Dr. Idit Shner is a smart one. Currently instructor of saxophone and Jazz Studies at the University of Oregon, Shner was awarded her doctorate in saxophone performance within jazz studies from North Texas State after studying at the University of Central Oklahoma and Oklahoma City University. Coming from those friendly confines, one might assume Shner the second coming of the Texas Tenor, but one would be wrong.
A native of Israel, Shner performed in the Israeli Air Force Band in the late '90s before freelancing in Oklahoma and attending school. With dual interests in classical and jazz saxophone, Shner distinguished herself in both areas, premiering compositions and recording as a sideman. Yes, Shner has impressive bona fides. But what of her debut recording as a leader, Tuesday's Blues?
Tuesday's Blues is a standard jazz quartet recording of mostly Shner- adapted traditional Jewish nursery rhymes and pieces from the Hebrew liturgy. As such, Shner joins a growing community of Israeli jazz musicians that includes Avishai Cohen, Yitzhak Yedid and Judy Lewis. The result of Shner's efforts is a complex suspension of Old World melody in New World harmony.
The universal sound of Tuesday's Blues defies categorization. It has all of the elements of what is considered post bop and avant-garde. The title piece, one of the two nontraditional pieces on the disc, does to the blues what John Coltrane did during his tenure with the Miles Davis Sextet circa 1958. This is not so much a lesson in swing (though it does swing, and dig that "If I Only Had a Brain" quote) as it is in a forward looking means of improvisation.
Shner plays with a certain confidence that never betrays indecision. Likewise, her rhythm section does the same. On the title cut, drummer Steve Pruett channels Philly Joe Jones through Tony Williams while pianist Stefan Karlsson plants Red Garland block chords in his Herbie Hancock garden of improvisation. Shner capably leads this merry band in her redefinition of America's sub-atomic music.
Traditional pieces, "Elisheva Doll" and "Adon Haselichot" adapt well to a modern jazz treatment thanks to Shner's fluid yet tart sax tone and Pruett's punctuating drumming. Bassist Mike League and Karlsson provide the Western harmony that allow Shner to soar in solo. "Yellow Moon" extends both the horizontal and vertical of Shner's composing and arranging, providing a provocative vehicle for the entire group.
Tuesday's Blues demonstrates all that is good in well-studied music without ever becoming didactic or difficult to listen to. Shner's music challenges us just enough to cock our heads and keep listening.