Mara Rosenbloom’s Improvisations Draw Darkly on Avian Inspiration
Growing up on the Wisconsin prairie, pianist Mara Rosenbloom became an astute observer of nature. Her latest trio album Flyways: Murmurations– streaming at Spotify – looks to the migratory patterns of birds not only as a metaphor for jazz improvisation, but also for what humans can learn from them in general. Rosenbloom draws particular inspiration from how starlings interact in flight, operating in subgroups within a flock and changing leaders periodically. Where Rosenbloom’s previous trio album Prairie Burn was absolutely incendiary, this one is much easier to map: the focus is clearer and often rather dark.
Here she’s joined by Rashaan Carter on bass and Anais Maviel on vocals and percussion. They open with a brief jam of a prelude which worked out so well that Rosenbloom kept it for the record. Her fondness for the blues and disquieting modes immediately come to the forefront, echoed by a bubbling bass pulse. A second miniature is anchored by Maviel’s quasi trip-hop beat on her surdo drum, her wordless vocals soaring over her bandmates’ steady, circling clusters.
The album’s epic centerpiece is I Know What I Dreamed. Over almost forty minutes, the trio shift from warm, lingering minimalism to spare, neoromantic phrasing, portentous rumbles on everyone’s low end, jagged rises and dips between uneasily expanding circles and a rhythmic insistence that’s often as hypnotic as it is lyrical. The slow, swaying, Monk-inflected mood midway through is marvelous. Maviel takes poet Adrienne Rich’s text imagining a world free of exploitative relationships and negotiates between calm assurance and troubled melismatics that sometimes reach horror-stricken peaks.
“No one lives in this room without living through some kind of crimes,“ Maviel intones over Rosenbloom’s starkly repetitive vintage soul riffs in Dream of a Common Language, piano and bass drifting into an echoey wash. The album’s final bird takeoff themes revert to gracefully circling variations. Rosenbloom winds up the record with a saturnine solo version of These Foolish Things, dedicated to the late Connie Crothers, obviously an influence as far as improvisation is concerned.