Those first two albums were set in the quartet format and drew great attention from various quarters. I was among those who saw in Melissa Aldana a passion and virtuosity and drive that would set her apart. I have watched and listened with rapt interest ever since.
After the release of Melissa Aldana and Crash Trio, she toured the world in festivals and concerts across the planet. She has gained an international following that is sure to grow even further with the release of her latest album, Back Home.
At first, the title may seem to suggest a return to Chile, her country of origin, but it is not so blinkard as that. According to Melissa herself, it refers to Sonny Rollins and the first time she heard Rollins and began to investigate his approach to the trio. In fact, she wrote to song Back Home for Sonny Rollins.
There is also a reference to first hearing the ballad My Ship with her dad. It was her father—Marcos Aldana—who was her music instructor. First on alto sax, then after hearing Sonny Rollins, she switched to tenor sax, which her grandfather, Enrique Aldana. Look at the art work and publicity photos of Melissa Aldana and you will see her affectionately holding her grandfather’s Selmer Mark VI tenor sax which she still plays.
She has been with management agency Word of Mouth Music for years now but Back Home is her first album with the Wommusic label (WOM0006). Anders Chan-Tidemann, president of Word of Mouth Music, has devotedly and enthusiastically championed Melissa Aldana. The man knows talent.
I asked Chan-Tidemann about Melissa and the album and he gave his response with his usual zealousness for all-things-Melissa.
“Melissa has that extra touch of magic that focuses your mind in on what you recognize as something mysterious—the inevitable logic of an idea you could never have thought of yourself. But, after you’ve heard it presented this way, you know that’s the way it had to be. Melissa’s album Back Home is rich in those moments and we, at Wommusic, couldn’t be happier than to be a part of her team and to help tell her story.”
The album is, to be sure, “rich in those moments.”
The trio on Back Home is Melissa with Pablo Menares again on bass and, this time, with Jochen Rueckert on drums. Rueckert brings a different approach than did Francisco Mela, Melissa’s previous drummer. There is a different understanding between this trio and the groups that have performed with Melissa before.
In addition, their compositional skills are top-rate, with Melissa composing four of the nine tracks, two tracks each for Menares and Rueckert and only one cover. That cover, as stated before, is My Ship by Weill and Gershwin.
But the album is launched by Melissa’s original, Alegria. The word itself means “joy” and this is just what Melissa recreates and shares. Rueckert’s drums provide the introduction in an upbeat frivolity. The sax at first offers a repose, a rest in the contentment of joy because joy does not always mean excited-ness or even happiness but is, rather, a deeper sense of connectivity and peace. That connectivity is exemplified in the artistic oneness of the trio in cooperation.
Melissa’s sax is the extension of her own personal joy in her love for family and music and, one would imagine, the people that she meets.'
Desde La Lluvia is Pablo Menares’ first composition of the album. The title is best translated as “from the rain.” Melissa’s solos are lovely and warm. Rueckert’s rhythmic choices jump out at the listener in contrast to the walking bass and the personal sax. The washing cymbals and punched drum strokes are like rivulets of water and rolling thunder behind the delicacy of the rain itself.
It is a cool swing and is the perfect example of the vulnerability of the single melodic instrument. In the liner notes, Ashley Kahn comments “Then trio format can really leave the saxophonist so naked,” to which Melissa responds, “Yeah, I love it.” One can almost see the grin on her face.
Obstacles is the first written offering from drummer Jochen Rueckert. Probably the most quickly-paced track on the album, it alternates between two tempos as if the trio must slow down to navigate the “obstacle” before resuming the stepped-up movement. Menares himself navigates the bass lines brilliantly and proves why he is Melissa’s bassist of choice for so long.
En Otro Lugar (“In another place”) is the second piece by Menares. The introduction is provided by Menares own solo bass. It is sweet and all-too-short but beautifully provides the entrance for Melissa’s haunting tenor sax interpretation of Menares’ intent.
The disillusion with here is expressing so well by Melissa’s use of bent notes. With every album, with every song within every album, Melissa proves why she is the present and future of Jazz sax. Solidly incorporating the styles and techniques of those who have gone before, she is able to use that as her vocabulary with which to write the story of what is to come. She is miraculous.
My Ship, the only cover, comes at the mid-point of the album. There is a certain strategy to that, I think. It serves as her own reminder of what once was, musically, with her dear father as they listened to ballads together and how that stills serves as a centerpiece or focal point to what surrounds.
The languid ballad is treated affectionately by the Melissa and Pablo and the pacing extends the reminiscence into the present. She shows how this classic, and so many others, has become part of her. But what is truly amazing on My Ship is that it is done without Reuckert!
Again, Anders Chan-Tidemann points out, "I think it's because both Melissa and Pablo plays with such rhythmic assurance
but also because of what precedes the track and comes after it." This is one of those great examples of the strength of great programming. The track arrangement has truly enhanced the overall effect.
Servant #2 is Rueckert’s second song on the album. A slower-paced swing, it is often interrupted by the revival of the introduction to the piece. The full stops keep the trio tight. Melissa’s melodic lines are cool as can be and Rueckert’s own bass solo is great work.
This is a unique composition. It is like listening to science-fiction Jazz. The ideas are futuristic and full of fun and intrigue.
Before You was written for Melissa’s boyfriend while she away on her Homeresque tours. Like Odysseus, she had someone waiting at home, also. This was for the guy who was waiting for her return. There is a dance-like quality with almost solo-dancing inferences—perhaps like dancing before a mirror. While there is movement and contentment, there remains a feeling of space-as-yet-unfilled. Melancholy without sadness.
Time is another Melissa original and is her own personal reflection of the days, months and years that have passed since leaving her beloved Santiago, Chile. She speaks of being “very emotional, it was raining and there was a change of seasons and I came up with that tune out of nostalgia, thinking of my life up until now.”
There are bright moments, some darker episodes—even some sadness—but there remains that joy that is the heart and soul of Melissa Aldana. It is an exquisite piece.
The album concludes with the title track, Back Home. There is a more apparent camaraderie and interaction, playfulness and trust, as the trio releases a robust shout of growth and maturity unheard before. What was first hinted in Melissa Aldana and Crash Trio has become a proclamation with both the album and the song Back Home. The logic of the Jazz and the inevitability of the composition, indeed, makes this one of those moments of an album “rich in those moments.”
Back Home was surely worth the wait. Melissa Aldana with Pablo Menares and Jochen Rueckert were the right trio to make this album as penetrating and mature as it should be. Melissa never ceases to amaze, intrigue and inspire.
It is a fascinating thing, watching this young woman—seen riding a bike with her grandfather’s tenor sax strapped across her back in the inner fold of the album jacket—with the energy and fun of youth but the skill and drive of someone much older. She grows and grows with each performance and recording.
She has often been called “a rising star” but that says too little about her prowess and maturity and conviction. More than a rising star, she is as bright and permanent as the Sun. Melissa Aldana is one of the greats now. In my review of her previous album, I said, “It is not too early to call her great.” I meant it then and I mean it even more now.
She is wonderful.
~Travis Rogers, Jr, is The Jazz Owl
To read my review of Melissa Aldana & Crash Trio, go here: http://travisrogersjr.weebly.com/a-love-of-music/melissa-aldana-crash-trio-it-is-not-too-early-to-call-her-great
To see my review of Second Cycle, go here: http://travisrogersjr.weebly.com/a-love-of-music/second-cyclethe-new-release-from-melissa-aldana