Eclectic Soul, Jazz and Funk Tunesmithing From Saxophonist Alison Shearer
Alto saxophonist Alison Shearer comes out of a jazz background but also writes genre-busting songs that bridge the worlds of soul, psychedelia and funk. Her debut album View From Above is streaming at Bandcamp. Her attack is nimble, purposeful, and her songs tend to be on the bright side. Shearer’s not-so-secret weapon here is keyboardist Kevin Bernstein, who fleshes out the material with layers of organ, Bernie Worrell-ish synth patches, electric and acoustic piano.
The first track is On Awakening, a cheery, kinetically loopy interweave of Shearer’s dancing sax and Marty Kenney’s blippy bass over Bernstein’s woozy P-Funk-ish keyboard layers, drummer Horace Phillips providing a solid footing. Shearer builds her mistily propulsive solo to a triumphantly emphatic series of closing riffs
Celestial has brightly circling sax hooks over a well-worn singer-songwriter progression that Bernstein quickly expands with his pointillistic piano, shreddy guitar voicings on the synth kicking off a cheery, singalong Shearer solo. The next tune, Cycles is a lithely dancing Hollywood Hills boudoir soul tune balanced with some neat triangulations between electric piano, sax and Wayne Tucker’s trumpet
Miranda Joan sings Breathe Again, a crescendoing, occasionally gospel-tinged soul-jazz ballad reflecting a hope to emerge into renewed freedom and optimism.
Shearer uses the vampy. swaying Toni’s Tune as a launching pad for catchy, misty soloing, bookeneded around a doublespeed bridge. “Art is dangerous,” a voiceover reminds, “Because dictators, and people in office, and people who want to control and deceive know exactly the people who will disturb their planning.” Take that, Klaus Schwab!
Tucker returns for tightly syncopated. bittersweet harmonies in Three Flights Up, anchored by Bernstein’s twinkling, resonant Rhodes. Jonathan Hoard, Vuyo Sotashe and Chauncey Matthews interchange on vocals in Big Kids; Bernstein plays somber neoromantic piano and Susan Mandel provides shivery cello behind a sobering sample of Martin Luther King commenting on police brutality.
Hattie Simon’s cut-and-pasted vocals float over a gentle, wistful, spare soul backdrop in Purple Flowers. The best song on the album is Dawn to Dusk, Shearer shifting from a stark, loopy Ethiopiques theme to swirly psych-funk and back. She winds up the album with Gentle Traveler, a warmly catchy song without words: the contrast between carefree sax and pensive cello is a neat touch.
Shearer doesn’t have any unrestricted gigs coming up, but Tucker is leading a quintet at Smalls tonight, March 17 at 7:30 PM. The trumpeter has a fiery side but is just as much at home in balmy Afrobeat-flavored sounds, and he likes to croon. The club is open again with no restrictions; cover is $25 at the door.