A nice assortment of new jazz this week featuring artists who take an inventive approach, each in their own way. The result is some very compelling music, ranging from the avant-garde to the straight-ahead. So while there wasn’t much this week in terms of volume, the music recommended below should keep you occupied for many many weeks to come. Let’s begin…
Bob Stewart, Connections: Mind the Gap: Absolutely brilliant recording by Bob Stewart, who has a strong history of illustrating the tuba’s versatility in a number of settings. This mix of jazz, classical and folk is complex and highly nuanced, and yet remains supremely listenable. Two immediate comparisons would be the Hal Willner tribute to Charles Mingus (Meditations on Mingus) as well as some of the recordings of Henry Threadgill… the idea of many parts moving in concert, a seemingly random pattern made into one vision. Stewart’s ensemble includes drummer Matt Wilson, guitarist Jerome Harris, trumpeter Randall Haywood, trombonist Nick Finzer, and the string quartet, PUBLIQuartet, led by Stewart’s son Curtis, an accomplished violinist in his own right. Challenging music that has the most welcoming personality. Pick of the Week.
Trio 3 & Vijay Iyer, Wiring: The trio of jazz legends Reggie Workman, Oliver Lake, and Andrew Cyrille put out a pretty amazing album in 2013 with pianist Jason Moran (Refraction – Breakin’ Glass). Apparently working with an inventive pianist suited the trio, because for their newest, they invite pianist Vijay Iyer to sit in, and the results are no less amazing. Music that just always seems to be coming apart at the seams, but with the glue of masterful group interplay by the trio and Iyer, it maintains its cohesion and results in a pervasive tension that keeps the music dynamic and addictive. I think what I’ve most enjoyed about these Trio 3 albums is the way in which musicians, who have the blues and jazz lineage ingrained in their method of expression, can be as inventive and forward-thinking as they like, because those hints and echoes of jazz and blues will suddenly appear and make something different sound like something familiar. Also worth mentioning that this Iyer collaboration is Trio 3′s fourth with a pianist (with Intakt Records mainstay Irene Schweizer as the first, and Geri Allen for the second release). Highly Recommended.
The Whammies, Play the Music of Steve Lacy, Vol. 3: Live: Nice opportunity to hear this ensemble in a live setting. Mostly from a 2014 performance in Padova, Italy, this recording shows their imaginative “instant arranging” approach to the Lacy songbook translates just fine from the studio environment. Jorrit Dijkstra on alto sax, Pandelis Karayorgis on piano, Jeb Bishop on trombone, Mary Oliver on violin & viola, Jason Roebke on bass, and the great Han Bennink on the drums.
Christof Lauer & NDR Big Band, Petite Fleur: Some gorgeous moments on saxophonist Lauer’s collaboration with the NDR Big Band. Joining him are his trio of drummer Patrice Heral and pianist Hubert Nuss, and the way they lay down a strong melody for the whole ensemble to springboard from really is what makes these tunes fly. Some traditional sounds, some modern ones, a bit of straying into contemporary jazz (which, actually, suits those particular songs just fine), and just an enjoyable album front to end.
Tree Stones Quartet, Baltic Sketches: Solid modern jazz recording from a quartet that counts Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia among its hometowns. This is where I’d typically explain that they mix some era of jazz with heavy infusions of local folk music… except in this instance, they’re right in the mix of generally accepted modern jazz. From the school that throws some indie-rock ambiance in as a minor ingredient, tracks run the gamut from post-bop to a Brian Blade type nu-jazz. What that means is you’re going to get some moody ambiance, surging intensity, and storyteller’s lyricism. Kęstutis Vaiginis on sax, Dmitrij Golovanov on piano, Peedu Kass on bass, and Kaspars Kurdeko on drums. A nice surprise in new arrivals.
EYOT, Similarity: Over the course of three album, the sound of EYOT has been evolving. Their first. Horizon, was on the new age-y side of Jazz, with lovely atmospherics and an embraceable serenity that would certainly appeal to certain fans of ECM Records. Their second album, Drifters, came out with wavering melodies similar to their debut, but framed them in a more definitive pop music structure. No less enjoyable, but different. Their newest has them coming in even stronger. The influence of Get the Blessing’s Jim Barr as a producer is evident, as EYOT offers up those melodies on the back of thick grooves and armed with an edgier sound. Serenity is discarded for dramatic builds of intensity, and rhythms stay in formation. An interesting development in their creative arc, and an enjoyable album, to boot.
