An outstanding week of new releases, featuring several that step outside the mainstream and present personal sounds singular to the artist. Also, a new Brian Blade Fellowship album dropped, which, actually, is all I need to say for my intro. And now that I have, let’s begin…
Brian Blade Fellowship, Landmarks: Blade’s Fellowship recordings have carved out a special place in Jazz all their own. That potent mix of modern jazz, rock, folk, blues, and gospel result in a sonic poetry that is quite singular. His newest fits right in with what has come before. There are the strong melodic statements that wander off to the horizon and the rhythmic expressions that sound to have evolved from older musics, yet never seem to look back over their shoulder. Like previous albums, there are the songs that build dramatically then come crashing back down to a peaceful state. There are the tunes that brood and simmer, and despite their menace, instill a serene ambiance that is positively addictive. Where previous release Season of Changes was typified by the surges of intensity, the Fellowship’s newest operates at the quieter end of that spectrum, drifting more than simmering, easing more than building. Returning for this session are mainstays pianist Jon Cowherd, alto saxophonist Myron Walden (who, yes, has some brilliant turns on bass clarinet on this recording, too), Melvin Butler on soprano & tenor sax, Chris Thomas on bass, and both Marvin Sewell and Jeff Parker on guitar for this session. Nice to see Parker return, after his nifty turn at the helm on the Fellowship recording Perceptual. Just beautiful tunes and evocative as hell. Pick of the Week.
Roberto Negro, Loving Suite pour Birdy So: Brilliant and imaginative recording by pianist Negro, who mixes jazz, classical and folk without ever really sounding like any one of them. With vocalist Elise Caron providing a thrilling turn on vocals, Federico Casagrande proving that he is one of the more exciting guitarists on the scene, and a string trio adding some lovely harmonic and melodic contributions, the resulting singular sound is as captivating as it is inventive. Highly Recommended.
Mike Baggetta, Thieves and Secrets: Interesting coincidence that guitarist Baggetta is releasing a new album at the same time as similarly-minded Brian Blade. Both possess sounds that brood and simmer and drift, but where Blade’s Fellowship has a solemn tone reminiscent of the gospel of Sunday church, Baggetta’s music is all about the outdoors, a freer sort of folk-jazz that is as likely to bend your ear with a little twang as it is to slip in some bop chatter. Joining Baggetta for this session is a strong quartet of bassist Eivind Opsvik, saxophonist Jason Rigby, and drummer George Schuller. A strong album, and a step up from his last release, Source Material, which, in retrospect, is filled with hints that his sound was headed in the direction of Thieves and Secrets. Recommended.
Nels Cline Singers, Macroscope: Not so much an album of songs as a series of conceptual drawings of what creative guitar music could evolve into. Music that seems to disdain form, it’s sonic currents that swirl and crash and rend and occasionally drift. However, there are moments when the music coalesces into something the ear can grab onto… the easy groove of “Red Before Orange,” the catchy melodic interlude of “The Wedding Band”… but mostly this album is a world of sound sans walls, barriers, and boundaries. Joining Cline are drummer Scott Amendola (who also works the electronics & effects) and bassist Trevor Dunn, as well as a handful of guests that include Cyro Baptista and Zeena Parkins.
Nat Birchall, Live in Larissa: Live, double-disc set from saxophonist Birchall, who I typically recommend when someone says they’re a Coltrane fan and want to hear something from a modern musician. Birchall certainly does seem to channel that sound on his tenor sax, and his embrace of the spiritual jazz form certainly adds to the similarities. That said, Birchall has compiled an impressive set of recordings under his own name, and this live recording just ups the quality level even higher. Joined by frequent collaborators pianist Adam Fairhall, vibraphonist Corey Mwamba, bassist Nick Blacka, and drummer Paul Hession, Birchall hits upon some original tunes from past studio albums (“World Without Form, “Sacred Dimension”) as well as some terrific covers, like Alice Coltrane’s “Journey to Satchidananda” and the Bill Lee composition “John Coltrane,” a song originally minted by Clifford Jordan’s Magic Triangle back in the 1970s. The addition of Mwamba to this recording is particularly intriguing, especially in the facets his vibes bring to the Coltrane and “Coltrane” renditions.
