Lena Bloch (ts), Russ Lossing (p), Cameron Brown (b), Billy Mintz (d)
Reference: FSRCD 5115
Bar code: 8427328651158
"The Brooklyn-based tenor sax player Lena Bloch was born in Moscow, Russia, immigrated to Israel in 1990, then relocated to Germany and Netherlands, and in 2008 settled in the United States. She is one of the few jazz musicians who openly identify with the plight of the Palestinian refugees, as one who knows from her own personal experience what it means to leave your loved ones, yearn for your own homeland and become an expatriate. Bloch quotes Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish who wrote: «I am from there. I am from here. / I am not there and I am not here», as a guiding inspiration for her new album «Rose of Lifta». The previous album of Bloch, «Heart Knows» (Fresh Sound New Talent, 2017), was dedicated to one of her mentors, Muslim sax player Yusuf Lateef.
«Rose of Lifta» is the sophomore album of Bloch with her quartet Feathery – pianist Russ Lossing, double bass player Cameron Brown and drummer Billy Mintz – and she dedicated it to the deserted Palestinian village Lifta, now in the western outskirts of Jerusalem, the only Palestinian village that its houses still remain almost intact after its residents were expelled in 1948. «Rose of Lifta» is a unique species of climbing rose that you can still find in Lifta, and Bloch quotes Palestinian poet and activist Iman Annab: «Against all odds, the rose will continue to climb». The album was recorded at Skyline Studios in New York in July 2019.
The seven compositions – penned by Bloch and Lossing – are structured as a long, continuous suite and reflect the unsettling and deeply emotional themes of exile, loss, and longing for home, as encapsulated by Darwish, and experienced by Bloch. The atmosphere of «Rose of Lifta» is, naturally, mournful, sometimes even melancholic, but eventually radiates a hopeful, life-affirming spirit. Bloch insisted that the quartet will record the album with no particular arrangements and in one room, encouraged collective improvisations that would embrace risk-taking. This quartet clearly sounds like a tight, emphatic unit, an organism that is bigger than its parts.
The compositions incorporate the dynamics of Middle-Eastern traditional music – introducing a lyrical melodic theme, and then improvising on this theme – individually and as an organic ensemble – and expanding its conversant, recurring motifs. The rhythm section of Brown and Mintz, who often plays on the skins of the drums with his hands, anchors the sensual, gentle interplay of the quartet and supports the soulful and poetic yet reserved solos of Bloch and Lossing. Beautiful and thoughtful compositions like «Mad Mirror» or «Mahmoud Darwish», both written by Bloch, and the latter is, obviously, a sonic ode to the great poet, or Lossing’s «New Home» and «Old Home» have an immediate emotional impact. All linger in the listener’s mind long after this impressive album is over."
—Eyal Hareuveni (February, 2022)
"Rich and breathy toned tenor saxist Lena Bloch brings together Russ Lossing/p, Cameron Brown/b and Billy Mintz/dr for seven originals from the saxist or pianist. Her puffy reed broods gorgeously over Lossing’s melancholy ivories on “Mad Mirror” and on his Bill Evansy classicism of “New Home”. The team shifts like sand over Brown’s Middle Eastern pulse of “Promise Of Return” and shows elements of modern classical tones on the prismantic “Mahmoud Darwish”. Abstract and elliptical colors are painted on “Climbing Rose of Lifta” as the team reflects like a pond on “Wintry Mix”. Pastels of sound."
—George W. Harris (December 9, 2021)
"Tenor saxophonist Lena Bloch knows first-hand what it means to leave home (Russia), spend periods of time living here and there —often with struggle— and then finally plant roots in a new home, in this case, Brooklyn (in 2008). Her new CD, Rose of Lifta, with her quartet Feathery, speaks to that wandering, seeking and finding (even the album art remarkably conveys the musical contents therein); each of the seven tracks is a discrete story of a suite that is a journey of longing and resolution.
Lifta is an Arab village in Israel with a legacy of contention and a fight for survival. In the title track, the melancholy is palpable, as if watching a thing of beauty climbing to survive in the sun. The beauty of Rose of Lifta is that Feathery —Bloch, Lossing, bassist Cameron Brown and drummer Billy Mintz— are so deeply in the pocket that their ensemble work prevails beyond any solos taken. Even the extraordinary opening bass on the Middle Eastern-inflected “Promise of Return” or the mournful extended saxophone intro to an essentially non-melodic “Mad Mirror” carry the psychic overtones of the collective.
Feathery takes inspiration from a wide variety of music traditions and prides itself on playing with a mix of composition and spontaneous improvisation. The result is a wondrous creation of mood. In “New Home” the tone is light, yet unsteady and unsure but hopeful while, in contrast, in “Old Home”, there is a push and pull, an up and down of emotion.
It is in “Mahmoud Darwish” where a powerful existential rush of emotion is loosed. The tune is a heart-rending dirge in tribute to Darwish, the late Palestinian poet whose art and work —most particularly these words, “I am from there. I am from here. I am not there. I am not here.”— inspired the album. Finally, in the closer “Wintry Mix”, in which, mid-section, Lossing magically evokes dancing, falling snow, the ensemble conveys indecision, until the final notes of the piece turn to uplift. Clearly now, there is reason to believe that all is, without doubt, right and well."
—Marilyn Lester (November, 2021)
The New York City Jazz Record
"Lena Bloch, a strikingly original tenor-saxophonist who is also a skilled composer, focuses on the subject of exile during her recent CD Rose Of Lifta. Born in Russia, she spent periods living in Israel and Germany before settling in Brooklyn in 2008, so she knows what it is like to live in many different lands and to feel some longing for each of the imperfect situations.
Rose Of Lifta, which consists of seven originals by either Bloch or pianist Russ Lossing, forms a suite that is interpreted by the two composers, bassist Cameron Brown, and drummer Billy Mintz. “Promise Of Return” sounds very much like music from the Middle East but performed by an improvising jazz quartet. “Mad Mirror” begins with Bloch’s unaccompanied tenor utilizing a phrase and building off of it before the full group joins in the construction of the piece. “New Home” is melancholy and a bit brooding. “Climbing Rose Of Lifta” (Lifta is an Arab village in Israel that has a long history of struggle) is about a quiet battle for survival.
“Old Home,” while containing a little bit of nostalgia, is a reflection about the place’s past and probable future; it has one of the strongest piano solos of the program. “Mahmoud Darwish” is a dirge written in remembrance of the late Palestinian poet that is full of mournful passion. The episodic “Wintry Mix” returns to the mood of the opening “Promise Of Return,” realistic but hopeful.
While there are many fine individual solos from Lena Bloch and Russ Lossing, the emphasis throughout Rose Of Lifta is on the sound of the ensemble, the strong compositions, and the honest moods."
—Scott Yanow (October, 2021)
Los Angeles Jazz Scene