As one of the world’s major baritone saxophonists, Lauren Sevian needs no introduction to jazz fans. What’s less known about her is that she’s also a composer and bandleader. Her most recent album under her own name, Bliss, came out in 2018 and is streaming at Spotify. Her instantly recognizable sound stems from her fondness for the instrument’s high midrange: she can get as lowdown and smoky as any other bari player, but she excels at melodies a little higher up like nobody else.
The opening track, Triple Water – a reference to Sevian’s emotionarlly fraught astrology chart – is a tightly wound, lickety-split swing tune, pianist Robert Rodriguez scrambling down to a fleeingly moody interlude that the bandleader pulls back in a flash, relying mostly on her midrange as bassist Christian McBride and drummer E.J. Strickland scurry along.
Sevian and her pal Alexa Tarantino used to have a band coyly named LSAT, and the tenor saxophonist contributes one of her own tunes, Square One, joining Sevian out front of the warmly lilting, expressive tune. McBride clusters around, The album’s title track slowly coalesces into a slow, syncopated sway, Sevian employing her marvelously brassy midrange tone for maximum impact over Rodriguez’s steady, spare backdrop.
The briskly strolling Bluesishness is a launching pad for Sevian’s souflul, “twisty” blues variations, as she calls them, McBride tossing off a deviously horn-voiced solo of his own. Goldie’s Chance is Sevian’s Lucille, a dynamically shifting, unexpectedly moody ballad dedicated to her Buffet 400 series baritone model: it’s a love song rather than a demo for everything her axe can do.
Sevian wrote the jaunty, matter-of-fact stroll Miss Lady for her cat, Astoria – even a spare, rather mysterious Strickland solo can’t get this furry friend to get uncentered. Lamb and Bunny, dating from Sevian’s LSAT days, is a lickety-split burner, the two women having a spiraling, conspiratorial good time as the rhythm section walks it frantically. The album’s most expansive track, In the Loop has a low-key, funky groove, Sevian’s gravelly solo followed by a mutedly jubilant one from McBride.
In Evergreen, Rodriguez’s gorgeously chiming lines, the bandleader’s thoughtful, resonant melody and McBride’s unabashedly romantic solo build inviting early summer ambience. Sevian winds up the album with Minimal Moves, using the changes from Coltrane’s Giant Steps for a racewalking swing. In a world where live music exists everywhere – and hopefully such a world will exist again – Sevian plays with everybody: this album is one of the reasons why she always has a gig.