such detail; suffice it to say that this is a CD full of wonders and fascinating music that has depth and soul without resorting to whining or breast-beating. I should also add that one of Bloch’s messages in this music is that the creative artist often needs loneliness and solitude in order to work; being constantly surrounded by friends and/or family can put a crimp on creativity. I know exactly where she’s coming from and, if you’re a creative artist in any sense, you know it, too. Let’s just say that this is a great program of music to be alone in your own mind with. Clearly one of the finest jazz CDs of the year to date.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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Read my book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond: An extended and detailed guide to the intersection of classical music and jazz


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