The New Cool: Jessica Lurie - Beyond Bicoastal

Dec 15, 2017

Jessica Lurie is a Northwest jazz icon, though she's been based in New York City for the past few years. She has returned to Seattle to unveil her new album Long Haul, and it's clear that no matter where her musical travels take her, she will always have a home here.

Lurie's career has been a global musical journey, originating in Seattle.  I remember first hearing her play with the Billy Tipton Memorial Saxophone Quartet in the early 90s, and on the 1995 debut album of the wonderful trio The Living Daylights.

Lurie grew up surrounded by her parents' love of various musical styles, from classical to Broadway. That prepared her for a career defined by pushing jazz past its stereotypes into a music that's all her own. She also points to the eagerness of musicians in 90s Seattle to play in as many different bands as they could.

Lurie will always be welcomed by her musician friends in the Northwest, as we heard live on 88.5 in her recent studio session featuring guitarist Andy Coe, drummer Tarik Abouzied, trombonist Naomi Moon Seigel, and young teen sensation Ben Feldman on bass. The band plays Seattle's Royal Room Saturday night (with Todd Sickafoose on bass and Mathias Kunzli drumming) to celebrate the release of Lurie's latest album, and you'll hear the lead single on The New Cool this week.

That single, "A Tiger for William Kentridge", leads off Long Haul in familiar Jessica Lurie style. A playful rhythm and piano intro leads to serpentine saxophone next to Seigel's trombone. The piece is inspired by and dedicated to the art and animation of the brilliant South African Jewish illustrator and animator, William Kentridge. 

The song suggests an interesting fellow, indeed. There are African-flavored grooves, knocked around by Allison Miller's clever drumming and atmospheric electric guitar from Mike Gamble. Lurie's saxophone drives the melody and searches for the possibilities suggested by her band. The band breaks into playing party-time dissonant solos against each other, finally emerging back into the melody and a bouncy, playful finish. It's a good indication of the variety of musical flavors to follow.

Moving through the album, the playfulness gives way to pastoral beauty on Lurie's song "Spark". Echoed chanting leads into the thrilling "Red Flares", a burner with Middle-Eastern melodic twists and electronic flourishes that features Lurie's awesome flute playing. The beautiful sax ballad title song is her tribute to her father, finding a little hustle at the finish.

Funk flavor hits on "Calder's Circus", an older tune dedicated to sculptor Alexander Calder and to an early sax hero. Flute returns on her ultra-hip, loungy, Eastern Europe-via-New York inspired "Straight Out of Everything".

The meditative "Lost and Found" provides ample opportunity for improvisation from the band.  Fans of L.A. sax star Kamasi Washington will dig this one.

The finisher is "Patience", where intertwined saxes-trombone-guitar-piano dance around each other intricately, with powerful solos from Seigel's trombone and Brian Marsella's piano.

Long Haul flies by, and encourages return visits to your favorite songs. It's a fantastic display of the many talents and musical muses of Jessica Lurie, and further establishes her place as one of the great musicians and composers in the world today. You can call it jazz, but upon further listening it's obviously much more than that.

The New Cool airs Saturdays from 3 to 5pm, hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle, Wash.