The slow days of summer continue to see a dearth of new Jazz releases, but modern jazz continues to respond with a “so what,” with the proof being a very strong list of recommendations below… a few of which will deserve some attention in December as people reflect on the best of the year. Signifying nothing, I’m sure, but this week’s list has the odd coincidence of being dominated by piano trios and jazz orchestra projects. That’s it. Just thought I’d mention it. Now, let’s begin…
Noel Langley, Edentide: Outstanding debut from trumpeter Langley, who offers up an expansive perspective on a thrilling set of tunes. A large ensemble with a number of guests, and armed with a vast array of instruments (including some non-traditionals like mellophone, glockenspiel, zabumba, udu, tubax, French horn, and kitchen utensils), the music has the huge sound of jazz orchestra yet the warm intimacy of a peaceful world jazz recording. Dramatic harmonic surges changing course fluidly like currents in a wide river have to be considered the strong point of this album, which possesses no weak links in its near one-hour running time. An album that is quite stunning at times, and has a wide assortment of ways to accomplish it. Pick of the Week.
Jon Armstrong Jazz Orchestra, Farewell: Debut release from composer and saxophonist Armstrong, and featuring a bevy of strong players from the L.A. scene. Easily the most exciting aspect of this recording is the ebb and flow transitions between rich veins of rhythmic activity and the most delicate solos from the wind section. One of the albums where the ensemble doesn’t play it straight with straight-ahead music, creating a sense of something different in the midst of everything familiar. Amongst the ensemble, some familiar names to this column like Trevor Anderies, Daniel Rosenboom, Gary Fukushima, and Andrew Lessman. Plenty of big sounds on this recording, but often delivered with a patience that really draws out the emotional impact for all kinds of dividends.
Allegretti Friedlander Malaby, Stoddard Place: Delightful trio session from drummer Damian Allegretti, cellist Erik Friedlander, and tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby. A languorous recording that sometimes displays a controlled fury, it’s proof that a free jazz recording need not be an experience that forces the listener to the outer bounds of the conversation. Some terribly beautiful moments interspersed amongst the scattered sounds.
Stockton Helbing Quartet, Handprints: Lately, drummer Helbing has been carving out a niche for himself by getting creative with the contemporary jazz and fusion scene, taking an older style and giving it some updated treatment. On his newest, however, he shows that he’s no less crafty when he runs with something more in the area of modern post-bop. There’s a lyricism here that can sneak up on a listener… what sounds like standard material becomes something much more than that, slowly accreting until it fully reveals itself as something more than just standard stuff. Of course, there are tracks like the two-part “Lele’s Tune” which gets right to it, wielding a deft melodicism and inherent moodiness that should appeal greatly to Brad Mehldau fans. Speaking of talented pianists, David Braid contributes to this fine recording, along with David Lown on saxophones and James Driscoll on bass. This is really really good, and had I had more time to spend with it before filing this article, I might be enthusing even greater than this.
Fred Hersch Trio, Floating: New studio session from Hersch, following nice run of strong live performance recordings. The compelling aspect of Hersch’s voicing is the way in which he develops some dynamic rhythmic qualities on piano, yet maintains an ambiance that is heavily contemplative. That contrast is especially evocative on an upbeat track like the distant “Arcata” and the affable “Home Fries.” Hersch is joined by bassist John Hebert and drummer Eric McPherson.
Cyrus Chestnut, Midnight Melodies: Pianist Chestnut brings an abounding elegance to a session that never fails to draw the ear in. His combination of light touch but insistent drive makes for a nice contrast between the casual and the concentrated. This live session with bassist Curtis Lundy and drummer Victor Lewis is no different. Their rendition of “Bag’s Groove” is addictive, and the rendition of “Giant Steps” is all kinds of wonderful. Another strong release from Smoke Sessions Records.
Andrew McCormack, First Light: Nice conversational style from pianist McCormack, who wields a strong vocabulary, but doesn’t come off as unnecessarily verbose. Many tracks, like a rendition of “Pannonica,” display a lineage to jazz of the past, either through the swing or the solos, but those are balanced out nicely by modern tracks like “Vista,” with its moody disposition and simmering melodicism. The trio is rounded out by bassist Zack Lober and drummer Colin Stranahan, who has been making frequent appearances in this column lately.
