The year is winding down, but there’s still excellent new music hitting the new arrivals section. Some very familiar names this week and several that fall way below the radar. This week’s recommendations go a long way to illustrating that the best jazz is no longer focused primarily in New York City, but comes from all corners of the globe and brings with it, all those regional influences. Let’s begin.
Ruben Machtelinckx, Flock: An absolutely enchanting release from guitarist Machtelinkckx, who adds baritone guitar and banjo to his electric and acoustic. Hilmar Jensson also adds guitar to go along with the reeds of Joachim Badenhorst and Nathan Wouters’ bass. But this isn’t a guitar-driven jazz-rock fusion. This is serene folk-jazz, not unlike some of Jeremy Udden’s Plainville work. Beautiful melodies are matched with tempos that won’t sit still but also don’t upend the order of things. Badenhorst’s saxes and clarinets are moody and glow like moonlight on a snowy landscape. Peaceful music that hints at a vague unease, keeping the ear alert and the music from ever attaining a sleepy quality. Just gorgeous. Pick of the Week.
Oliver Lake Organ Quartet, What I Heard: After hearing saxophonist Lake’s excellent foray into the big band medium, it’s interesting to hear him return to an organ-centric recording. Lake brings back Hammond B3 man Jared Gold, adding Freddie Henrdrix on trumpet and Chris Beck on drums. A few tracks are blues heavy and size up as straight-ahead gems, but then a track like “Root” represents the heart of the album, as a cool stroll grows wild and uncontrollable. In addition, a track like “Cyan” is an essential display of volatility, the seemingly random motion a nice shift from the ethereal ambiance and thick grooves of more standard tracks. The World Saxophone Quartet co-founder just continues to make Different Music, even when it’s cloaked in the familiar.
Jean-Marie Machado & Dave Liebman, Media Luz: At times, it’s whimsical and playful, like fireflies engrossed in a game of tag. And when the strings enter the frame, it’s all kinds of harmonic beauty. Pianist Jean-Marie Machado and saxophonist Dave Liebman collaborate with trumpeter Claus Stotter and the Psophos String Quartet on a gorgeous album. This is the kind of music one can happily get lost in. Structure is best viewed from a perspective of in-the-moment, because it allows the ear to just take the plot twists as they come and enjoy them as much for what they offer as the effect of the change from one section to the next. Just beautiful.
Albatrosh, Night Owl: Another nice collaboration between pianist Eyolf Dale and saxophonist André Roligheten. It’s interesting to hear them back in a smaller space after their previous release, Treehouse, with the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra. Nordic Jazz that leans toward blues and gospel more than (the more commonly employed) folk music. The approach results in music that’s more joyful and whimsical than introspective and serene. It’s a smart trade and it pays dividends on their newest.
Jean Lapouge, Plein Air: Guitarist Jean Lapouge doesn’t take a conventional path when assembling a trio. Previous releases (2011′s Temporare and 2013′s Des Enfants, both excellent), saw Lapouge rounding out a trio with a trombonist and vibraphonist. On his newest, he brings in a cellist and drummer. Unsurprising, the music offers up plenty of intrigue. More of a “guitar album” than previous releases, it allows Lapouge the space to really spread out and develop freely. On his newest, songs are more apt to head out toward the horizon line and not stick so close to the melodic home base. Joining Lapouge are cellist Grégoire Catelin and drummer David Muris.
Matt Skellenger, New Radio: Strong release from the Denver scene, led by bassist Skellenger and a line-up that includes the great trumpeter Ron Miles (who may be adding cornet, too), trombonist Adam Bartczak, drummer Dave Miller, pedal steel guitarist Glenn Taylor and Andy Skellenger on cajon & tabla. A bunch of former Jazz Picks names in that group. A strong Americana folk music influence on the album, though a few track adopt other folk music influences, like “Special Place,” which brings an Arabic sound to the mix. A track like “Momentum” is this album at its strongest, with Taylor’s pedal steel blending so gorgeously with Miles’ trumpet and the rest of the ensemble coalescing into a big sound with a huge melody.
Tree Neye, Mehr Sturm: This one resonates nicely, hinting at some Nordic Jazz serenity, some indie-rock commotion and some pseudo-chamber-jazz cerebral introspection. Working strong melodic fragments and switching things up with the rhythmic approach keeps the ear guessing and allows the quintet to bind it up into a cohesive stream of ideas. That quintet, by the way, is trumpeter Jonas Winterhalter, saxophonist Sebastian von Keler, bassist Hagen Neye, drummer Jan Schwinning, and pianist Olivier Friedli.
Gabriel Espinosa & Hendrik Meurkens, Samba Little Samba: Nice follow-up for bassist Espinosa and harmonica expert Meurkens, whose newest collaboration doesn’t stray far from 2012′s Celebrando. Similar personnel, similar format, similar charm. Anat Cohen puts her signature on the new one, and is no less effective the second time around. Alison Wedding on vocals and Antonio Sanchez on drums, also return. Guest vocalist Tierney Sutton joins in on, arguably, the album’s strongest track, “Besame Mucho.” A nice option if you’re looking to add to your Brazilian Jazz section. Released on Zoho, which can be relied upon for quality music. Those of you who are currently being introduced to the hard truths of snow might appreciate some of this album’s warmth.
Asphalt Orchestra, Asphalt Orchestra plays Pixies Surfer Rosa: Big band covers a Pixies album. All wind instruments, plus a couple percussion. Recent Jazz Pick Ken Thomson is a member of the group. I’m not really recommending this album so much as just pointing it out. Some of you may have a passing curiosity in just such a thing. That said, their take on “Where Is My Mind” is not only cool from a before-and-after-picture perspective, but also as a performance on its own merits. This is not an isolated incident.
Johannes Ludwig, Airbourne: Nice enough modern set, from a quintet that likes to leverage the drama as a way of boosting the melody’s resonance. For the most part, it works quite well, though it leaves the occasional ballad sounding a bit empty. That said, some of the harmonic builds on this album make for some entrancing moments. Some tracks are standard modern straight-ahead fare, while others sound like the quintet has payed close attention to their Brad Mehldau recordings. Both of those observations work to their benefit.
Jetlag Allstars, Vintage: Nifty trio of violinist Mario Ghorghiu (of the ORF Radio Symphony Orchestra), bassist bassist Ernö Rácz (of the RSO Vienna) and composer & guitarist Klaus Wienerroither, whose work spans many genres. Some traditional jazz, some bossa, some folk-jazz, some jazz-rock, some chamber and classical, a conventional ballad, some oddities and weirdness… and despite all the different influences, they keep the music centered, never straying far from a common vision. It allows different facets to shine through while remaining cohesive. Neat stuff.
Donatello D’Attoma, Watchdog: Some nice moments on this modern set, which sometime echo a Tristano-era cool blue sound. A couple tracks stray a bit onto the mainstream side of the street, which is unfortunate, but it’s nothing that sounds out of sorts. When acoustic guitar is utilized, the added diversity is a nice shift in sound. Pianist D’Attoma utilizes two different quartets for this recording, each comprised of guitar-bass-drums. Not a perfect album by any means, but a few things going on here that warrant the album’s inclusion.
Joao Capinha, J.C. Project: Likable straight-ahead set. Highlight of the album is the interplay between sax and vibes, which synchs up nicely whether the group is swinging, bopping or getting moody and introspective.