Plenty of music today that doesn’t know what an “inside voice” is or how to use it. This leads to some pretty thrilling music, stated with emotion and energy, and all kinds of fun. There are also some albums that come out with some composure and grace — some of the prettiest music I’ve heard all year. Let’s begin…
Jerome Sabbagh, The Turn: Wildly expressive recording by saxophonist Sabbagh. Guitarist Ben Monder is great on this one. Sometimes, like on “Long Gone,” he adopts a polite accompaniment role, supporting the soloist while showing he’s got the chops, but then on other tracks like “Banshee,” he just explodes with an all-consuming heat. The way in which Sabbagh can step into the middle of Monder’s firestorm and unify with a tuneful passage is just phenomenal. “The Rodeo” with its jaunty cadence and “Cult,” which behaves like a flatlined heart that suddenly receives an electric current are just more differentiation on an album that offers up several panoramic views. Rounding out the quartet are Ted Poor on drums and Joe Martin on bass. Pick of the Week.
Gonzalo Levin Octeto, Gonzalo Levin Octeto: Absolutely gorgeous work from saxophonist Levin, who has constructed and arranged a set of tunes that allow every instrument to spring forth with life individually while keeping in synch with the group dynamic. Some of the best moments are on tracks like “Airun” and “Evolución,” which open with gently melancholic tones before transitioning into the bigger octet sound. Joining Levin are bassist Oriol Roca and bari saxophonist Marcel-li Bayer (both names familiar to this column), trumpeter Leonardo Torres, pianist Adrian Ghiardo, drummer Josema Martin, and the tenor & alto saxes Miguel Villar and Albert Comaleras (who also doubles on flute). Modern compositions, but expressed with a thought to the past. The harmonic interaction between all four saxes in the stream of the songs is another big highlight, providing some lightness to a big sound.
Kyle Shepherd Trio, Dream State: Refreshingly tuneful release from pianist Shepherd, who follows up his previous album, the sprawling South African History !X with a trio session that tightens its focus to a very satisfying degree. Some tracks, like “Re-Invention / Johannesburg,” take on a South African jazz sound reminiscent of the great Abdullah Ibrahim, especially when tenor saxophonist Buddy Wells sits in for a guest spot. But then there are others that step out with a straight-ahead modern jazz piano sound, where well-crafted melodies are the vehicle to coast over the surface of tight, dynamic rhythms. Shepherd’s trio is rounded out by bassist Shane Cooper and drummer Jonno Sweetman.
Stefano Bollani, Joy in Spite of Everything: Pleasant recording by the veteran pianist, who brings a strong line-up to this session with guitarist Bill Frisell, tenor saxophonist Mark Turner, drummer Morten Lund and the double bass of Jesper Bodilsen. Relaxed tone throughout. No real surprises here… straight-ahead in a Bollani ECM Records sort of way. A gorgeous, engaging track like “Ismene” gives some insight into what this recording could’ve achieved. So does “Tales From the Time Loop,” which has some bite to it. Album finishes stronger than it begins, so worth having some patience with this one.
The Bad Plus, Inevitable Western: The trio of pianist Ethan Iverson, drummer Dave King and bassist Reid Anderson are back with their tenth studio album. This one is all originals, and it really drives home how strongly they’ve developed their particular voice. The trio is best known for re-interpreting songs by Rush, David Bowie, Tears For Fears, Nirvana (and a bunch of other pop acts), and applying an inventive touch that doesn’t just make pop songs “jazzy,” but instead provides them a modern jazz vision as if the compositions had originally been devised in a rehearsal session. That the trio can give original compositions the same complexity masked in catchy rhythms and strong melodies is impressive in itself, but that those same songs have that lingering familiarity of any good pop song, a sort of illusory sonic reminiscence, that elevates it from craft to art. On their newest, expect the dramatic builds and the playfully strategic rhythmic work they’ve gained a reputation for.
Abbey Rader, The Message: Another great live free jazz set from the veteran drummer, whose collaborated with some of the greats (ie, Marion Brown, John Handy, Mal Waldron, Dave Liebman). He’s a got a trio formation this time around, joined by John McMinn on tenor sax and Noah Brandmark on alto sax. If this floats your boat, I also recommend other recent releases like Live at PAX and Reach for the Skies.
Brooklyn Jazz Underground, 7×7: Terribly vibrant session from the collective of the Brooklyn Jazz Underground, which doubles as a label to release their individual projects. This is their second recording as a collective, this septet consists of some familiar names to this column: saxophonist Adam Kolker, bassist Anne Mette Iversen, drummer Rob Garcia, pianist David Cook, trumpeter David Smith, drummer Owen Howard, and vocalist Tammy Scheffer. And even though these are not straight-ahead compositions, they do play out that way, making it easy to follow along even as they take unexpected detours and hit the curves hard. The way the musicians mesh in the stream of the songs… just little things like the contrast between the deepness of Kolker’s bass clarinet and Scheffer’s voice in a high register… opposite ends of the spectrum matching up like sunlight and shadows. Or there’s the nifty shadowboxing that goes on between Iversen and Cook as they feint and jab their way through the rhythm. All of these little things happening in the sea of melody and harmony of ensemble play leads to a great vibrancy throughout this recording.
