Meridian Trio - Triangulum

Label/Year: Clean Feed, 2017

Lineup - Nick Mazzarella: alto saxophone; Matt Ulery: bass; Jeremy Cunningham: drums.

meridian-trio-triangulum

Alto saxophonist Nick Mazzarella, an Illinois native, gains more and more prominence in the expansive Chicago jazz scene. In addition to other recent projects, which include an album in duo with cellist Tomeka Reid, Mazzarella is the composer of Meridian Trio, a sturdy triangular cohort whose bottom vortexes are occupied by bassist Matt Ulery and drummer Jeremy Cunningham. The malleable trio recently saw its debut album, Triangulum, being released on Clean Feed, a label operating within modern creative styles, which is perfect for the swinging avant-jazz adopted by the group.
 
The session, recorded live at the Whistler in Chicago in the beginnings of 2016, opens with “Rhododendron” a frantic ear-catcher reared on the rhythms of Africa and steeped in the ways of jazz. Irresistibly groovy, this piece boasts a very identifiable melody that feels like an evocative chant, also featuring enthusiastic improvisations by Ulery, who sports a strong driving discernment, and Mazzarella, who vitaminizes his juicy solo with in/out incursions.

Attractive rhythms of the same nature may be heard on “Ringdown”, a soulful levitation that vibrates with ecstasy and optimistic vitality. The tune, enhanced by the far-reaching timbres of Mazzarella’s alto and a pulsation à-la Art Ensemble of Chicago, embraces an uncompromising freebop that also recalls Thomas Chapin, Dewey Redman, and Henry Threadgill’s Air. Here, you're allowed to dance effusively, jump like a spring, or scream like crazy.

Engaging in an offbeat mood and fluctuating in tempo, the title track feels more connected with Ornette Coleman and Sam Rivers, starting with saxophone's sinuous ups and downs accompanied by Ulery’s deviant bass notes and Cunningham’s tom and cymbal rides. The rhythm section intensifies the flow as Mazzarella’s redoubles the fervor of his speech, before embarking on an improvised section of their own.

Consisting of two distinct passages, “Reminiscing”, is more pondered and abdicates from dancing. In the first passage, we have a slightly raucous sax expelling melancholic melodic lines with bowed bass in unison and brushed drums in the background. The second one includes a series of sax trills in a more abstract approach.

Both “Solstice 63” and “Inflection Point” are avant-garde pieces whose acerbic nature is reflected in action-reaction movements of fine quality. The former, a rock-inflated churn punctuated by idle reflections, displays strong rhythmic figures on the theme and is boosted by logical ideas and patterned outbreaks, which are natural spin-offs of Mazzarella’s musical intuition. The latter tune closes the album in a kinetic, hard-swinging rampage, featuring lofty staccatos, intricate phrases, and a climactic drum solo.

The raw energy felt on Triangulum stems from the adventurous nature of the musicians and their ability to understand the past while living in the present. This is a wholly digestive avant-garde session filled with creativity and passion for the genre. 

Favorite Tracks: 
01 – Rhododendron ► 03 – Ringdown ► 06 – Solstice 63 


Vadim Neselovskyi Trio - Get Up and Go

Label /Year: Jazz Family, 2017

Lineup - Vadim Neselovskyi: piano, melodica; Dan Loomis: bass; Ronen Itzik: drums + Sara Serpa (guest): vocals.

vadim-neselovskyi-get-up-and-go

The talents of Ukrainian pianist Vadim Neselovskyi were recognized at a very young age. He was admitted to the Odessa Conservatory when he was only 15, and his career enjoyed a boost when the celebrated vibraphonist Gary Burton invited him to play in one of his albums. Burton also revealed a fondness for the pianist’s undeniable disposition for composition, incorporating a couple of his charts in his 2011 album, Common Ground.

With bassist Dan Loomis and drummer Ronen Itzik working as an interactive, supporting foundation, the pianist releases Get Up and Go, his first trio project.

On a Bicycle”, retrieved from the 2011 Music For September, conveys the incredible excitement of riding a bike for the very first time. Galloping like a fugue, the piece reveals an impressive synchronization by the three elements who conceive a knotty blend of jazz and classical music. While the pianist boasts a powerful technique dominated by nimble counterpoints, melodic diagonals, and punctuations, the bassist and drummer remain tight, with the former exhibiting a clear, woody sound, and the latter’s a mix of mechanical chops and dynamic accentuations.

Conversely, “Winter” brings the severe melancholy of the season it tries to depict. It starts like a lullaby with solo piano, gaining a progressive somber tone through the addition of Loomis’ lugubrious bowed bass and Itzik’s persistent brushing cymbal.

Predominantly folk in its intonations, the animated “San Felio”, an integral part of Vadim’s previous CDs, invites us to a compound of Mediterranean pulses plus Keith Jarrett’s eloquent post-bop and Dave Brubeck’s rondo suggestions.

Portuguese singer Sara Serpa grants wordless chants to “Station Taiga”, a true-tone poem of lyrical musing. After creating a beautiful unison layer with Neselovskyi’s melodica, the voices split in search of a congruous independence.

Both the title track, remarkably gracious in its animated pop/rock, jazz, and classical movements, and “Prelude For Vibes”, preceded by a glorious solo bass interlude and filled with subtle and shaded nuances, were recorded prior to this recording. They appeared in Gary Burton’s Next Generation, where the veteran vibraphonist joined forces with a very talented young team composed of Neselovskyi himself, guitarist Julian Lage, bassist Lucques Curtis, and drummer James Williams.

Krai”, a solo piano effort based on an Orthodox prayer, becomes one of the most satisfying tunes on the record, starting with a belligerent intro and evolving into a dramatic, almost doctrinal middle part that intersperses thundering low-pitched notes and scorching piano voicings with the very classical incisiveness brought up by Neselovskyi’s right hand.

Pleasant sound aesthetics, robust compositional awareness, and ever-shifting ambiances can be fully enjoyed on Get Up and Go.

Favorite Tracks: 
03 – San Felio ► 06 – Krai ► 09 – Get Up and Go


Jorn Swart - Malnoia

Label/Year: Brooklyn Jazz Underground, 2017

Lineup - Jorn Swart: piano; Benjamin von Gutzeit: viola; Lucas Pino: bass clarinet

jorn-swart-malnoia

New York-based pianist Jorn Swart configures an uncommon piano-viola-clarinet trio format, to interpret the ten tracks he composed for his sophomore outing, Malnoia

Revealing a strong passion for classical music, he assumes influences from Bartok, Ravel, and Hindemith, which he maturely mingles with jazz vocabulary and improvisation. Joining him in this adventure are violist Benjamin von Gutzeit and bass clarinetist Lucas Pino, whose habitual tenor saxophone was left aside for this particular project.

Beautiful and sad, dreamy and enchanting, touching and heartfelt… “Elefante Triste” is all that and much more. Blossoming with the lyrical power of the trio, the tune relies on Swart’s harmonic textures that will serve as a stamping ground for Von Gutzeit and Pino’s soaring melodiousness.

If the opening piece feels contemporary, “Walsje” is a traditional waltz molded with robust classical intonations, even if the soloists squeeze some jazz sentences on top of the cadenced one-two-three rhythm flow.
The gloomy “Feldmania” intensifies sadness and takes us to dark, wintry landscapes.
 
Christmas is remembered with disenchantment on “Odd Christmas Song” where mournful and eerie vibes can be found deeply rooted in its core. “Nocturne” follows a similar melancholy, alerting our senses for the collective interplay, which includes meditative piano cuddles, long clarinet vibratos, and nostalgic viola wails.

Pure chamber classicism is delivered on “Hindemith”, a contrapuntal tune impregnated of shifting rhythms and melodic accentuations. By turns, it embraces vivacious and reflective modes, becoming buoyantly throbbing as it moves forward.

