There are several albums here making late claims to be included on a Best of 2014 list. It’s sort of a stunning collection of music. The albums that I couldn’t get to were pretty damn strong, too, which should give some indication of what did make the cut this week. Seriously, let’s begin…
Collocutor, Instead: Outstanding debut from saxophonist Tamar Osborn, whose septet concocts an absolutely brilliant bland of modern jazz, modal & spiritual jazz forms and a variety of Eastern and Afro-Jazz influences. These are songs that give every indication of depth and substance, yet are supremely catchy and incite the compulsion to dance. A thrilling late-season contender to Best of 2014 lists. Joining Osborn are Josephine Davis on tenor sax, Simon Finch on trumpet, Marco Piccioni on guitar, Suman Joshi on bass, Afla Sackey on djembe and Ghanian shakers, and Maurizio Ravalico on percussion. Pick of the Week.
Wayne Horvitz, At the Reception: Fantastic set from Horvitz’s expanded ensemble, the Royal Room Collective Music Ensemble, performing Horvitz compositions that are re-arranged on the fly… a sort of improvisation by Madlib approach, where anything goes within a loose, but sturdy structure. Horvitz classics like “A Walk in the Rain,” “Sweeter Than the Day,” and “Prepaid Funeral” retain his curious songwriting style while allowing a traditional big band sound to bloom from its seed. The impact Horvitz has had on the Pacific-Northwest scene since his move from NYC can be heard on a number of recordings of the new generation of local jazz musicians… this recording from this ensemble only further cements that claim in place. Highly Recommended.
Kronomorfic, Entangled: Fascinating release from the tentet led by drummer Paul Pellegrin and David Borgo. This is like a late-sixties Inside/Out construction, but where the traditional “Inside” is replaced by more Out, but which is massively tuneful and, ironically, presents an “In” structure, albeit an unconventional one, for the improvisations to flourish. Strangely alluring music, where melodic fragments flourish in the soil of odd meters and cross-currents of rhythms. This is music that seems like it should keep people out of reach, but it’s so terrifically compelling that it makes friends with great ease. Fans of Eric Dolphy, Andrew Hill and (later-period) Bobby Hutcherson will enjoy this as much as fans of modern acts like Jason Adasiewicz’s Sun Rooms. Highly Recommended.
Various Artists, Salsa de la Bahia Vol.2: Hoy y Ayer: Very fun compilation featuring artists from San Francisco Bay Area’s deep talent pool of Latin Jazz and salsa musics. A two-part companion piece to the music doc The Last Mambo, trombonist Wayne Wallace pulled this project together and released it on his own label. If you’ve been looking for a good entry point to explore more of this genre of music, this is as good of a door to walk through as any. Just the idea of getting a tour of a particular music scene is all kinds of cool. The music is the real reward.
Equilibrium, Liquid Light: Enchanting, yet challenging trio session from vocalist Sissel Vera Pettersen, clarinetist Joachim Badenhorst, and guitarist Mikkel Ploug. Pettersen’s wordless harmonies snap right into place with bass clarinet and steel-stringed guitar as easily as when she switches over to soprano sax. Use of electronics further enhances an almost hypnotic effect. The thing of it is, this is beautiful music that doesn’t really come off as pretty. It engages first. Only later does the music’s gorgeous qualities sink in. File under Nordic Jazz with a much stronger folk than jazz presence.
Mammal Hands, Animalia: Strong debut from the trio of saxophonist Jordan Smart, pianist Nick Smart, and drummer Jesse Barrett, who also takes a spin on tabla. One of the rare non-Matthew Halsall releases on the Gondwana Records label, but a quick listen to Mammal Hands and you can see why Halsall took to them strongly and signed them to the label. A peaceful but resonant sound, words spoken quietly but carry a far distance, the trio puts out a strong melody and sticks to it. All the music is moody, though a few tracks like “Bustle” and “Inuit Party” ratchet up the volume a bit. Real easy to like.
Valentina Fortunati Trio, Tatogamono: Charming trio session, mixing folk and jazz. Fortunati is on an acoustic steel-stringed guitar, Sigi Beare is primarily on alto & tenor sax, but also performs on flute and gusli (a Russian type of lyre). Matteo Scarpettini is on marimba, tabla and various percussion. Music often possesses a languorous seaside ease, expressing itself slowly and an ever-present spark of life.
Bernhard Meyer, Claudio Puntin, Julius Heise, Patch of Light: Absorbing trio session from the trio of bassist Meyer, clarinetist Puntin and vibraphonist Heise. Music for quiet rooms, though more often than not, the music possesses a bustling activity. Of course, there are also tunes like “Esper Flower,” which is all kinds of pretty. Puntin and Heise switching things up with bass clarinet and marimba further add to the textural nuance that defines this recording.
