Good grief, that was a lot of music. And lemme tell ya, this isn’t a whole crowd of mediocrity either. There’s a lot of fantastic music this week. A few selections were oddballs of curiosity, sort of why-not inclusions, sure, but dominating today’s column is all the proof one needs to state that Jazz Today is alive and well. Let’s begin…
Ritmos Unidos, Ritmos Unidos: Outstanding sophomore release from the Ritmos Unidos ensemble, who masterfully illustrate just how insufficient the tag Latin Jazz really is. Combining Afro-Caribbean, Cuban, Santeria, Yoruba, Portuguese, and the carnival of Trinidad & Tobago, the varied textures just explode from the speakers with a liveliness that is pretty damn addictive. Comprised of members from Indiana University’s Jacobs School, including Michael Spiro, Jeremy Allen, Jamaal Baptiste, Joe Galvin, Pat Harbison, Nate Johnson, Mike Mixtacki, Joe Tucker and guest appearances by Wayne Wallace, Liam Teague and Kevin Bobo. Renditions of Wes Montgomery’s “Road Song” and Wayne Shorter’s “Water Babies” are plenty nifty, but it’s the three-part “Ochun Suite” that is the real winner on this winning album. The thing of it is, even with all the different influences and expressions, this album is supremely easy to connect with, and if you’re looking for a good entry point into exploring the general category of Latin Jazz, this is an excellent route to take. Pick of the Week.
Jason Moran, All Rise: A Joyful Elegy for Fats Waller: What began onstage as the live performance Fats Waller Dance Party, pianist Jason Moran has now brought the concept to the recorded medium. Re-envisioning the music of Waller while fully embracing the spirit of the originals, Moran exposes different facets of the music with varied expressions. The glue that binds them together is the music’s incitement to motion, a doorway to dance. Joining Moran are a rotating cast that includes his longtime trio of drummer Nasheet Waits and bassist Tarus Mateen, trumpeter Leron Thomas, saxophonists Josh Roseman and Steve Lehman, drummer Charles Haynes, and vocalist Meshel. Ndegeocello. Each tune enjoyable in its own right, each serving to make the wholeness of this project greater than the sum of its individual songs. This music is so much fun. Highly Recommended.
Eric Reed, Groovewise: Yet another top shelf recording from the Smoke Sessions Records series. This one features the all-star line-up of pianist Eric Reed, tenor saxophonist Seamus Blake, bassist Ben Williams, and drummer Gregory Hutchinson. Album opens strong with a rendition of Clifford Jordan’s “Powerful Paul Robeson,” a song with some serious presence and a resonant intensity. Straight-ahead tunes that have so much of the hard bop warmth and groove… qualities no more epitomized than with the closing track “Groovewise.” Mostly up-tempo tunes, though a track like the Christian McBride composition “The Shade of the Cedar Tree” can leave the ear wishing that Reed took the foot off the gas pedal for a few more tracks. There hasn’t been an album in this series that I haven’t enjoyed. This one may rate near the top of a strong batch. Recommended.
Matthew Shipp, I’ve Been to Many Places: For this solo set, pianist Shipp revisits tracks he recorded previously in an ensemble format. In itself, that’s going to lend a recording plenty of intrigue. That he sidles them up next to new compositions, the ability to compare and contrast raises this album up to an entirely new experience. It’s something of a before & after & after again picture show, and the concept is as compelling as Shipp’s actual performance. Speaking of which, Shipp has made a career challenging conventions and walking along the fringes of the jazz genre… this album is one of the more approachable ones in recent memory. And, still, ignoring all of that backstory, if none of that interests you, you’re still left with a fascinating solo piano recording that stands up just fine on its own merits. This is one of those albums that it’ll be interesting to revisit throughout the year, just to see how its presence and perspective changes over time and with more familiarity.
