Bloom Explores The Far Reaches Of Sound With Her Sax

Posted: February 05, 1999

For soprano saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom, who has written music for NASA and has had an asteroid named for her, sound is the most important thing.

Since she is performing Saturday night at Mount Airy's Sedgwick Cultural Center with bassist Rufus Reid, there will be much space for sonic exploration. Reid, with whom Bloom has worked in one capacity or another since the early '80s, has ``the most beautiful bass sound on the face of the planet,'' she said.

For the past seven years, Reid has collaborated with drummer Akira Tana, and both have also worked with Philadelphia pianist Sumi Tonooka. A composer as well as bassist, Reid also is distinguished by his ability to adapt well to different settings without losing his sound.

When collaborating with Reid, Bloom said, ``there is no piano, there are no drums. You can focus on things you do not often get a chance to focus on in a larger group. There is a nuance and detail that an improviser can put into the quality of their sound. There is a lot of freedom for the music to move in different directions, and you can concentrate more on different dynamic levels, which sometimes gets overlooked or lost in this music.''

Bloom is known chiefly for her work on the soprano, and, although she has been playing the horn for the better part of three decades, she still finds it a daily challenge to achieve the quality of sound she likes. ``Of the sax family, the soprano is the most challenging,'' she said. ``The window of accuracy is a lot smaller and more exacting, and it keeps you on your toes.''

Among soprano sax players, Bloom is known as a cerebral explorer. Her sound, piercing and exacting, is quite appropriate for her compositions, which show avant-garde, new-music leanings. She also has experimented with electronic effects and other adventurous techniques.

One of Bloom's more interesting trademarks is her employment of Doppler-like effects, moving the bell of her soprano sax in different directions around the microphone in order to vary the timbre and volume of her notes.

These techniques, she said, ``are a natural outgrowth of my intuition.''

It was an intuition formed in New England. Bloom, 45, was raised just outside Boston and attended Yale University, where she received undergraduate and graduate degrees in composition.

Although many Ivy League schools have weak-to-nonexistent music departments, Bloom said Yale gave her a good education in the fundamentals. It was in the musical life of surrounding New Haven, Conn., however, that she really received an education.

``It was where I grew up musically,'' she said. ``There were a lot of terrific improvisers up there at that time [mid- and late-1970s], and I was exposed to a lot of different things. Anthony Davis, Gerry Hemingway, Kent McLagan, a bassist I met there, all happened to be there at that time, and they are all working vitally in the music world right now,'' she said.

It was also during her Yale years that she began working with dance groups. She composed for modern dance and ballet groups, and the aesthetics of dance also influence the way she performs.

``Movement was always very intuitive for me, and people always told me I moved when I played,'' said Bloom. ``As I learned more about movement, I became less interested in movement for movement's sake and more interested in how it makes sounds change.''

She also began applying the worlds she saw in other hobbies - Bloom is an accomplished photographer and amateur astronomer - to her compositions. Which is how she ended up having an asteroid named for her.

``There was a research assistant, Brian Skiff, out in Arizona, who worked at an observatory,'' Bloom said. ``Turns out that he was a serious jazz fan. He sent me an e-mail once, telling me that when they do their observing late at night, they listen to CDs. He was the one who discovered this asteroid, and he got to name it. So, it looks like I got myself an asteroid. He told me it had a very elliptical orbit, a very eccentric orbit.''

The asteroid's name: 6083 Janeirabloom.

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