Nice mix of jazz subsets in the new releases bin this week. Got some solid straight-ahead swing and bop, some old school spiritual jazz, some big band with both a past and present bent, and a few recordings that either sit on the border of jazz or don’t even recognize the concept of genre. So yeah, a little something for everyone this week. Let’s begin…
Arve Henriksen, The Nature of Connections: Absolutely gorgeous new recording by Henriksen. The trumpeter works the end of the Nordic jazz scene that emphasizes atmospherics, but what makes this effort so successful is that he’s able to bring a strong folk music element into play that provides a valuable grounding experience … some weight to an album that could, at times, float away. And, really, the Nordic folk music qualities dominate anything resembling jazz, not unlike Oskar Schonning’s excellent 2012 release The Violin. But Henriksen’s newest, like Schonning’s, achieves an immaculate beauty that transcends the act of categorization. Joining him are bassist Mats Eilertsen, drummer Audun Kleive, and Nils Okland, Svante Henryson and Gjermund Larsen on violin, viola, cello, and fiddle. Pick of the Week.
Robert Burke, Do True: Nice modern set by the quartet of saxophonist Burke, pianist Kenny Werner, bassist Johannes Weidenmueller, and drummer Richie Barshay. Two qualities stand right out: a lyricism that extends beyond the mere presence of well-crafted melodies and a lively fire throughout each song, regardless of whether the quartet is strongly extroverted or casually strolling along. Real strong effort here.
Mack Avenue SuperBand, Live from the Detroit Jazz Festival: Sophomore release from the Mack Avenue Super Band. Both this and the first are live performances at the Detroit Jazz Festival (the newest from the 2013 event) and which bring together different bandleaders from the Mack Avenue label. This current iteration includes bassist & music director Rodney Whitaker, drummer Carl Allen, vibraphonist Gary Burton, pianist Aaron Diehl, trumpeter Sean Jones, guitarist Evan Perri, saxophonist Kirk Whalum and vibraphonist Warren Wolf… a whole lot of names familiar to this column. The Sean Jones composition “Of Mars and Venus” has an enthralling motion and the harmonies to match. Highlight of the album might be the vibes-marimba duet between Gary Burton and Warren Wolf, performing the Chick Corea tune “Senor Mouse.” Straight-ahead jazz that brings the electricity of live performance to the recorded medium.
Various Artists, Spiritual Jazz 5: The World: The fifth volume in the excellent Jazzman Records Spiritual Jazz series. After previous volumes explored obscure spiritual jazz selections from Europe and the United States, the newest volume expands its search for the rare and unheard to Caribbean, Africa, South America and beyond. The riff on Pharoah Sanders’ “Hum Allah” by a Chilean ensemble called Aquila is an exciting find, and the cover of Brubeck/Desmond’s “Take Five” by Oladepo Ogomodede is a real treat, too. Expect lots of upbeat classic jazz with all kind of heart and soul. And while previous volumes have been stronger than the newest, I still highly recommend picking them up all up. Great, fun music.
Ali Jackson, Amalgamations: Drummer Ali Jackson offers up a wide-ranging set of tunes that goes a long way to illustrating his travels through the various jazz subsets and sounds, as well as giving him the opportunity to collaborate with fellow musicians that have been a part of those travels. A serious who’s-who of guest musicians on this nifty recording, including Omer Avital, Wynton Marsalis, JD Allen, Jonathan Batiste, Aaron Goldberg, Ted Nash (and more). The Latin jazz tune “Cachita” brings all kinds of life to the affair, and the “Done Tol’ You, Fo’ Five Times” is all kinds of fun. Also, there’s an intriguing duet between Jackson and bassist Avital of “Kentucky Girl,” which Avital has performed in the past with marvelous results. An album with a lot of different facets, and not a one of them that doesn’t find a way to shine.
Adam Topol, Blue Painted Walls In Far Away Places: Seriously enjoyable recording from drummer Topol. The music falls under two general categories: There’s those songs that have a definitive Latin influence and then there are the songs that have a 70s trip-psych influence, not dissimilar to the territory Goran Kajfes and Benjamin Herman have staked out. The nice thing about it all is, no matter which face a particular song shows, it’s gonna be very tuneful and kick out a strong melody that it’s happy to ride for as long as the song lasts. The core of the band is drummer Topol, bassist Merlo, guitarist Kenny Lyon, tenor saxophonist David Ralicke, Koool G Murder on organ, and a variety of guests sitting in on strings, percussion, piano, and wind instruments. Very cool, very fun.
