It’s a terrific week in new jazz, with words like ‘beautiful’ and ‘gorgeous’ accurately describing a large swath of new releases. Many of this week’s recs also openly question what Jazz is and what it isn’t, and the results are frequently surprising and engrossing.
Cordame + Francois Bourassa, Rêve éveillé: Absolutely gorgeous chamber jazz session, led by Jean Felix Mailloux and orchestrated for piano, cello, harp, violin, double bass and percussion. The music surges with harmonic intensity and shines bright with beautiful melodic phrases. The rich sound differs from another Mailloux project, Bomata Trio, which also worked a chamber jazz vein, but worked with space and silence as primary mediums of song construction. Pick of the Week.
Freddie Bryant, Dreamscape: Solo, Duo, Trio: Terrifically personable recording by guitarist Bryant, who switches between solo, duo and trio arrangements (and a variety of guitars) for a series of tunes that are equally contemplative and engagingly friendly. The use of 12-string on opening track “Dreamscape” is more country than jazz, but renditions of songs by Mingus, Monk, Herbie Hancock, and Charlie Haden swing it back the other way. Guests Chris Potter, Scott Colley, Beatrice Rippy, and Carroll Hollister each add some satisfying texture to their respective tunes, but the Bryant solo pieces offer up all kinds of enjoyment, too. Highly Recommended.
Dado Moroni, Five For John: Strong release by pianist Moroni, who hits upon not just the compositions of John Coltrane, but also includes renditions of other members of the classic quartet, like McCoy Tyner’s “Contemplation.” Of particular interest is the addition of vibraphonist Joe Locke’s inclusion in the saxophone quartet context, adding even greater life to an already lively session. The addition of vibes brings out some new elements to these older compositions, and lifts this recording up to something more than just another Coltrane tribute album. Real good stuff here. Recommended.
Polar Bear, In Each and Every One: A new release by the forward-thinking UK quartet, and, arguably, their most inventive to date. But perhaps more to the point, though, is that it’s also their most cohesive — which is all the more interesting given how different it sounds from all they’ve done before. Polar Bear hit on motifs and themes and sounds from a wide array of genres, and integrates them in such a way that the spirit of jazz comes through, even when the music sounds nothing like jazz. That bouncing around makes for some thrilling music, but there’s something quite satisfying about their new recording presenting a unified thought. And, while, yes, it’s still a mixed bag of influences, the consistency of that mix binds the music up into an intense, engaging perspective. Heavy use of electronics and effects and wailing saxophones that break into affable melodic passages are powered by a driving rhythm strong enough to carry everything else away. This is a statement album, and it’s the kind of thing that will get fans excited for what’s on the horizon.
Leslie Pintchik, In the Nature of Things: Vibrant sextet session from pianist Pintchik, on an album that betrays an easy-going disposition cloaked within a heavy presence. It’s one of those recordings that sounds suspiciously introspective even as it bops along at a brisk pace and with a light touch. Steve Wilson on alto & soprano saxes has some nice solos, but it’s his accompaniment when Pintchik is leading the way that really leads to some shining moments. Satoshi Takeishi displays some nifty articulation in a support role, giving the album an extra boost of personality. Good stuff.
El Portal, Slow Grind: Intriguing modern jazz session, which works the gray areas between post-bop, nu-jazz, fusion and indie rock. It’s seriously lyrical, with melodies brief and often just serving as the launching pad into endless exploration. The rhythm section is a method of locomotion more than a timekeeping tool, and little bits of experimentation here and there are well-placed and functional. Snappy and smart.
I Think You’re Awesome, Løft Mig, Op Så Jeg Kan Nå: Absolutely fascinating music from this quintet out of Denmark, who mix Nordic jazz, folk, pop, avant-garde, and, apparently, anything else that seems right at the time. Instruments like juno synths, Wurlitzer and banjo fit seamlessly with guitar, bass, drums, trumpet and trombone. Music drifts peaceably, and it moves with a spry motion, and it twitters with excitement, driving forward with a determined gait. Hard to really compare it with anything. Led by bassist Jens Mikkel, and includes keyboardist Kasper Staub, who has been putting out some solid music lately. Just too cool, and mesmerizing as hell. Find of the Week.
Andreas Lareida & Agora Ensemble, Agora: Intriguing vocal jazz album, composed of piano trio and strings. The orchestral sounds are balanced nicely with jazz piano expressions. The various cadences adopted by the ensemble really sell this album, as both the chipper and melancholy tunes attain a motion that is especially engaging. Fans of Theo Bleckmann’s work should definitely stop here.
Peter and Will Anderson, Reed Reflections: Delightful recording from the Anderson brothers who, for this recording, stick to clarinets, showing that they can provide a light touch just as ably as they can bring the heat. Joined in a trio by guitarist Alex Wintz, this music has a seaside languor and an easy conversational style. An album with a real likable personality.
Tobias Preisig, Drifting: Sitting on the cusp of jazz and indiepop, this quartet led by violinist Preisig is filled with passages of melodic beauty and dramatic intensity. The core of most songs lies at the foot of piano, with drums, bass and violin springboarding off from that point, often into moments of startling beauty. The title track is the prime example of the quartet’s winning formula.
Eric Reed, The Adventurous Monk: Third in the series of Reed’s embrace of the music of Thelonious Monk. Reed’s takes on the compositions have plenty of their own personality while also honoring the qualities of the originals that made them, well, so damn original. He’s accompanied by a crack line-up of saxophonist Seamus Blake, drummer Gregory Hutchinson, and bassist Ben Williams. Not some by-the-numbers tribute album… this is an instance of a musician delving into the music of a jazz master while also delving into their own voice of creativity.
Jiri Slavik, La Jeunesse: A sprawling large ensemble effort, led by bassist Slavik, who recruits some solid names from the UK scene. A big sound throughout, with some epic changes in flight pattern. When the ensemble hits a moodier note, like on “Saudades,” the effect is made that much more profound by comparison to the weighty presence of what came before. Cellist Ben Davis, trumpeter Alex Bonney, percussionist Jim Hart and saxophonist Tom Challenger are a few of the names that contribute to this album and which have made appearances in this column previously. An impressive recording.
Olivier Ker Ourio, Perfect Match: Enjoyable release from chromatic harmonica player Ourio. There’s a folksy charm that sometimes gets a bit on the light-contemporary side of things, but the album maintains a tunefulness throughout. Also, Ourio has been performing with the Swiss Jazz Orchestra, which is always a good sign that you’re dealing with a musician that knows their stuff.
Hakon Stene, Lush Laments for Lazy Mammal: The percussionist moves away from atonality and into ambient minimalist expressions. Employing a variety of instruments, as well as a variety of guests that includes pianist Christian Wallumrod and cellist Tanja Orning, Stene takes on the compositions of modern classical composer Laurence Crane. The result is a series of peaceful sonic exhalations that will leave moments of serenity undisturbed.
Aura Flow, You’l Hear From Me: Pleasant straight-ahead session from the quintet featuring drummer Jussi Fredriksson. Sax and piano have their moments, but the guitar-led tunes emanate the warmest tones. Fredriksson has been doing some nice stuff with Helsinki Jazz Underground, and worth exploring.