Two new trio albums by tenor saxophonists who won the Thelonious Monk jazz competition share a conspicuous influence — vintage Sonny Rollins. Fresh Air critic Kevin Whitehead reviews Melissa Aldana & Crash Trio by last year’s winner, 25-year old Chile-born New Yorker Melissa Aldana, and Trios Live by Joshua Redman, who took the prize in 1991.
It can be tricky, paying tribute to a grand master; you don’t want to invite a direct comparison. Melissa Aldana heads that off by not trying to sound too much like her hero. Her tone has body, but it’s a bit lighter and smoother than vintage Sonny Rollins, more alto-like in the upper register. Aldana was mentored by saxophonists Greg Osby and George Coleman, and you can also hear traces of Osby’s floating sense of time and Coleman’s smeary blues abstractions. That’s one way to transcend your key influences—mix ’em together, along with what you’ve figured out for yourself.