New Jazz This Week: Matthew Halsall, Klokkeblomst, Jex Saarelaht

Dave Sumner

By Dave Sumner

on 06.18.14 in News

Clearly the heat of the onrushing Summer season is making artists and labels hesitant to release new albums, because like last week, there isn’t a whole heck of a lot on the new release bins this week. That said, I’ve found some things that should tide you over just fine. Most typical of this week’s releases has to be how lively and fun this music is. Whether get-up-and-party raucous or quieter expressions that consist of all kinds of conversational energy, this is a week where music equals motion. Let’s begin…

Matthew Halsall & the Gondwana Orchestra, When the World Was One: Trumpeter Halsall’s creative evolution continues on his newest release. Earlier albums had him presenting a smaller outfit and a more intimate sound, strongly reminiscent of late night clubs and Miles Davis cool modal approach. But after a couple such albums, he’s begun moving more toward an updated spiritual jazz sound and widening the sonic expanse of his music. His newest really brings that change into focus. Bringing back some regulars from past albums, like saxophonist Nat Birchall, bassist Gavin Barras, and harpist Rachel Gladwin, he also adds to the mix pianist Taz Modi, flautist Lisa Mallett, drummer Luke Flowers (of the Cinematic Orchestra), and, most exciting, the koto of Keiko Kitamura. And even though the breadth of this music is much wider, presenting a much bigger sound than past recordings, there still remains an unmistakable intimacy to these songs, as they shift between calm surges of intensity and languidly drifting passages. Just plain beautiful music. Pick of the Week.

Klokkeblomst, Romantiker: The Danish trio of saxophonist Anders Banke, bassist Peter Danstrup, and drummer Anders Provis return with their sophomore release, and it’s just as curious as their first. It’s music that seems perpetually in transition… sometimes seeming to manifest as folk music, sometimes as modern avant-garde, sometimes as Nordic jazz serenity, and other times in such a state of flux that any or none of those categories might apply. It’s that the music is expressed with a patient thoughtfulness that is the quality that caps this album’s success.

Jex Saarelaht Trio, Liminal: Nifty conversational tone to the new release by pianist Saarelaht, this time with a trio comprised of bassist Philip Rex and drummer Niko Schauble. The highlight are the rhythmic deliveries, which resonate quite nicely whether at an up-tempo chatter or a slow refrain of dialog. All original tracks, fits in nicely with the straight-ahead modern scene. A track like “Then Again” strays away from jazz center toward an indie-rock thing, but nothing that would crack the album’s cohesiveness. It’s also a seriously enjoyable tune.

Itamar Borochov, Outset: Absorbing debut from trumpeter Borochov, who delivers some unconventional sounds in a very unaggressive manner. Several tracks possess a post-bop approach that flirts with a modern avant-garde angularity, but the music is provided with such an appealing casualness that it’s quite easy to connect with it. Sometimes a Middle-East influence comes out, but nothing so much that would get this filed under a World Jazz category, and sometimes the band sets to swing, but nothing that would get this album filed under the straight-ahead category. A solid trumpet-led recording from a quartet rounded out by Hagai Amir on alto sax, bassist Avri Borochov, and drummer Aviv Cohen. A promising debut, to be sure.

Hiromi, Alive: Energetic new release from the trio of pianist Hiromi, bassist Anthony Jackson, and drummer Simon Phillips. A modern piano trio recording that emits a strong pop music vibe… a quality that lends these catchy songs all kinds of personality. Well-crafted melodies and rhythmic constructs that offer up all kinds of energy and motion. When they do slow things down, as they do on the serene “Firefly” and the bluesy “Spirit,” the music grows no less infectious. A fun recording.

Joshua Redman, Trio Live: A new album from saxophonist Redman, culled from two live sets… a 2009 NYC concert and a 2013 performance at Washington’s Blues Alley. Matt Penman drums on the former, and Gregory Hutchinson is on drums for the latter performance, while Matt Penman mans the bass on both sessions. Some standards, some originals, and an interesting cover of Led Zeppelin’s “The Ocean.” Redman is in strong form for these performances, and shows why he’s one of the premier attractions on the jazz scene.

