Tineke Postma — Freya (Edition, 2020)
In the days before streaming services, Jim Black’s Alas No Axis released an album that was not going to be available in the U.S. for some months. I think it was Houseplant. All of the band’s albums were on the German label Winter & Winter, and based on my college radio work at KZSU, I knew that the label’s U.S. distributor was Allegro Music. The station didn’t have strong ties to them, but, caving to impatience, I figured I could check the Allegro website and see if they sold mail-order to random individuals like me — and indeed they did.
I figured it would be fun to add a second, arbitrary item to the order, just to sample Allegro’s pool of European jazz and classical. Somewhere on their jazz pages I found an album whose samples had that relaxed, mainstream-contemporary sound but with a sense of adventure. I gave it a shot. It paid off.
Tineke Postma is a Dutch saxophonist who indeed spins contemporary jazz. My find, The Traveller (Coda, 2009), was comfortable, with the usual dose of pretty melodies alongside the more abstract themes, but Postma’s soloing stood out. Her edge sharpened considerably on Sonic Halo (Challenge, 2014), which is credited to Postma and Greg Osby (a mentor of hers) as equals. And now an avant-jazz side takes a leadership role on her newest album, Freya.
I’m not talking about fire-and-brimstone avant-jazz or an Anthony Braxton kind of cryptography. This is still acceptably mainstream stuff, but with Postma’s aptitude for adventure heightened, and with new ideas asserted in the composing — and it’s executed with a casual air that doesn’t feel forced. The title track’s cool staggering theme sets the scene for Postma’s kind of even-handed fire-spitting, a solo full of tangles but still relevant to the song’s mood. Thematically, Freya draws from the idea of motherhood, with song titles based on figures from mythology and ancient history. (Postma had taken a few years off to start a family.) Musically, it’s based on compositions with abstract themes that tumble and slide in a relaxed confidence.
Trumpeter Ralph Alessi fits the album’s mood well, delivering sharp solos and adding extra angles to Postma’s writing. The frequent moments where their solos overlap are delightful. You can tell they’re having fun on a tune like “Scáthatch’s Island of Style,” where they start playing with the theme’s cracked minimalism and spin briefly into free improvising. With the exception of a few tracks with Kris Davis on piano, most of the album lacks a chord instrument, which heightens the importance of drummer Dan Weiss and especially bassist Matt Brewer.
“Juno Lucina” has a skip-and-gallop theme that touches on a Tim Berne style of zig-zagging. “Parallax” isn’t my favorite composition on the album (it falls into a see-saw theme that’s a bit of a rut), but it opens the album with a fluttery Postma improvisation that signals some of what’s to come. “Aspasia and Pericles” and “Heart to Heart” are on the quieter side, the latter setting the softness of a jazz ballad to a mildly abstract theme.