Julieta Eugenio

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Jump Review

by Thom Jurek

In 2013, Argentine saxophonist and composer Julieta Eugenio left her homeland to study music at New York's Queen's College. She completed her graduate degree, worked with jazzmen including Antonio Hart, Mark Turner, and Seamus Blake, and never left the city. She is a regular on bandstands and has played in the bands of Johnny O'Neal, Eric Reed, Bertha Hope, and Leon Parker. Jump, her debut album, appears on Dave Douglas' Greenleaf Music label. Her sidemen include double bassist Matt Dwonszyk and drummer Jonathan Barber. The program, produced, mixed, and mastered by Michael Cisneros-Perez, is impeccably recorded; it consists of eight Eugenio originals and a pair of standards. The trio rehearsed the material in Connecticut over the course of a few weeks, and recorded it all in a single day in New York.

Jump is a genuine surprise. Eugenio's requisite warm tone and strident, sophisticated playing are appended by the confidence of her writing. Opener "Efes" offers inquisitive post-bop with just a hint of a restless edge. While Barber dances around the ensemble in double time with flurries of organic breaks, Dwonszyk guides the proceeding with fat chords, delicate pizzicatos, and rumbling lower-register notes. Eugenio asserts the melody, offering timbral feints and accents that underscore the tune's lyric fluidity. The title track is a tad melancholy and nocturnal. The saxophonist's mellifluous phrasing offers harmonic queries across the ballad form as her bandmates add rootsy emphasis to her statements. "La Jungla" revolves around a celebratory syncopated Latin carnival rhythm -- the insistent, authoritative interplay between the bassist and drummer is breathtaking -- under a lovely lyric melody that reflects the influences of Sonny Rollins and Lester Young. Eugenio's solo develops purposefully, and she adds interpolative statements bridging the communication between her and the rhythm section then traveling in an exploratory -- yet still swinging -- dimension. The reading of Ted Grouya's and Edmund Anderson's 1940s-era "Flamingo" is also carried by a lilting Latin rhythm. As Dwonszyk strolls between the melody and Barber's resonant hand percussion, Eugenio pursues an elegant, yet deceptively knotty solo that tightrope walks inside and out. "Another Bliss" is sultry and steamy. Eugenio states the melody in fragments atop a riffing double bassline, syncopated snare, and cymbal. Barber dances across his tom-toms and ride cymbal to beckon the saxophonist inside the developing lyric. Dwonszyk pushes him assertively while circling the saxist's undulating lines; her harmonic statements are extrapolated then exchanged in an exquisitely articulated solo. "Snowbird" is a fingerpopping post-bop number and comes closest to an all-out sprint. But Eugenio throws a curveball, adding Eastern-tinged modalism in her solo. The tune makes a dramatic shift before returning, and the rhythm section compensates by swinging like mad.

Jump is an auspicious debut. Most newcomers try to dazzle with tone, soloing technique, and deliberately complex compositional chops. Conversely, Eugenio offers carefully expressed, seamless solos that shine inside diverse, welcoming compositions that showcase her understated yet infectious and commanding musicality prompted by the improvisational strengths of her entire band.

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