Baritone saxophonists don’t get to make their own albums very often. This is Lauren Sevian’s second release as a leader and comes nearly a full decade after her debut. The band is alto saxophonist Alexa Tarantino (with whom Sevian co-leads the wittily named group LSAT), pianist Robert Rodriguez, bassist Christian McBride and drummer E.J. Strickland. All the compositions are hers, save Tarantino’s “Square One”.
“Triple Water” kicks off the album in a bebop flurry. Sevian’s phrases—Tarantino is not heard here— have the intricacy and speed of John Coltrane on “Countdown” and the band keeps her flying high; McBride and Strickland are skipping along and Rodriguez dances across the keys, releasing rippling waves of notes. The mellower “Square One” follows, allowing the two saxophonists to harmonize. Tarantino plays around in the lower end of the alto’s range, with Sevian as her shadow, or her big sister, hovering protectively. McBride takes a forceful, string-popping solo. “Bluesishness” lives up to its title; it’s bluesy, but it’s also meandering and somewhat convoluted, a string of phrases that wind all over the place, barely anchored by the rhythm. McBride throws a maddeningly familiar quotation into his solo that does more to anchor the piece than anything from the leader’s pen. “Miss Lady” begins with another Coltrane-in-1959 opening fanfare, but at the 90-second mark a half-speed drum solo drains away all its momentum; when the band comes back in, they’re swinging in a loose and genial manner, but it feels like an entirely different piece. The baritone is well suited to ballads and both thetitle track and “Goldie’s Chance” are album highlights. Rodriguez displays a delicacy at the keys that perfectly balances Sevian’s slow, low swaying. But the almost manic “Lamb and Bunny”, on which Tarantino returns for another round with/against the leader, is astonishing. Rodriguez, McBride and Strickland set a racetrack tempo and the two women sprint through complex bebop phrases, tearing through the changes and trading off phrases like it’s 1945. Albums by baritone saxophonists may not be common, but Bliss makes a strong argument for more of them and soon.Phil FreemanNew York City Jazz RecordSHARE
As Posi-Tone continues to beef up it’s bull pen of saxy ladies, they’ve made a wise choice with the addition of Sevian. While you might not be familiar with her if you’re not a New Yorker or a big band fan, she’s someone you ought to get up to date on. Don’t be put off by the touchy feely vibe of the title, one of her big band chairs is the Mingus one and at her most touchy feely she sounds like Sonny Rollins on a hot date with the underside of a bridge. A smoking honker that really knows how to blow up a storm, after laboring in the vineyards this long, it’s more than time to be her time. Hot stuff that’ll remind you how much fun it is to cruise along at break neck speed.Chris SpectorMidwest RecordSHARE
Is there a weird kind of bias against the baritone saxophone? Although jazz fans of all stripes agree that the bari sax sounds great in the hands of masters such as Hamiet Bluiett and the late Cecil Payne, it still tends to be treated like a supplement to other, more common solo instruments or as a mere change of pace rather than something capable of holding the spotlight for extended periods. But Bliss, in which Lauren Sevian puts the horn at center stage and keeps it there, proves that a gifted player can leave such prejudices in the dust.
Not that Sevian is entirely on her own. Indeed, the accompanists on her latest set are formidable, starting with the rhythm section of bassist Christian McBride and drummer E.J. Strickland and extending to pianist Robert Rodriguez and alto saxophonist Alexa Tarantino, Sevian’s partner in a project dubbed LSAT. But Sevian is responsible for all the compositions other than the Tarantino-penned “Square One,” and while she clears space for everyone to strut or serenade, there’s never a doubt who’s in charge.
Take the opener, “Triple Water.” Over dramatic chording by Rodriguez, Sevian launches into a showcase that blends extended notes with sudden flurries that move up and down the scale in a fashion that’s simultaneously muscular and graceful. The result is a feat that’s as athletic as it is artistic — a description appropriate to several other numbers here, including the mad race of “Lamb and Bunny” and “Minimal Moves,” which brings the album to a thrillingly breathless conclusion.
