Her playing puts one in mind of Django Reinhardt and, like so many guitar greats—Les Paul, Django, Phil Keaggy—she also suffered a tragic injury to her left arm. That was in 2016. By 2018’s end, she had recorded her debut album, Simply Miraculous, in testimony to her return to performing despite doctors’ predictions.
Now she and her quintet have released Bluish Tide, a splendid album of nine originals and one excellent swinging cover of a classic hymn. Her quintet is comprised of herself on guitar, Ray Smith on tenor sax and alto flute, Steve Erickson on piano, Matt Larson on bass, and Jay Lawrence on drums. The right band for this wonderful song list. Whether they share Bromley’s faith or not, they certainly play like they do.
The 10-song track list moves from Swing to Bossa to Funk to, you guessed it, Gospel. The album opens with the brilliant Pillar of Fire and lights the listener up with Jazz visions of God leading the Hebrews through the wilderness as a fiery column. The blistering guitar is offset by some of the coolest piano you’d ever want to hear from Steve Erickson.
Groove O’clock Time picks up with the Bossa groove and Ray Smith turns in some beautiful sax work with the backing of the rhythm section that sets such a fun pace. Bromley herself works in her extremely enjoyable guitar solo and Erickson’s piano is spot on. The song concludes with smoking unison playing of guitar, sax, and piano.
Between Canyon Walls provides some of the most entertaining moments of this fantastic album. Think George Benson meets the Funk Brothers. The same goes for Junkyard Dawg, R&B-infused Jazz that is electrifying. Then Just Walkin’ creates an andante Jazz tone poem of life at a leisurely pace. The starts and stops are infectious.
The title track, Bluish Tide, is a fine and fun rollick that makes you bop along with it in sheer enjoyment. The great sax and piano solos add to Bromley’s oh-so-fine leadership. Even Jay Lawrence takes on an understated but warm drum solo. But Paint Me a Picture My Love has to be the warmest and most touching moments of the album. All of that is enhanced by Dr. Smith’s alto flute solo, the only appearance of the alto flute on the album. With the guitar’s Samba feel, the flute is well-placed. Seriously, I couldn’t get enough of this one.
Then there are the faith-inspired tunes that provide the tone and tempo of the whole experience. The Gospel hymn she chooses is an anthem of praise and gratitude, How Great Thou Art. Surely, this must be the thread that runs through and holds together her faith through such harrowing ordeals Bromley has experienced. She continues that theme with Faith Preceded My Miracle, the essential ingredient to our most personal wonders. The building of the song’s musical motif is like a testament to ever-growing faith and is joined by the community of her quintet.
The album concludes with Through the Veil. Bromley’s experiences and pains have give her a glimpse through the veil of our earthly life and she has seen the revelation of what lies in store for those with the eyes of faith to see it. The music and the artists’ performances are crystal clear in depicting the rewards of hope, and trust, and faith.
To many of us, great music is a religious experience in the listening. It is even more so when the composer and performer feels it as much or more than we do. Kristen R. Bromley is a brilliant composer and marvelous artist. She may also be a prophet.
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl