The slow days of summer continue in the new releases bin, but that’s just about the numbers. Solid music still emerges day after day. This week is a remarkably diverse group of albums, each one representing different subsets of the modern jazz landscape. It’s a good opportunity to find something in your strike zone while also, perhaps, venturing into areas that remain to be explored. Let’s begin…
Jason Adasiewicz’s Sun Rooms, From the Region: Third release from vibraphonist Adasiewicz’s Sun Rooms unit, and it’s no less amazing than its predecessors. There is a mesmerizing quality to the way in which this music whips about with a dramatic, yet fluid motion, maintaining a unison that keeps the trio in tight. Mike Reed returns on drums, but longtime bassist Nate McBride has moved on and is replaced by The Thing’s Ingebrigt Håker-Flaten. Adasiewicz develops a glittering beauty on vibes, which provides some lovely contrast to the music’s challenging and inventive expressions. Right at the top of his generation on vibes. I highly recommend scooping up his previous releases, too. Pick of the Week.
Jason Steele’s Messenger Collective, Vol. 1: Wirewalker: Music inspired by and interpreted from Philippe Petit’s 1974 tightrope walk between NYC’s Twin Towers. Music with a strong chamber presence that sometimes breaks into a Frisellian serenity. The quartet of guitarist Steele, trumpeter James Davis, violinist Emi Tanabe and bassist Douglas Johnson construct an intoxicating series of vignettes, like chapters in a story, which play out with a cinematic series of transformations. Some seriously gorgeous moments here, and one of those albums likely to fly under the radar.
Gordon Lee & Mel Brown Septet, Tuesday Night: The album’s title refers to the weekly show this septet has been performing at Portland’s Jimmy Mak’s club since 1998, and the music displays both the chemistry developed over that time as well as the vivid energy of being there for the performance. Music that embraces the hard bop spirit of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers even during those moments when it channels a tune through a modern post-bop perspective. Along with pianist & composer and ensemble leader (and drummer) Lee, the septet rounds out with alto saxophonist John Nastos, trumpeter Derek Sims, tenor saxophonist Renato Caranto, trombonist Stan Bock and bassist Andre St. James.
Cyrille Aimee, It’s a Good Day: Seriously charming new release by vocalist Aimee, who offers up some hot jazz, some ballads, and some folk and some pop. Aimee contributes a few nifty originals to the session, as well as covers of Duke Ellington, Peggy Lee, and Oscar Pettiford. Joined by three guitarists (Michael Valeanu, Adrien Moignard, Guilherme Monteiro), bassist Sam Anning and Rajiv Jayaweera on drums, this music’s chipper personality is matched by an off-the-cuff impression that lends this active music a personable tone. For an alternate view of Aimee’s talents, I recommend giving her excellent contribution to the fun recording by the Chicago Jazz Orchestra, Burstin’ Out.
Bobby Broom, My Shining Hour: Following on the heels of his solid 2012 release Upper West Side Story, his first album of all original compositions, guitarist Broom returns to the Great American Songbook for his newest release. Joined by bassist Dennis Carroll and drummer Makaya McCraven, this session’s intimacy is matched by its warmth. There is an old-school feel to this recording, both in terms of the expression of the music and its sonic qualities… a sense of Being There. The rendition of “Sweet and Lovely” has a personable charm to the way it sings out the melody, but the title-track “My Shining Hour,” with its slow build from a peaceful state to an active one is the album’s highlight. Broom has consistently displayed a tasteful craftsmanship and a laid-back style, which is a powerful combination even though it’s often subtly expressed.
Greg Reitan, Post No Bills: A real spark to this session from the long-time trio of pianist Greg Reitan, bassist Jack Daro, and drummer Dean Koba. Reitan includes two originals to the recording, though it’s some wonderful covers that gives this album its lift. Joe Sample’s “One Day I’ll Fly Away” is just gorgeous. There’s also renditions of songs by Horace Silver, Denny Zeitlin, Chick Corea and a couple standards, too. Bonus points for the cover of Keith Jarrett’s “Mourning of a Star.” As much attention is given to Jarrett’s ECM recordings, it’s nice to see someone giving some attention to Jarrett’s songbook from his Atlantic days, too. All in all, one of those piano trio recordings that a jazz fan really needs to add to the library.
Mike Marshall & Choro Famoso, Segunda Vez: A delightful session of choro, a Brazilian music that’s typically going to give you some active, spry rhythms and deft musicianship that knows how to thread a melody through the rhythmic banter. With Mike Marshall on mandolin, Colin Walker on a 7-string guitar, Andy Connell on soprano sax and clarinet, and Brian Rice on pandeiro. Fun music that can lay down a little bit of serenity, to boot.