But Sevian’s equally capable of gentle lyricism (“Evergreen” and the title track), irresistible swing (“Bluesishness,” “Miss Lady”) and quirky grooves (“In the Loop”) that will leave even baritone sax doubters wanting more.
Since joining the Mingus Big Band in 2003, baritone saxophonist Lauren Sevian has been opening eyes in the saxophone world, especially in the exclusive club that includes those dedicated primarily to the bari. Her style more resembles that of modern tenor players such as Donny McCaslin and Mark Turner, while retaining the pure sound and articulation one might expect from a true baritone master. She as well has been a powerful role model for female jazz musicians and the current movement to achieve gender equality in jazz.
With her new release Bliss (Posi-Tone, 2018), Sevian has assembled a notable cast for nine of her original compositions, and one from alto saxophonist Alexa Tarantino. The two saxophonists are joined by a world class rhythm section that includes bassist Christian McBride, pianist Robert Rodriguez, and drummer E.J. Strickland.
On the opening salvo, "Triple Water," the listener is immediately struck by Sevian's bold, penetrating tonality. Her marvelous technique has an identifiable bop sensibility accentuating a modern approach that is broadened by her front line partner, alto saxophonist Tarantino. Whether playing within harmonized melodic structure or soloing, the two saxophonists have a communicative compatibility that sets this record apart from most. McBride, not one to sit on the sidelines, provides not only strong foundational playing, but brilliant soloing as well. This opening track states definitively that McBride, Rodriguez, and Strickland aren't just along for the ride.
The title track sheds light on Sevian's more ethereal side, expressing this elegant melody with stylish, lush, romantic phrasing. Her voicings are vocal in nature, and accompanied as such by Rodriguez, playing harmonies sparingly, supportively. Sevian's composition has a meditative feel to it, her atmospheric bursts of melodic energy relaying a sense of warm contentment. She plays with an emotional sensibility so rarely heard on the baritone.
"Lamb and Bunny" is unabashedly bebop, with Sevian's playing evoking images of bop/hard bop baritone masters Pepper Adams and Gary Smulyan. While she plainly demonstrates her superb articulation and thick tonality, Sevian's sense of timing and cadence, her melodic imagery in her soloing is what makes one believe she has firmly grasped the identity of being an important voice, an inevitable generational mentor for the baritone saxophone. She doesn't see the obstacles so many attribute to the instrument, and is unafraid to venture down untrodden musical byways.
Alto saxophonist Tarantino, a noted leader herself, adds a touch of color and intrigue to this recording that keeps the listener attached in a sense of anticipation. She doesn't fall into the Cannonball trap, or closely resemble anything remotely Parkeresque. She certainly has those classic players at the base of her musical vocabulary, but plays with an edge of originality. Throughout Bliss, she adds brilliant soloing, culminating in a joyous two saxophone romp of "Lamb and Bunny."
The closing piece, "Minimal Moves," again highlights the two saxophone front line. The baritone, and alto fit together seamlessly playing the head in, and opening up to exquisite soloing that is fresh, inspired, and original, supported by a top shelf trio that plays not behind, but through the music in a spirited, communal sense.