Truly impressive is “Students of the Macabre”, an inviting dance elaborated with groovy ostinatos and clever improvisations by the bandleader, who exhibits resolute spontaneity, and Pino, who delivers the best solo of the record.

Meditation in C” falls in the same category of the tune described above, assuming a free-flowing nature and suggesting movement, while “The Return of the Snow Bunnies”, emerging like a pop ballad, aims at the heart and stirs up feelings. Its heavenly composure will certainly touch the most sensitive listeners.

The jazz genre benefits with diversity and Jorn Swart presents us alternative sounds drawn from bold approaches. Malnoia consolidates his creative voice, at the same time that sets the bar high for his next move. 
To better relish this album, just give it time, enjoying several listenings.

Favorite Tracks:
01 – Elefante Triste ► 07 – Students of the Macabre ► 08 – The Return of the Snow Bunnies


Avishai Cohen - Cross My Palm With Silver

Label/Year: ECM, 2017

Lineup - Avishai Cohen: trumpet; Yonathan Avishai: piano; Barak Mori: bass; Nasheet Waits: drums.

avishai-cohen-cross-my-palm-with-silver

Avishai Cohen, an intuitive Israeli trumpeter, is one of the most proficient voices of the creative jazz scene. Imagination and passion for exploration are constant aspects in his music, which also benefits from a deliberate openness and compositional adroitness.

His second recording for ECM, Cross My Palm With Silver, is a 5-track delight that shines through the impeccable effort and rapport of a quartet with Yonathan Avishai on piano, Barak Mori on double bass, and the sought-after Nasheet Waits on drums.

Pulsating at a 3/4 tempo, “Will I die Miss? Will I Die?” mixes sketches of Spain with Middle Eastern scenarios. Cohen plays the melody on a crystalline upper register, accommodating it on top of the relentless chordal arrangement of Yonathan. Nasheet appends his beautiful work on cymbals and the drumming bubbles with elegance while Mori sticks to his rhythmic task after uttering the melody. His textures, simultaneously warm and airy, are ideal for the trumpeter’s lucid laments.

Although leisurely paced, “Theme For Jimmy Greene” exemplifies how to create and release tension with exceptional acuity. It feels crushingly emotional thanks to Cohen’s long notes within beautiful short phrases.

Wandering over a path that avoids major startles, “340 Down” is a quiescent piano-less interaction. Only momentaneously, Mori comes to light with an ostinato that matches the last phrase delivered by Cohen. 

Shoot Me in the Leg” boasts an introductory piano section where Yonathan serves up punctilious melody, complex swirling phrases, exquisite chords and arpeggios, and polyphonies, before settling in a cyclic arrangement of voicings. These are combined with bass and drums to better attend to Cohen’s exultant phrasing and pitch range. At this point, the quartet fascinates through a hallucinogenic momentum that penetrates straight into our brains. Yonathan brings cool comping ideas throughout Cohen’s solo and then takes off to blur the line between melodic lines and harmonic underpinnings. The layers of sound are gradually reduced for the ending, and the bandleader ends up alone, centered on a melodic phrase that reappears cyclically.

On the closing number, “50 Years and Counting”, we find Cohen soloing with all his heart. His attacks are composed of intervallic refinement, majestic gestures, and visceral breakthroughs, entailing non-stop emotional impact. In contrast, Yonathan inflicts melodic ideas expressed with a feathery stylishness in his improvisation. This piece lets us immersed in a state of zen, from which I didn’t want to wake up.

Defying convention, Cross My Palm With Silver embraces impressionism as it explores the edges of form and freedom. This is Avishai Cohen at the top of his game.

