Aurora Nealand & Royal Roses, The Lookback Transmission (Independent)

Aurora Nealand & Royal Roses, The Lookback Transmission, album cover, OffBeat Magazine, June 2014

Aurora Nealand is one of the most exciting young musical talents in the city these days. She came to town nearly a decade ago and has played with a number of traditional jazz bands during the interim. In 2010, she formed her own ensemble, the Royal Roses, and they soon released their fine tribute to the great Sidney Bechet. That recording received a good deal of critical acclaim, gaining Nealand national attention as a rising star on soprano saxophone.

A multi-instrumentalist, Nealand’s first love seems to be traditional jazz (though she is also well known in experimental music circles locally). In addition to her fine reed playing, her skill set includes singing and composing as well. This album is an excellent testament to her versatility and many talents.

Nealand is joined here by several of the city’s most creative musicians: pianist/composer Tom McDermott, multi-bassist/composer Matt Perrine, trumpeter Dave Boswell, and guitarist/vocalist Matt Bell, among others. Altogether, her band numbers nine in all, a bit more than normal for a trad band, including the somewhat unusual combination of sousaphone and baritone saxophone (the latter ably manned by Oliver Bonie).

Led by Nealand’s fiery playing on soprano and clarinet, the Royal Roses run through a varied program ranging from originals to gospel and Caribbean (including some tasty vocals in French). The standard trad warhorses are conspicuously absent but Bechet’s shadow looms large over the program (which also includes numbers by Jimmie Noone and Bessie Smith). In sum, this is well over one hour of scintillating sounds. A bit unconventional, perhaps, but a definite winner nonetheless.