By Bliss Bowen
Pasadena Weekly Contributing Writer

Like most artists during last year’s shutdown, vocalist/saxophonist Helen Rose and multi-instrumentalist Kramer Sanguinetti — the musical duo known as Air Cool Jenny — saw their careers upended virtually overnight: sessions postponed, tours canceled, album release plans shelved.

Since relocating to Sunland from New Orleans last September to be with family during the pandemic, they have gradually found footing in the local music community. The Friday, Sept. 10, release of “First Flight,” a four-track EP mastered by Jeff Peters at Pasadena’s Pie Studios, marks a step toward reclaiming normalcy.

“We recorded the EP on my birthday in 2019. Once the pandemic hit, it was on hold, so having it come out this year feels like we’re getting back to where we were almost two years ago,” Sanguinetti explained. “It’s hard to grasp sometimes. It’s a project that should have been out in the middle of 2020.”

Tinged with folk, jazz and R&B, “First Flight” opens with “Pelican,” a lightly rocking tune that’s introduced by Sanguinetti’s acoustic fingerpicking before taking wing on the duo’s harmonies and soulful accompaniment from organist Brenden Moore, Lost Bayou Ramblers drummer Kirkland Middleton and bassist Bryan Webre.

It conveys the simple charm the duo felt watching a pelican trying to swim upstream on the Holy Cross side of the Mississippi River — “a music river,” as Rose calls it. Her saxophone winds through the graceful folk ballad “When I Rise” as well as “When the River’s Gone,” which alludes to the climate crisis and hurricanes battering the Gulf Coast: “The world is changing/ Faster than our minds can bend/ The levee holds the water/ The water holds our sins.”

Rose and Sanguinetti, who have solo careers in addition to Air Cool Jenny, met in New York and were accustomed to juggling multiple jobs and weekly gigs after settling in New Orleans. In California, they’ve made the most of their proximity to Hollywood.

“We got a gig composing original music for a TV series about NFL players who were recruited by the US major league rugby team, ‘Rugby Town,’” Rose noted. “There is a lot of opportunity out here.”

That opportunity, she says, includes fostering the “warmth of community” she and Sanguinetti felt in New Orleans and New York. Commenting on how “everyone is so geographically, literally spread out” across LA’s metropolitan sprawl, she says they intend to help forge connections between artists and music lovers with a monthly house concert series called Harmonic Gardens that will be filmed and presented in conjunction with Sun Space Presents.

Fall touring plans have been made tentative by the spread of the delta variant. “We’re back to wondering, ‘Should we book gigs again? Is it ethical? Is it moral?’ I don’t know,” Sanguinetti said.

“We’re all mourning and there’s grief we, as a society, need to pay attention to,” Rose said, discussing the conflicted pressure many artists feel to create despite pandemic-induced upheaval and anxiety. “There’s nothing wrong with having downtime and saying, ‘OK, today what I can do is drink coffee and go sit in the garden.’ To all my fellow creatives, I just want to say, don’t adhere to the little pressure voices in your head. You will create something beautiful and true and wonderful when you’re ready.”

To learn more about Air Cool Jenny, Helen Rose and Kramer Sanguinetti, visit
aircooljenny.com, helenrosemusic.com and kramersanguinetti.com.