Well, much like the previous two weeks, not much in terms of volume in the jazz new releases bin, but unlike the previous two weeks, what did show up was particularly wonderful. Plenty of adventurous music to be had this week, and those recordings that stick to Jazz Center are ones that speak an old language with a fresh, exciting voice. Personally very happy with what showed up this week. Let’s begin…
Peter Rosendal, Love For Snail: Pianist and composer Rosendal has created one of the more diverse recordings in 2014, which is pretty impressive in and of itself, but that he’s made it so damn catchy is what elevates this album up to something quite special. A mix of jazz, folk, chamber, pop, and, really, about anything that seemed good at the time, he and his Old Man’s Kitchen ensemble never take a straight line to any destination, yet despite the twists and turns, there’s never any risk of sliding off the road. Rosendal utilizes a bunch of different keyed instruments, and is joined by Jrisian Jorgensen on violin, Peter Fuglsang on clarinets, Peter Jensen on trombone, Kaspar Vadsholf on bass, and Feppe Gram on drums. The adventurousness of a fairy tale. the textural fireworks of a kaleidoscope. Pick of the Week.
Fire! Orchestra, Enter: The trio of Mats Gustafsson, Johan Berthling and Andreas Werliin has expanded into something much more than a small-unit improv session. Expanded line-ups have led to some remarkable large ensemble performances, including last year’s excellent release featuring Oren Ambarchi. Reminiscent of avant-garde big bands from the 60s/70s, this mix of jazz, pop, trip-psych and modern rock has a big sound full of life and excitement and energy. Featuring (among others) trumpeter Goran Kajfes, guitarist David Stackenas, and Sofie Jernberg (one of three vocalists). The term “organized chaos” comes to mind frequently in listening to this recording… a bunch of moving parts in perpetual states of collision, and yet the music has a pop music focus that makes for a very simple connection. Unquantifiable and unclassifiable, just unbounded creative expression. So damn good, and Highly Recommended.
Wolfgang Muthspiel, Driftwood: Real nice trio session from guitarist Muthspiel, drummer Brian Blade and bassist Larry Grenadier. As one would expect from an ECM Records release, it’s moody, has a drifting ambiance, and silence is a key ingredient. A few tracks get the pulse rate up slightly, like “Uptown,” but these serve to better enhance the effect of the brooding pieces. When Muthspiel uses a steel string guitar, things really get pretty, like the tuneful “Cambiata,” and Grenadier’s use of arco on “Highline” brings its own kind of beauty to the table. Much better result than Muthspiel & Blade’s last collaboration, and one of the best things that ECM Records has released this year. Recommended.
Alister Spence & Myra Melford, Everything Here Is Possible: A series of duet improvisations between pianist Spence and Melford, each with their own grand piano and ideas on where the tunes should go. The result is river of jumbled conversations that suddenly transform into the sweetest unison of expression. A couple of the tracks see the musicians utilizing prepared pianos… an effect that fits in perfectly with this album’s nature. Apparently the album is presented unedited and in the order with which the performance occurred, and that kind of genuine spontaneity shines through. There’s a couple jaw-dropping beautiful moments on this album that will have me returning to it often.
Alien Ensemble, Alien Ensemble: This acoustic project of electronica act member of the Notwist falls into territory originally scoped out by Todd Sickafoose’s Tiny Resistors… a place where modern jazz blends in neatly with indie-pop, chamber, post-rock, minimalism, folk, and really any other influence from any other genre that seems to fit at the time. Arguably, that kind of thing isn’t really Jazz anymore, but new things are tough to categorize, more often defined by what they aren’t than what they are. That’s this, here. With Micha Archer on trumpet and Indian harmonium, Karl-Ivar Refseth on vibes, Andi Haberl on drums, Mathias Gotz on trombone, Stefan Schreiber on bass clarinet & sax, Olivier Roth on alto flute, and Benni Schafer on bass, it’s a mesmerizing blend of influences that presents a cohesive sound very easy to connect with. Fans of Todd Sickafoose, the Ocular Concern, and Matt Ulery’s Loom should be paying attention here.
Eijiro Nakagawa, Trisense: Seriously appealing new release from trombonist Eijiro Nakagawa, which hangs its hat on simple, well-stated melodies. A quartet session that includes pianist Masaki Hayashi, bassist Yashima Yuji, and drummer Iwase Tatsuhi. A strong sense of song to each of the tunes. At times, its steers into contemporary jazz territory, but nothing obnoxious, and easily balanced out by some fiercer moments (like the title-track, by way of example). Nakagawa has a light touch on trombone, and it goes a long way to explaining the album’s unerring tunefulness.