The Cookers, Time and Time Again: Sophomore release from the re-boot of the Cookers ensemble. No less fiery and no less warm than their previous release, this is all the straight-ahead goodness you could ask for. Also, as before, the recording has that immediacy that gives the impression of listening to them in a night club after hours in an impromptu jam session. Solid melodies as the day is long and rhythms that are all heart. “Farewell Mulgrew,” George Cable’s homage to the recently departed Mulgrew Miller, has that lovely bittersweet melody of similar tributes like Don Pullen’s “Ah George, We Hardly Knew Ya” and Mingus’s “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat.” The members, by the way, are giants of Jazz: tenor saxophonist Billy Harper, trumpeter Eddie Henderson, alto saxophonist Donald Harrison, pianist George Cables, bassist Cecil McBee, drummer Billy Hart, and trumpeter David Weiss, who got the project started up in the first place.
Medeski Scofield Martin Wood, Juice: There is a cheerfulness, catchiness and warmth to this music that gets it in the conversation of what to recommend to people who liked Vince Guaraldi’s Peanuts soundtrack and want to explore the modern scene. John Scofield brings all kinds of blues to this session, most of it burning from a fire within. The MMW trio know how to make a catchy tune, but a focus on Afro- and Latin Jazz rhythms results in endless textures that are seriously absorbing. Scofield and MMW collaborations include two previous spins. Their newest is easily the finest of the three. It’s simply one enjoyable tune after the next.
Hal Galper Trio, O’s Time: There is a strange grace to pianist Galper’s music, which always seems to be caught mid-stumble and falling fast… melodies flail about dramatically and rhythms don’t seem to be fully in control of motor functions. But over the decades of his career, Galper has found a way to freeze that stumble in a very brief moment, a moment of thrilling uncertainty, slightly airborne and stretched out in an unusual shapes and motions, and extend the moment out for the length of a song, each and every time. It’s rarely pretty music, but it’s also never boring, and it’s why each new trio album is something to check out. Long-time trio mates Jeff Johnson (bass) and John Bishop (drums) join him for yet another exciting set.
Walsh Set Trio, Three: Fascinating session from the trio of clarinetist Brian Walsh, bassist Colin Burgess and drummer Trevor Anderies. Experimental at heart and jazz in behavior. Modern jazz, a bit post-bop and a bit avant-garde, floats right along nicely until interrupted by theatrical vocalizations and dissonant clashes of instruments. An album with a sense of humor, where the jokes are just as likely to inspire contemplation as they are smiles. Definitely nothing ordinary here.
Vinnie Sperrazza, Apocryphal: Drummer Sperrazza has been involved in a lot of different projects that do things differently. He’s contributed to albums by a diverse group of artists such as Dana Lyn, Jeremy Udden, Liam Sillery, 40Twenty, Raphael McGregor, Ben Holmes, and Drye & Drye (among others), and each time finds a way to express himself in the construct of an array of unique projects. His own project on Apocryphal is no different. Featuring a quartet that includes guitarist Brandon Seabrook, alto saxophonist Loren Stillman and bassist Eivind Opsvik, this is music that swims in a sea of dissonance yet finds a way to allow a peculiar tunefulness to float up to the surface. Always tough to synthesize unclassifiable music into a synopsis, and Sperrazza’s mix of modern jazz, indie rock, and avant-garde attitude certainly presents that challenge. Nothing ordinary found here.
Harry Allen’s All-Star Brazilian Band, Flying Over Rio: Absolutely gorgeous session bringing together jazz and Brazilian musics. A strong cast joins saxophonist Allen, with bassist Nilson Matta, drummer Duduka DaFonseca, guitarist Guilherme Monteiro, pianist Klaus Mueller, and the vocals of Maucha Adnet. Combines selections from both the South and North American songbooks, and delivers them with a ton life and vibrancy. One of the best Latin Jazz recordings I’ve heard this year, and 2014 has offered some great ones so far.
