This week is all about the music that challenges and engages. Not a lot of music to drift off to, and just a couple that fall under the category of straight-ahead. This is a week about inventive music and wild visions, and most of all, some very fun music. Let’s begin…
Angles 9, Injuries: Saxophonist Martin Kuchen’s Angles ensemble keeps adding members (we’ve gone from 7 up to 9, now, over the course of a handful of recordings), and, unsurprisingly, the music keeps getting more buoyant, more celebratory, more textured, and more fun. The comparison that keeps getting made is Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra, and that’s not an unfair parallel to draw. Music that explodes with life, and barely holds together at the seams. Music that tells a story, but with many voices at once and rarely in unison. This album has that euphoric excitement and energy of a roomful of people all celebrating the same thing in different conversational tones and tenors. Lots of strong names from the scene on this cast: Along with Kuchen is trumpeter Magnus Broo, trombonist Mats Aleklint, bassist Johan Berthling, vibraphonist Mattias Stahl, pianist Alexander Zethson, saxophonist Eirik Hegdal, drummer Andreas Werliin, and cornetist Goran Kajfes, who has never been on an album that wasn’t terrifically fun. Plenty of reasons to celebrate the Clean Feed Records label. I nominate this album as reason number one. Pick of the Week.
Orchestre National de Jazz & Olivier Benoit, Europa Paris: New artistic director (and guitarist) Olivier Benoit and the ONJ present an album with a vast horizon and a vision that exceeds it. Using European cities as his thematic base, Benoit & ONJ open up with Paris as their focus. Shifting sands of influences from rock to folk to old-school third-stream to classical, with each bought into the fold of a jazz framework with remarkable success. Wildly evocative and yet remarkably composed. A line-up that includes past Jazz Picks musicians drummer Eric Echampard and bassist Bruno Chevillon, this is nearly an hour and a half of thrilling music that knows how to bring a big sound as well as nurture a gentle one. Absolutely wonderful. And if you want more, their 2009 release Around Robert Wyatt is pretty fantastic, too. Highly Recommended.
Peter Lerner, Continuation: Outstanding release by guitarist Lerner, who leads a strong octet with names like pianist Willie Pickens, bassist Marlene Rosenberg, saxophonist Geof Bradfield, and trombonist Andy Baker (among others). Solid group interplay lays the groundwork for some great solos. Lerner hits upon many of the usual motifs… there’s some tunes that swing, others heavy with the blues, a Latin tune, a hard bop funk tune, a ballad, a modern post-bop… and there isn’t a one this octet doesn’t shine on through. Opening track “Willie n Me” is exactly the kind of fiery tune you want to introduce an album with. Recommended.
Paul Brody’s Sadawi, Behind All Words: Enthralling new release from trumpeter Brody, who has built a strong reputation via his vision of klezmer music and work with the Tzadik label. This project has him putting the poetry of Rose Auslaender to music. With vocals by Clueso, Jelena Kuljic, and Meret Becker, Brody creates a dramatic soundscape straight out of the theater, with rollicking tunes and heartbreaking ballads. Also involved in this project are the reeds of Christian Dawid, guitar of Christian Kogel, bassist Martin Lillich, the drums and percussion of Michael Griener, and a string quintet. An album with an arresting, unique personality.
Erik Friedlander, Nighthawks: Absorbing folk jazz release by cellist Friedlander, who wrote much of the music in the solitude and darkness of Hurricane Sandy. Tunes have a rustic charm, except those that express themselves with an abounding beauty. Friedlander leads a quartet comprised of drummer Michael Sarin, bassist Trevor Dunn and guitarist Doug Wamble. Peaceful music, even when it kicks up some dust.
Tony Malaby’s Tamarindo, Somos Agua: A nice proper studio recording by Tony Malaby’s Tamarindo, this time solidifying things with just the trio of Malaby’s tenor sax, bassist William Parker, and drummer Nasheet Waits. Notes scatter with a free abandon, and yet with all the moving parts, the true develops a satisfying cadence that provides a sense of constant forward motion. This is what provides the album its cohesion, and it’s the kind of thing that can make a free jazz or avant-garde piece highly listenable. From the dissonance, the occasional melodic beauty of a track like “Can’t Find You…”
Uzivati, Brume: Gorgeous trio soprano sax, piano, double bass. A mix of folk and jazz that comports itself with the graceful elegance of a chamber music outfit. Tunes are like jaunty strolls through the serenity of a pastoral countryside. Saxophonist El Gammal, pianist Thomaere, and bassist Elaere each take separate paths from first note to last, but those paths are so intertwined that they seem to move as one. All that, and some of the prettiest tunes you’ll hear. I adore this album. Find of the Week.
Melanie de Biasio, No Deal: Alluring jazz vocals album. Biasio keeps it simple, both with her delivery, which is pleasantly unfussy, and also with the accompaniment of drums, piano & keys, which match her minimal delivery with a crisp succinctness of their own. Great music when you’ve got a quiet room handy and plenty of time to just sit back, listen, and drift away with the music.
