The Future of Jazz Is Female Too
Saxophonist Roxy Coss’ latest album The Future Is Female is a catchy, hard-swinging mix of postbop jazz tunes. It’s also a fierce political statement, an important part of a protest jaza tradition of protest jazz that goes back to icons like Charles Mingus and Abbey Lincoln. Besides her own career as a bandleader, Coss is part of a postbop supergroup of sorts, the New Faces, assembled by her label Posi-Tone Records with with trumpeter Josh Lawrence, vibraphonist Behn Gillece, pianist Theo Hill, bassist Peter Brendler and drummer Vinnie Sperrazza. They’re playing the album release for their new one on July 25, with sets at 7:30 and 9:30 PM at the Jazz Standard. Cover is $25.
The song titles on Coss’ new album – streaming at Posi-Tone Records – speak to both female empowerment and universal struggle, from a millennial point of view. The concept for the album coalesced in the wake of her participation in the 2017 Women’s March on Washington. The opening track, Nevertheless, She Persisted is a biting illustration of women artists’ struggles to be recognized, a moody latin-tinged groove with spare harmonies between Coss’ tenor, Alex Wintz’s guitar and Miki Yamanaka’s piano. Much as the music wants to swing, hard, Coss always pulls it back toward the shadows.
Little Did She Know, an early tune from Coss’ college days, reflects on breaking free from the conformity imposed on women, alternating between a scamper and a bit of a waltz driven by Rick Rosato’s bass and Jimmy Macbride’s drums. The towering ballad She Needed A Hero, So That’s What She Became is a return to brooding ambience, a launching pad for solos. Yamanaka glitters magnificently through Macbride’s silvery cymbal mist; Coss wafts uneasily on soprano and Wintz takes a turn toward Memphis,
Females Are Strong As Hell has hard-charging, bluesy grit fueled by Yamanaka’s mighty lefthand, Wintz’s incisive attack and the bandleader’s terse hooks over Macbride’s rumble
Like so much of the rest of the world, Coss was in mourning in the wake of the fateful 2016 Presidential election. “What do we do when we realize what has been there all along: a society built on misogyny, racism, bigotry, xenophobia, fear, hate, greed, and lies? If we elected this person to be our leader, what does that say about us? This tune reveals my vision of the presidency: an over-the-top facade of happiness and progress, vacillating between despair and hilarity, ultimately giving way to destruction and collapse,” Coss explains in the album liner notes for Mr. President. The band bookend sotto-voce, sarcastic swing with a macabre march: it’s the album’s most straightforwardly compelling track.
#MeToo illustrates womens’ long journey through cruelty and repression toward triumph, Coss offering hope on bass clarinet over a muted, syncopated pulse, pushed along by Yamanaka’s insistence, setting the stage for Wintz’s screaming crescendo
In Choices, Coss underscores that a woman’s right to choose extends across all boundaries, beyond simple reproductive freedom: for her, it’s a matter of choosing music over more traditional, conformist expectations. As the mutedly wounded song makes clear, it can be a tortuous path.
With its withering, winking sarcasm and bluesy flair, the album’s funniest track is Feminist AF, weighing the absurdity of feminism and equal rights being considered controversial in a so-called democracy. Nasty Women Grab Back comes across as a sardonic rewrite of a latin-infused jazz classic, Coss wailing on soprano and echoed by Wintz’s spirals and bounds. The album’s final cut is Ode to a Generation, Coss’ tenor trading tersely with guest Lucas Pino’s bass clarinet. Clearly, the darkly soul-inspired anthem’s clenched-teeth modalities are as much indictment as guarded triumph: we still have a whole lot of work ahead of us.
In a year that’s seen an explosion of relevant, politically-inspired jazz, this dark broadside might just be the best jazz album of 2018.