Some of the finest influences and innovators in jazz have been women; however, very few have made a name for themselves when speaking of widespread recognition. In addition, when attempting to identify instrumentalists, once the piano is mentioned, the list becomes extremely short if nonexistent to say the least. Even more profound is the number of female flutists who play jazz in the mainstream arena. Although there are many women who play the flute as their instrument of choice in classical and popular music, the contributions to America's music are few. When looking a little closer at women musicians in jazz, there is evidence of female trombonists, violinists, drummers, saxophonists and a few flutists. Although this unheralded fact has been the norm, a recent jazz activator is beginning to make her presence known as a recording artist. Her name is Althea Rene' and she is also an accomplishment concert and festival performer.
As a classically trained flautist, Althea comes from a very distinctive musical association as well. As mentioned earlier, her background is anchored in a family that has talent and strong ties to the music industry. Growing up in Detroit, Michigan, her father’s career as a sideman with numerous Motown stars provided René with fertile ground in music. She began a love affair for the flute and started listening to other flutists, including Bobbi Humphrey, Hubert Laws and Yusef Lateef. Upon her enrollment into Howard University in Washington, D.C., Althea chose music as a course of study. While in college, she became good enough to play with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, until discovering jazz and popular music as a direction to follow. Her professional career has been filled with numerous highs and very few lows. At various times, Althea has performed in festivals and concerts on the same stage with Najee, Art Porter, Jerald Daemyon, Tony Bennett, Al Jarreau, Pete Escovedo, Shelia E., Michael Ward, Kyle Turner and Herbie Mann. She has also had the benefit of touring with the all-female jazz group Straight Ahead. When violinist Regina Carter left the group, Althea stepped in as her replacement. As busy as she has been since leaving the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, she also found time to record. Her first CD entitled Chocolate Rush (Chocolate Caramel) was released in 1997; by most standards it was heralded as a superb piece of work. Most recently, Althea has recorded a brand new album entitled InThe Moment, which will surely turn some heads even more so than the first.
In The Moment, as the title suggests, is a reflection of making every possible endeavor to live life to the fullest, without wishing for things you don’t have. In Althea’s mind: "Life is short and we all should take advantage of every available opportunity to live in the moment. Too many times, we have all believed if this or that were different, a few things would be better or some life-changing experience would occur. Many of us are always searching for an immediate benefit, which can ultimately lead to depression and unhappiness when situations do not pan out with the expected outcome." Althea has always lived and enjoyed her life and has taken advantage of whatever opportunity presented; in fact, she has no regrets and has truly lived In The Moment.
As I listened to this CD, I found Althea’s release to be exceptional and full of spontaneous energy. Her musical attributes are huge, while her jazz activated style is fresh and vibrant. The very first track entitled "In The Moment," serves as a base line for the album. The tune sets a groove that is pure Althea René as she establishes the album’s patented formula. When listening to this recording, the first thing you notice is that this lady is having fun. On her original tunes as well as the cover songs she has chosen which includes "Me, Myself and I," the melodies are distinctive, uncomplicated and tight, while providing episodes of Herbie Mann-like influences. Another track entitled "More Than You Know," Althea not only plays, she also demonstrates a superb vocal range, one that stretches the magnitude of her talent even further. This recording is a compilation of 10 exceptional tracks, all containing high-end grooves and reflective harmonies. She even supplies influences of reggae on a cut entitled "One Night Love Affair" where she and Richard Paris supply the vocal arrangements.
Throughout In The Moment, Althea René has accepted the challenge of applying her own voice to an instrument made famous by the influences preceding her. Although there are instances where her sound reflects the instrumental voices of Hubert Laws and Herbie Mann, make no mistake about it, the sound you hear has an identity that is pure Althea René. In retrospect, this CD is best described as a funky and contemporary style of R&B influenced jazz heard and seen during the 1970s. In The Moment is refreshingly effervescent and illustrates any number of René's multi-faceted musical skills. One of the more intriguing aspects is her strategic if not creative use of a "voice-box" to showcase a high-end vocal effect. Althea does this simultaneously while playing her flute. As I have listened to this second recording from Althea René numerous times, I got the sense that contemporary jazz has a 21st century voice that is fresh and uniquely qualified to carry-on the traditions firmly established by James Moody, Rahsaan Roland Kirk and others who introduced the flute to jazz. When examining the full impact of what this album conveys, I fervently agree that In The Moment and Althea Rene' are great additions to any jazz collection.