Adventurism and inventiveness are key to many of this week’s Picks, and if ever there were a week that signified the thriving modern jazz scene, it’s this one. Let’s begin…
Ambrose Akinmusire, The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier To Paint: Stunningly beautiful and moody new release by trumpeter Akinmusire, who displays a storyteller’s heart on this expansive recording. Cryptic melodies stated with a strong presence right out front, then the ensemble goes wandering from there, one scenic view after the other. Three guest vocalist (Becca Stevens, Theo Bleckmann, and AI Specks) each contribute a nuanced element to three very different songs. The addition of strings for some tracks add a thrilling dynamic to tracks that begin as a warm drone and end with harmonic soaring. Akinmusire is joined by tenor saxophonist Walter Smith, pianist Sam Harris, bassist Harish Raghavan, drummer Justin Brown and guitarist Charles Altura. Just a gorgeous album with a serious emotional punch. Pick of the Week.
Masaa, Afkar: Seriously compelling blend of Lebanese vocals, Arabic music, and modern European post-bop. A quartet of vocalist Rabih Lahoud, trumpeter Marcus Rust, pianist Clemens Potzsch, and drummer Kappenstein. Melodies are strong, and allowed to develop slowly. This provides the benefit of allowing the vocals room to roam with a home base to return to. That melodic development also is key to the rhythmic approach, which can lay the patterns on thick, a driving repetition that builds slowly to exciting finishes. Between that, piano and trumpet are free to solo, comp, get a little punchy with the rhythm… and add all types of dynamic interplay in between. Trumpet shines, also, on the ballads, like smoky “Hyper Edita,” allowing its own melodic side to emerge. A very cool album with some moments of heartbreaking beauty. Highly Recommended.
Joel Harrison & Anupam Shobhakar, Multiplicity: In a week teeming with albums that could be designated as Something Different, this collaboration between guitarist Joel Harrison and sarodist Anupam Shobhakar may top them all. A mix of jazz, Indian classical, blues and soul, this fascinating set of tunes transcends influence while remaining salt of the eartt. Joining the duo are the keys (and accordion) of Gary Versace, the basses of Hans Glawischnig, the drums & percussion of Dan Weiss, and guests David Binney and Todd Isler. Terribly compelling music. Recommended.
Noah Baerman, Ripples: A rotating cast of jazz influences, pianist Baerman leads two different ensembles through pieces hitting upon expressions like soul jazz, hard bop, chamber, and contemporary, gaining in album fullness perhaps what he loses in album cohesion. The first ensemble has Baerman joined by vibraphonist Chris Dingman, saxophonists Jimmy Greene & Kris Allen, drummer Jonathan Blake, and guests Linda Oh and Kenny Barron hoping on board for a couple tracks. The other ensemble features Baerman’s long-time trio of drummer Vinnie Sperrazza and bassist Henry Lugo, with added orchestral accompaniment of a string trio, two wind instruments, and, on the opening track, a vocal choir. The chamber tracks are probably the strongest, with Baerman’s organ inciting an ethereal ambiance that’s seriously gripping. When the music returns to a standard bop set, the warmth is palpable and the rhythms hop with a lightness that exudes joy.
Chris Speed, Really OK: Nifty trio date with tenor saxophonist Speed, bassist Chris Tordini, and drummer Dave King. Speed typically has an edgy sound to his delivery, but he also typically keeps it reined in to where he can safely bounce a melody on his knee. Speed had a ridiculously productive (and quality) 2013, and apparently he’s carrying that momentum into the new year with this fine sax trio session. Modern jazz, yes, but plenty tracks with a skip and hop that keeps things close to Jazz center. Good stuff.
Julian Arguelles, Circularity: Nice straight-ahead quartet session with saxophonist Arguelles, bassist Dave Holland, pianist John Taylor, and drummer Martin France. Plenty room given to each quartet member to get in some decent solos, but it’s the way the quartet gels in between that provides the greatest rewards. Compositions provide for some intriguing differentiation, like on track “Unopened Letter,” with its melody that slowly reveals itself a little at a time throughout the song, as if it were giving hints of what it may eventually become.
Adam Kromelow Trio, Krom: A piano trio that embraces both modern jazz and indie-rock sensibilities, you can count on some strong, simply stated melodies carried away by catchy, up-tempo rhythms. A few times the jazz-rock ratio leans a bit heavily to the latter of those influences, but there are more instances of the trio showing the influence of modern acts like Jacob Karlzon and E.S.T.
Nicky Schrire, To the Spring: So, based on some covers from her previous two releases, I suggested in my Jazz Picks synopses of her album Space and Time that vocalist Nicky Schrire might benefit from an album consisting of just Beatles tunes. Wisely ignoring my advice, Schrire returns with an EP of originals, and it’s pretty damn charming. With a trio that includes pianist Fabian Almazan and bassist Desmond White, Schrire deftly toes that line between pop music catchiness and vocal jazz complexity for a set of tunes of a simmering beauty. Maybe a Beatles tribute album some other time, yeah?
