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Jane Ira Bloom moves lyrically through ‘Sixteen Sunsets’

Jane Ira Bloom's CD "Sixteen Sunsets" [January 7, 2014 Stereo CD Launch-Outline]

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I grew up listening to these songs and knowing the lyrics. They were a part of my earliest listening experiences so playing them is like breathing to me. As time’s gone by it’s been easier to let the meaning of the songs come through the horn.

Award-winning soprano saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom fulfills her penchant for ballads in her first slow burn release, up for a Grammy as best surround sound album.
Jay Maisel

Jane Ira Bloom likes to move around when she plays her soprano saxophone. In her first album devoted to ballads, she did just that during the recording process utilizing 5.1 high resolution surround sound. It made a huge difference in the depth of the music experienced, especially given the tinny tendency of the side character of a soprano sax.

Usually, sound is mic’d directly from the bell of the elusive instrument. But in Bloom’s case, the 5.1 high-res technology – applied at New York’s famed Avatar Studio B by engineer Jim Anderson – and mics all around allowed her to radiate sound from everywhere, diffusing some of the harsher effects. “I’ve always been interested how sound changes when it moves and the Doppler-like effect that I create when I sweep the bell of the horn past the microphones really comes through vividly in surround-sound,” the 30+-year veteran described.

A six-time Jazz Journalists Award winner and a Guggenheim Fellowship recipient, Bloom submitted “Sixteen Sunsets” for the 2014 56th annual Grammys in best surround sound album.

“Sixteen Sunsets” — Bloom’s 15th as a bandleader and fifth in the Outline label — is up for consideration in the 2014 Grammy sound surround category and has a good chance of winning.

With a piano (Dominic Fallacaro), bass (Cameron Brown), and drums (Matt Wilson), Bloom moves lyrically and lightly through nine covers from the Great American Songbook and five original compositions.

With a facility for tone and breath, Bloom preserves the haunting quality of the melodies in the covers and finds a similar spirit in her own longing ballads, while gently lifting the best parts of the chord changes and fades. The lingering effect is truly a breathtaking musical version of gazing into 16 sunsets, as viewed from high above earth from space.

Bloom found inspiration for the title and the spirit of her album from astronaut Joseph Allen, as he tried to capture in words what it was like to gaze upon sunsets in orbit: “You see at least eight bands of color come and go, from a brilliant red to the brightest and deepest blue. And you see 16 sunrises and 16 sunsets every day you’re in space. No sunrise or sunset is ever the same.”

That special effect is in this record co-produced by Bloom and the renowned recording/mix engineer Jim Anderson.

Accompanist Dominic Fallacaro pairs up so fluently with Bloom in “Darn That Dream,” which could easily have been playing during one of the astronaut’s orbits into space at the time of those 16 sunsets. The Jimmy Van Heusen song lifts off in the bloom of a soprano sax taking the edge off every lyrical turn. Fallacaro provides the stark contrast in the body of the work, gently but firmly pulling Bloom along toward a final conclusion. His solo at the 6:28 mark evokes the dramatic tension at the heart of this song, one of incredible yearning and regret from a strong but diminishing fantasy. Both musicians try to hold onto the real feelings left behind when the dream fades.

“Left Alone,” indelibly inscribed by Billie Holiday and Mal Waldron, leaves quite a sensory mark. As Bloom cradles the melody, making her saxophone quietly bleed, the tortured essence of this song tells the whole story. It’s a quiet, slow burn sure to race hearts and torch bedrooms, with a rippling bass solo.

The Donny Hathaway single, “For All We Know,” is a vocalist’s dream. In Bloom’s instrumental hands, it’s another world altogether. Again, she softens the breakdown of the melody while keeping its heart intact and flourishing, producing a new rendition somewhere between original respect and contemporary abstract remix. There’s even a heady break-away at 5:02 that seems vastly rebellious, but still returns to the main event in the peekaboo tones and rolls.

Bloom’s very own “What She Wanted” conjures up the Academy Award-nominated 1986 film, “Round Midnight,” featuring Dexter Gordon as an aging, alcoholic saxophonist Dale Turner in 1950s Paris. The fictionalized film was based on a biography of pianist Bud Powell, as well as tenor saxophonist Lester Young. There is beauty in the romance and the danger of Bloom’s spacious, but faintly menacing unpredictability in the tumbles of her solos.

Last but not least is another evocative, original composition by Bloom, “Bird Experiencing Light.” It’s perhaps the quintessential song best representing the album of musical light and shadow diffusing through mood and time. The listener can literally envision a blue bird slowly awakening as the first beacon of light pierces through a forestry fog of branches and falling amber. The same awakening experienced by the astronaut who inspired Jane Ira Bloom to put her love of ballads together? Most definitely. Times 100.

“Sixteen Sunsets” could easily be misunderstood as background music for ice dancers. Bloom’s “Ice Dancing (for Torvill & Dean)” stands as the #7 track, after all. But the album is so much more than pretty or mindless. It’s movement and mood diffused through myriad perspectives, in a play of light and shadow as the piano, bass, drums, and soprano sax take the place of 16 sunsets from an impossibly fantastic, and surreal vantage point.

Bloom fine-tuned her ballads on gigs in New York City for about two years before the May 2013 recording. She put the recording together with a solid band of musicians she’s played with numerous times. “Sixteen Sunsets” is out on PureAudio Blu-ray in 5.1 high resolution surround sound and on Outline Records in stereo.