Lioness Pride & Joy (Posi-Tone)

Patriarchy and nepotism being the well-established
evils they are, a band consisting solely of women,
playing tunes solely by women, in hopes – at least
according to its record label – of winning over women
listeners newly interested in jazz, is no doubt a blow
against the pernicious bias we’ve allowed to flourish
as generations of talent stood in the shadows – you
know, sexism and its fallout. It’s taken far too long
for women improvisers to enjoy the work opportunities
their male counterparts have been granted through the
last century. So, in the large, Lioness – a sextet
built on a female-first concept for a women-centric
performance series in New York – is unique. Not
groundbreaking, of course; we can all cite notable jazz
outfits that operate sans men. But valuable, and to a
degree, heroic.

But somewhere along the line Lioness made a choice to
keep their music so legible that it’s had a stifling
effect on the mystique that’s often a key ingredient of
potent improv. Across this just-fine
album of overtly swinging pieces is a kind of
breezy facility that’s a little too eager to please.
The participants – tenor saxophonist Alexa Tarantino,
alto saxophonist Jenny Hill, bari player Lauren Sevian,
guitarist Amanda Monaco, organist Akiko Tsuruga, and
drummer Allison Miller (most of them enjoying a tie to the
Posi-Tone label) – render the material with brio. Melba
Liston’s “You Don’t Say” should be proud of its
panache, and “Sunny Day Pal” has the dash needed for
its Caribbean bounce. However, both tracks color so
strictly within the lines they tilt towards being
elementary – the individual idiosyncrasies that often accrue into a band’s essence are watered down along the
way. When they roll through “Think,” Aretha Franklin’s
indictment of oppression, a mix of pith and politeness mutes its
bite.

The music improves when the arrangements improve. One
of the album’s highlights is “Ida Lupino,” where
Miller’s brushes goose the musings of Tarantino and
Monaco. Tsuruga ebbs and flows here, too, creating some
gorgeous swells that splash through Carla Bley’s
enigmatic theme. “Identity” also adds a needed air of
intricacy to the mix, its victory bolstered by the
impressive purr of Sevian’s horn as well as the hazy
blues mood the band consistently tweaks. Compared to
the decorum of “Mad Time” and its well-scrubbed cohorts
“Jelly” and “Funky Girl,” these tracks seem almost
subversive. Pride & Joy is a heartfelt romp that has
impulses to leave protocol behind, but doesn’t muster
the liftoff needed to truly break free. It’s just as
conventional as it is catchy, and for me it unearthed
an old quandary: is there a downside to a piece of art
being merely entertaining rather than deeply
provocative?

DownBeat

Posi-Tone

Alexa Tarantino

Jenny Hill

Lauren Sevian

Amanda Monaco

Akiko Tsuruga

Allison Miller 

 

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