John Surman, Another Sky: Highly enjoyable recording from John Surman and the Bergen Big Band. The saxophonist has collaborated with the ensemble previously, and the familiarity shows in how the arrangements seamlessly incorporate Surman’s curious melodic expressions with the traditional sounds of a jazz orchestra. A song like “Carpet Ride” illustrates how Surman’s moody ambiance has space to grow amidst the larger group effort.
Jason Ajemian, Folklords: The music of bassist Jason Ajemian pretty much defies genre categorization, and whether its a foundation of composition or improvisation that a particular creative work is built upon, its construction doesn’t seem to recognize those boundaries and tags. Which makes sense considering his ability to collaborate with outside-the-lines artists like Rob Mazurek, Matana Roberts, Charles Rumback, Matt Bauder and Marc Ribot. His newest is the first is a series of recordings entitled “Mythadors,” which break down to sonic portraits of cultural figures. What that means for this music is that it’s experimental, avant-garde, and free. Electronic effects, spoken word, warped guitar, post-bop rhythms, saxophone and guitar passage careening off every surface like a spaceship off a galaxy of nighttime stars. Five tracks spanning over seventy minutes, and I’m still not sure Ajemian got everything down that he wanted to include. Something different, something very very different. Joining Ajemian are saxophonist Kid Blissh, guitarist Owen Stewart-Robertson and drummer Jason Nazary.
Gilles Naturel, Contrapuntic Jazz Band: Act 2: Modern session with plenty of personality. Echoes of hard bop and possessing a tight frame of reference, the soloists often hit sharp angles and head in opposite directions from a rhythm section that appears to be happy to just sit back and swing. But even with the sense of music moving in different directions, the tight space the sextet occupies provides the music the cohesion necessary to simplify taking the music in with a single vantage point. Good stuff. That sextet is comprised of bassist Naturel, drummer Donald Kontomanou, trumpeter Fabiern Mary, trombonist Jerry Edwards, and tubist Bastien Still.
Mirage Ensemble, Memory Happens Now: A likable debut from the Norwegian sextet, who mesh modern fusion grooves with a melodic approach reminiscent of pop orchestras and wrap it all up in warm harmonies. The sax-trumpet-trombone front line provides a wide sound even when the ensemble is showing restraint, while guitar shifts between melodic and rhythmic responsibilities when needed. Bass and drum combo just sound like they’re having fun on each song.
Andreas Dreier, Poinciana: Nifty straight-ahead session by a trio expressing their admiration for the music of Ahmad Jamal. Plenty of warmth and swing from the sound of bassist Andreas Dreier, guitarist Bjorn Vidar Solli, and drummer Adam Pache. Old-school fans will find plenty to like here.
Paul Giallorenzo’s GitGo, Force Majeure: Rather than sit out on the fringes of Jazz to experiment, pianist Giallorenzo seems to have decided that the best seat in the house for manipulating the music is in the center of Jazz territory, where the heart of its tradition beats strongest. That has a lot to do with why this very modern, sometimes wildly improvisational music sounds like compositions from back in the day. In results in a very cool sense of something old, something new. Joining Giallorenzo are trombonist Jeb Bishop, bassist Anton Hatwich, drummer Quin Kirchner, and Mars Williams on a variety of reeds.
Irene Schweizer & Jurg Wickihalder, Spring: Fun duet between longtime collaborators pianist Schweizer and saxophonist Wickihalder. Some originals and a couple renditions of Thelonious Monk tunes gives the duo ample opportunities to display their ability to fluidly shift between expressions of the sublime to those more accurately described as playfully chaotic.
Azure, Hiptronics: Five years after their excellent debut When She Smiles, the fusion group Azure has gone back in time, musically speaking, by that amount of years, maybe more. Their 2009 release was a jazz-rock fusion with the melodic sleekness of 80s Pat Metheny. With a few exceptions, their newest sounds much more like jazz-soul-funk fusion of the 70s. It’s not my cup of tea, but plenty of people are into that sound, and these are talented musicians, so I’m gonna sneak in a quick mention of their album.