Harmonie Ensemble New York, Henry Mancini: Music for Peter Gunn: Led by conductor Steven Richman, this big band recording provides a delightful take on Henry Mancini’s work for the TV show Peter Gunn. Top pros like Lew Tabackin, Ronnie Cuber, Lew Soloff, Victor Lewis, and Francois Moutin help lead this ensemble through tunes that swing and sway and exude all kinds of fun. There’s an honest, heartfelt approach to Mancini’s tunes from the ensemble, which, thankfully, didn’t treat the material as an opportunity for ironic expressions.
Noah Garabedian, Big Butter and the Eggmen: Even with three saxes and a trumpet taking up four of the six slots in this ensemble, the music stays light on its feet. A lot of this has to with the direction of bassist Garabedian, who displays a talent for spry cadences on this modern recording. There are times when hints of traditional jazz appear in the midst of very modern songs, and those glimpses of the familiar lend this music more than a little intrigue, as if the ensemble could, at any moment, break out into a New Orleans second line march. Joining Garabedian on this session are the talented group of Anna Webber, Kyle Wilson and Curtis MacDonald on saxophones, and trumpeter Kenny Warren and drummer Evan Hughes.
Angeli/Drake, Deghe: Duo performance of guitarist Paolo Angeli and drummer/percussionist Hamid Drake. Angeli’s sound isn’t easy to explain, but if his quieter side is folk music, then when his electric guitar heats up, consistency would require me to analogize it to the darker versions of Grimms’ fairy tales. These two have collaborated before, and it shows. No matter how volatile or tranquil the conversation becomes, they reside at the same frequency. Some very beautiful moments here. I feel like I should be recommending this album to fans of Steve Tibbetts earlier recordings on ECM Records.
Yves Leveille, Essences des Bois: New release by pianist Leveille is so pretty at times, it’s stunning. With saxophones, clarinets, oboe, English horn, flutes and a rhythm section of bass and drums. It’s the balance between the loftiness of the wind instruments and the grounding force of the rhythm section that provides for the most wonderful shift between friction and cohesion, and it’s why these tracks sometimes sound as if soaring above the horizon and other times just over the surface of the earth. Joining Leveille is Roberto Murray, Adrian Vedady, Alain Bastien, Francois Richard, Marjorie Tremblay and Simon Aldrich. Second track “Sur la passerelle” may be the prettiest song I’ve heard in 2014.
Rafal Sarnecki, Cat’s Dream: Guitarist Sarnecki took a huge step up with his sophomore release, The Madman Rambles Again. One of 2011′s best recordings, Sarnecki offered up thick, expressive melodies and carried them on a wild ride of tempo and tones. His debut, Songs From a New Place, was a perfectly nice straight-ahead album, but wasn’t nearly as striking as its follow-up. His newest seems to fall between those two efforts. This album is, unfortunately, more restrained and a bit more conventional. It’s the first time Sarnecki composed with voice in the mix, and that was probably a big factor. It’s a strong cast with the tenor sax & bass clarinet of Lucas Pino, drummer Colin Stranahan, pianist Glenn Zaleski, bassist Rick Rosato and vocalist Bogna Kicinska. There’s plenty to like here, and Sarnecki’s guitar is in fine form, but after his previous release, I was hoping to use a descriptor more effusive than “like.” That said, Sarnecki is an emerging talent on the scene, and there was no way I wasn’t going to mention his newest album.
Michael Carvin Experience, Flash Forward: There’s a loose style to this music, where form sometimes takes a backseat to emotiveness. It’s more than a little reminiscent of some of Jackie McLean’s work, which shouldn’t be that surprising since drummer Carvin was a fellow collaborator back in the day. It’s also an approach that can lead to some exciting moments and surprising takes on classic tunes, as Carvin does on his newest. He leads a quartet consisting of himself, saxophonist Keith Loftis, bassist Jansen Cinco and pianist Yavoi Ikawa.
Satoh Masahiko, Doushin Gigaku: Charming piano trio from veteran jazzer Satoh Masahiko, who has spent his career collaborating with an all-star cast of jazz elite. On this session, he playfully toys with the straight-ahead sound, little asides and manipulations to take conventional songs and give them a bit of personality. He pulls off a cover of “Pop Goes the Wheel” far better than I ever would have imagined. His trio is rounded out by Kato Shinichi on bass and Murakami Hiroshi on drums.
Marco Serrato, Seis Canciones Para Cuervo: Solo bass set from Serrato. Definitely file under free/avant-garde. Striking bouts of dissonance and creepily melodic interludes are the calling of the day here. Serrato is a member of the Hidden Forces Trio, who I will always remember for their album Topus, which had one of the most singularly revolting album covers I’ve ever come upon in the Jazz section (yes, even worse than the Herbie Mann Push Push cover… beat ya to that one, didn’t I?). Hidden Forces Trio is a whole bundle of free jazz cacophony. I don’t believe it was one of my Jazz Picks back in the day. I’m thinking about revisiting that.