Hans Ludemann Trio Ivoire, Timbuktu: Enchanting recording by pianist Ludemann. A trio that includes his piano (and electronics), Aly Keita on balaphon & sanza, and Christian Thome on drums & percussion. The mix of jazz and folk is particularly pronounced, allowing both elements to shine through strongly. Even the up-tempo pieces like “Perles Noires” have an undeniable serenity, as the liveliness simply accentuates the languorous nature of the compositions. The song “Crum” seems to reference Brubeck’s “Blue Rondo a la Turk,” though if I were to reference another musician, I might lean more toward the Goetze-Sissoko recordings, even though Timbuktu is not nearly as consistently sedate. Really, a nifty recording.
Composers’ Orchestra Berlin, Free Range Music: Wonderful recording from the C.O.B., presenting a big sound that never threatens to knock the listener over or collapse under its own weight. Arrangements keep the motion fluid. Utilizing folk, rock, and modern classical as ingredients creates a nice blend of old and new musics, without weighting it too heavily in either direction. The album’s greatest strength is when strings and wind instruments combine to create some of the prettiest, uplifting harmonic interludes. Terrific recording.
Dominik Bukowski, Simple Words: Likable quartet session led by vibraphonist Bukowski, and featuring bassist Piotr Lemańczyk. Vibes and piano pair up nicely, bright and warm notes that occasionally turn on a dime and provide an icy chill. Pretty much a straight-forward modern post-bop session, though a track like “Toxic Message” adds a nice dose of dissonance to the affair. Tempos stick to that middle ground between sleepy and speedy, never straying too close to either one of those extremes.
Omit Five, Speak Random: Switching between expressions of straight-ahead post-bop and a genre-less improvisatory style, this quintet of trombone, guitar, alto sax, drums, and bass seem to get their way. The transitions between the two styles, in fact, may be the most compelling aspect of this solid recording. The post-bop elements are more “bop” than “post,” and the improvisations never stray too far out on the fringes (well, ignoring the “Tony Wolf” interlude). Guitar seems to drive the straight-ahead sections whereas trombone takes the lead on those tunes that take a different path. Good stuff.
Dave Ambrosio, Gone: A saxophone trio recording that has a heavy grace, as if caught between the desire to gain altitude and the obligations of respecting gravity. Saxophonist Loren Stillman keeps a fluid motion on this post-bop recording, yet the sequences of notes give the impression of perpetual descent. Bassist Ambrosio has a nifty loping cadence throughout, and the way he switches it up frees the rhythms from their moorings. Drummer Russ Meisner marks their contrails with the rhythm, sometimes predicting where they’ll end up and beating them to the spot… a sort of leading the rhythm from behind. Nothing about this album really blew me away, but it’s consistently strong throughout, which is a quality that earns attention.
Primitive Arkestra, Dolphy’s Hat: Directions in Music by David Haney: A collection of live performances from the Primitive Arkestra, a cast that includes heavy hitters like Julian Priester, Steve Swell, and Matt Lavelle. There are moments when the chaotic nature of this avant-garde orchestra coalesce into the most enchanting displays of fluency… the kind of thing why live music is so special, and why recorded performances able to capture those moments should get scooped up.
Dwayne Cook Broadnax, Finally Mine: Enjoyable piano trio recording led by drummer Broadnax. Straight-ahead, classic sound. Nothing fancy, but you don’t need fancy when the music gives off this kind of comforting warmth. The album’s strength are the upbeat tunes when swing is the thing, but a slower “Emily” may be the strongest track on the album. Small misstep with the contemporary syrup of “Just Ask Parker,” but nothing that would disqualify this fun album was getting a mention in this week’s column. James Cammack, of the Ahmad Jamal Trio, on bass, and Carlton Holmes, from Cindy Blackman’s unit, on piano.