Paquito D’Rivera, Jazz Meets the Classics: Saxophonist D’Rivera finds the commonalities between jazz and classical with his Afro-Latin arrangements of compositions by legendary classical figures. Recorded live at Dizzy’s in NYC, the fascinating details are exceeded only by the music’s liveliness. The electricity of live performance comes through strong on the recorded medium, and the ensemble just seems to pick up momentum as the performance goes along. Joining D’Rivera are trumpeter Diego Urcola, percussionist Arturo Stable, bassist Oscar Stagnaro, drummer Mark Walker, and Alex Brown and Pepe Rivero sharing duties on piano. Real fun album. Worth mentioning that Diego Urcola’s last album still comes highly recommended, too.
Somi, The Lagos Music Salon: Somi has one of the most alluring voices on the scene today. It’s the kind of thing where her voice can take a mediocre song and make it something better. On her newest, there are some moments like that. Resulting from her move from NYC to Lagos in the search for new creative inspirations, this sprawling album reflects the goal of breaking down old boundaries and exploring new directions. An updated soul jazz recording, Somi hits sounds that reflect a number of influences, and looks forward as often as it harkens back to more classic sounds. Somi is joined by her core band of drummer Otis Brown III, pianist Toru Dodo, guitarist Liberty Ellman, bassist Michael Olatuja, background vocalist Alicia Alatuja, and a variety of guest artists (including strings). As with any creative reboot, there’s going to be some hits and misses, but as mentioned previously, even those “misses” feature Somi’s gorgeous voice, so it’s pretty easy to highly recommend her newest. Both parts one and two of “Love JuJu” are cheerfully catchy, and “Last Song” is just plain lovely, but “Brown Round Things,” featuring guest trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, is just plain stunning. Somi’s Live at the Jazz Standard is the recording that got me hooked on her voice and vision.
Gnigler, Gnigler: Some compelling moments on the new one from saxophonist Jakob Gnigler. Some moments start to adopt a post-bop attitude, but then the septet heads out and leaves it all behind. And it seems the further out they go, the freer their music becomes. Saxophone driven jazz suddenly takes off into a new direction with bursts of effects and solos on electric violin. Typically, the music becomes increasingly frenetic, but then there’s a track like album closer “Pendereckis Ende,” when their reach for serenity is no less compelling than their more combustible moments. Not a perfect album by any means, but one where there’s some very cool stuff going on, and it’ll be intriguing to hear a follow-up and see how they develop. The septet consists of saxophonists Gnigler and Philipp Harnisch, trumpeter Alexander Kranabetter, tubist Jakob Rieder, bassist Judith Ferstl, drummer Niki Dolp, and Simon Frick on electric violin and effects. Harnisch is a former Jazz Pick, and definitely worth checking out some of his own music.
New York Standards Quartet, The New Straight-Ahead: The quartet of saxophonist Tim Armacost, pianist David Berkman, bassist Daiki Yasukagawa, and drummer Gene Jackson rework some well-known standards with some interesting results. Their rendition of “It Don’t Mean a Thing” is probably the best evidence of the sincerity of their desire to provide new faces to the old songs, as it really doesn’t strongly echo the original, yet still possesses all of its liveliness. And that really sums up this solid recording… it has that feel of something from the 50s/60s, that certain presence that seems to permeate so many of those classic bop recordings. This isn’t anything revolutionary. It’s just solid music.
Ron Kischuk & the Masters of Music Trombones, Alamode: Pleasant big band with a traditional sound. Plenty of swing and bop and big harmonies, though it’s the contribution of jazz legend Curtis Fuller that earns this album a nod in today’s column. If the trombonist is a new name to you, then you might want to give a listen to his album Blues-ette or perhaps one from when he was with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers.
Felix Fromm 4tet, One: Enjoyable session from a quartet of trombone, guitar, bass and drums. Straight-ahead jazz that’s plenty lively, plenty fun.