Melissa Aldana (tenor saxophone), Pablo Menares (double bass) & Jochen Rueckert (drums)
Reviewed by: Julian Maynard-Smith
Reviewed: 20 November, 2015
Venue: PizzaExpress Jazz Club, Dean Street, Soho, London
Chilean-born, New York-based Melissa Aldana is being heralded as the next great thing in tenor saxophone – and with good cause. Breaking the stereotype of female jazz leaders as singers by being an instrumentalist, she’s also the first woman player to win the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition. So there was much excitement at her London debut, especially as the intimacy of the PizzaExpress (sic) Jazz Club setting gave a frisson of insider knowingness to the event. The muted restaurant noises, and waiters bearing pizzas and credit-card readers with illuminated screens, put me in mind of renowned jazz performances in such places, such as Bill Evans at the Village Vanguard and Stan Getz at Copenhagen’s Café Montmartre.
Fronting a rhythm section with a non-chordal instrument is a tough challenge since harmonies can only be implied, but there are precursors to the tenor-bass-drums format. As the band opened with a tune from its new album, the interplay between the players evoked Joe Henderson’s live album State of the Tenor while Aldana’s phrasing and warm, woody tone suggested another famous player, Joe Lovano. And once she got into her stride, bouncing on the balls of her feet and occasionally jerking her head away from the mouthpiece as if startled by what she’d just played, there were hints of John Coltrane as well.
Amongst the originals were a couple of standards. The quicksilver lurches of Thelonious Monk’s ‘Four in One’ were handled with aplomb, while ‘Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most’ was embroidered with agile scalar patterns, Aldana waggling her right hand to intersperse grace notes and trills, swept along by Jochen Rueckert’s brushes and pulsing support from Pablo Menares.
Aldana then dedicated her original tune ‘Sonny’ to Sonny Rollins who “as you can hear is one of my heroes.” D’oh! Never mind Henderson, Lovano and Coltrane, how could I have missed the Rollins influences? On this tune they were unmissable, Aldana’s melody one that could have been penned by Rollins himself. And (another head slap) Rollins is a tenor player renowned for his tenor-bass-drums trios.
As I left the restaurant and returned to the cold pavements and neon lights of Soho, I thought of the diners turning up later for the second show. Judging by the one I heard, I’m sure it won’t be the last London performance from this promising group.