Well, a huge drop of new jazz releases this week, but I’ve got you covered. Several large ensemble recordings, all bringing a Big Sound, but I’ve also found a few albums that will treat those better who like early morning music to sound peacefully quiet. Also, this week, a lot of returning names to the Jazz Picks column, returning with the same kind of strong effort that got them mentioned previously. Let’s begin…
David Weiss, When Words Fail: It’s kind of crazy thinking about the recent projects that trumpeter Weiss has been running lately. He’s the guy behind the excellent The Cookers reboot, his Endangered Species embrace of the music of Wayne Shorter was pretty amazing, and then there’s his Point of Departure which is a past eMusic Pick of the Week. He’s back now with another solid effort, this time a sextet of all-stars that includes Myron Walden on Marcus Strickland on alto & tenor sax, Xavier Davis on piano, Dwayne Burno on bass, and E.J. Strickland on drums. Straight-ahead tunes, but expressed in a way that has them persistently wavering at the borders. Little things, like the strangely alluring harmonics on “Loss,” the undercurrent of tension on “Lullaby for a Lonely Child,” the intriguingly haphazard recitation of melody on the title-track and the way it suddenly ratchets up the volume… all these things, and more, create abstractions and differentiation to what otherwise would be a straight-ahead modern post-bop set. Just stellar. Pick of the Week.
JC Sanford Orchestra, Views From the Inside: Strangely appealing album from Sanford’s 15-piece orchestra, who are clearly not beholden to any one particular music influence. What’s most intriguing about that, however, isn’t that it hits upon several themes, but in the way that they reveal themselves one after the other without ever showing the seams that bind them together. A straight jazz orchestra section might lead into a classical interlude which, in turn, leads into a section with a heavy rock influence, and all the while, it’s a mystery of where actually the lines of demarcation between the influences exist. It’s the kind of thing that keeps listeners on their toes, and leads to hitting the play button again and starting again from the top the moment the album ends… just to hear what might’ve been missed on the previous listen. Featuring Will Martina on cello, Jacob Garchik on accordion, Taylor Haskins and Matt Hollman on both trumpet and flugelhorn, and Satoshi Takeishi on percussion. A recording where Sanford’s reach was achieved by his grasp. Highly Recommended.
Orrin Evans’ Captain Black Big Band, Mother’s Touch: Excellent big band release, and the first studio album by Evans’ Captain Black Big Band. Boisterous, almost mad with enthusiasm at times between the solos and group efforts, there’s plenty of huge sounds and expansive views. But the most amazing quality of this album is when Evans scales things down for quiet interludes on piano. One would expect that in the aftermath of the big band’s full-on assault, Evans would sound tiny and brittle… and yet he is no less evocative than when the big band slams its foot down on the gas pedal. That’s the kind of resonance that Evans brings to the table, and it’s why if you see his name on any particular recording, you should pretty much just scoop it up. This strong album ends on a strong note with “Prayer for Columbine.” Recommended.
Jamie Saft, Steve Swallow & Bobby Previte, The New Standard: It’s kind of strange using the phrase “straight-forward” to any project experimental artist Saft is involved with, but on this solid trio outing, his piano takes a clear jazz path, joined in a trio by all-stars bassist Steve Swallow on bass and drummer Bobby Previte. Saft switches between piano and organ on this set, with the former providing tunes rooted in the blues and the latter adding a bit more soulfulness… but all of album tracks emitting a pleasant warmth and a friendly demeanor. Personally, I almost always prefer to hear piano over organ, but hearing the trio just drift so beautifully on “Clearing,” it has me wanting this trio to head back into the recording studio and chain Saft to that organ. There’s a charming simplicity to this music that has me remindful of some of the mystical sessions, like the Dreamers and Alhambra Love Songs, on John Zorn’s Tzadik label.
Peregrinos, Perigrinos: Nifty Chilean jazz session from the duo of guitarist Raimundo Santander and drummer Rodrigo Recabarren (with a guest spot from alto saxophonist Joshua Kwassman). Breezy tunes with rich rhythmic attacks. That combination of tunefulness and kinetic motion is a potent thing. Find of the Week.
Reggie Padilla, They Come and They Go: Solid post-bop session from saxophonist Padilla, who brings a full sound to complement his lyrical touch. A quartet session that rounds out with pianist Romain Collin, drummer Abe Lagrimas Jr. and bassist Shawn Conley, who, I just realized as I type this, comprise a new trio calling themselves The North, a recent eMusic Jazz Pick. Padilla experiences no difficulty fitting in with the crowd, and offers up a fresh set of original tunes.
Elan Mehler, Early Sunday Morning: Charismatic solo piano session from Elan Mehler, who maintains a steady peacefulness throughout the album, while tinkering with subtlety and nuance to provide the tiniest fireworks to brighten things up a bit. Some originals, some standards, and all of it beautiful.
Fractal Quintet, Precipieces: Engaging indie pop-jazz fusion album from this sextet (who also have a bevy of guests sit in). Led by guitarist Libby Roach (who adds some vocals here and there) and featuring the keys of Andrew Oliver (of Tunnel Six). Sort of a hodgepodge of influences… some rock, some pop, some samba, some jazz, some soul… and the way it all blends together with varying ratios is what gives this album a certain intrigue. That, and a tunefulness that makes for easy connections.
