Jane Ira Bloom and Mark Helias – Some Kind of Tomorrow(Available from Bandcamp. Album Review by Tony Dudley-Evans)
American bass player Mark Helias has been busy during lockdown. He has been digging into his archives and has put a number of excellent recordings of past gigs out on Bandcamp. His duo performance with saxophonist Dewey Redman from 1981 is particularly good, as is an off-the-desk recording of Don Cherry’s Nu from the Glasgow concert on a 1987 Contemporary Music Network tour of the UK. I wrote about the latter recording on my website (Review).
There are also fine recordings of his Open Loose group with Tony Malaby and Tom Rainey, and BassDrumBone with Ray Anderson and Gerry Hemingway, and a newly recorded duo with Tim Berne. All these recordings are on Bandcamp (links below).
His latest recording is with soprano saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom, a player Helias has known for many years and with whom he has often played. For this session they performed over the internet from separate locations. On the notes to the session both make interesting points about the experience. Bloom states that ‘there’s a vibration between us that’s uncanny given the circumstances and a deep need to play what was real to us just then. Helias adds ‘ the first time that Jane and I improvised together through Wi-Fi sometime in April or May 2020 was a very high experience on so many levels. We were sorting out the possibilities of making music remotely and assessing the technology and our relation to it. Once we made peace with the situation and the medium, listening, feeling, hearing and responding was the same as it ever was.
The music is warm, absorbing and nicely interactive. One thing I notice about sessions recorded through WiFi, especially in duo situations, is that players often pause, listen to what the other is doing and then react. Of course this happens all the time in a live situation, but online there seem to be more and slightly longer pauses. This gives the music a very strong conversational feel with one holding the floor for a short time and the other responding, and then taking the floor.
Jane Ira Bloom has always concentrated on the soprano saxophone playing with a clear tone, and an absence of vibrato which fits well with Mark Helias’ bass playing.
Despite the limitations of a sax-bass duo format, there is plenty of variety in the music. The first and title track Some Kind Of Tomorrow is thoughtful, contemplative and relaxing. Magic Carpet moves into an attractive passage where Helias provides a kind of drone on the bass while Bloom soars into an improvisation that reflects the title of the track. Willing opens with an attractive bluesy feel that also appears on other tracks. Traveling Deep sees Bloom create a romantic atmosphere over choppy bass lines. The elegance of the improvisations from both Bloom and Helias on Roughing It belies the title of the track, while Pros and Cons begins with a playful bass improvisation which generates an emotional response from Bloom. On both Drift and Star Talk Helias begins with bowed bass which creates a different mood to which Bloom responds with atmospheric sounds on the saxophone.
Throughout the album the music is always interesting, satisfying and worthy of close listening. It’s an enjoyable listen.