Jane Ira Bloom's experiments yield success

The Jazz at the Arts Center series continued Thursday night with soprano saxophonist and composer Jane Ira Bloom. Bloom, along with bassist Mark Dresser, drummer Bobby Previte and keyboardist Jamie Saft, gave a spellbinding performance of experimental sound, movement and jazz.

Bloom's compositional interests lie in the experimental use of live electronics and movement to paint both visual and aural pictures. Inspired in large part by the work of Jackson Pollock, Bloom's performances can sometimes be an assault on the senses, challenging one to constantly re-evaluate one's responses.

The performance opened with the traditional jazz convention of introducing each player by means of a long solo riff. As the music segued into "Chasing Paint" -- a Pollock-inspired composition -- Dresser, Previte and Saft revealed the versatility and creativity that was to mark their work throughout the evening.

On the drums, Previte was marvelously compelling. One's attention was drawn to him as much as to Bloom. He employed a variety of techniques that produced an amazing array of sounds, and he was always physically engaged with the music.

That physical engagement was clear, too, in Bloom's playing. Her whole body seemed wrapped around that saxophone, bending, curling, and swaying. At times, she used the movement of the saxophone in front of the amplification systems to create "paint" sounds: sweeping arcs and jabs that reproduced in music the swirls and splotches of Pollock's technique.

The experiments continued in "Climb into Her Eyes," the most restful composition of the night -- a relief after the frenetic energy of "Forces." Bloom's playing was particularly sensitive here, as she reveled in the mournful and contemplative sounds of the saxophone accompanied primarily by bass and piano. In one particularly astonishing moment, she turned her saxophone into the open lid of the piano, allowing the sound to echo eerily across the strings.

After intermission, the evening reached its climax with "Alchemy," another Pollock inspiration that was less a melodic composition and more of a series of creative noises punctuated by moments of silence. Just as the white space between the splotches helps define the Pollock painting, this number's "white space," or silence -- sudden and pregnant with sounds not heard -- completed the aural painting.

Possibly the most experimental group on the jazz series, Bloom's performance was probably not for everyone. The sensory overload was ultimately exhausting, and the audience after intermission was noticeably smaller; however, it was a generous one, willing to go along with Bloom and her companions into a swirling world of sound images as fantastic and puzzling as a Pollock painting itself.

Sarah Young is a lecturer in Kansas University's English department.

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