Blogarrhea: Melissa Aldana, Jon Stickley, Cristian Perez and Bastian Stein

By Mike Greenblatt | Mar 30, 2016 06:03 PM EDT
Sax Person Melissa Aldana (Photo : courtesy Fully Altered Media)

One of the supreme pleasures of my life is hearing music for the first time. That all-important first-listen can only happen once. To make matters even more dramatic, I purposely do not want to have any inkling whatsoever what I am about to hear. The instantaneous shock-of-recognition that accompanies, for instance, a riveting new cover version of an old favorite song, can keep me enthralled and talking about it for days on end to friends and family. They're used to it. Some of them are sick of it. So I write. The following four CDs by Melissa Aldana, Jon Stickley, Cristian Perez and Bastian Stein made me smile. They're all keepers.

In 2014, I fell in love with the big tenor sax tone of the self-titled Melissa Aldana & Crash Trio. Here was a gal who blew from the heart! Now she's Back Home (Wommusic), still Crashing, and still with that deep satisfying sound that a tenor sax can achieve. In Aldana's mouth, the sax sounds human. Maybe it isn't mixed as up front as on the debut, but here it meshes with drummer Jochen Rueckert and bassist Pablo Menares for more of a band sound. Maybe that's because Aldana recorded her parts alone in a room wearing headphones the last time. Now the band is all together to achieve an organic jam-packed structure of eight originals and one translucent cover of Kurt Weill's "My Ship" (written for the 1941 Broadway musical play, "Lady In The Dark.") Aldana left her native Chile nine years ago to worship at the church of Sonny Rollins. The whole idea of her piano-less/guitar-less (in other words, chord-less) trio is pure Rollins. She's an apt student and has enough potential to possibly carry that torch someday.

(Photo : Heather Hambor)
John Stickley Trio

How'd this gem get past me last year? Lost at Last, self-released by the Jon Stickley Trio, is all about giving acoustic instrumental jazz-grass an infusion of indie rock and gypsy swirl. Stickley is one of those rapid-fire flat-picking guitarists who only knows three speeds: fast, faster and fastest. (OK, fine, he can go slow too when he wants.) Some of this is so fast, though, you could call it punk-grass. They work on the perimeters of where the great master Bela Fleck lives. They even cover Fleck's "Slopes." None of the trios in my CD player are guitar/violin/drums. Violinist Lyndsay Pruett is Stephane Grappelli reborn. Grappelli [1908-1997] was the genius violinist whose style helped commercially pioneer gypsy jazz in 1949. Pruett has him down pat. Plus, she actually adds to his vocabulary. Caught in-between these two virtuosi is drummer Patrick Armitage who knows how to establish numerous types of grooves. This is unclassifiable, undeniable and otherworldly music.

(Photo : Michele Egan)
Cristian Perez Quintet

Anima Mundi, the self-released musical travelogue by guitarist/composer Cristian Perez, takes you to Peru ("El Condor Pasa," written in 1913 by Daniel Robles), India ("The Persistent Elephant"), Japan ("Longing" and "Relentless Dragon In Agony"), the U.S. ("Journey of an Exhausted Penguin"), the moon ("Luna Furtiva"), Hollywood (Henry Mancini's "Moon River," written for the 1961 movie Breakfast At Tiffany's) , Uruguay ("Hojas Podridas") and Argentina (Astor Piazzolla's 1974 "Libertango"). Sumptuously supported by flute, piccolo, bandoneon, upright bass, drums, vocals, steel pan, cello, tablas and low whistle, Perez weaves his magic carpet ride so effortlessly, it makes you want to go ferret out more world musics...and I have a hunch that is exactly his mission.

(Photo : Courtesy of Pirouet Records)
Trumpeter Bastian Stein

Meet Victor. It's the name of German trumpeter Bastian Stein's Pirouet Records CD with German tenor sax man Johannes Enders, 49, British bassist Phil Donkin, 36, and British drummer James Maddren, 29. Note no piano or guitar. The trumpet/sax front line has no net and no chords to fall back on. The follow-up to his impressive 2013 Diegesis debut, Victor, with its two-woodwind sound, is free, honest and daring. Stein, born in 1983 Germany and raised in Vienna, received his musical training in Amsterdam and New York. Enders is his perfect foil. They engage in numerous sax/trumpet dialogues and also have moments of crystalline solo clarity with nothing but Maddren's empathetic drums whisking away underneath on seven Stein originals and one classical cover: "Der Abschied" which closes the proceedings on a decidedly high-brow note. (It's an excerpt from "Das Lied Von Der Erde" by Gustav Mahler [1860-1911]. Well done, gentlemen!

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