Sevian has the resume to be the next big thing in the baritone world. Perhaps she already is. Unquestionably, she is adding different colors to the legacy of the instrument. On Bliss, she adds to her own legacy in splendid fashionPaul RauchAll About Jazz
A baritone saxophonist of spruce agility and sharp attack, Lauren Sevian has been an anchoring presence in the Mingus Big Band, among other settings. But she’s still making her way as a headliner, and Bliss, recently released on Posi-Tone Records, should do a lot to establish her in that regard. Featuring Sevian at the helm of something resembling an all-star rhythm section — Robert Rodriguez on piano, Christian McBride on bass, E.J. Strickland on drums — it pulls no punches from the outset, with a burning overture titled “Triple Water.” It’s hard to miss the intensity in this track, which comes from the ground up. But pay particular attention to Sevian’s solo, toggling between brisk, boppish lines and deep, braying cries. She’s working with the heavy tread that gives the baritone saxophone its character, but also showing that she’s in no way encumbered. Nate ChinenWBGO
The appeal of Bliss is simple: Lauren Sevian plays the deep, full-bodied baritone sax with the spry agility of an alto saxophonist. And while there are a few of Sevian’s peers that can claim the same, they aren’t partnered with bassist Christian McBride. Drummer E.J. Strickland and pianist Robert Rodriguez round out the star-spangled quartet. Alto saxophonist Alexa Tarantino, Sevian’s longtime friend and co-leader in the band LSAT, guests on three tracks and composes the lone non-Sevian original (“Square One”) among the 10 songs here.
Sevian, probably best known for her extended stint in the Mingus Big Band, understands that Bliss, her second album as a leader, is a career-crystallizing showcase, and she doesn’t whiff. The Coltrane-channeling opener, “Triple Water,” is a purposeful tour de force, with two separate, dazzling solos spiced with rapid modulation, extended high notes and low guttural runs. “Miss Lady” negotiates some thorny note clusters and then settles into carefree swing. “Lamb and Bunny” is a baton-pass of blistering solos, while “Evergreen” demonstrates Sevian’s patience and restraint.
McBride’s enormous sound is an ideal foil for the bari’s big metallic tone, and whether he’s galloping on “Lamb and Bunny,” championing the toe-tapping pulse of “In the Loop” or enlivening his timekeeping with pinpoint asides, his contributions are clean, penetrating and swinging. By contrast, Strickland and Rodriguez are relatively subdued. Sometimes Sevian flexes too much technique, unnecessarily agitating the would-be ballad “Goldies Chance” and siphoning the blues essence out of “Bluesishness” with phrases that would be more impressive in a standalone context. More often, however, this is a coming-out party to celebrate, capped by “Minimal Moves,” which uses the harmonic progression of “Giant Steps” for a memorable sendoff.
“This record is a love thing,” baritone saxophonist Lauren Sevian writes in the liner notes of Bliss. It shows.
The bandleader and Mingus Big Band member shines on her second album, released 10 years after her debut as a leader on Blueprint. From her first notes on the album’s opening track, “Triple Water,” Sevian’s confidence in her instrument and her compositions (she composed nine of the album’s 10 tracks) is undeniable.
Full of evocative, innovative compositions that each reveal an element of her musical growth, Sevian created an album that showcases not just each player individually, but highlights their fluid collaboration.
On the playful “Lamb And Bunny,” Sevian and pianist Robert Rodriguez share an impressive interplay, each building off the other. They slide effortlessly into musical conversation—no doubt helped along by their work as bandmates in LSAT. Sevian honors the genre’s history on the John Coltrane-influenced “Minimal Moves,” the album’s closing track, looking back on the past without losing sight of her own clear vision. She reaches for inspiration again on the hip-hop and funk inflected “In the Loop.” While lacking the edge of the pieces surrounding it, repeated listens reveal some nice touches, like E.J. Strickland’s superb drum work against Rodriguez’s soulful piano work.
On Bliss, Sevian has figured out the story she wants to tell with her music, and it’s one well worth listening to. Let’s hope another decade doesn’t pass before we get to hear what’s next. (3.5 stars)Ashawnta JacksonDownbeat
Lauren Sevian proves to be a consummate low-reeds virtuoso. More importantly, she proves she has a sublime rhythmic grasp of the bebop idiom and displays both of these facets of her musicianship on Bliss . Just because she is a woman playing the difficult baritone saxophone in a man’s world, Miss Sevian is going to face especially close scrutiny – it’s the unfortunate way of the world of Jazz – but naysayers and refusniks are going to find that when it comes technique and to music, especially the intricacies of bebop and the unique challenges of the ballad, Miss Sevian yields nothing to the finest recordings made today or most days; nor does she yield to anyone and in the ten songs of Bliss with her accuracy of articulation and in the power of her passion Miss Sevian captures the full range of her tone like raw-silk in a resonant acoustic.