L’ame des Poetes, Interview Hommage a Breal Brassens et Ferre: There is something terribly compelling about the recordings of L’ame des Poetes. A trio of guitarist Fabien Debryse, bassist Jean-Louis Rassinfosse, and saxophonist Pierre Vaiana, they’ve focused their attentions to French chanson (with a detour to the Belgian variety on their last recording). On their newest, it’s the chanson of chanson Brel, Brassens and Ferré. It’s the conversational interplay between the trio members that reflects the most arresting aspect of their music, with the added bonus that most tracks have a catchiness that seems to belie their intricacy of their performance. Beautiful stuff.

Patrick Breiner’s Double Double, Mileage: Nice improv set from tenor saxophonist Breiner, who works with two bassists on this session (Adam Hopkins and Will McEvoy) and drummer Flin van Hemmen, too. Easily the most appealing aspect of this recording is the way in which Breiner’s saxophone volatility meshes with the flowing passages of bass arco… it creates a brooding intensity that is both fearful and strangely mesmerizing. On final track “Newark,” the pairing of bells with Breiner’s restrained phrasing, after all that had come before, is a lovely, almost peaceful way to end an avant-garde recording.

Keith Jarrett & Charlie Haden, Last Dance: Originating from the same sessions that produced the 2010 release Jasmine, jazz giants, bassist Charlie Haden and pianist Keith Jarrett perform an intimate set of jazz standards. Recorded in Jarrett’s home studio, it’s two pros finding new life for old songs, and interacting with a relaxed conversational tone that makes for an enjoyable listen. The soulful rendition of “It Might As Well Be Spring” is particularly nice.

Oskar Stenmark, Piatruba: Enjoyable set from the trio of Stenmark (on flugelhorn), Robin Skarin (on grand piano), and Linus Fredin (on double bass). Cool blue tunes that softly fill an empty room with warmth and intimacy. A little bass arco here and there adds some nice darkness to the bright tones, and piano adds some elegance to the accompaniment. Good stuff.

Jane Bunnett & Maqueque, Jane Bunnet & Maqueque: Plenty of moments on this recording that are simply gorgeous. This contemporary jazz recording by soprano saxophonist & flautist Bunnett dives into the deep end of Cuban music and really delivers. Rich with vocal accompaniment, rhythmic textures, and lovely melodies. Joining Bunnett are drummer Yissy Garcia, percussionist Dayme, pianist Danae, guitarist (and other strings) Yusa, and Magdelys on batas and congas. I kept thinking this album might wear thin on me, but that’s just not happening. Easy enough to shirk from contemporary jazz, but this album has such a warm, exciting personality that it’s way easy to buy in.

Leon Boykins, Interval Songs: Likable debut by bassist Boykins. A trio session (joined by drummer Will Clark and tenor saxophonist Paul Jones), it’s a set of straight-ahead tunes that brings a nice liveliness to the table. Some songs display some quirkiness, especially in the playfulness with tempos. Opening track “Guerrilla Activity” digs into a nifty groove, and it would’ve been nice to hear a bit more of that on this recording. That aside, a promising debut.

Barbara Morrison, I Love You, Yes I Do: Morrison’s voice has all kinds of feelings, and whether the song is about good times, grey skies or heartbreak, the blues come through loud and clear. Morrison is joined by Houston Person on tenor sax, Stuart Elster on piano, Richard Simon on bass, and Lee Spath on drums on this set of straight-ahead tunes. Pretty hard not to find something to like here.

Adam Schroeder, Let’s: Enjoyable quartet session from bari saxophonist Schroeder, who leads a quartet that includes Anthony Wilson on guitar, John Clayton on bass, and Jeff Hamilton on drums. Straight-ahead tunes that move along lightly, which is a nice quality for a recording to have that features the potentially heavy presence of baritone sax.