Favorite Tracks: 
01 – Will I die Miss? Will I Die? ► 04 – Shoot Me in the Leg ► 05 – 50 Years and Counting


Tomasz Stanko - December Avenue

Label/Year: ECM, 2017

Lineup - Tomasz Stanko: trumpet; David Virelles: piano; Reuben Rogers: bass; Gerald Cleaver: drums.

tomasz-stanko-december-avenue

Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko already gave us enough reasons to trust his idiosyncratic music. Deeply associated with the ECM Records, Stanko, whose sonorous creativity is almost tactful, has one foot in the adventurous modern creative jazz and the other on a relaxing, sometimes-cerebral post-bop.
 
His Polish quartet, which included the pianist Marcin Wasliewski, was active from 2002 to 2006, being responsible for great albums such as The Soul of Things, Suspended Nights, and Lontana.
In 2013, Stanko formed his New York quartet, a stellar project that featured Cuban-born David Virelles on piano, Thomas Morgan on bass, and Gerald Cleaver on drums. They recorded the critically acclaimed double-disc CD Wislawa.
 
For the quartet’s new outing, December Avenue, Stanko was forced to give Morgan’s position to Reuben Rogers. The outcome remains bold and innovative, as well as immediately identifiable with the author’s compositional style.

Reflective moods and nostalgic tones characterize “Cloud”, an enduring piece whose melancholy is equally embraced in its half-twin “Blue Cloud”. In the latter, one can enjoy Virelles’ exquisite clusters and improvised discourses by Stanko and Rogers, whose disclosures were brief, explicit, and articulated.

Following approximate directions, “Ballad for Bruno Schulz” and “Young Girl in Flower” are plaintive ballads delivered with a static insouciance afloat.
The recording is not limited to this organic quietude, though. If “Bright Moon” still dwells in this buoyant sphere of serene melodies and sparse comping, “Burning Hot” really heats things up through a pulsing 4/4 groove that spreads Brazilian scents in the air. Although Virelles’ improvisation was quite salient, it was Stanko who stood out through explorative techniques and employing articulated, hasty phrases that provoke extemporaneous reactions in Cleaver’s rhythm.

Also impressively vivid is the title track, a boisterous post-bop funk that features Rogers' expressive bass solo, opening the improvisational section, and Virelles’ dazzling accompaniment.

The group’s elasticity can be verified in “Yankiels Lid”, a jubilant and emotionally charged upheaval deployed with easy confidence and featuring intermittent double-tempo passages. Fueling the already optimistic posture, we have invigorating solos by Virelles, technically remarkable in his inspired incursions, and Rogers, whose self-assuredness makes us forget Thomas Morgan.

In addition to Stanko’s compositions, one may also experience three more abstract tunes composed by all the four members of the quartet – “Conclusion”, “David and Reuben”, and “Sound Space” are consequences of musical reactions and conversations.

December Avenue is an example of honorable musicianship. The passion is invariable, whether in its sharply angled forms or silky soft curves, and the New York quartet dishes out every ingredient needed for Stanko’s delicious recipes.

Favorite Tracks: 
05 – Burning Hot ► 09 – December Avenue ► 11 – Yankiels Lid

Chris Potter - The Dreamer Is The Dream

Label/Year: ECM, 2017

Lineup - Chris Potter: tenor and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet; David Virelles: piano; Joe Martin: double bass; Marcus Gilmore: drums.

chris-potter-dreamer-dream

Saxophonist/composer Chris Potter is a force of nature. Extra sensitive, he displays an extraordinary facility in expressing his individuality, as well as interacting with his bandmates. 

Potter’s discography as a leader, which started in 1992, is replete of precious works. In recent times, his greatest showdown was Imaginary Cities (ECM, 2015), a record to cherish and listen unreservedly, but the new The Dreamer Is The Dream, also brings sumptuousness and no less absorbing sonorities.

Potter convenes a first-rate rhythm team that qualifies his writing purposes and musical vision - pianist David Virelles, bassist Joe Martin, and drummer Marcus Gilmore.

The ballad “Heart in Hand” exposes yearning and romantic elegance, starting with a peer-to-peer correspondence between Potter and Virelles. In a subdued way, Martin and Gilmore reinforce the foundation, just to let it go again moments later when the pianist embarks on an unaccompanied solo imbued with imaginary essence. The quartet’s passion is intensified prior to a finale where a shimmering intensity prevails. 

