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The New Cool: Monika Herzig's SHEroes

Used with kind permission of the artist.
Jazz musicians who happen to be women. (upper right) Pianist Monika Herzig's SHEroes.

Though the journey to equality isn't over, women in jazz have been steadily gaining attention in recent years. Just last weekend, Maria Schneider (with the SRJO), Dawn Clement, Tia Fuller, and Jane Bunnett and her all-female latin band Maqueque were the star attractions in Seattle.  With her new release SHEroes, pianist and composer Monika Herzig's all-female band adds another important milestone of great music from still-underappreciated ladies in jazz.

Arriving in the US from Germany in 1988, Herzig looked to Marian McPartland as a career role model. The British pianist also dealt with working alongside musicians who were the opposite of these two: white, female, and with a foreign accent.

Herzig's band is an all-star crew with international reach. Fellow German Leni Stern is featured on guitar, whose own early trio included drummer Jack DeJohnette and guitarist Bill Frisell. British Columbian trumpeter Ingrid Jensen is a well-known talent to Northwest jazz fans. Other members were new to my ears, and thanks to Monika Herzig for introducing them to me.

Israeli trombone player Reut Regev, Mexican drummer Rosa Avila, Cuban percussionist Mayra Casales, and the Americans Jennifer Vincent (bass) and Jamie Baum (flute) round out a powerful unit operating with invention and enthusiasm on compositions by leader Herzig as well as each other.

This is the second project from Herzig with a similar line-up, following the successful project The Whole World in Her Hands from 2016. The music on SHEroes is similarly energetic, thoughtful, complex and full of passion. Though entirely instrumental, each song has a beautiful, "singing" melodic quality that pulls the listener in, setting up impressive solo improvisation all around.

A pair of surprising but appropriate and ultimately successful covers are also included on SHEroes. The strangely propulsive "House of the Rising Sun" is an elegant jazz piece that mostly strays from the well-known melody of the original. The Ashford & Simpson-penned hit "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" crosses into a modern groove and will be featured on this week's New Cool show.

Herzig kicks the tune into an uptempo groove on electric keys, leading to rocking guitar licks from Leni Stern. The band states the melody plainly, then settles into a tight pocket highlighted by Stern, Avila's lively drumming, and a tasty solo for bassist Vincent.

One of the first opportunities to improve the gender disparity in jazz is to be visible, to show young girls that women are just as vital to the world of jazz as men are. The old trope "You play good, for a girl" is overdue for the trashbin of history. Monika Herzig's SHEroes are just a few of the many women working to this end.

Keep in mind, the Northwest is a hotspot for talented women in jazz, often featured on KNKX. Look for the studio session performances from Jessica Lurie, Naomi Moon-Siegel, Kate Olson, Susan Pascal, Marina Albero, Ann Reynolds, Marina Christopher, Beth Fleenor, Samantha Boshnack, and the women of SmackTalk.

Of course, the singers are well represented more than ever. Don't miss any chance to catch Gail Pettis, Johnaye Kendrick, Nancy Erickson, Greta Matassa, LaVon Hardison, Stephanie Porter, Jacqueline Tabor and others. Also notable are the Seattle Women's Jazz Orchestra and the young women of Seattle JazzEd's Girls Ellington Project, led by Kelly Clingan. I could go on, but that's your job!

The New Cool airs Saturdays from 3 to 5pm, hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle, Wash.