After over a decade of working as a sideman in the Chicago jazz scene, Mitch Paliga releases Blithe Moments, his first solo release. While Paliga’s reputation as the singular voice on soprano saxophone in Chicago is well earned, the album does more to display his composing ability. The album has all original compositions by Paliga, including his five movement "Reflections Suite Remembrance," which is inspired by the playing of John Coltrane and Keith Jarret.
The album starts off with "Mara’s Watch", a stiff, dissonant melody line over the changes for All Blues. The solo section heats up into heavy swing, however, as Paliga and pianist Jo Ann Daugherty turn out some great lines. Drummer Ryan Bennett does his part in building the piece up to a climax and keeping the beat going.
"Letter Last" is a somber ballad that begins with Daugherty in a touching piano solo. Paliga then comes in with a heart-wrenching soprano melody. Again, there is fantastic drum work from Bennett. Overall, the piece has some very melodic, soulful playing.
The rest of the album is taken up by the "Reflections Suite Remembrance." Each of the movements has its own personality, and there are three interludes of solo playing for bass, drums and saxophone, respectively. The first movement is a free-form waltz that begins in the same somber manner as the previous tracks, very abstract and filled with lots of cymbal work and piano scales. The second movement swings more and has a more upbeat melody, but still maintains some of the nostalgic gravity that seems to be characteristic of Paliga’s writing. The third movement is a quiet, sparsely played ballad. Paliga plays a mournful melody line while the rest of the group remains barely present in the background, so that the soprano sound stands out even more strikingly. In the fourth movement, Paliga brings out his tenor saxophone, and in homage to Coltrane, rips through the chords at record speed. Daugherty also throws out an impressive solo. The concluding movement is also played on tenor, and gives the end of the piece a warming, comforting feeling. While Paliga’s soprano playing is superb, his tenor skills are more melodic, and he blends well with the rest of the group.
If you’re not a fan of soprano sax playing, this album may change some of your perceptions. The high level of musicianship, and Paliga’s skill at composing, make the album worth listening to in any case.