Ilimba” evokes the African continent in the title and evokes it in the rhythm. The percussive chimes of the ilimba, a lamellophone from Tanzania (it’s Potter who plays it), initiate a journey that gains texture and color with Virelles’ left-hand strokes perpetrated in a lower register. Suffused with freedom and glow, this culturally rich tune may easily get into your soul through Potter’s conversational prowess, which flames with off-kilter patterns and thrives with phenomenal melodic perspicacity. The complex swirling phrases by Virelles precede Gilmore’s multi-timbre drum solo before the reinstatement of the main theme.

This creative, forward-driving stretch can be enjoyed again on the expressionist “Yasodhara”, where its sultry post-bop is inflated with Oriental influences. Simultaneously inquisitive, vindicating, and beseeching, this adventure worths every bit of flare and fancy, and everyone is encouraged to spin around.

In order to vary tones and timbres, the title track, restrained in pace but emotionally expansive, embraces a graceful lyricism that comes out of Potter’s bass clarinet. After Martin’s solo, the composer switches to tenor sax to emphasize the finale. On the following track, “Memory and Desire”, he switches again to soprano, delivering eloquent elliptical phrasings that grow in a coruscating crescendo.

Closing the album, Martin and Gilmore boil a steady funk-tinged groove on “Sonic Anomaly”, while Virelles’ splendid comping and rhythmic blaze enliven the stylish trajectories taken by Potter.

Eschewing any sort of boredom, redundancy, or triviality, The Dreamer is the Dream is all about compositional sophistication materialized in a high-end jazz that lives from communication, balance, and authenticity.

Favorite Tracks:
02 – Ilimba ► 04 – Memory and Desire ► 05 – Yasodhara

Louis Sclavis - Asian Fields Variations

Label/Year: ECM, 2017

Lineup - Louis Sclavis: clarinets; Dominique Pifarély: violin; Vincent Courtois: cello.

louis-sclavis-asian-fields-variations

French clarinetist, Louis Sclavis, emerged as a leader in the 80s, but it was during the 00s that his music got more attention with seductive records like L'affrontement des Prétendants, Dans La Nuit, Le Phare, and L'imparfait des Langues. In his voluminous musical universe, styles such as post-bop, avant-garde, and modern chamber jazz are pretty common. 

His new record, Asian Fields Variations, recorded with two long-time associates, violinist Dominique Pifarély and cellist Vincent Courtois, is now available on ECM and wields interesting chamber jazz with punctual dashes of world music. It’s curious to notice that the violinist and the cellist had shared numerous musical experiences with Sclavis before, but the trio had never recorded together. 

Mont Myon” comes wrapped in amiable tones, encouraging everyone to breathe easily. The levels of tension and contrapuntal interaction are slightly increased during the middle section, but the threesome returns to literate wintry soundscapes for the finale, conjuring up memories of John Surman and Tigran Hamasyan.

The following three small pieces, “Done and Done”, “Pensée Furtive”, and “Figure Absente” were composed and played solo by Courtois, Sclavis, and Pifarély, respectively.

In “Asian Fields” we have a violin-cello ostinato in the background while Sclavis is on the loose. The cycle eventually breaks into an Oriental passage, coaxing Courtois to intervene on his own. His sounds bring the world fusion of Rabih Abou Khalil into mind, a fact that is not so strange if we think that he and Pifarély have collaborated with the Lebanese musician in the past. The initial ostinato is reframed, only this time with Pifarély and Sclavis switching positions.

On “Fifteen Weeks”, each member of the trio revolves around a melodic phrase that is brought up in a sequential way. This tune, acquiring a cheerless composure, contrasts with the vivacious avant-gardish sceneries of “Cèdre” and the more-Western-than-Eastern crusades of “Les Nuits”.

