No real superstar albums this week, but a strong cast of recordings that elevate this week’s new releases over past weeks via a consistent level of excellence, including several that prove previous solid releases were no fluke. Let’s begin…
Hans Feigenwinter ZINC, Whim of Fate: Incredibly vibrant trio set by pianist Feigenwinter, trombonist Andreas Tschopp, and Domenic Landolf on tenor & soprano saxes. The trio develops an expansive sound despite their small numbers, spurred on primarily by a lucid tunefulness that absolutely soars, with rhythms that buffet melodies to even further heights. Slower pieces apply an introspective touch, yet beam with a sanguine brightness. The up-tempo tunes bubble with cheerful buoyancy that is positively addictive. Pick of the Week.
Joris Roelofs Trio, Aliens Deliberating: Exciting trio session led by bass clarinetist Roelofs, along with bassist Matt Penman and drummer Ted Poor. Switches between interludes of deep contemplation and wild expressiveness. Avant-garde, but with blues and jazz roots to situate the recording in that In/Out category typified by classics like Dolphy’s Out to Lunch. Worth noting that Roelofs in a member of the excellent Jesse van Ruller Chambertones Trio. A strong recording. Highly Recommended.
Tobias Meinhart Quartet, In Between: Excellent quartet session led by Meinhart on tenor & soprano saxes. Tunes that shift between bop and modern with a nifty dexterity, and bound together in a way that makes it easy to overlook that the shift ever happened in the first place. A quiet ambiance to all the tunes, even those that chart an upbeat path… the quartet’s calm patience in all instances reveals a quiet confidence that allows them to say more with less. The quartet is rounded out by pianist Lorenz Kellhuber, bassist Rocky Knauer, and drummer Gabriel Hahn. Nothing earth-shattering or revolutionary, just music delivered with an exquisite touch. Recommended.
Ross Hammond, Humanity Suite: Guitarist Hammond’s sound is an updated jazz-rock fusion, heavier on the latter of those qualities, and with a splash of 1970s psych-jazz thrown in for good measure. But with frequent collaborator Vinny Golia’s personal approach on reeds, the jazz part of the equation gets nailed down but good. Recorded live at the Crocker Art Museum, plenty of that live performance electricity comes through strong. Hammond’s sextet is rounded out by Catherine Sikora on tenor sax (a good name to know for improve, by the way), Clifford Childers on trombone, Kerry Kashiwagi on bass, and Dax Compice working the drums and percussion. And if this album floats your boat, definitely check out Hammond’s last studio recording, the excellent 2013 release Cathedrals.
Bobby Avey, Authority Melts From Me: I’m still not sure what to make of this album, despite returning to it pretty frequently. Pianist Avey follows up on his solo debut with a project that runs with rhythms based on Haitian vodou drumming. The music seems constructed around several conversations held concurrently, which can be just as distracting as immersive. But it’s not just about the rhythms, and when the din breaks and the music coalesces into tiny melodic interludes of grace, it’s the kind of moment that should be treasured. It’s a quintet session that includes a strong cast of saxophonist Miguel Zenon, guitarist Ben Monder, bassist Thomson Kneeland, and drummer Jordan Perlson. I’m not recommending this album so much as strongly urging that you not overlook this intriguing release.
Xan Campos, Ectropia: New release from pianist Xan Campos’s trio, and it’s no less exciting than his strong 2011 recording Orixe Cero. Situated firmly in modern jazz piano territory, Campos matches well-crafted melodies with a whirlwind of rhythmic activity, an effect that lingers even when the trio slows things down for an introspective piece. Fans of Brad Mehldau looking to branch out a bit should give this one a listen. One of those under-the-radar musicians who really should be receiving more notice.
1982, A/B: Interesting new release by the trio of Nils Økland (Hardanger fiddles, violin), Sigbjørn Apeland (harmonium, piano) and Øyvind Skarbø (drums, percussion). Previous recordings have developed a personable sound of chamber music and Nordic jazz in an improvisational setting. This time around, they add a bevy of wind instruments on the 18+ minute opening track (the “A” side), and despite the crowded room, the music retains the spacious ambiance of past recordings. Dense clouds of dissonance transition into a smattering of fluttering notes and expansive drones, resulting in early-morning music that has just enough going on to accelerate the waking process. The “B” side of the album has the artists scaling back to a trio format, with no drop-off to the album’s evocative effect.