Mitch Shiner and the BloomingTones Big Band, Fly!: Solid big band session led by vibraphonist Shiner. The album’s strongest quality is that the ensemble insinuates a Big Sound more often than they show it. It’s that show of restraint that creates tension while allowing room for strong melodies and delicate solos to hover at the forefront of the compositions. The arrangements provide an essential quality of differentiation between tracks, which gives the album an expansive range of expressions totaling to something much much more than here’s-another-big-band-album.
Mark Turner Quartet, Lathe of Heaven: Tenor saxophonist Mark Turner leads a quartet comprised of Avishai Cohen on trumpet, Joe Martin on bass, and Marcus Gilmore on drums. Songs have a lumbering motion. This is the kind of thing that lends music an unappealing sluggishness unless, as this quartet does, a certain height is achieved as to give the music a perspective of greater breadth. The lumbering then becomes the sight of something big taking massive, impressive steps. A track like “The Edenist” changes things up with a cadence that scoots right along, which in itself is pretty nice, but the way in which both Turner and Cohen solo along its surface is pretty golden. Album-finale “Brother Sister” slows things down to where the song sways with a mesmerizing beauty, bisected by a fun flurry of notes. Worth nothing that Turner is showing up on a lot of different albums from a lot of different projects lately, and it’s always a good idea to scoop up as much of the artist’s work when productivity and creativity are operating at high levels.
Hans-Peter Pfammatter & Markus Lauterburg, Sud: This is one of those free improv albums that doesn’t really come off that way. The duo collaboration of pianist Pfammatter and drummer/percussionist Lauterberg has all kinds of abstract dialog passing between the two, and yet the conversation is one that’s easy to follow while still appreciating its odd quirks and eccentric tangents. They mix in some conversation that leans more to the conventional on certain tracks, which makes it easier to that the totality of the album in. An album with a magnetic personality.
Tann, Nadel Verpflichtet: A guitar trio that straddles the line between indie rock and jazz. And while more often than not, it’s the former genre that most influences this music, the attractive melodies and chipper rhythms result in music very fun to listen to and very easy to connect with. A pop music ambiance with an undercurrent of complexity. Dirk Haefner on guitar, Rene Bornstein on bass, and Demian Kappenstein on drums & percussion.
Diego Pinera, Strange Ways: Mercurial recording session from drummer Pinera, who switches things up often between a straight-ahead post-bop to a free jazz piece to a hard bop and then something with strings. Speaking of those strings, he has a quartet guest along on a track with his own quartet of drummer Tino Derado, bassist Phil Donkin and bassist Peter Ehwald. It’s sufficiently compelling to make me want to hear Pinera utilize strings more on his next recording.
Jack DeSalvo & Tom Cabrera, Juniper: This is the kind of music that results from artists who invest years in learning their instruments and expressing them in ways that fall outside normal conventions. DeSalvo and Cabrera have partnered their guitars and percussion before, and that investment, too, bears fruit on their newest. This music has the heart and soul of the Cherry/Walcott/Vasconcelos Codona trio recordings… an earthy ambiance that emanates strength from a wise economy of notes and beats. Music that transcends genre, behaves as if it doesn’t even see the point of it. Also, great music to just kick back and listen to its particular serenity fill the room.
David Friedman, Weaving Through Motion: An absorbing solo vibraphone session from veteran Friedman, who went twenty years since his last solo outing. His newest should be motivation for listeners to want him to do the solo thing a bit more often. Along with originals, there are four covers including Monk’s “‘Round Midnight” and Michael Legrand’s “The Windmills of Your Mind.” Just a real intimate, patient set of tunes that gives the listener the sense that they are there in the room as Friedman works through his ideas.
The Modern Cap Band, The Modern Cap Band: Strong presence from this Detroit dectet, who echo an old-school sound even when they tread on modern jazz ground. Melodies are crafted with care, tasteful rhythms can bop and swing, but it’s the warmth emitted by the harmonic elements that’s all kinds of charismatic. This, plus the occasional bits of furtive playing by the saxophones adding a nice quality of differentiation is what really gets this album’s personality to shine strong.
