Probably one of the slimmest drop of new jazz releases in 2014, so, of course, we’ve also got the strangest Pick of the Week yet, exceeding even that of John Ellis’s MOBRO from just the other week. But to balance out some of the stranger offerings from a younger generation of jazz musicians, we’ve got straight-ahead releases by two of Jazz’s greats… Jimmy Cobb and Lee Konitz, who both offer up live sets that will make both old- and new-school fans happy. Let’s begin…
Max Andrzejewski, Hutte und Chor: I’m still not sure what to make of this one. There’s drummer Andrzejewski’s Hutte quartet, consisting of himself, guitarist Tobias Hoffmann, bassist Andreas Lang, and saxophonist Johannes Schleiermacher. To this, he adds a five-part choir of vocalists that all behave as soloists… but together. It’s a fusion of modern post-bop, indie-rock, and theatre. Tempos range anywhere from incessantly spasmodic to cheerful jaunts through the park. Melodies can’t sit still and change their shape in the middle of an expression. Dramatic changes in scenery are balanced against a healthy sense of humor. This music is wild and thrilling and different and is overflowing with personality. I keep listening and listening and I’m still not sure what to make of it. But it makes me smile and the ensemble scores all kinds of points for pouring their heart into something so remarkably inventive and risky. Unbounded creativity. Pick of the Week.
Jimmy Cobb, The Original Mob: Solid line-up on jazz giant Jimmy Cobb’s new release on the Smoke Sessions record label, with a quartet that includes pianist Brad Mehldau, guitarist Peter Bernstein, and bassist John Webber. The Kind of Blue alum has collaborated with a entire wing of the Jazz Hall of Fame, so it’s a treat to hear how he works with newer generations of jazz musicians. Some standards, a few Cobb compositions, and one from each of the other musicians. As with all of these Smoke Sessions recordings, it’s straight-ahead jazz performed by strong players, offering up nothing but top-shelf jazz.
Lee Konitz, First Meeting: Jazz great Konitz is no less prolific than younger times, and it’s been especially nice the sheer amount of studio and live recordings he’s been a part of lately. The dimensions to his lyricism continue to become increasingly nuanced and expressive. This live set from a few years back at London’s Pizza Express has his alto & soprano saxes teamed up with pianist Dan Tepfer, bassist Michael Janisch, and drummer Jeff Williams. The set of standards is comprised of your usual suspects, but the unpredictability the quartet lends them in the live setting gives old songs a fresh breath of air. This isn’t my favorite recent release of Konitz’s, either live or studio, but he’s been kicking out so much quality music lately that I’m of the opinion that it’s worth scooping up everything he’s been releasing (or been a part of with someone else as the headliner) over the last few years.
Neil Cowley Trio, Touch and Flee: Cowley’s last release, The Face of Mount Molehill, is a tough act to follow. An album with some serious melodic depth, the addition of strings to the mix packed an emotional punch that wasn’t likely to be repeated. On their newest, and sans strings, Cowley discard the melodic focus and instead spends his time working the rhythmic angle. What it lacks in emotional value, it gains with a sense of fun and enthusiasm. This, and the way the occasional beautiful wash of harmonics bubbles up from the percussive surface, will give Cowley fans plenty to like here. Perhaps of interest, also, to Cowley fans will his participation on another new release, Ambient Jazz Ensemble, Suite Shop, a group that attempts to bring together the music of Brian Eno, Gil Evans, and Weather Report. It’s the kind of music that will get described as “jazzy.” It’s also pretty damn enjoyable.
Hellmuller-Sisera-Renold, Roots: Likable session from the trio of guitarist Franz Hellmuller, bassist Luca Sisera, and drummer Tony Renold. Jazz that shows its Blues colors loud and clear. Several of the go-to standards covered, but then also take a turn on Horace Silver’s “Peace”, (plus, one Hellmuller original thrown into the mix). Plenty here to like, though, personally, I’d recommend another recent Hellmuller release, Norsten, more strongly.
Frontton, Alternating Flows: A trio of woodwinds, percussion and turntables. Avant-garde jazz with huge infusions of electronics and effects. Some tracks don’t work as well as others, but there are times when their equation pulls off something kind of brilliant. Points for inventiveness. Something a little different. Some of you are looking for something like this.
Bernard Riche Trio, Double Je: Enjoyable trio session from drummer Riche, pianist Francois Bourassa and bassist Frederic Alarie. The ebb and flow of tempos, and the way melodies adapt to the changes, are the most appealing aspect of this recording. No one musician is relegated all the spotlight… plenty of space for nice solos from each trio member. Bourassa has plenty experience moving between jazz and chamber music, and that touch is apparent here, too. When Alarie comes in with some arco, as he does on “Osho,” the album is transported to a very beautiful place. Top to bottom, a solid recording.
Soundscape Big Band, Paisagens Sonoras: Nice balancing act by the Brazilian big band, who bring both contemporary and classic elements to the big band medium without risking alienating either the new- or old-school fans. Huge sound with an undeniable buoyancy. The arrangements really allow each of the textures and sonic layers room to breathe and come to light. Quite beautiful at times. Comparable, in many ways, to the Swiss Jazz Orchestra.
Jean-Philippe Gregoire, Sounds from the Delta: Guitarist Gregoire leads this (mostly) quartet date of (mostly) straight-ahead post-bop tunes. Part of the Paris scene, some of his tracks take on an alluring dreaminess reminiscent of fellow Parisians Olivier Boge and Nicolas Moreaux. These lovely, drifting interludes manifest on the quieter tunes, and while the upbeat tunes have a nice flavor to them, it’s when the group slows things down that they really shine.
Parc X Trio, PXT Live in NYC: Energetic modern piano trio session, with generous portion of indie-pop and rock to go along with the modern jazz. Melodies are quick and to the point, then shuttled away on some infectious grooves. Keyboards and some effects get into the mix, delivered with a nice touch. Interesting rendition of “Body and Soul.”
For Free Hands, Kaleidoscope Freedom: This quartet of woodwinds, guitars, bass, and drums channels the vague World-jazz of Oregon many times throughout this recording, especially when they slow things down a bit, and woodwinds flutter in the higher registers and the guitarist forgoes the electric option. At times, a strong Balkan influence emerges, especially when the quartet ramps up the volume, but nothing that threatens to crack the album’s cohesion. Some moments that had me thinking “meh,” but others, quite likable, that coaxed me into giving the album a mention.
Therianthrope, Therianthrope: A duo of Miles Shrewsbery on tabla & percussion and Dusty Brough on guitars, hitting on flamenco, jazz, and Indian classical. An album with some personality, and I just wanted to sneak in a quick mention of it before closing the column out.