Jazz in 5.1: The Accomplishment of Early Americans

With a long, diverse career in music and art, Jane Ira Bloom brought immersive jazz to the 2018 Grammy Awards.
by Ben Jacklin

Jane Ira Bloom is not exactly a household name unless the household in question happens to have a passion for avant-garde jazz. In the world of jazz, the word that most would agree defines Bloom’s career is “accomplished.” A musician for over 50 years and a composer for almost 30, she is perhaps best known for her performances as a soprano saxophonist. Her career has seen her commissioned by NASA as well as being given a Guggenheim Fellowship, but it culminated in the winning of the Grammy for Best Immersive Audio Album at the 60th annual awards for her Early Americans album.

It is rare that a musician can move from a jazz quartet to a trio and the sound grows. Along with Mark Helias on bass and Bobby Previte on drums, Bloom anchors us in melody with the relatively straightforward opener, “Song Patrol,” starting us on a proverbial highway before taking us on back roads to the tangents throughout the rest of the album. The minimalism of the opener’s instrumentation fills the room while the instruments interact and interweave.

“Dangerous Times” takes a different path, with stopping and starting drums, at times almost tribal in nature, giving space for the other instruments to pan around the stereo field. This is the first of many examples of experimentation in the mix. Long has Bloom delved into the world of electronics and although the organic, naturalistic elements of the instruments are allowed to thrive throughout this album, recording techniques have created room to experiment. This is shown in the accompanying CD liner photos, in which she can be seen moving microphones around for a spatial effect during recording.

The snarling and driving “Hips and Sticks” is a highlight, with a driving beat keeping us centered while Bloom’s improvisation on the sax tells its own story. “Rhyme or Rhythm” takes us to a more experimental territory, with a sturdy groove being met with some jarring moments and instrumental trills. The instrumental tangents are back and prove that this composer is not afraid to explore new grounds. The immersive audio experience takes us to the middle of a jazz club, truly putting you in the room with these musicians, seemingly lost in the moment.

The album has met its crescendo and moves on to a more somber yet mellow ending. “Mind Gray River” gives a hint of this mellowing, before the minimalist and provocative “Somewhere” rounds the album off with tremendous intimacy.

Jane Ira Bloom’s win (along with engineers Jim Anderson and Darcy Proper) is a brave award by The Recording Academy, but is a true credit to the surround sound and “immersive” experience.

About the Author

Ben is a writer and musician from the UK with a background in music technology. He writes about engineering and production, musicianship and music equipment for a number of publications including his own site, subreel.com