New Jazz This Week: Diego Barber, Craig Taborn, Yard Byard and More

Dave Sumner

By Dave Sumner

on 03.19.14 in News

With a few exceptions, this week’s new Jazz releases will make the old-school fan base happy. Plenty of music that, while of the present day, draws its inspirations from the genre’s roots. That said, we’ve got a couple recommendations here that will very much appeal to those who prefer their music looking forward, with no idea where the rear-view mirror is.

Diego Barber, Tales: A duo collaboration between classical guitarist Diego Barber and pianist Craig Taborn, two musicians who bring an extraordinary inventiveness to their varied projects. Barber burst onto the scene with his 2008 debut Calima,, which brought an airy wide-open sound to a thick fog of modern post-bop, and since then has continued to experiment, up to and including his previous release, a collaboration with laptop phenom Hugo Cipres. On his current release, Barber and Taborn offer up a sprawling epic in four parts, music with a cerebral punch via the intricacy of the patterns of their interplay, while also forging a mainline straight to the heart via the sheer beauty of the music presented. One of the best things I’ve heard all year. Pick of the Week.

Nelda Swiggett Stringtet, Blue-Eyed Painted Lady: Gorgeous jazz-with-strings recording by pianist & vocalist Swiggett, who offers a set of tunes with a warm electricity and a fluidity of motion that just carries the listener along. Along with her standing trio of drummer Byron Vannoy and bassist Chris Symer, Swigget recruited a cellist and violist from the Seattle Symphony, and that pairing results in some beautiful melodies getting lofted up to a high plateau via the additional harmonic options. Swiggett’s vocal delivery is satisfyingly to-the-point, and behaves only as one ingredient, equal to all others in this very beautiful recording. Highly Recommended.

Yard Byard, The Jaki Byard Project: Inch by Inch: Delightful recording by a quintet of musicians performing the music of the late great Jaki Byard, and who all either studied and/or performed with the pianist. Byard’s music was one in which first (and second) blush impressions would indicate a straight-ahead style, but further listens revealed compositional eccentricities and improvisational quirks that often differentiated him from the pack. This became increasingly evident with some of his late ’60s recordings on the Prestige label, when he’d collaborate with names like Rahsaan Roland Kirk and David Izenzon. The “Yard Byard” quintet reflects those qualities beautifully, displaying an emotional depth and light-hearted euphoria both. That quintet: Jamie Baum on flutes, Adam Kolker on reeds, Jerome Harris on guitar, Ugonna Okegwo on bass, and George Schuller on drums. Recommended.

Clovis Nicolas, Nine Stories: Nice session led by bassist Clovis, who leads a sextet through a series of straight-ahead tunes. Many go with a hard bop approach, some nice swing, some pleasant groove, lots of heat. But a few of the tracks take on the mannerisms of modern straight-ahead, leading to strong melodies being allowed to roam further from home. These instances, however, still provide plenty to appeal to the old-school crowd. “Thon’s Tea” is a good example of this, with its simmering intensity, its run-and-leap development, and its bringing-it-back-home solos. Mostly originals, but a cover of Kenny Dorham’s “None Shall Wander,” Sonny Rollins’ “The Bridge,” and a swinging version of “You and the Night and the Music” provide some interesting moments. But the originals are where this ensemble thrives.

Brian Charette, Square One: New release from organist Charette, who’s developing into one of the more exciting musicians on his instrument. This trio session with guitarist Yotam Silberstein and drummer Mark Ferber provides a nice, modern lyricism to an old-school sound, and is likely to appeal to both old- and new-school fans. “Three for Martina” is emblematic of Charette’s ability to lay down a heavy storyline with a light touch. Charette is a good name to keep aware of, both for his previous albums, like the interesting prior release Music for Organ Sextette, as well as guest appearances on the recordings of other musicians.

Lena Bloch, Feathery: Intriguing debut from saxophonist Bloch, who brings an updated voice to a classic cool-blue sound. Moody even when it swings, there is a burgeoning intensity to much of this music that is quite appealing. Some comparison to Tristano-Marsh could be drawn, not unfairly, but this album has a presence very much situated in the present day. Good stuff.

Colin Vallon, Le Vent: Sophomore release on ECM Records by Vallon, whose 2011 release Rruga was one of the year’ best. Vallon brings on a new drummer for this session, replacing long-time collaborator Samuel Rohrer with Julian Sartorius, a change that seems to have affected a wider diversity of expression in the trio setting, but perhaps costs the trio a bit of its focus. Le Vent is a nice enough album, and like its predecessor, you’re gonna get plenty of serenity… some of it sublime, some of it uneasy. But Le Vent lacks the presence of Rruga, a peaceful album that emanated a distant, but powerful intensity.

Kartet, Grand Laps: Celebrating 25 years together (with a bit of change in personnel for their newest album), the Kartet ensemble works a modern post-bop version of the inside-out seam of jazz first popularized by seminal works like Eric Dolphy’s Out to Lunch and Larry Young’s Unity, music that would leave a straight-ahead path for avant-garde and free moments of expression. Their newest is way more “out” than “in,” even when taken in the context of a loosely structured post-bop environment, but that doesn’t mean they discard a general tunefulness that is essential the further one leaves Jazz center. A track like “Pass Pass” displays their understanding of that element, as does the strange melodic beauty of “I.E.S.”

GoGo Penguin, v2.0: The sophomore release from this UK piano trio, whose mix of influences and method of expression, arguably, shift this discussion out of Jazz and into more of a post-rock arena. While their debut got plenty of fanfare, it seemed to lack some necessary substance; pretty melodies and an overactive rhythm section just wasn’t cutting it. On their newest, they’ve found that substance, retaining the strong melodic treatment, but adding some real nuance to an up-tempo rhythmic attack that really rounds the music out. The way bassist Nick Blacka’s veers suddenly in opposite directions from pianist Illingworth on “Murmuration” is the first evidence that the trio has stepped up to the next plateau, and little differences like that throughout reflect a big change. Fans of the Neil Cowley Trio should probably pause and listen here.

Bjorn Lucker Aquarian Jazz Ensemble, Solidaire/Solitaire: Enjoyable quintet session led by drummer Lucker, who finds ways to bring some nice contemplative moments to what is, overall, an upbeat straight-ahead session. Strong group interplay and strong solos throughout. A little subbing for piano on Rhodes for some tunes, which doesn’t much alter the trajectory of this nifty recording.