Tomasz Licak-Radek Wosko Quartet, Entrails United: Strong debut from the quartet led by saxophonist Licak and drummer Wosko (and rounded out by the piano of Carl Winther and bassist Martin Buhl). Straight-ahead post-bop, with an emphasis on the lyrical aspects of each composition. For a debut album, it’s a pretty strong statement, though for the follow-up, I’d be interested to hear them stretch out a bit. But that aside, both the solos and group interplay go off without a hitch, and the tunes are just plain enjoyable. The song “East River” is exceptional, reminiscent of Clifford Jordan’s Magic Triangle work from the 70s.
Sonny Rollins, Road Show Vol. 3: The third installment of live performances from jazz legend, saxophonist Sonny Rollins. First couple of tracks border on the tedious, but the second half of the disc more than compensates, as Rollins lets loose for some pretty thrilling moments. Familiar names like Bob Cranshaw, Bobby Broom, Victor Lewis, Peter Bernstein, and Kobie Watkins are included amongst the personnel. I’m sure current fans of Rollins will enjoy this, though I’d direct newbies to instead check out earlier Rollins releases like The Bridge or A Night at the Village Vanguard as a better place to start.
Monocled Man, Southern Drawl: Sonically intense session on Monocled Man’s debut. A trio of trumpeter Rory Simmons, guitarist Chris Montague, and drummer Jon Scott, all three are involved in genre-defying groups like Fringe Magnetic, Threads Orchestra, and Kairos Quartet. The combination of trumpet blasts and electronic effects is reminiscent of Cuong Vu’s more incendiary works, though the guitar-drum combo of Montague & Scott keeps gives the music a harder edge and prevents it from getting too atmospheric. Challenging music, yes, but the kind where the solution is to simply sit back and experience it.
Graham Collier, Luminosity: The Last Suites: Recorded by composer Collier’s 14-piece big band The Jazz Ensemble following his passing. Typifying Collier’s inventive work, these pieces move with the grace of smoke trails, and sometimes burn with the intensity of the fire that generates them. The second piece, title-track “Luminosity,” is sort of epic with all of its twists and turns. Music that I get anxious to return to at any free moment.
Roscoe Mitchell, Conversations 2: Part two of this trio collaboration of jazz legend Roscoe Mitchell (on reeds), modern superstar Craig Taborn (on piano), and newcomer Kikanju Baku (on drums & percussion). As I stated on the Part 1 release… “It’s a concoction that threatens to cause tangled wires amongst the senses and create eerily unfamiliar stimuli, as if sitting alone in a large room, ear pressed to a late-night radio broadcast of alien transmissions. The trio paint an avant-garde tapestry overwhelming to take in all at once, challenging from one moment to the next. And ridiculously thrilling. So over-the-top expressive as to be accessible to the masses, impenetrable to all. As a creative endeavor, outstanding. As a musical listening piece, I suggest everyone give it a try.” Part 2? Sames, though I’m leaning toward the opinion that Part 2 is a little less maniacal. That, however, could be a case of acclimation to the insanity.
Viola Hammer, Close Up: Congenial modern piano trio recording, led by pianist Hammer. Strong, pretty melodies, multifaceted rhythms, and development that keeps its forward momentum even as it expands outward, providing a sense of song structure even when it breaks free from those conventions. Good stuff.
pommelHORSE, Winter Madness: This Swiss quintet creates an intoxicating blend of Nordic jazz and post-rock, with thick melodies carried along the backs of thicker rhythms and blanketed in electronic effects. Their self-titled 2012 release was more on the moodier side than their new one, but they hit the soft spot between contemplative reveries and jamming out. Modern jazz for the Radiohead fan.
Arturo O’Farrill & the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra, The Offense of the Drum: Strong big band release from O’Farrill, who illustrates just how diverse the sound that is generally categorized as Latin Jazz. Featuring some heavy hitters like Vijay Iyer, Donald Harrison, Gregg August, Jason Lindner, David DeJesus, and Chad Lefkowitz-Brown, the ensembles Big Sound never gets in the way of lyrical expressions, nor does it prevent the music from up and soaring.
Murat Cevik’s Ararat Quintet, Aksak Saat: Something a little different. Flutist Cevik incorporates his Anatolian background into a jazz fusion recording, resulting in music that has a fluid dance-like motion while retaining the prog-like mathematical precision of a modern fusion recording. Strong folk music presence in that generalized World Jazz sense. Categories aside, it has some captivating moments. Adding further intrigue, along with drums, electric guitar, and electric bass, Cevik balances his airy flute with Andreas Ambuhl’s bass clarinet.