At the end of Playing Changes is a list: The 129 Essential Albums of the Twenty-First Century (So Far). I organized these by year, and then alphabetically by artist name. I'll be running them down here, in that order. (No one appears more than once as a leader, though there’s ample overlap in personnel.)
Jane Ira Bloom is a soprano saxophonist whose track record of excellence goes back more than 40 years. She isn't a doubler, a tenor player who also plays the straight horn; the soprano is her chosen instrument, and she has remained faithful to its sonic properties.
Her sound on the horn is round and clear, and she takes every advantage of the possibilities its form presents. She likes to incorporate a sort of Doppler effect into her improvising; you can hear her do this at times on the title track to Chasing Paint, below. It also factored into her trio album Early Americans, which earned her (and engineer Jim Anderson) the 2018 Grammy Award for Best Surround Sound Album.
Bloom has also been at the forefront of contemporary improvisers engaging with a theme. Her most recent album is Wild Lines: Improvising Emily Dickinson; she has done commissioned work for NASA. Chasing Paint is a sterling example of her instinct for interdisciplinary connection; Bloom drew inspiration both from the formal properties of Jackson Pollock's canvases and the kinetic nature of his process. She urged her band to think as if they were painting with sound, and everyone seemed to grasp the idea. (In the track below, pay special attention to Fred Hersch, especially in the free-tempo elaboration from around 1:45 through the solo that begins at 3:10.)
I wanted to tap into how it felt to hear this music fresh, and stumbled across my review of the album in JazzTimes, from July 2003.
Jane Ira Bloom, Chasing Paint
Among the many misperceptions about abstract expressionist icon Jackson Pollock is the assumption that his work is an undisciplined expression of id. It’s probably true that Pollock’s painterly oeuvre, imbued with dramatic movement, owes a debt to the power of catharsis. But to stop there is to ignore its serious compositional features and the rigors that led to its inception.
It’s doubtful that anyone will make the same mistake with Chasing Paint, Jane Ira Bloom’s latest disc. Funded by a fellowship from Chamber Music America and the Doris Duke Jazz Ensembles Project, the album conveys a meticulous air even as it heeds jazz’s freer impulses.
Bloom’s soprano saxophone is characteristically fleet and full-toned, capturing all the angular caprice of a brush on canvas. Matching her at every stroke are pianist Fred Hersch (a preternaturally intuitive partner for the better part of two decades) and the incomparable rhythm team of bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Bobby Previte (Bloom’s compatriots since the ’70s and ’90s, respectively). Altogether, the quartet achieves synergy of the highest order and a familiarity that never slips into complacence.
Because Bloom originally envisioned this project as a suite, it makes sense that her compositions add up to a variegated whole. The disc ranges from bright-eyed swing (“Unexpected Light”) to elegiac balladry (“On Seeing JP”) to halting abstraction (“Alchemy”). At times, Bloom’s trademark electronic effects manage to evoke a drip painting’s network of color and line. Yet even at its most elliptical, this album remains wholly approachable. Like a Pollock canvas, it needn’t be explained to be understood.