Blended pleasure

Jazz has always been a melting pot. The New Orleans progenitors used a broad base of inspiration, and the big bands that followed in the 30s added formal structure and other new ideas. Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane and Miles Davis took the sound in to so many different places that it seemed jazz might splinter.

Yazz Ahmed
La Saboteuse
(Naim Audio Ltd.)

And it has, I suppose. While some artists like Branford Marsalis keep attempting to push the envelope and bring more and more new ideas into the mix, folks like his brother Wynton are similarly focused on competing visions of supposedly "pure" jazz.

Yazz Ahmed plays trumpet and flugelhorn, and she more than dabbles in Davis' modal forms. Her ensemble includes an electric piano player, which increases the Bitches Brew feeling. But more than anything, her use of Arabic scales really sets her pieces apart. She uses a quarter-tone flugelhorn, which allows her to more fully exploit those ideas.

Her playing, too, is unique. She has an astonishingly delicate touch, one that comes into focus even more when she lets loose and gets real blasty. I love her range, and her ability to convey ideas and emotion almost effortlessly. Her tone shifts as the song demands it, and she couldn't be more clear if she was speaking.

As for the songs themselves, they are memorable and often catchy. Ahmed isn't afraid to dabble in the edges of "smooth" jazz, though her rigor and range don't allow her to stay very long. She leads both a quartet and a seven-piece ensemble, and I think most of the songs here were recorded with the full seven-piece group.

In the end, Ahmed is telling stories. Most musicians try to do this in one way or another, but Ahmed is pretty straightforward about it. She sets a mood and then lets the tale unfold. The pieces here range from haunting to enthralling. The cumulative effect is almost overwhelming. Ahmed definitely comes down in the "more-is-more" jazz camp, and we are the richer for it.

Jon Worley

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