46. Sound of the self

Mighty Lights. From Jane Ira Bloom, Mighty Lights, 1983

I’ve followed Jane Ira Bloom’s career keenly since hearing this CD – the first that wasn’t self-published, as it were – back in 1983. She’s a brilliant player and composer who has never, to my mind, quite had the attention her work deserves. Like Martial Solal, who featured here weeks back, that’s maybe because she doesn’t really sound like anyone else.

That holds for the compositional style, though you could say she throws off Monkish earworms with ease. And for her sound on soprano saxophone, the instrument she’s devoted herself to all along. She’s done a bunch of stuff with electronics too, but I lean more toward the unaccompanied soprano. Again, moments from Sam Rivers or Anthony Braxton might come to mind, but really her slightly dry, keening tone and serpentine facility is uniquely hers.

That’s one of the most interesting things about this music (any music) of course. We might read that the self is a continually redrafted fiction, an illusion maintained by the brain/mind in service of, I’m not sure, sanity, maybe? And yes, from critiques of possessive individualism, through post-modernism, to (more persuasively, perhaps) contemporary neuroscience, I think that is probably true.

And yet, if you check out this track from nearly 40 years ago and some of her most refined later work (the trio record Early Americans from 2016 with Mark Helias and Bobby Previte has a baker’s dozen of stunning short pieces that make a near-perfect CD) it is recognisably the same player.

Her sound has matured and deepened, like a wine in oak barrels, but still has a lightness-with-gravitas that combines abstract beauty with emotional heft. And I have the undeniable impression that I am still the same person, listening, with ever deeper appreciation.

There is comfort as well as accumulating delight in this continuity. So this track is here not because I actually listen to it that often, but as a reminder of the start of something. Bloom, my exact contemporary, is still making remarkable work and I listen to her a good deal – most recently the lockdown duo recording of improvisations she made with long-time bass partner Helias, another perennial favourite of mine since he joined Don Cherry’s group in the 1980s.

But here, like Helias then, Bloom is just starting out, and already marking out a clear direction. This is a trio track, too, although the record marked the start of a long period of work with Fred Hersch that was especially fruitful (there was another, briefer, association with Kenny Wheeler in the ’90s that also produced wonderful things).

Here we just have Bloom with Charlie Haden and Ed Blackwell (she’s always kept good company) and this title cut is what one can now see as a typical Bloom composition, writing for the whole trio, who are supportive but essential, allowing the soprano sound to bed down in the rhythm like a well-set jewel. The theme is simple, the soloing pretty free, but it follows her conception, perhaps not as strong here as in her later work but already identifiably hers. Following her since has been a matter of admiring her from a distance: she’s never toured widely or made it to the UK as far as I know. But making sure to check in with new releases has been richly rewarding now for nearly four decades. Oh yes, and she has an asteroid named after her. How cool is that?

Why the No 46? This is one of a series running (in no particular order) through 2021. I explain a bit what it’s doing here.

There’s a cumulative playlist of all the ones that can be found on Spotify


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