Melissa Aldana - Visions

Label: Motéma Music, 2019

Personnel - Melissa Aldana: tenor saxophone; Joel Ross: vibraphone; Sam Harris: piano; Pablo Menares: bass; Tommy Crane: drums.

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Exceeding one hour, the album Visions by Chilean reed player Melissa Aldana is presented as a musical exploration of self-identity and expression. The session, mostly composed of originals, was inspired by the life and work of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, and starts with the title track, one of the two pieces composed for The Jazz Gallery residency commission 2017-18. Embracing a firm, medium-fast tempo, the tune exposes an expeditious melody dancing over a predominating triple meter that continues for the solos. The bandleader, who also shows her improvisational qualities, pronounces coincidental lines with vibraphonist Joel Ross, while pianist Sam Harris opts for a somewhat fuzzy approach during his solo. However, he proclaims clarity of language on pieces like “Perdon”, a gentle waltzing ballad written by bassist Pablo Menares, and the heart-rending standard “Never Let Me Go”, where he beautifully deconstructs the original harmony at the same time that explores melodies outside the lines.

La Madrina” conveys a subtle classical feel in the chords’ movements and inherent voice-leading, preserving the sax/vibraphone coalition, aggrandizing emotions with the depth of bowed bass, and irrigating the foundation with a sultry Latin touch. This sprightly piece was also composed for the aforementioned commission.

Some songs came out gooier than fluid as if they were brought to a simmer without actually boiling over. These were the cases of “Acceptance” and “The Search”. I also missed memorable riffing in the music, here replaced by a strict post-bop posture flavored with colorful brushstrokes of Latin jazz. Even expecting more from this rising artist, there are moments where the intensity gets you. The rhythmically fervent “Elsewhere” and “Su Tragedia”, which waltzes with occasional tango expressiveness, are especially vivid examples of that. The saxophonist excels on the latter piece, exhibiting her searing tenor again on “El Castillo de Velanje”, the piece that concludes the album and redirects the spotlight in its final section to Ross’ vibrant mallet work.

Visions fails to make a very deep mark, but Aldana shows enough modernity in her language to keep us in.

Grade  B-

Grade B-

Favorite Tracks:
03 - La Madrina ► 06 - Elsewhere ► 08 - Never Let Me Go