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Jane Ira Bloom: Sixteen Sunsets / New York Times review

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The soprano saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom projects her tone as a round, silvery beam, warm and diffuse along the edges but pinpoint-clear at the center. Every now and again on "Sixteen Sunsets," her new ballads album, she softens it with a shudder of vibrato that evokes some unfortunate associations: candlelight, cheese tray, chardonnay.

Best not to let those moments throw you off, then; Ms. Bloom, who's just shy of 59, isn't really that kind of balladeer. A musician of exploratory ken, at ease with electronic manipulations and open-ended questions, she has come to this album with an ideal of atmospheric restraint: Its title comes from a quotation from a former astronaut regarding one of the lovelier quirks of day-to-day life in space. Ms. Bloom, who has done commissioned work for NASA for years, surely gave this image a lot of thought.

She also rigorously prepared her band - the pianist Dominic Fallacaro, the bassist Cameron Brown and the drummer Matt Wilson - with a string of ballads-centered dates in clubs over the last couple of years. The deep calm with which her quartet addresses the material, including fare like "Good Morning Heartache" and "But Not for Me," reflects this recent history. (Ms. Bloom does especially strong, haunting work on "Out of This World," which could have something to do with the song's premise.)

Not counting a prelude to "I Loves You, Porgy," there are five original compositions on the album, each showing the group in a slightly different light. "Ice Dancing (for Torvill & Dean)" flirts with calypso rhythm; "Primary Colors" more than flirts with it, once the mist of a rubato introduction has cleared. "Too Many Reasons" glows with meditative intent, even as Ms. Bloom dopplers her soprano across the sonic plane.

Sonic quality is more than an afterthought on "Sixteen Sunsets," which is in the running for a Grammy this month, for best surround-sound album. (The recording engineer was Jim Anderson, who produced the album with Ms. Bloom.) Without having heard the 5.1 high-resolution Blu-ray surround mix, I can only trust the authorities on this. The stereo version sounds impeccable on a regular system - and there's no shame, really, in adding that it would probably go over just as well at your local wine bar.  - NATE CHINEN