Melissa Aldana, a world of her own

  • The Chilean saxophonist, who has the potential to be a reference among the youngest musicians, expresses her own sound and world at the Voll-Damm Festival de Jazz de Barcelona

Corrillos of students at the exit of the Liceu Conservatories Thursday night they debated after the concert of the saxophonist Melissa Aldana quartet, one of the first claims of the 53ª Voll-Damm Barcelona Jazz Festival. There were mixed opinions. “What a beautiful sound it has”, “they are all great but it seemed a bit cold to me”. At one point, consensus was easily reached. “There were a lot of expectations,” said a boy wearing a T-shirt stamped with ‘John & McCoy & Jimmy & Elvin’, the first names of the legendary John Coltrane Quartet. And yes, there were expectations. Because the Chilean Melissa Aldana, 32 years old and a decade of career in the front line and for now always on the rise, has the potential to be if not a heroine, at least a reference among the youngest musicians. And that few artists of his generation can say. On the one hand, Aldana is drawn by what she has achieved: it was the first female instrumentalist to win Thelonious Monk Award, the accolade that has been the launch pad for many successful careers in jazz, and he has just signed for the Blue Note label. And on the other hand, simply because Melissa Aldana is very good. An artist with a sound and a world of her own.

Opened the night with a melody that appeared to him in his dreams during the pandemic, when she saw herself with a daughter in her arms – “I dreamed I had a baby named Emilia” -, and continued with the suggestive ‘The Empress’. Feminine themes? No, own themes. Aldana’s music revolves around an imaginary in which Frida Kahlo fits, source of inspiration for his latest album, but also Thelonious Monk, which he visited with great aplomb in the only version of the concert. Everything else was in his own handwriting: compositions with a lot of rhythmic and harmonic play that for long periods remained in the hands of the guitarist Mike Moreno, while she was trying to solve technical problems with her tenor sax. If she managed to adjust the instrument to her liking only she knows, but the sound was indeed beautiful.

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Intensity and containment

Aldana, whose language is both old and very modern, plays with a strange mixture of intensity and restraint, as if she were capable of delving into herself but keeping at bay some turbulence that is sensed but that when expressed, never has a form of I scream or outburst. As one of its references, Mark Turner, who was playing precisely this Friday on the same stage, Aldana is melancholic without ever playing with blues topics. Maybe the concert was a bit cold. Perhaps a lot of guitar was heard and less Aldana than one would have expected. Almost 15 years ago, at this same festival, the same thing happened with another of his idols, the colossus of tenor Sonny Rollins. Three years later, Rollins returned and gave a tremendous concert. We will wait for the return of Melissa Aldana.

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