John Dikeman, The Double Trio: Furious live set featuring saxophonist Dikeman and a strong contingent from the Chicago free-improv scene with trombonist Jeb Bishop, drummers Mike Reed and Frank Rosaly, bassists Joshua Abrams and Jason Roebke. No let up in this conversation and even the occasional silences feel like they’re filled with bundles of cryptic information.
Neuzeit, Carmina Variations: This jazz interpretation of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana cantata works remarkably well. The trio of bassist Thomas Falke, drummer Martell Beigang, the organ of Andreas Hirschmann (and electronics & effects from all three) digs in to some thick, fun grooves and finds playful ways to express the harmonic and melodic elements of the original. Neat album.
Baptiste Trotignon, Hit: Vibrant piano session from the trio of pianist Trotignon, drummer Jeff Ballard, and bassist Thomas Bramerie. Melodies are quick and to the point, and it’s where and how they develop that’s the album’s strong suit. Trotignon gets all kinds of interesting chatter going on his solos, and the rhythm section of Ballard and Bramerie set off all kinds of tiny fireworks into the fabric of the piano’s patterns. Just a solid piano trio recording.
Nenad Vasilic, Seven: Intriguing blend of Serbian folk music and modern jazz. Bassist Vasilic leans heavier on the former of those influences, but the infusions of jazz are always strong enough to keep the music centered. The upbeat tracks have their charm, but it’s when the quintet lays off the gas pedal a bit that the heart of this album beats stronger. Joining Vasilic are saxophonist Vladimir Karparov, trombonist Mario Vavti, drummer Philipp Kopmajer and Marko Zivadinovic on accordion. Bojan Z sits in on Fender Rhodes on a couple tracks, too.
Dan White Sextet, Your Song: Saxophonist White’s sextet mixes it up pretty nicely on his new release. Some post-bop, some Brian Blade nu-jazz, some traditional jazz, some hard bop, some blues… and here we go. The thing of it is, White is able to keep all those sounds bundled up by keeping things simple… nicely crafted melodies, rhythms that mark their territory, and warm harmonies no matter what particular sound is offered up. Joining White are trumpeter Jon Lampley, trombonist Chris Ott, guitarist Josh Hill, bassist Adam DeAscentis, and drummer John Hubbell… all members of The Columbus, Ohio jazz scene.
Mark Lomax Trio, Isis & Osiris: Saxophone trio that loads up with every punch thrown. Led by drummer Lomax, and including frequent collaborators Edwin Bayard on tenor sax and Dean Hulett on acoustic bass, this music echoes a late-60’s sound when hard bop was shifting into avant-garde. There’s a rawness to this music that is appealing.
Greg Johnson, City People: Very likable recording from saxophonist Johnson, who offers up a mix of melodic-focused post-bop, contemporary fusion, jazz orchestra, and various eccentricities like adding steel pan to the rhythm section. Strongest moments are those when the orchestra of strings and woodwinds rise up from the midst of a song, resulting in the most gorgeous passages and nifty introductions to sax solos. A few tracks lack the depth of their album mates, but those are minor hiccups on a very nice album.
Chad Morris, Ascension: Solo guitar work from Morris, who gets the music to resonate nicely. Sort of peaceful world jazz fusion-y in that way of some of the earlier Oregon recordings. Now, I’m not comparing Morris to Ralph Towner, but I did find this album appealing in the way I would Towner’s Old Friends, New Friends. Definitely worth a mention in the column.
And to wrap up a busy week, hitting the new arrivals bin are two albums from jazz giants collect material from past live performances…
Chick Corea Trio, Trilogy: Capturing tracks from various 2012 performances, this 3-hour collection features his acoustic trio with drummer Brian Blade and bassist Christian McBride.
Charles Lloyd, Manhattan Stories: This archival material features 1965 live performances at New York City venues Slugs’ and Judson Hall. Lloyd is joined by guitarist Gabor Szabo, drummer Pete La Roca and bassist Ron Carter.