Roman Ott, If You Lived Here, You’d Be Home By Now: Another nice collaboration between alto saxophonist Ott and guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel. Their last one, the 2009 release Seeing People, had a nice mix of edge and brightness, and compositions that lent modern post-bop tunes an airy presence at times. That successful formula hasn’t changed on their newest. I was a bit concerned to discover that pianist Florian Hoefner wasn’t with the quintet any longer, but current pianist Manuel Schmiedel picks right up where Hoefner left off. When they get the tempo down to a slow heartbeat, the music is all kinds of evocative.
Charlie Apicella & Iron City, Big Boss: Guitarist Apicella’s crew summons up the warmth and groove of 1960s guitar-organ combos. Augmenting the standard guitar-organ-drums trio are trumpet and tenor sax, congas, and a guest violin spot. Organist Dan Kostelnik and drummer Alan Korzin synch right in with Apicella to where it’s a tough call as to whether the solos or the teamwork offer up the best moments. Some original tunes, but a couple covers, too. I’m always partial to a decent rendition of Grant Green’s “Sunday Mornin’,” so that ended the album nicely for me, personally.
John Escreet, Sound, Space and Structures: The newest release by pianist Escreet is not pretty music. A nine-part suite that behaves as a force of will, crashes of dissonance and menacing undercurrents typify this free-improv recording. This is music that engages by grabbing the listener and shaking them up a bit, not letting go until the concluding note. The appealing aspect of this recording is the way in which the quartet develops a strangely contemplative ambiance at the center of the music, so that amidst all the sound and fury there exists a spot the ear can grab onto with which to truly measure the breadth of the spectacle. Escreet is joined by bassist John Hebert, drummer Tyshawn Sorey, and Evan Parker on tenor and soprano saxes.
Andre Fernandes, Wonder Wheel: Interesting shift in sound for guitarist Fernandes. On his 2012 release Motor, he presented a nifty mix of NYC post-bop and the inventive new brew of jazz centered around the Lisbon, Portugal scene. On his newest, he drops the reeds and horns and adds vocals, bringing a heavy pop-music influence. While, personally, I prefer his previous approach, there is a rather appealing prettiness to this music that is deserving of mention.
Mark de Clive-Lowe, Church: A sprawling project that incorporates a myriad of influences and blends it up into an enjoyable set of dance music. Boasting a strong cast that includes Jamire Williams, Tim Lefebvre, Nia Andrews, and Nate Smith (amongst others), it’s arguable whether this album should even be appearing in a jazz recommendation column in the first place. It’s also unlikely that pianist and composer de Clive-Lowe even had that as a consideration the first place. He’s always kind of done his own thing, uber-focused on finding his own sound without much thought to categorization. Electronic music dances in step with brass, reeds, strings, percussion, and some guest vocals. This is music that incites motion, whether up- or down-tempo. And along with some frenetic activity, it’s capable of some profound beauty, like the gorgeous “Sketch for Miguel.” For a more jazz-oriented release by de Clive-Lowe, try his collaboration with the Rotterdam Jazz Orchestra, Take the Space Trane. It’s all good stuff.
Sebastiaan van Bavel Trio, As the Journey Begins: Not a small amount of intrigue surrounding the ideas presented by this piano trio. The first track gives the impression that this is going to be a standard modern piano trio, but then they begin shaping melodies into odd constructs and forging them with odder tempos. The music becomes more contemplative, even haunting at times, with a burgeoning intensity just occasionally rises above the surface. Some nice stuff going on here, and no matter what that first track sounds like, this is not your standard modern piano trio. Joining pianist van Bavel are bassist Maciej Domaradzki and drummer Remi Troost.
Microscopic Septet, Manhattan Moonrise: This band is going strong in its second life. Reforming after originally closing the doors in the early nineties, the Septet still knows how to deliver a thick groove with a light touch, and a serious swing with a sense of humor. Adding some old-school NYC downtown scene inventiveness with their old-school jazz sound keeps the ear attentive for the playful nuances and the sonic fine print. A nice option for both old- and new-school fans alike.
Middle Space Collective, Paradigm Shift: Quartet of saxophonist Kurt Stockdale, guitarist Frank Buchanan, bassist Reuben Rogers, and drummer Ulysses Owens Jr. The quartet commutes between a soulful groove-based sound and a modern post-bop that doesn’t anchor itself to anything beholden to a straight-ahead sound. The former of those sounds tend to go with the upbeat tunes, while the latter creates some pleasantly drifting songs. Some decent stuff here.
Michael Losch, Heroes: Strangely compelling nonet session led by pianist Losch, who also doubles up on organ for this session. Sometimes jazz and blues poke up their heads, but more often than not, this music shakes off categorization. Incorporating electronic effects, and featuring the slide trumpet of Steven Bernstein, Losch offers up some playful avant-garde… constructs with moving parts that seem to clash but often result in something quite tuneful.
Clark Tracey Quintet, Meantime: Nifty hard bop session led by drummer Tracey, leading a quintet through a mix of originals and covers (Tony Williams and Cedar Walton). A classic sound of a fine vintage. Definitely one for the old-school fans. Tracey’s crew finds the sweet spot of lively conversations and comforting warmth.