Now that we are approaching a year in isolation, there is an ever crystallizing understanding of the long term impacts of quarantine on musical creation. Without an audience, where do artists find space for interactive dialogue? How do individual musicians even engage with each other when close proximity is no longer viable? In the fall of 2020, saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom and bassist Mark Helias decided to wrestle with those struggles through the most surprisingly obvious conduit: Zoom. The two jazz musicians improvised together from their own screens, treating latency as a newfound tool for exploring the attentiveness required to bounce musical motifs off of each other. The sessions eventually turned into Some Kind Of Tomorrow, a digital-only release that considers a post-pandemic modus operandi for how jazz might be assembled.
Without any context, it would initially be near impossible to tell how the project was recorded. Both veteran improvisationalists, Bloom and Helias play off each other with pensive ease. Oftentimes Bloom will open a track with a split second melodic run before Helias picks up the dynamic and constructs an appropriate groove. The opening title track establishes this blueprint through an almost-but-not-quite call and response between the two, where one instrument delicately backs away after the other responds to a motif. The record is full of these fast motion solos, where neither party stays still long enough to settle into complacency. The dreaded jazz signifier ‘conversational’ becomes unavoidable through these quick back and forths that Bloom and Helias playfully create to sync up with each other over glitchy webcam connections. Although the two perform together with virtuous precision, sometimes the record comes off more as a fascinating exercise in defining this new medium than a batch of songs.
It can be difficult to talk about or create art in our current situation without relying on gimmick. Certain Covid inspired work has come off as disingenuous if only for a forced knowing wink. Yet Bloom and Helias entirely subvert any such notions in these recordings, largely due to the inherent spaciousness of free jazz— that specific interplay of language that has existed from its inception. There are moments on “Far Satellites” and “Drift” where quiet gasps of breath, fingers resting on strings, and momentary latency become just as important as played notes. It’s these brief seconds where attention shifts to the physical act of music making that elevate the album into something intoxicatingly new. Even with such spare arrangements, the Zoom recordings have a breakneck intensity where everything sounds like it might crash together, though it never does.
Bloom and Helias have generously invited listeners into a strange world of intimate digital connection as they try to navigate how to make something organic and beautiful out of it. The album title alone tells us what they’ve tried to achieve in these sessions, and what they hope to pose as a viable route for artistic creation as we all continue to decipher how to exist in a new era. (Josh Hughes)