Espen Rud, Ukjend By: Each new release by Norwegian drummer Rud brings a delightful little surprise. This time around, he leads a nonet, heavy on the saxophones, and adds the writings of Stein Versto and Brynjulf Bjørklid as vocal arrangements. Some tracks take the Nordic path of moodiness and melancholy, but others, like the chipper “Venn,” swing happily away.
Kim 3, What You Hear Is What You Hear: Fun and fascinating release by the guitar/saxophone/drums trio. Almost enough indie-rock ingredients to negate this as a jazz rec, but with music that is as absorbing as this, that’s kind of a small consideration. The trio seems perpetually to change its mind within moments of settling in with a melody or rhythmic approach, switching things up in a way that is abrupt but not a bit unpleasant. Nice mix of up-tempo rocking pieces and moody tranquility.
Ralph Bowen, Standard Deviation: Strong saxophone-led session from tenor man Bowen, who brings plenty of heat on this straight-ahead session. The up-tempo tunes are where to find the fireworks on this solid outing, though the genial warmth he emits on “You Don’t Know What Love Is” has me wishing maybe he’d slowed things down a bit more. If you’re looking for a decent saxophone jazz recording, you can’t go wrong here. The quartet is rounded out by drummer Donald Edwards, pianist Bill O’Connell, and bassist Kenny Davis.
T.R.E. & Stefano Battaglia, Horo: Compelling minimalist set from pianists Stefano Battaglia and Alessandro Giachero, bassist Stefano Risso, and drummer Marco Zanoli. It’s what it would sound like if ECM’s Manfred Eicher produced a field recording of an autumn evening in the countryside. The stiff cool breeze sending leaves rustling about, tiny sounds emitting from the darkness, a faint chill of winter and the swaths of cozy light from windows and the fireplaces on their opposite side, and the moon, quiet and still in a starry sky.
Ernie Watts Quartet, A Simple Truth: Jazz vet Ernie Watts has a new one out. It’s been a creatively productive time for him lately, between his excellent 2011 release Oasis and his collaborations with pianist Kurt Elling. He returns with a new quartet for a set of straight-ahead tunes bounded on either side by jazz orchestra pieces. A few of the tunes stray a bit too close to the contemporary jazz line, but Watts’ sound is always sufficiently burly as to let anything get too smooth and unruffled. Much in that way that Dexter Gordon could bring an innate lyricism to sometimes brash music, Watts’ saxophone displays that same characteristic. Good stuff.
Cene Resnik Quartet, From the Sky: This recording does a remarkable job of capturing the electricity that comes from the spontaneity of live performance. A quartet of tenor saxophonist Resnik, violinst Emanuele Parrini, bassist Giovanni Maier, and drummer Aljosa Jeric, it harkens back to the wildly expressive creativity of the Leroy Jenkins Revolutionary Ensemble. Released on the Clean Feed label, which will give many of you some further indication of what to expect on this thrilling album.
Torbjorn Omalm,Tih: Relaxing trio album from guitarist Omalm, who also doubles on kantele. Elements of Jazz and elements of Folk, and rather than mix them up, songs sound like the genres are in a perpetual struggle over which will be the dominant force. It lends peaceful music a very subtle, and very different, kind of tension.
Paul Tynan & Aaron Lington, Bicoastal Collective: Chapter 4: A real old-school sound on this one, with the B3 organ of Tony Genge as the lynchpin. Trumpeter Paul Tynan and bari saxophonist Aaron Lington alternate hot and cold temps with their solos over the top. Guitarist Jake Hanlon and drummer Terry O’Mahoney snap right into place with Genge’s action, and work just fine as a trio unit when the wind instruments lay out. Some genuine warmth and liveliness on this solid recording.
Theo Croker, Afrophysicist: A rambling album with a wide horizon line, trumpeter Croker somehow keeps it all corralled, and offers up a rather entertaining release. Some soul jazz, some funk, some mainstream, and some tunes that sort of float in between those spaces. At its core, Croker leads a sextet that includes drummer Karriem Riggins and guitarist David Gilmore, but also brings in some exciting guests… vibraphonist Stefon Harris, vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater, and trumpeter Roy Hargrove. This is a strange album, but it’s got real personality, which counts for a lot.
Hijaz, Nahadin: A quartet of oud, piano, bass, and percussion, bringing together Arabic and Mediterranean musics and Jazz. Well-crafted melodies start things out, but are typically just the launching points for improvisation. Absorbing music, to be sure.
Bobby Selvaggio, Short Stories: Nice straight ahead session from alto saxophonist Selvaggio. Backed by a quartet featuring pianist Aaron Goldberg, they toe the line on a modern post-bop set of tunes. Goldberg adds some nice harmonic washes at times, and Selvaggio can kick out a decent melody. Nothing groundbreaking here, but certainly likable.
Jon Delaney, Distance: Debut release from guitarist Delaney. Gypsy jazz session, some originals, some covers. A quartet of guitar, rhythm guitar, accordion and double bass. Nothing that knocked me over, but I found the recording rather personable and wanted to get in a quick mention.