Butcher Brown, All Purpose Music: Like an updated version of 1970s soul jazz, this quartet layers its thick grooves with nuance and light touches of influences. The title does the music justice… there is an organic quality to this music that makes it apropos to any time, place or scenario, the type of personality that gets along famously with all kinds. Also, it’s just plain fun. That summertime get-together with friends? This is the soundtrack for that event, oh yes. The quartet consists of Devonne Harris on keyboard, guitar and percussion, Corey Fonville on drums and percussion, Andrew Randazzo on bass and Keith Askey on guitar. Several guest appearances on this album, including trumpeter Nicholas Payton.
The Spin Quartet, In Circles: Nice modern set from the quartet of trumpeter Chad McCullough, tenor saxophonist Geof Bradfield, bassist Clark Sommers and drummer Kobie Watkins. The way in which McCullough and Bradfield harmonize, it gives the music a heavy presence, but when they go off on separate but related melodic trails, it provides the music a nifty sense of lift-off.
Brad Goode Quartet, Montezuma: Another solid outing from trumpeter Brad Goode, who shows from album to album how changing a few little things can have a big effect. Whether it’s adding an unusual instrument to the mix or rethinking old standards and modern pop tunes, there’s always plenty of interesting stuff going on. His current album has Goode joined by pianist Adrean Farrugia, bassist Kelly Sill and drummer Anthony Lee. Aside from some nifty originals, the highlights on the album have to be a fantastic cover of “My Funny Valentine,” that sees Goode playing it relatively straight for the song’s first half, then absolutely taking off for the latter half. A nice-and-easy rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Until You Come Back to Me” is a joy on its own merits, but some nice soloing opportunities kick the enjoyment factor up a notch or three.
Olo Walicki, Kot (Czy też Kotka?): Fascinating project from bassist Walicki, who composes songs set against poems nominated for the European Poet of Freedom Award. The music keeps to the quiet side of things but exudes a powerful intensity that carries throughout. Featuring Waclaw Zimpel on clarinets, Cuba Staruszkiewicz on drums, Allegra Kabuki and Serhiy Zadan on vocals and Stefan Wesolowski on harmonium.
Bjorn Alterhaug Quintet, Innocent Play: Intimate session from bassist Alterhaug. Modern jazz with a Nordic touch, but nothing that would ever get it slotted along with ECM. Nice relaxed feel to most tunes. Alterhaug shapes a strong melody, and each member of the quintet has well-defined roles and sticks to them. Nothing groundbreaking, but an album that I can see myself returning to from time to time. Harmonies from a two-sax line-up really seal the deal.
Quadraceratops, Quadraceratops: Kind of a mixed bag from Cath Roberts crew. When the septet sticks mostly to modern territory, it sounds all well and good, but nothing about it really stands out. But when the group gives the music an infusion of a traditional sound, the music becomes especially vibrant, emitting a warmth that envelops the ear, and, which, notably, shows the music’s modern traits in a better light. I went back and forth on this one, and the stronger tracks earned this one a mention in today’s column. The septet, by the way, is heavy on the wind instruments with alto & tenor sax, trombone and trumpet. Drums, bass, and a switch between piano and Rhodes rounds the septet out.
Clarence Penn & Penn Station, Monk: The Lost Files: Drummer Penn tackles the Monk songbook and gives it a modern spin. The immediate quality about this music is that it’s much looser than the source material. Monk’s music is often highly charged, even if expressed with a quiet calm. Penn does away with that for the most part. Songs are either very relaxed by way of expression or structure. Some are straight-ahead post-bop, while others go with a contemporary sound. Some tracks work better than others (“Think of One” and “Green Chimney” are stand-outs). Occasional use of keys and Rhodes in place of piano render some interesting results. This one didn’t knock me over or anything, but I think trying to do something new with the Monk songbook is an experiment that should always draw some attention. So, I’m mentioning it in today’s column. P.S. “The Lost Files” refers to the physical journey the actual music files took from studio to finished product.
Daniel Karlsson Trio, Fusion for Fish: Easy-to-like new release from the school of the New Piano Trio. Up-tempo, driven tunes that take short simple melodies for rides on thick rhythmic tides. Fans of Jacob Karlzon Trio and Nik Bartsch’s Ronin will find plenty to like here. Joining pianist Karlsson are bassist Kristian Lind and drummer Fredrik Rundqvist.
Andres Bohmer & Nyponsyskon, Wettertraume: Chipper trio session from guitarist Bohmer, bassist Lars Fodisch and drummer Fabian Hones. Real sing-songy nature to these tunes, which lead out with a well-defined melody and ride it to the last note. Plenty of solos, but they’re bundled up into a cohesive structure, giving modern songs a traditional framework to operate in. Nothing here blew me away, but I very much enjoyed each listen. Worth your time to check it out.
Alex Baboian, Curiosity: Interesting guitar trio session. Baboian’s debut, and he doesn’t come off as timid in his choice of compositions. Not straight-ahead, but also not so far from Jazz center as to alienate the purists. A handful of tracks add guests on woodwinds, and those tend to be the stronger tracks, though it’s nice to hear the contrast between those tunes and the simple trio. Nice effort for a debut.