For the second week in a row, some late Best of 2014 contenders state their claim. Two qualities reflect most of this week’s list of recommendations: strong musicianship and fun fun music. You just can’t overvalue the potency of serious music that’s also a blast to kick back and listen to. Let’s begin…
Marianne Trudel, La Vie Commence Ici: Terrifically resonant recording from pianist Trudel, who doesn’t seem to be doing anything very complicated, and yet each song is supremely engaging to where it becomes nearly impossible to do anything other than sit back and listen. Modern pieces, but nothing that will scare the old-schoolers off. Most tracks keep to the quiet end of the spectrum, but radiate an energy that gives the songs a big presence. Joining Trudel is trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, saxophonist Jonathan Stewart, bassist Morgan Moore and drummer Robbie Kuster. Outstanding. Pick of the Week.
Eva Kruse, In Water: Gorgeous session from bassist Kruse, who constructs an album out of melodic fragments, and delivers them with a stream-of-conscious flow that makes them all seem connected in very vital ways. The music possesses a natural poetry whether it adopts a chamber jazz sounds, a Nordic jazz sound or charts a course that parallels something more straight-ahead in the modern sense. Mixing in oboe with the saxophones is an inspired decision and the occasional use of Fender Rhodes and Glockenspiel provide some extra personality. Joining Kruse are pianist Bugge Wesseltoft, drummer Christian Jormin, saxophonist Uwe Steinmetz and oboist Tjadina Wurdinger. Outright mesmerizing at times. Highly Recommended.
Trio of Justice, Pookie’s March: Very cool set from the trio of trombonist Reggie Pace, drummer & percussionist Devonne Harris and tubist Reginald Chapman, who mixes in some bass trombone, too. Some disparate influences inform the music, but the spirit of the performance is right out a New Orleans Mardi Gras second line. Twin towers of soulfulness and rhythmic exuberance mark these songs to where even a mournful-toned song like “True Independence” sounds like a celebration. Pure fun and Recommended.
Phil Markowitz & Zach Brock, Perpetuity: Exciting new release from pianist Markowitz and violinist Brock. Music sounds very much of Today, even though it hints at music from eras past. Elements of folk and classical blend in nicely with the jazz structure. The duo is joined by the acoustic and electric basses of Jay Anderson and Lincoln Goines, drummer Obed Calvaire and percussionist Edson da Silva. However, it’s the piano-violin duo that drives this album and binds it all together. The addition of a percussionist balances nicely with violin. The dynamic between the different instruments is a strong album quality, but it’s the variations in motion from song to song and the thrilling way they flow through the entire album that makes this a stand-out.
Michael Blake, Tiddy Boom: Very strong straight-ahead set from the all-star quartet of saxophonist Blake, bassist Ben Allison, pianist Frank Kimbrough and drummer Rudy Royston. Combined a modern post-bop edge with a classic balladeers heart. An outstanding track like “Letters in Disguise” highlight’s the quartet’s ability to voice the music of present and past ages, as it switches between moody introversion, fiery free-spirited motion, and a love song cut from moonlight. You’re not gonna go wrong scooping this one up.
Avishai Cohen, Dark Nights: I’m fascinated with how these Triveni recordings can be so unassuming and intimate, yet still resonate powerfully. The trio of trumpeter Cohen, bassist Omer Avital and drummer Nasheet Waits returns for another go at an in-the-moment spontaneous session of covers and originals. A rendition of Mingus’s “Goodbye Porkpie Hat” is a highlight, both in the way it emotes with a hard strength but delivers with a casual looseness. Anat Cohen guests on clarinet, because, really, why wouldn’t you have Anat Cohen play clarinet on your recording. Also, a haunting rendition of Chet Baker’s “I Fall In Love Too Easily” features Cohen, pianist Gerald Clayton and vocalist Keren Ann ends the album on a very strong note.
Underpool Collective, Underpool 3: I’m making up the name Underpool Collective just because I prefer not using the term “various artists” whenever possible. Underpool is a performance space and label that provides a creative incubation center for jazz artists from the Barcelona scene… not unlike the role Smalls has played in NYC over the years. This is the third album released by the musicians associated with Underpool, and it is just as wonderful as the two previous. Modern jazz that recognizes the essential nature of the blues and isn’t afraid to swing when the moment calls for it. I highly recommend all three recordings. This session features trumpeter Pol Pedros, alto saxophonist Noe Escola, tenor saxophonist Albert Cicera, guitarist Raj Paz, bassist Paco Weht and drummer Ildefons Alonso.
Brian Lynch & Emmet Cohen, Questioned Answer: Solid straight-ahead set from trumpeter Lynch and pianist Cohen, who are joined by bassist Boris Kozlov and drummer Billy Hart. Lynch has made the exploration of traditional jazz in a modern environment his calling card, and it’s why so much of his music swings and bops in a post-bop framework. It’s also why his stuff appeal to both old-school and new-school fans alike. Good stuff.
Parker Abbott Trio, The Wayfinders: Strangely absorbing set from the trio of pianist Teri Parker, keybordist Simeon Abbott and drummer/percussionist Mark Segger. Grand piano, electric piano, melodica, organ, synths… they all get thrown in the mix, and the harmonic washes that result make all the difference in highlighting brief melodic statements that frame the songs as something more than free improvising. Sometimes elegant, sometimes trippy, always engaging.
Jason Marsalis Vibes Quartet, The 21st Century Trad Band: Nice follow-up to last year’s winning release In a World of Mallets. Marsalis incubates a welcoming rush of warmth in his music, regardless of whether it’s a bop, a blues, or some modern construct that doesn’t sound beholden to any one influence. His use of xylophone, vibes, marimba, glockenspiel and tubular bells further diversifies his sound, and bringing back regulars Will Goble on bass, Austin Johnson on piano and David Potter on drums further cements the strength of their conversation. Very cool that he does a cover of fellow New Orleans musician, Cliff Hines’ “Interzone.”
Tim Ferguson Inside/Out, Hold That Thought!: Nice trio set from bassist Ferguson, pianist Diane Moser and trumpeter Rob Henke (who also adds alto horn to the affair). Straight-ahead for the most part, but definitely tunes that add some crooked angles to their forward motion. Switching things up like that provides some very essential differentiation between songs, and though it’s nothing drastic, it’s still enough to keep the attention rapt throughout. They open with a cover of Charlie Haden’s “Silence” and end with a cover of Mal Waldron’s “You.”
HI5, Attack Sustain Release: Something rather seductive about the chamber jazz of the vibes/guitar/drums/bass quartet HI5, a past Jazz Pick. Sometimes their music takes on an indie-ambient tone a la Radiohead and sometimes it goes into a pop music fusion sound, but that’s just stretching to the borders of their peacefully drifting center. A few weak spots on this recording, no different than their last, but far more compelling moments to outweigh them and earn a recommendation.
Shawn Maxwell’s Alliance, Bridge: Another enjoyable release from saxophonist and composer Maxwell, whose mix of modern jazz and chamber is typically upbeat, tuneful, complex and unmistakably pretty. An ensemble consisting of a couple saxophones, a couple French horns, guitar and vibes, bass and drums, Maxwell gets lots of parts moving in concert, experimenting with team-ups of duo and trios of instruments within the fullness of the ensemble play. It gives the album a sense of complexity but allows the ear to focus on smaller interactions, which is why it comes off a simple listen. His last album received a strong recommendation in this column, too, and still does.