Sclavis, Pifarély, and Courtois carve their own niche of followers on the strength of clear ideas and congruous interplay. The variety of tones and styles are preponderant in the final result, which should attract devotees of modern creative jazz, as well as world and classical music.

Favorite Tracks:
01 – Mont Myon ► 05 – Asian Fields ► 09 – Cèdre


Harris Eisenstadt - Recent Developments

Label/Year: Songlines, 2017

Lineup - Harris Eisenstadt: percussion; Jeb Bishop: trombone; Dan Peck: tuba; Anna Webber: flute; Nate Wooley: trumpet; Sara Schoenbeck: bassoon; Brandon Seabrook: banjo; Eivind Opsvik: bass; Hank Roberts: cello.

harris-eisenstadt-recent-developments

Harris Eisenstadt is not only an efficacious percussionist but also a skillful composer and arranger. With 19 records already under his belt and precious collaborations with highly respected jazz figures such as Sam Rivers, Yusef Lateef, Nate Wooley, Tony Malaby, and Bennie Maupin, the Toronto native feels comfortable playing in both small and large ensembles.

His latest body of work, Recent Developments, is an appetizing feast of musical textures, timbres, and rhythmic pulses that provide a sensational experience for listeners who lean on the avant-garde jazz style. Besides the visionary concept employed on a compositional level, Eisenstadt’s creativity benefitted with the valuable rapport established within the 8-piece ensemble. The pretty talented lineup includes Jeb Bishop on trombone, Dan Peck on tuba, Anna Webber on flute, Nate Wooley on trumpet, Sara Schoenbeck on bassoon, Brandon Seabrook on banjo, Eivind Opsvik on bass, and the veteran Hank Roberts on cello.

In addition to an introduction, prologue, epilogue, and interludes delivered by variable formations, the album contains six pieces at its core that are heterogeneous in sound but deeply tied in terms of behavior and posture.

After a brief-yet-energetic woodwind intro and the following dark prologue, “Part 1” slides at mid-tempo, serving as a showcase for Wooley’s nimble crusades over a structural rhythmic foundation delineated by Opsvick, Peck, and Eisenstadt.

A light-footed bass walking, well aligned with the patterned snare-drum accents, invites Seabrook to dynamically contribute on “Part 2”. His chromatic risings are interrupted by meddling circus-like orchestrations, which, in turn, leads to the cavernous reverberations liberated by Peck’s tuba.

While “Part 3” makes bold moves within a ternary setting with Bishop as a protagonist, “Part 4” holds on to a 5/4 tuba groove bolstered by Eisenstadt’s rational drumming, which supports Webber’s trippy flute. Meanwhile, other instruments join, creating a carefree bedazzlement.
The drummer not only envisions ingratiating chamber movements to be delivered on “Part 5”, calling Schoenbeck’s bassoon to the center, but also reserves the final section for his own percussive creativity.

Right before the epilogue, gleeful melodic contortions can be heard on “Part 6”, the shortest part, where Seabrook and Roberts were given orders to create a stringed entanglement of banjo and bowed cello.

An indestructible feeling of unity reigns in Recent Developments since the abandonment of the musicians is never synonymous of disjunction but rather indefinite freedom.

Favorite Tracks:
07 – Part 3 ► 09 – Part 4 ► 11 – Part 5


Andrew Schiller Quintet - Tied Together, Not To The Ground

Label/Year: Red Piano Records, 2017

Lineup - Hery Paz: tenor saxophone; Alec Harper: tenor saxophone; Frank Carlberg: piano; Andrew Schiller: bass; Robin Baytas: drums.

andrew-schiller-tied-together

Phoenix-born Brooklyn-based bassist Andrew Schiller has a knack for modern composition and his debut album, Tied Together, Not To The Ground, a 10-song collection of inventive genius, features an ensemble top-loaded with talent. The peers that follow him are tenorists Hery Paz and Alec Harper, pianist Frank Carlberg, and drummer Robin Baytas.
 