Revolutionary Snake Ensemble, Live Snakes: Capturing a set of live performances on the East Coast, this album nicely encapsulates the seamless combination of varying influences assimilated by Ken Field’s outfit. A mix of traditional New Orleans brass band, James Brown, Sun Ra, and raucous street performer enthusiasm, RSE’s music is as fun as it is engaging. Assuredly a better time seeing them live in person, at least this album brings some of that electricity to you, until that time you can catch them live. Well worth checking out their previous album Forked Tongue.
DC Improvisers Collective, In the Gloam of the Anthropocene: Thrilling set from the quartet of drummer Ben Azzara, bassist Chris Brown, the reeds of Mike Sebastien, and the piano & guitar of Jonathan Matis. Begins with some fiery jazz-rock fusion, free and dissociative, yet cohesive in that way fireflies seem to move in unison while careening in all directions. Guest Natalie Spehar adds her cello into the mix on two tracks, which really brings a thick melodic aspect to music that had spent plenty time up til that point speeding right along. First half of the album shows the group knows how to hit the gas pedal, while the second half displays their talent at simply letting the music cruise at an easy speed. I really enjoyed this recording.
Rasmus Nyvall Kvintett, Bangard: Interesting release by the multi-reedist, who performs with both a quintet and quartet for this recording. The quintet features vocalist Linda Bergstrom, and hits the Nordic jazz sound with lively improvisations. The quartet is strictly wind instruments performing chamber jazz pieces. The wind quartet contributions are spread throughout the recording, and it results in some enticing differentiation with the quintet’s live wire spark. Find myself returning to this one from time to time.
Mike Parker’s Unified Theory, Embrace the Wild: There’s no way to pigeonhole the interesting new release by bassist Parker’s crew. Featuring some solid names from the Krakow scene (Dawid Fortuna on drums, Bartek Prucnal on alto sax, Slawek Pezda on tenor, and Cyprian Baszynski on trumpet), this mix of post-bop, indie-rock, avant-garde and some inclinations for modern classical leads to music that shifts between sounds like scene-changes at the theater and all the drama inherent in just such a production. The quintet possesses a big voice, even when it’s used for comfort, not chaos. The three-part “All Saints” ends the album pretty spectacularly. It’s an album that makes a pretty decent first impression, but, ultimately, it’s gonna be one that earns a listener’s appreciation through time and attention.
Andreas Kurz Quartet, Caught Into Something Turning: Solid quartet date led by bassist Kurz and featuring the saxophones of Johannes Enders. Two feet in modern territory, the upbeat songs typically revel in quick-witted conversations whereas the slower tracks like to tell a picturesque story. It’s the latter category where the quartet thrives, with Enders sax patiently exploring a melody, while Jon Eschke sets out on a similar path on piano, with Kurz and drummer Jutte creating an ambiance that carries the melody without disturbing it.
Ark Ovrutski, 44:33: Nifty debut by bassist Ovrutski, who plays it straight through a set of upbeat tunes that bop right along. Solos are the key to this album’s winning formula, with a line-up capable of delivering… trombonist Michael Dease, drummer Ulysses Owens Jr., saxophonist Michael Thomas, and pianist Michael Berkman. All tracks are original except for a rendition of “Milestones,” and all are up-beat tunes except for “Baby’s Vibe.” “Medium’ adopts a casual swing and a sunny disposition to draw the ear right in. Album ends with the electric groove of “Path Train,” which is the only shaky track on the album. Title comes from the album length, which is sort of a nice touch for a debut. Released on Zoho Records, a label catalog I’ve been finding plenty to like in 2014.
Stein Urheim, Stein Urheim: Solo venture for the veteran Norwegian guitarist, who presents this fascinating album of multi-stringed instruments and effects in a way that behaves with an easy folk music charm. Just as likely to appeal to fans of Leo Kottke as it is fans of John Stowell’s jazz-folk ventures. A myriad of sounds presented all at once, but so casually that listener can take them all in at their leisure.
Sam Bar, Melt!: A duo improvisation between fellow bari saxophonists Paulina Owczarek and Tomasz Gadecki, who marry raw improvisatory rage with comforting harmonic bliss. Baritone sax can come off like such a beast, but is capable of the same gentleness and beauty found in fairy tales. Aside from the instrument’s intriguing qualities, the dialogs sustained between the two artists hit on all cylinders, and the ensuing conversation is an easy one to follow.
Jane Andino & Greg Gibson, Esperanza Meets Anouar: Likable duet of piano and reeds. There’s always something special about a reeds-piano duo. They don’t even have to be particularly special… just the combination of those sounds can lead to a particular kind of serenity that the ear thirsts for. Just wanted to get in a quick mention of this one.