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Time Flies (when you're having fun): Monika Herzig's quartet message at the Jazz Kitchen

Cover of the new CD by the new band, the Time Flies.
On a CD tour with her new quartet Time Flies, keyboardist-composer Monika Herzig stopped by the Jazz Kitchen Friday night. Husband Peter Kienle's guitar provided a glittering revival of the German-born couple's adaptation of jazz-rock fusion, which burst out more than 20 years ago after they moved to the USA and formed an American version of a band called Beeble Brox.

Expressing joy in her new Casio 3000 keyboard, Herzig moved from grand piano to the new instrument in the course of a sparkling first set. The touring version of the band, with only the keyboard-guitar couple continuing, is fully up to demands of the Time Flies' idiomatic variety. The other members are a bass guitarist well-known in central Indiana, Scott Pazera of Lafayette, and a New York drummer of phenomenal versatility and depth of groove, Karina Colis.

The quartet got off to a blistering start with a Herzig original, "Plugged In." The title gives notice that the fusion chops of the Time Flies are in good working order. Kienle's aggressive guitar led the charge on this churning number, and both he and Herzig took
Monika Herzig recently struck a blow for jazz equality with her "Sheroes" project.
characteristic solos.  The pianist is also an adventurous composer, a fact that goes way back in her output on record. "Fly High," written in an uneasy tribute to a daughter's decision to train professionally for the circus, found her moving to the grand piano, and guiding from there a performance that led the ensemble effectively through a rather cumbersome  bridge to glory again in the main material.

A well-knit medley followed, venturing through some effective displays of Kienle's guitar in "Oily Riser" and "Powerlines" on the way to a typically cheerful Herzig ode to spring. Along the way the pianist displayed a couple of new weapons in her arsenal, though that may misrepresent skills so gently deployed: whistling in unison with the guitar, and wordless singing so as to vary the ensemble sound and add emotional warmth.

The set came to an end in a well-coordinated musical rant against the protracted struggles of tax preparation, "Where's My Form?" A lyrical section suggested that relief can be found even from such arduous chores, but at the end it was back to edgy Time Flies business as Herzig finished the piece on her beloved Casio, both mellow and ringing out amid the highly charged ensemble mixture.

Melissa Aldana's 'Visions': Transmuting an art icon into jazz

Frida Kahlo has come to stand for more than her tortured life and painfully evolved personal style as a visual artist. The Mexican symbol of individualized feminism in art has lately been taken up by a rising star of the tenor saxophone, the Chilean-born Melissa Aldana.
Melilssa Aldana pays tribute to Frida Kahlo in "Visions."

In "Visions"(Motema) she leads a quartet (expanded to a quintet for all but three of the 11 pieces) to honor Kahlo, whose life and art have generated extensive film, opera, and biographical treatment. A key element of Aldana's approach to this ensemble tribute is that fifth player, vibraphonist Joel Ross, with whom she often plays in unison. (Ross was hailed as the new voice of the vibraphone by Nate Chinen yesterday on NPR's "Morning Edition".) As exemplified by "El Castillo de Velenje," the longest track on "Visions," Ross's tone has a watery shimmer that still avoids blurring his articulation when the tempo is fast. He's clearly motivated in his great solo here by the leader's torrential showcase preceding it.

Aldana plays in an unfettered manner, as if fearful of stasis. Her inventiveness is nonstop, and her sidemen's individuality also gets plenty of elbow room. Yet this doesn't mean that her tone fragments or coarsens. Almost uniquely among tenor saxophonists, she presents the same quality of sound in all registers. Up high, there's an alto-sax persona, with suggestions even of soprano sax at its most ethereal; she is similarly focused when moving into midrange and lower. But her playing maintains continuity of tone, full but not heavy, with no irresolute aspects to her phrasing. Throughout jazz history, we've heard plenty of tenor saxophone, some of it at genius level, designed to exploit a tendency to talk to oneself. Aldana gives us something else.

Rarely does she put forward a breathy quality, an exception being the disc's one standard, "Never Let Me Go," which opens with a solo cadenza. This is an understandable departure from her normally conservatory-perfect sound, probably for the sake of connecting with the tenor ballad tradition stemming from Coleman Hawkins and running through Ben Webster. Sam Harris' piano solo applies fresh harmonies to the piece and gets inventive about phrasing to help justify the song's inclusion in an otherwise all-original program.

 Harris sometimes yields to a tendency to noodle, as on bassist Pable Menares' soft-spoken, somewhat languid "Perdon," but otherwise he shares with the leader a purposefulness that serves the music well. As for the Kahlo inspiration behind the compositions, the listener must infer it from time time and not expect it to be explicit. I heard the music hinting at the painter's highly charged manipulation of personal symbols in "Elsewhere." That tune maintains a restlessness characterized by lots of rhythmic interplay among the group, driven by Tommy Crane's drums. Here Kahlo's struggles seem to have found original expression in another genre.

"Visions" helps to further Aldana's reputation for outstanding creative drive on an instrument that has long tended to be overrepresented in jazz. Her skill as a bandleader and composer should keep her profile high.

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