Enjoying the calm waters, the quintet sets sail to explore spacious regions on “Little Shoes”. The intro, built with sax and drums and later joined by a cadenced piano pointillism, is delivered in a breathable and cyclic manner. More spontaneous rather than mechanical, Schiller’s bass solo is crafted with art, as well as Paz’s saxophone lines, whose lyricism doesn’t stick to anything you might be expecting to hear but has the capacity to surprise.

The exquisite waltzing flow of “Go Get ‘Em Tiger!” carries wry fanfare tones in the unison melodies deliver by the two-horn frontline. Soloing with swampy intensity, Harper (what an entrance!) instills all his melodic and motivic richness into a tune that also counts on Carlberg’s melodies (we can hear his voice) to entice. The pianist’s expressive gestures are also strongly felt on the contagious “Head Down, Walk”, whose title could have been ‘Head up, March’ in accordance with its actual nature.

Infusing larger doses of joyfulness, the band digs the frisky “Tink Tink” with Latin and groovy vibes, in a stylistically expansive description of a rousing scenario. In addition to Schiller and Paz’s individual statements, Baytas has here an opportunity to show his flexible drum forays. The latter shines again by the end of the revolutionary “Gluckschmerz”, in which he helps to form a powerful rhythmic epicenter together with the bassist. A collective improvisation blossoms out of this adventurous stretch, bringing an avalanche of sharp angles and protuberances created by Paz and Harper.This visceral rhythmic drive and melodic entanglement emerge again on the abstract, sparse, and uncompromised “CFBDSIR-2149” and on the title track, a deeply nostalgic ballad that refrains from agitation.

Also painted with an atmospheric glow is “One That Never Was”, whose starting point is made of acerbic bass note intervals before landing on an unknotted, stable groove that instinctively combines with the dry percussive sounds engendered by Baytas. 

Between the lines, the album’s title reads only the truth. The members of this quintet are closely tied to this music whose creator provides them with an abundant freedom to create, move, and interact. Moreover, instead of being tied to the ground, they are able to fly together. 
Schiller’s debut is a worthy trip and his compositions reflect the blistering state of the modern jazz.

Favorite Tracks:
02 – Go Get ‘Em Tiger! ► 05 – Gluckschmerz ► 07 – Head Down, Walk


Anne Mette Iversen Quartet + 1 - Round Trip

Label/Year: Brooklyn Jazz Underground, 2017

Lineup - Anne Mette Iversen: bass; John Ellis: tenor saxophone; Peter Dahlgren: trombone; Danny Grissett: piano; Otis Brown III: drums.

anne-mette-iversen-round-trip

Anne Mette Iversen, a modern bassist, composer, and bandleader based in Berlin, releases her seventh album on the Brooklyn Jazz Underground label with the suggestive title Round Trip. This idea of leaving and return to the same point is scattered throughout the eight original compositions whose exciting arrangements and interplay won me over. 

Most of the tunes on the recording thrive with a groovy, pulsing rhythm that feels contemporary, urban, and provocative to the ear, gaining more emphasis with the addition of a two-horn frontline that thickens sound layers and infuses wider melodic solutions. Iversen added trombonist Peter Dahlgren to her long-time quartet composed of tenorist John Ellis, pianist Danny Grissett, and drummer Otis Brown III.

Round Trip opens with the debonair title track, where the contrapuntal work between the horns makes room for Grissett’s crisp pianism. After returning to the starting point, the tune advances with interspersed statements between Ellis and Dahlgren, who find a common chain of thought.

Lines & Curves” and “The Ballad That Would Not Be” carry some classical intonations in its main melodies. The former even brings a slight Oriental flavor attached, depicting another round trip and featuring a piano-bass reciprocation before the horns come to the forefront. A collective horn-driven improvisation sets foot on the groovy road paved by the high-qualified rhythm section.

Both trombonist and drummer, in a stirring interaction, introduce the upbeat “Segue”, which, acquiring a swinging foundation, provides the freedom claimed by the soloists, Ellis and Grissett. Both deliver clear ideas through challenging executions. 