The disc begins with “Triple Water”, a foxy title and pungent song and Miss Sevian is capriciously playful. Playing with disarming easy, one might easily be fooled into thinking she merely tossed us a backhander. Moreover, clearly her poetic writing has a pellucid simplicity that betrays none of the sweat that went into writing it. As Miss Sevian uses minimal vibrato her characteristic sound is clean and dry, and when she gives us histrionics they are uniquely feminine, but also sinuous. Yet there is nothing vain or pretentiously ”original”. Still, the music is marvellously “of the tradition” – elegant, forceful, and seemingly weightless – and achieve a thoughtful eloquence that recalls even the very best original work by men like Freddie Hubbard and Wayne Shorter. “Blusishness”, “Miss Lady” and “Evergreen” are but three glorious examples of this exemplary work.
Not surprisingly, considering her musical facility Miss Sevian not only displays an improvisatory freshness to the music in all of its idiomatic brilliance and she plays it all a certain attractive femininity given the aggressive substance and muscularity required of the big baritone horn. The mood-changes – from wildly swinging and full-blooded boppish grooves to elegiac balladry is utterly convincing and magnificent. There is also the small matter of the musicians who elevate Miss Sevian’s playing on this date. Bassist Christian McBride, drummer E.J. Strickland, pianist Robert Rodriguez and – the inimitable surprise of all – alto saxophonist Alexa Tarantino, who also contributes the whimsically wonderful song “Square One” all play with enormous sensitivity and are completely in tune with Miss Sevian’s vision and artistry on this superb album.Raul Da GamaJazzdagama.com
“Blueprint” opens with the band in deep swinging flow before Sevian’s throaty bari twists through a sinewy minor blues, making clear she has bags of energy and lots to say…Sevian gripping the furious tempo with great authority, breaking fluid mid register bop lines with rhythmic skips and occasional bagpiping higher register excursions. Colligan and the boys eat it up; an exciting track…” Michael Jackson, DownBeat (review of Blueprint, 3 1/2 stars)Michael JacksonDownbeatSHARE
Baritone saxist LAUREN SEVIAN, sustaining member of the Mingus Big Band, leads her debut session on BLUEPRINT (Inner Circle 4), wielding her big horn with confident panache through a recital of originals which include dedications to Cecil Payne (“One For C. Payne”) and John Stubblefield (“For Mr. Stubb”). The rhythm team steams—George Colligan, p; Boris Kozlov, b; Johnathan Blake, d. Lovely, flowingly unfettered Bebop.Alan BargeburhCadence Magazine 2011SHARE
In 2009 there aren’t too many jobs that can’t be held down by a woman. One that comes to mind might be the baritone saxophone chair in the Mingus Big Band. But that’s exactly where Lauren Sevian cut her teeth and earned the accolades that led to Blueprint, her debut recording on Greg Osby’s label. Sevian’s tone is full and authoritative on the big horn. Her straightahead compositions (ten originals; one cowritten with guest altoist Mike DiRubbo) are rendered with graceful precision by her working quartet (particularly pianist George Colligan). Sevian’s long, fluid lines run counter to most contemporary baritone styles, which tend to lean toward the avant garde, supplementing and sometimes replacing lyricism with overblowing or other flashy effects. On Blueprint Sevian is no-nonsense and establishes herself as a fresh and important new voice on an underappreciated often intimidating instrument.Jeff StocktonAll About Jazz, review of “Blueprint”SHARE
…The title track opens the album and from the git-go one realizes Sevian can get around on the large horn with style. Her sound is full and rich, evoking memories of Nick Brignola. The baritone is a gas in capable hands and that ability to ‘get around’ on the horn and explore its registers is an element of the instrument’s appeal. Sevian displays a convincing and exhilarating capacity to both tell a lively story through her solos and explore the range of her instrument without hesitation…Rick Erbenamazon.com, review of “Blueprint”SHARE
