On the opening track of the Crash Trio's debut recording, saxophonist Melissa Aldana serves notice that she intends to be heard.
With her rumbling solo rendition of the Thelonious Monk ballad "Ask Me Now" she deftly demonstrates her tremendous control of the tenor, delivering a pure tone and the kind of stirring inventiveness one might expect from an old master.
But while Aldana's style evokes the elder statesmen of jazz, at 25, she's a young lioness, and fully immersed in the art of the music's creators, whose improvisational magic has inspired her since she began studying the saxophone in her native Chile.
Expect her to turn heads on Saturday, when she takes the main stage at the Twin Cities Jazz Festival with Chilean bassist Pablo Menares and Cuban drummer Francisco Mela, the two impeccable instrumentalists who round out the Crash Trio. They'll perform selections from the group's debut recording, released earlier this month.
Although the three musicians are Latin Americans, they are all largely dedicated to the jazz tradition, one largely forged by African-American musicians. But Aldana said her bandmates' feel for intricate Latin American rhythms enhance the trio's work.
"They're a little bit more involved with what is Latin music, some other rhythms," she said. "So I feel like even though what we're playing is not Latin jazz, the way that they think about music and all the knowledge that they have all of the rhythms, it brings something unique to the band.
"I think it's great that Pablo is from Chile, Mela is from Cuba. We all love jazz, we all like swing and they know about Latin music."
A generation ago, emerging jazz artists sought to earn their chops by following the lead of master musicians. In the modern era, many are following their own vision. But Aldana is an old soul who has spent her young life following giant steps.
She began studying the saxophone with her father, bandleader Marcos Aldana, when she was six, after repeatedly insisting that he teach her to play.
"I was like, 'I want to learn, I want to learn,' she recalled. "Finally, he was teaching a lesson and they were trying to play a tune, 'Brazil,' it's a Brazilian tune, and they needed one more voice on the saxophone to complete the harmony. It was a few students. I was around and said 'I want to do it.' So he gave me the saxophone. I barely played a few notes but I remember I fell in love with the instrument. Since then, I've never stopped playing."
Within a few years, her father had her playing transcriptions of solos by saxophone great Charlie Parker.
But as much as she liked playing the alto saxophone, the music didn't hook her at first. As with so many others, a famous record did the trick.
"I remember when I became 11, 12, I [heard] Sonny Rollins from the album Plus 4," Aldana said. "And I fell in love with the tenor. And then I was like, 'OK I really love this.'"
Before long Aldana was playing with her father in jazz clubs and making a name for herself in Chile. She rode that strong start to Berklee School of Music in Boston — and to New York, where she played with master performers such as saxophonist George Coleman, who became her mentor.
Last September, she became the first female instrumentalist and the first South American to win the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition. That also earned her a music contract and critical acclaim.
"I always believed that that would happen at some point. I'd been working hard for so many years and I felt like things were going really great for me in New York, you know, but slowly," Aldana said. "So I felt like this definitely made the process much faster and opened a lot of doors for me. And also, you know just the fact that I'm a female. I'm from Chile. It definitely takes people's attention."
If You Go
The Crash Trio, featuring saxophonist Melissa Aldana, bassist Pablo Menares and drummer Francisco Mela, performs at the Twin Cities Jazz Festival.
When: 6 p.m. Saturday
Where: Mears Park Main Stage
See the entire Twin Cities Jazz Festival schedule here.