Sergi Felipe, Underpool 2: The second collective recording from musicians participating on the Underpool label. Featuring some strong names from the Barcelona jazz scene, these modern tunes present themselves as straight-ahead fare, then go about deconstructing the skeletal systems, fraying the edges, and warping the shapes of each song… all the while remembering to swing and bop and drift. Good stuff, start to finish. Featuring trumpeter Pol Omedes, trombonist Victor Correa, saxophonist Sergi Felipe, bass clarinetist Paul Domenech, guitarist Dani Comas, bassist Juan Pablo Balcazar, and drummer Carlos Falanga (a few of those names have made appearance in past Jazz Picks columns, fyi).
Ginger Baker, Why?: First new release from drummer Baker in quite a while. The former rock star drummer (ie, Cream, etc) quietly put out a nice set of modern jazz recordings and performances in the 90s, featuring some of the best musicians on the Denver, Colorado scene (Bill Frisell, Ron Miles, Artie Moore, among others). Now he’s back with a quartet for saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis, bassist Alec Dankworth, and percussionist Abass Dodoo. Several interesting elements to this recording, but I’m not sure they all click quite right. Ellis has an appealing presence on sax here, an almost lumbering heaviness that should, in fact, provide a nice counterbalance to the rich rhythmic contribution of Baker and percussionist Dodoo. Bassist Dankworth, here and on past efforts, has a nifty way of loping and sliding that toys with the cadence without straining it, but it doesn’t lock into place with Baker’s drumwork as plumb as it seems like it should. I’m hesitant to recommend this album, but I also recall that some of Baker’s earlier recordings took longer to grow on me, so I’m going to mention the album in today’s column, recognizing that my personal subjectivity might be more than I can overcome in time before this column’s publishing deadline. And if you don’t much care for his newest, still check out Baker’s excellent 1999 release Coward of the County.
Alex Mercado Trio, Symbiosis: Lively trio session from pianist Mercado, who has a solid line-up of bassist Scott Colley and drummer Antonio Sanchez. Tunes that crackle with life, dynamic rhythms that can carry a tune on their back without missing a beat, and in possession of a certain elegance that comes through despite all the activity. A solid modern piano trio recording.
Bobby Hutcherson, Enjoy the View: New release from jazz giant, Bobby Hutcherson, whose vibraphones have led some of the great Blue Note Records sessions of all time. For this session, he’s joined by saxophonist David Sanborn, drummer Billy Hart, and organist Joey DeFrancesco. The presence of organ gives the music a funk swagger, something which the contemporary jazz stylings of Sanborn is going to fit right into. Drummer Hart is one of the best things on the scene today, and there’s nowhere you couldn’t toss him into the middle of that he wouldn’t elevate the session to something more special. Now don’t go running away because of the presence of Sanborn on this recording. Yes, he did put some (ahem) very contemporary-ish highly studio-ized albums back in the day, but some of that stuff was pretty good, including his collaborations with Bill Frisell. Add to that his mild resurgence with his underrated collaboration last year with keyboardist Bob James (“Quartette Humaine”), and there’s plenty reasons not to dismiss his contribution on this (or any) recording. Straight-ahead bop tunes for this session, with a nifty rendition of “Montara.” The tunes come out better when organ is maintaining an ethereal presence versus when it digs into a thick groove. Good stuff. If you’re new to Bobby Hutcherson, however, go grab one of his classic Blue Note recordings first, however… something like Oblique would make a nice introduction to Hutcherson’s music.
Basak Yavuz, Things: Intriguing release from Turkish vocalist Yavuz, a former architect that went after her dream of being an NYC jazz singer. She’s joined by a strong cast of musicians that include saxophonist Dave Liebman, pianists Jeremy Siskind & Peter Eldridge, vibraphonist James Shipp, drummer Richie Barshay and Yacouba Cissoko on the kora. Songs like moonlight… sometimes providing only the softest glow and subtle warmth, sometimes blasting away the darkness and lighting up everything in sight.
Joe Magnarelli, Lookin’ Up: Nifty straight-ahead session from trumpeter Magnarelli. He’s joined by trombonist Steve Davis, pianist Anthony Wonsey, bassist Mike Karn, and drummer Justin Brown. Two feet planted dead center of Jazz territory, there’s nothing here that’s going to provide any surprises, but that’s not even a consideration when the tunes swing with as much life as do these. Nothing wrong with the solos, but the group interplay results in all kinds of vibrancy, and it’s why this music emits a sense of something bigger than the sum of its individual parts might otherwise indicate. A strong session, and definitely one that should make the old-school fans happy.