IDit Shner:9 Short Stories

Review by Andrew Janak

Saxophonist Idit Shner currently serves as Associate Professor of Saxophone and Jazz Studies at the University of Oregon, equally adept as a classical and jazz saxophonist. Her discography is varied, ranging from 2008’s Tuesday’s Blues which featured jazz settings of traditional Jewish liturgical music to 2010’s Fissures: 20th-Century Music for Saxophone and Harp featuring Shner performing chamber music on the bass saxophone. With her latest release, 9 Short Stories, Shner synthesized her myriad of musical influences into a set of succinct, focused tunes (8 of 9 are Shner’s originals), with no track longer than 5:55. Joined by Dallas-area rhythm section stalwarts Josh Hanlon, James Driscoll, and Stockton Helbing, Shner’s alto and soprano playing captures a wide variety of moods, channeling players ranging from Kenny Garrett to Johnny Hodges throughout.

The opening track, “Revision,”begins with a foreboding rhythm section vamp before Shner’s alto joins the texture with an angular melody. Shner mentions in the liner notes that the tune was inspired by the music of Zimbabwe, as evidenced by the intertwined rhythms of the vamp. The alto solo shows great patience as Shner deftly works up to a climax over the dense rhythm section accompaniment.  Josh Hanlon’s animated piano solo is full of spontaneous counterpoint, superimposing polyrhythms over the bass and drums. Stock Helbing’s drum solo over the original rhythm section vamp showcases his controlled virtuosity, never overpowering his rhythm section mates and exploring interesting timbres from the drum set.

Billy Strayhorn’s haunting ballad “Passion Flower” is the only non-Shner original on the album. Shner pays homage to Johnny Hodges utilizing a fast and wide vibrato in her interpretation of the melody, and the track features no improvisation. Instead Strayhorn’s melody stands alone as a short story unto itself – working to a climax into the alto’s upper register in the bridge before the last A section serves as a denouement, bringing the piece to a peaceful close.

“First Waltz” showcases Shner’s warm soprano tone in a chord-less trio setting, as Hanlon sits the track out. The absence of chords allows Schner more harmonic freedom in her improvisation, while never losing a sense of melody. The closing track, “Not Friends,” is a contrafact on the standard “Just Friends” and the most straight-ahead number on the album. Shner cleverly alludes to the original melody throughout the tune before an unexpected twist to end the song, as the last eight bars of the form are a drum solo. Shner and Hanlon offer up animated individual solos before Shner and Helbing trade eights, offering up some of the most interactive rhythmic playing on the track. The return of the melody features Helbing’s drum solo at the end of the form, bringing the album to a satisfying conclusion.-A.J.