A low-key duo album with Jane Ira Bloom on it might seem like the last thing you’d ever expect to hear, considering that she’s arguably this era’s great master of spine-tingling soprano sax pyrotechnics. Desperate times, desperate measures. Beginning in the terrorized early days of the lockdown, she and bassist Mark Helias began jamming over the web. The two quickly realized they were on to something. By September, they’d recorded enough material for an album, Some Kind of Tomorrow, streaming at Bandcamp. It’s two veterans with huge bags of riffs and spontaneous tunesmithing ability at the peak of their game.
“The thought of a world without a live, spontaneous musical connection was too hard to imagine,” Bloom confirms. Obviously, we can’t let lockdowner totalitarianism dictate how, when, where or even if recordings are made. But just the fact that Bloom and Helias were able to create such deeply conversational, moving interludes as these under the circumstances portends even more amazing things for these two as more and more musicians return from the virtual world to reality again.
In the album’s title track, Bloom weaves bits and pieces of a ballad – some of them distant echoes of My Favorite Things – as Helias keeps a dancing pulse going and pulls together a catchy, riff-driven groove that you will be humming to yourself afterward. Keep in mind that this was completely improvised.
Bloom treats us to sprightly spirals over Helias’ suspenseful, muted rumble as Magic Carpet takes flight. Then a spacious, similarly suspenseful dialogue ensues, Helias subtly introducing a Middle Eastern-tinged mode that Bloom picks up on immediately. Bloom flits around and induces some goosebumps with her trills, Helias jabbing and then sinking an anchor of stygian sustain to the river floor.
The two pursue a similar dichotomy in the sepulchral flickers of Early Rites: Bloom throws a flourish at Helias, then he bends it back with just enough of a different spin to keep the music slowly shifting.
The bassist pursues more of a shadowy response, then takes a tantalizing, stairstepping solo in the album’s fourth number, Willing, as Bloom plays sage, wee-hours blues phrases before following him into modal mystery again.
The two switch roles in Traveling Deep, Bloom’s broodingly liquid, clarinet-like phrasing in response to Helias’ jaunty harmonics. Their big, almost ten-minute epic is titled Roughing It, the closest thing to a spontaneous, lithely swinging ballad here before the two spin and drift into the ether again before triumphantly reconvening.
Spare, spacious contemplation returns and shifts into more tentative angst in Far Satellites: Helias’ high harmonics versus Bloom’s moody trils create one of the album’s most quietly riveting moments. Listening to Bloom develop one of the more lengthy themes and variations in Pros and Cons, from wistfulness to desolate blues is a treat. Again, Helias’ chromatics are the icing on the cake.
Drift is a master class in angst-fueled melismas and sheets of sustain. Helias takes the lead with his slides and chromatics as Bloom floats and flickers in Star Talk, one of the quietest and most haunting number here. First Canvas, a miniature, closes the album on a benedictory note.