With ‘Visions,’ Melissa Aldana Honors Frida Kahlo and the Legacy of Latina Art

Saxophonist Melissa Aldana will release a new album, Visions, on May 24 via Motéma Music. (Photo: Anna Yatskevitch)

In the span of a few short years, Melissa Aldana has gone from a saxophonist on the rise to a bandleader and musician at the top of her game. A native of Chile and a graduate of Berklee College of Music, Aldana soared to prominence with the 2010 release of her debut album, Free Fall, which showcased her lithe yet vigorous playing and her brilliantly constructed compositions. She cemented her spot within jazz saxophone’s inner sanctum after winning the 2013 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition, becoming the first female and the first South American musician to do so.

With her latest album, Visions, she presents a fuller portrait of her artistic worldview, mining her own Latina heritage and the legacy of Latina artists for inspiration. The album — which also features Sam Harris on piano, Pablo Menares on bass, Tommy Crane on drums and Joel Ross on vibraphone — will be released on Motéma Music on May 24. We’re honored to premiere the track “La Madrina” from Aldana’s new album via the player below.

Since beginning her life as a saxophonist at age 6 — first on alto, then, upon hearing Sonny Rollins, switching to tenor — Aldana has been committed to steeping herself in the works of the masters. She loved to transcribe solos by musicians she admired, people like Wayne Shorter, Michael Brecker, Charlie Parker and Cannonball Adderley. And, as a young painter, she would try to copy the works of her two favorite artists: the Ecuadorian painter and sculptor Oswaldo Guayasamin and, most importantly, Frida Kahlo.

“Frida to me is an artist that embraces who she is through her art,” said Aldana in a press release. “She talks about ugliness, beauty, being a female, religion, politics, love affairs, sexuality and accepting herself as an individual. This is a big part of how she has inspired me to write this music.”

Sam Harris (left), Melissa Aldana, Pablo Menares, Tommy Crane and Joel Ross (seated) (Photo: Anna Yatskevich)

Kahlo’s life — as much as her art — was also an inspiration for Aldana, who found a parallel in the way Kahlo railed against cultural repression. “[T]hat is the same repression I’m confronting, sometimes painfully, as a Chilean woman growing up in a society governed by norms of shame, guilt and silence,” said Aldana. “In my calling as an artist, I will continue to explore these themes, and allow myself to be inspired by their significance.”

With its richly textured soundscapes and emotionally arresting material, Visions makes a clear connection to Kahlo and other Latina pathbreakers past and present. But it is also a deeply personal document, with Aldana’s voice resonating loudly at its core. “This is my first direct contribution that connects my work to the legacy of Latina artists who have come before me and helped create a pathway for my own expression,” said Aldana. “My hope is that this contribution is my first of many that will continue advancing that legacy.

On the new album, the members of Aldana’s quintet certainly seem united in that sense of purpose. Having originally performed the music as part of “Visions: For Frida Kahlo,” an original suite commissioned by The Jazz Gallery, the band is now poised to take the message to a global audience. The quintet will be appearing at the following U.S. and Canadian venues throughout May and June:

Tour Dates:
5/17: Scullers, Boston, MA with the Visions Quartet
5/18: Side Door, Old Lyme, CT with the Visions Quartet
5/20: Dizzy’s, New York, NY with Berklee Ensemble
5/21: Clinic, Queens, NY with Berklee Ensemble
5/23-26: Jazz Standard, New York, NY with Visions Quartet-CD release celebration!
6/24-25: Toronto Jazz Fest with Visions Quartet
6/26: National Arts Centre, Ottawa, CAN with Visions Quartet
6/27: Montreal Jazz Fest, Montreal, QC, CAN with Visions Quartet
6/28: Edmonton Jazz Festival, Edmonton, AB, CAN with Visions Quartet
6/29: Victoria Jazz Festival, Victoria, BC, CAN
6/30: Vancouver Jazz Festival, Vancouver, BC, CAN

Additional tour dates include stops in Belgium, Spain, England and Denmark. For more information on Melissa Aldana, visit the artist’s website. To learn more about upcoming Motéma releases, visit the label online.

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