Music Reviews
4:58 pm
Tue July 15, 2014

A Sax Trio Taps Tradition While Thriving In The Present

Originally published on Tue July 15, 2014 7:23 pm

Melissa Aldana, who became the first female instrumentalist and first South American musician to win the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition last fall, is not the average talent-contest winner.

Aldana plays tenor saxophone — which is unusual enough by itself, jazz still being mostly a boy's club. On top of that, she has a big, fierce sound that carries echoes of nearly forgotten swing-era players like Don Byas, and she's got a distinct style accented by long, cleanly executed melodic lines.

One significant thing about Melissa Aldana & Crash Trio's self-titled debut album is what's missing: There's no piano or harmony instrument. Some of Aldana's favorite musicians recorded in similar settings; she says it's an important step in her evolution, and that she likes the responsibility of outlining the chords, as well as the freedom to change them.

Aldana began playing at age 6 and was first taught by her father, a well-known saxophonist in Santiago, Chile. She spent her teen years participating in her hometown's jazz scene, later going on to graduate from Berklee College of Music in Boston. She moved to New York and recorded several albums on Greg Osby's Inner Circle label, which led her to the Monk competition. Around that time, she also formed Crash Trio with Chilean bassist Pablo Menares and Cuban drummer Francisco Mela.

The band members are clearly dialed into each other's thoughts: They'll venture back to the smoky taverns of a bygone era, where tenor players howled their seductions, then abruptly pivot into more agitated, modern rhythms. While it's not a radically new direction, there's boldness in the steps. You can hear Aldana and her group tap into the jazz tradition, but they thrive in the hyperlinked global present.

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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Finally this hour, music from a tenor saxophonist and composer with a few firsts to her name. Last fall, Melissa Aldana became the first female instrumentalist and South American musician to win the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition. Among her prizes was a recording contract and her album is just out. Our reviewer, Tom Moon, says it signals the arrival of a bold new talent.

TOM MOON: Melissa Aldana is not the average talent-contest winner.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BRING HIM HOME")

MOON: That's her on the tenor saxophone, which is unusual enough by itself. Jazz is still mostly a boy's club. She's got a big, fierce sound that carries echoes of nearly-forgotten, swing-era players like Don Byas. And she's got her own style. Check out these long, cleanly-executed melodic lines.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BRING HIM HOME")

MOON: One significant thing about this record is what's missing. There's no piano or harmony instrument. Melissa Aldana said some of her favorite musicians recorded in similar settings. She believes it's an important step in her evolution. She likes the responsibility of outlining the chords and also the freedom to change them.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU'RE MY EVERYTHING")

MOON: Aldana began playing at age six, first taught by her father, a well-known saxophonist in Santiago, Chile. She spent her teen years participating in her hometown's jazz scene. She went on to graduate from Berklee College of music in Boston and then moved to New York. There she recorded several albums on Greg Osby's Inner Circle label. That led her to the Monk competition. And around that time, she formed Crash Trio with Chilean bassist Pablo Menares and Cuban drummer Francisco Mela. They connected immediately. You can hear that on this track.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "M&M")

MOON: Melissa Aldana and Crash Trio are clearly dialed into each other's thoughts. They'll venture back to the smoky taverns of a bygone era, where tenor players howled their seductions and then abruptly pivot into more agitated modern rhythms. While it's not a radically new direction, there's boldness in the steps. You can hear Aldana and her group tapping into the jazz tradition, but they thrive in the hyperlinked global present.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TIRAPIE")

SIEGEL: Music from the new album, Melissa Aldana and Crash Trio. Our reviewer is Tom Moon.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TIRAPIE")

AUSIE CORNISH, HOST:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.