JJ Wright, Inward Looking Outward: Happening debut from pianist Wright, who finds an incisive mix of soulful warmth and elegant precision. He’s joined on this trio set by bassist Ike Sturm and drummer Nate Wood. Speaking of drums, they seem to get situated at the front of the bandstand more often than not, which leads to some wistfulness to hear the piano and bass sections with more clarity. On the other hand, it does provide the bonus of some striking melodic passages when the sea of drums are parted. A few covers on the album, including a touching rendition of the Jon Brion/Charlie Kaufman tune “Little People” (the second time in recent memory of this song getting a new treatment, with Michael Wollny being the other recent Jazz Pick to give a take on this tune), as well as an absorbing rendition of Sufjan Steven’s “The Transfiguration” and the album’s only letdown, a cover of Phil Collins’ “Take Me Home.” The Collins original is a song so toxically saccharine it should come with a warning label. Wright does a serviceable job with it, but it really proves that others should just steer clear. That said, this doesn’t detract from what is an enjoyable and auspicious debut.
DIVA, A Swingin’ Life: The 15-piece big band, led by Sherrie Maricle, has the enviable task of shining the spotlight on all-star vocalists Nancy Wilson and Marlena Shaw. A traditional sound that swings and sparks with life. Definitely one for the old-school fans, but the kind of warmth generated by this recording is the kind of thing that feels good on the ears of any-school fans. Some familiar names like Anat Cohen, Tanya Darby, Nadje Noordhuis and Lisa Parrott among the ensemble personnel.
Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, OverTime: Music of Bob Brookmeyer: Originally the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra, then, as members moved on or passed away, the names changed until the current iteration Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. Honoring one of their own, the recently passed Bob Brookmeyer, the orchestra offers up big sounds that can swing on the turn of a dime. That music includes arrangements created just before Brookmeyer’s passing in 2011 as well as previously unheard Brookmeyer compositions from the Mel Lewis days, and also a rendition of “Skylark,” which earned Brookmeyer a Grammy. Some serious names on the personnel list, including saxophonists Billy Drewes, Gary Smulyan and Dick Oatts, pianist Jim McNeely, and Terell Stafford and Luis Bonilla on brass. Seriously vibrant music, as lively in spirit as it is professional in construction.
Steve Swallow, Ohad Talmor, Adam Nussbaum, Singular Curves: An oddly attractive lethargy to this music. The trio of tenor saxophonist Ohad Talmor, electric bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Adam Nussbaum establish a sleepy kind of cadence and then stick to it for the length of the recording. The highlights are when one of the trio adopts a faster speed and the contrast that ensues between the soloist and group dynamic.
Christoph Neuhaus Trio, Matter of Three: Nice straight-ahead guitar trio session. Guitarist Neuhaus, bassist Jens Loh, and drummer Axel Pape run through some standards and some originals, neither stretching too far out from the center of things. Well, except for track “Nicolette,” in which Neuhaus switches to acoustic guitar for some very nice effect. Shame he didn’t do more of that. But all in all, a nice option for jazz guitar fans.
Malte Schillers Red Balloon, Not So Happy: For his sophomore release, Schiller expands his large ensemble with the addition of a string trio, providing an additional layer of richness to the orchestral sound. It’s always an intriguing mix when a Big sound is imbued with occasional bouts of melancholia, creating a sense of vulnerability in something that typically sounds so formidable. Multi-reedist Charlotte Greve returns on the newest Red Balloon release, and sounds as good as ever. One of those names that I recommend following to other projects she’s contributed to.
Rodney Whitaker, When We Find Ourselves Alone: Nice straight-ahead set from bassist Whitaker, leading a quintet that possesses a sound bigger than their numbers might otherwise indicate. Plenty of personality to this recording, especially in the way tracks flow from first note to last and from song to song. Joining Whitaker are drummer Greg Hutchinson, pianist Bruce Barth, vocalist Rockelle Fortin and saxophonist Antonio Hart, who has a real lyrical turn on his soprano. Nice rendition of Max Roach’s “Freedom Day,” but title-track “When We Find Ourselves Alone” steals the show.
Collier & Dean, Sleek Buick: Real nice contemporary fusion recording, led out by vibraphonist Tom Collier, and also including some powerhouse names from the contemporary scene like Ernie Watts, Ted Poor, Alex Acuna and Don Grusin. Album starts out with a bluegrass ditty, with mandolinist Andy Leftwich spurring them on, then moves into more common territory. Songs have a nice motion to them, “Lettercollum/Paris” in particular, which is all kinds of likable. Typically not my cup of tea, per se, but for those who prefer the contemporary fusion sound, I’d definitely check this one out. I certainly enjoyed listening to it, so I’d imagine it would hold great appeal to those whose ears seek this sound out.
Wil Blades, Field Notes: Personable trio session with organist Blades, guitarist Jeff Parker and drummer Simon Lott. Some tracks are standard fare done well, but when the trio adopts an ethereal presence, the album reaches a new plateau, and those songs where Parker is able to stretch out a bit on guitar have the same effect on the album’s quality of life. Definitely worth a listen.
Rod McGaha, The Black Flower Project: Likable new release from McGaha, reflecting both the hard bop roots of his past and the contemporary jazz of his present. Nice heat to the up-tempo tracks, though there’s a couple vocal tracks that smolder with a stronger intensity.