Trumpeter Rachel Therrien‘s latest album Vena – streaming at Bandcamp – is a breath of fresh air, a colorfully eclectic collection of terse, vivid compositions. If you like your jukebox jazz on the thoughtful, picturesque side, with a sense of humor, Therrien’s songs without words are for you.
V For Vena makes a warmly vampy, modally tinged first number, with a tasty, cascading, bluesy Daniel Gassin piano solo, Therrien choosing her spots to tuck and roll. She and the band – which also includes Dario Guibert on bass and Mareike Wiening on drums – shift between crystalline lyricism and encroaching phantasmagoria in Parity, a jazz waltz, Guibert’s calm triplets holding the center as Wiening’s circling riffs peak out. They stick with waltz time and phantasmagoria in Pigalle, but with a wryly dancing, vaudevillian touch instead.
75 Pages of Happiness is the album’s first ballad. That’s how somebody must feel after spending a leisurely evening at home reading New York Music Daily, right? Unless your record got snubbed here, ha! In all seriousness, the song’s spacious, resonant piano is matched by Therrien’s low-key midrange melody; it ends unresolved. In Assata, the quartet shift between allusions to soukous, jaunty swing and insistent riffage, with more spiraling, bluesy piano.
Therrien joins saxophonist Irving Acao for lilting harmonies over a nimble, funk-tinged groove and Gassin’s circling, wary piano chords in Bilka’s Story, with a a majestic crescendo: lots going on in this tale. Her persistence contrasts with the increasingly agitated individual voices behind her throughout Emilio, followed by Women, a droll, chattering miniature.
Synchronicity isn’t the big faux-African hit by the Police but a lively, punchy, syncopated original. The group go back to ballad territory with This Isn’t Love, Gassin’s balmy, purposefully darkening solo handing off to the bandleader, who takes it in a more forlorn direction. Then they pick up the pace with the lickety-split swing tune Just Playing, the album’s most trad postbop moment.
Bleu Tortue opens with Wiening supplying a mutedly shamanic beat as a springboard for Therrien’s brightly spare riffage. Migration is a final, energetically wistful waltz: something is being left behind, then an insistent expectancy takes centerstage. they close with a brief, playful New Orleans shuffle, Folks Tune. This is jazz for people who prefer entertainment and good stories over ostentatious solos and sourpuss snobbery.