Rising sax star Melissa Aldana gets cooking at Pizza Express Jazz Club

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It isn’t unusual at events such as the London Jazz Festival that you come across at least one new and talented artist. Such is the case with New York-based Chilean saxophonist Melissa Aldana. And it's no surprise that such a discovery would be made at the Pizza Express Jazz Club, where you’re more likely to unearth such gems – thoughts go back to past unveilings of vocalists Gregory Porter and Nora Jones, to mention but two. Aldana has been making great strides and garnering critical acclaim since winning the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition in 2013. Hearing her perform in this intimate setting its clear that she’s entirely deserving of such recognition.

Accompanied by her Crash TrioPablo Menares (bass) and Jochen Rueckert (drums), you can hear the strong sense of tradition in her playing. The sound is mature, with confidence careering through the voices of such masters as Dexter Gordon, Joe Henderson and Sonny Rollins. Her sonorous tone lends weight to the thoughtful melodic structures of original compositions such as 'Bring Him Home' and 'SP', drawing closer focus to her playing with this uncluttered piano-less trio – a format often used in early Sonny Rollins line-ups – while retaining a full and captivating sound.

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Aldana and her trio pull this off well – making chordal instruments seem surplus to requirements. The trio generates a fuller sound than their bare number would suggest, particularly when playing the Warren/Young ballad 'You're My Everything'. Aldana introduces the track by exchanging ruminative notes with the trio, gradually building before suddenly bursting like a new spring blossom as they played the head. Reassuringly, the ensemble can swing as well as they can hold down the technical and rhythmic components of their craft, attributes displayed in other original compositions, which also showcased elements of Aldana’s Latin heritage.

This was a performance so full of freshness and poise that, watching it, you could not help but be convinced you were witnessing a future star. We can be thankful that venues like Pizza Express continue to keep theirs ear close to the ground and then take the bold move of bringing such wonderful musicians to our attention.

 – Roger Thomas (story and photos)