Sound for the Organization of Society, The Sun Opened Up: Experimental music that pulls from any number of influences in ever-changing ratios, this octet of two drummers, two pianists, two reed players, and a guitar/bass pairing of various string instruments bring a panoply of thick grooves, unexpected interludes, and melodic drifts that don’t always seem connected at any one point in time, but seem to mesh from a wider, album perspective. Originally all from the New Orleans scene, the members, now living elsewhere, came together for one final recording. It’s pretty damn compelling. Octet consists of Ingo Deul, Andrew Oliver, Kevin van Geem, Sarah Phillips, Chris Mosley, Mary-Sue Tobin, Eric Klerks, and Tom Garcia.
Marius Neset with the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra, Lion: A definite propulsion to this recording, with the question being whether the soloist is carrying the ensemble or the ensemble is lifting the soloist up to greater and greater heights and speeds. A strong lyricism to this recording, with each song behaving as chapters in a grand story. Joining saxophonist Neset are some strong names listed in the personnel, including frequent collaborator, tubist Daniel Herskedal, saxophonist Hanna Paulsberg, and pianist Espen Berg. Good stuff from the ACT Music label.
Lo-Res, La Sortie: Absorbing release from the Australian sextet consisting of flautist & saxophonist Belinda Woods, saxophonist & bass clarinetist Timothy Pledger, trumpeter Gemma Horbury, guitarist Diego Villalta, bassist Ali Watts, and drummer Daniel Brates. Both feet in modern territory, the balance between jazz and rock is pretty well even. It’s when the sextet takes a slower pace to the finish line that they most shine, as they do on “The Elevator” and title-track “La Sortie.” Half the sextet belonging to the wind instruments never crowds the dance floor, and guitar in an accompanying role picks its spots quite nicely. Enjoyable.
Ignasi Terraza Trio, Imaginant Miro: Gorgeous piano trio recording from pianist Terraza, who uses each song to interpret the works of painter Joan Miro. Straight-ahead jazz that knows how to build a great melody and then ride that bad boy down a hotbed of rhythmic activity. Terraza rounds out his trio with bassist Horacio Fumero and drummer Esteve Pi. When it’s snowing outside and it’s morning and I have nowhere to go, I put in some of the great Prestige-label Red Garland recordings. This album would fit that mood, too.
Orbert Davis & the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic Chamber Ensemble, Sketches of Spain (revisited): Celebrating its ten year anniversary, composer and music director Davis record a new look at the classic Miles Davis-Gil Evans collaboration. Adding a couple new compositions as well as reworking the existing ones, Davis captures much of the spirit of the original while creating something that stands on its own two feet as a completely separate entity. Worth checking out some of Davis’s earlier recordings, too, as he’s an excellent trumpet player and great part of the Chicago scene.
George Garzone, Quintonic: Strong session featuring the double tenor sax attack of George Garzone and Jerry Bergonzi, pianist Carl Winther, bassist Johnny Aman, and drummer Anders Mogensen. Nice set of modern straight-ahead post-bop, with some moody introspective pieces and some avant-garde fury mixed in for good measure. The real treat here is hearing sax veterans Garzone and Bergonzi working sometimes in tandem, sometimes at cross-purposes, but every time with a synchronicity that is positively arresting. Easy to like.
Mitch Haupers, Invisible Cities: Original Jazz Chamber Music: Debut album from longtime Berklee School of Music faculty member Haupers, who switches in and out of modern jazz and chamber music with an intriguing change of pace and precision. At its core, it’s a quintet of guitarist Haupers, woodwind player Bob Mintzer, pianist Alan Pasqua, bassist Darek Oleszkiewicz, and drummer Peter Erskine, which is augmented by a variety of guests to provide some added depth and the chamber music element. Gem of the album is the four-part “Four Minor Love Songs Suite,” which slowly unwinds like the pastoral countryside from a train window.
Motek, Apres Avant: Catch mix of modern groove-based jazz and ambient DJ drum-and-bass influences. A sextet that consists of multi-keyboards, turntables, and a trumpet/bass/drums trio, simple well-crafted catchy melodies ride rich veins of infectious grooves and effects. Definitely not one for the jazz purists. Forward thinking, modern, and terribly enjoyable. This is the kind of album where, personally, I’d say it’s not my thing… and yet I find myself continually returning to it. Good stuff, no matter what you call it.