“For the past few years Lauren Sevian has been a “rising star” on the New York jazz scene, particularly in her role as the baritone saxophonist in the Mingus Big Band. Lauren’s debut CD, filled with original compositions performed by a stellar quartet, is further proof that she is becoming an important voice on her instrument.”Bob BernotasJust JazzSHARE
Mingus Big Band
Lauren Sevian holds down the low end of the arrangements with an exuberance that earns her a believable place in the strong Mingus lineage of tenor players like Booker Ervin. Wait for her to be let loose on “Moanin” – it is well worth itRobin MargolisAudiophile Audition (review of Mingus Big Band’s “Live at the Jazz Standard”)SHARE
“Baritone saxophonist Lauren Sevian improvised over the fast section, issuing rhythmically robust lines that had a Coltrane-like angularity here, a Bird-like warmth there.”Zan StewartThe Star LedgerSHARE
“…One of the nights high points in Baritone saxophonist Lauren Sevian’s “Moanin’” that really left folks staring in amazement.”Glen CreasonCerritos InkSHARE
“From the first unaccompanied notes of Lauren Sevian’s baritone saxophone it was clear that the Mingus Big Band was in powerful, energetic form, both as the highlight of this year’s Jazz Weekend at the Bath International Music Festival and at the midpoint of their current British tour.”Alan ShiptonTimes OnlineSHARE
“Mingus Big Band gave a tyically rollicking show for a sold out audience on the Saturday night with baritone saxophonist Lauren Sevian setting the tone with her barnstorming solo on the opener, ‘Moanin’.”Stephen GrahamJazzwiseSHARE
“Then the band…ripped into Mingus’s rapid-fire blues ”Boogie Stop Shuffle.”…Lauren Sevian soloed fluidly on the unwieldy baritone saxophone, building to a honking finish as the trumpets shrieked.”Kevin LowenthalBoston GlobeSHARE
“Opening with a rousing version of “E’s Flat, Ah’s Flat Too” we wasted no time in launching into some serious and extended solos. First up was Lauren Sevian giving us a blistering baritone sax solo taking time to dip into the delicious lower register of this instrument.” (Toronto Jazz Festival)Dave BarnesThe Live Music reportSHARE
“Lauren Sevian and Randy Brecker began the second piece with mournful, soulful refrains, as the deep baritone sax played the slower theme and imbued it with energy and even a danceable melody.”Dr. Roberta ZlokowerRoberta on the ArtsSHARE
“This New York-based band is full of young fiery musicians who understand the spatial qualities of Bjork’s music and who delve into Sullivan’s terrific arrangements with commitment and energy. The band is rich with soloists… the fiery playing of Lauren Sevian on baritone sax…” (review of Travis Sullivan's Bjorkestra "Enjoy")Alan ChaseThe WireSHARE
The Elephunk Band
“Between the soloists emerge Lauren Sevian perfectly comfortable on her heavy instrument… "All About Jazz ItalySHARE
Once I finished playing Monday morning quarterback with the cats at JAZZ 90.1, I crossed the street -- to get to the other side and catch the Lauren Sevian Quartet deliver some hard bop via her baritone saxophone. Miss Sevian stayed mostly in the upper register while ignoring the delicious honks and growls associated with the instrument; if you closed your eyes, you wouldn’t have been able to tell it was a barryFrank De BlaseRochester City Newspaper
Amanda Monaco Quartet
"Looking for a ballad to bring a tear to the eye? Check out this quartet's take on "Theme For Ernie," with Sevian delivering some of the most heart-warming bari work you're likely to hear today..."-Dan Bilawsky, All About Jazz, review of Amanda Monaco's "Glitter"Dan BilawskyAll About Jazz