Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Jane Ira Bloom's Wild Lines: Improvising Emily Dickinson

I was fairly surprised to see a new album from soprano sax player Jane Ira Bloom so soon after her monumental Early Americans, which I enthusiastically recommended in my Positive Feedback review last year. Wild Lines: Improvising Emily Dickinson arrived in my mailbox a few weeks ago, and I immediately thought "Wow, Jane is very prolific--this new one is even a 2-CD set." I started listening to it almost immediately. How could you go wrong with Jane's music mated with Emily Dickinson's poetry, read by actress Deborah Rush? What an ambitious project, I thought.

Then I started hearing it, familiar songs and passages from Early Americans, and that's when I started wondering about this project and what it was trying to accomplish. After careful listening I deduced that those familiar tracks from Early Americans were performed by a quartet this time, with pianist Dawn Clement joining bassist Mark Helias and drummer Previte. The arrangements are therefore slightly different, a little more complex this time out. Clement's piano work is rich and adds a fullness to the overall sound.

As I explored Wild Lines, I started realizing that this project was so much more than setting Emily Dickinson's poetry to jazz featured in an already extraordinary album. Then I discovered the true scope of the project. First, I started off thinking that this was only a single CD album--the other one had been hiding deep in the CD gatefold--and I had actually been listening to the second disc, which is the only one where Rush appears. The first disc is the music itself, without the poetry reading. So I went back and listened to the entire work in order, disc one first, and had to re-evaluate everything I had already heard.

Wild Lines is an expansion of Jane's themes that she explored in EA and elsewhere, matched to Dickinson's words. Jane explains in the liner notes that "I didn't always understand her but I always felt Emily's use of words mirrored the way a jazz musician uses notes." Taking lines from both Dickinson's collected works and the envelope poems "The Gorgeous Nothings," Jane has allowed her compositions to evolve into something deeper and more complete. If you're a fan of Emily Dickinson, it might be a revelation to hear her words take on those jazz rhythms and dance between your speakers. If you're a fan of Jane Ira Bloom, you get the privilege of hearing her dig deeper into a masterpiece and place it into a new context.

The relationship between the two discs--one instrumental and then one with Dickinson's words--is a bit more complex and may take more time for me to fully digest. Bloom could have taken the easier path and just released the second CD as the complete work, but by allowing you to hear the music both ways she's tempting you to apply the poetry in your mind, to hear it implicitly. Whether you're able to do that successful may depend upon how familiar you are with Emily Dickinson. I've read her poetry but I'm far from a scholar. But if you do love her poetry as Jane Ira Bloom does, this might be the most fascinating album you've heard in a very long time.

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