With much less sharp angles, “Wiistedt’s View” creates a melancholic soundscape that works mostly in a typical piano trio formation, expanded with the inclusion of Dahlgren’s mellow trombone.

If “Scala” is an elegant, deftly orchestrated piece that gallops with a triumphant spirit and features zealous bass and piano solos, “Red Hairpins” is unmatchable in terms of post-bop panache, closing the recording in an appreciable manner. By the end, Brown’s percussive rumbles rhyme with class and enthusiasm.

Brimming with bold sounds, Round Trip is a successful achievement where no redundancy is found. This CD packs all the virtuosity and straightforwardness of these musicians whose rapport is equally laudable since they bring a cutting honesty and luxurious gravitas into the innovative jazz sphere.

Favorite Tracks:
01 – Round Trip ► 03 – Segue ► 08 – Red Hairpin


Chad Lefkowitz-Brown - Onward

Label/Year: Self-produced, 2017

Lineup - Chad Lefkowitz-Brown: saxophone; Steven Feifke: piano; Raviv Markovitz: bass; Jimmy MacBride: drums; Randy Brecker: trumpet (guest).

Chad-Lefkowitz-Brown-Onward

Chad Lefkowitz-Brown, 27, is an American saxophonist, born and based in New York, whose musical path expanded in several fronts. As a sideman, he’s been working for pop figures like Taylor Swift, Don Henley, and Phillip Phillips, and also jazz creators such as pianists Dave Brubeck and Joe Gilman, drummer Clarence Penn, and trumpeter Adam O’Farrill and his father Arturo, a Latin-jazz enthusiast and composer.
 Four years ago, realizing it was time for him to move forward, he released Imagery Manifesto, a great starting point for a career as a leader.

His sophomore album, Onward, features nine tracks, which divide into five originals and four renditions of widely known pieces.
To fulfill what he had in mind, Chad enlisted pianist Steven Feifke, bassist Raviv Markovitz, and drummer Jimmy MacBride as elements of his quartet. He also borrowed the voice of giant trumpeter Randy Brecker for a couple of tunes.

The first step was taken with the title track, a soulful, expansive, and mind-blowing conference on spirituality that evokes Kenny Garrett, Joe Farrell, and John Coltrane in all their grandiosity. The bandleader’s mode of expression transpires energy and thrives through the cutting-edge timbre of his tenor sax. While Feifke astutely adopts McCoy-ish modes, Markovitz and MacBride snatch the rhythmic flow with urgency and distinction.

Coltrane is revisited once again with one of his most remarkable tunes, “Giant Steps”. Saxophone and drums determine the effervescent intro of an arrangement that asks for shifts in tempo and incites to a fiery swinging groove for the improvisational blocks.

On the winsome “Franklin St”, Randy Brecker tosses in the pungent lyricism that has always characterized him, repeating the dose on the gravitational “Blues for Randy”, wrote by the bandleader with his guest in mind. Besides the early spasmodic strokes inflicted by Feifke, the latter tune offers us vigorous solos, climaxing in a prosperous horn interplay.

Deviation” is another Lefkowitz-Brown’s original that, despite the title, doesn’t deviate much from the style presented here. It’s a tribute to Brubeck, picturing fast, urban landscapes created through a happy-go-lucky concoction of bop, fainted crossover jazz, and post-bop.
 
Stevie Wonder’s popular hit “Isn’t She Lovely” is delivered with a similar feeling as the original but comes packed with a fresh rhythmic zest, while Cole Porter’s “All of You” is re-harmonized in a free-flowing way, swinging along whenever the soloists step forward.

Onward is an album as much equilibrated as dynamic, exhibiting the exceptional qualities, compositional and instrumental, of Lefkowitz-Brown. 
Provided with the extra motivation drawn from his peers’ musicianship, he seems to know exactly where he has to go, and two albums are enough to realize that there’s an auspicious future coming his way. 

Favorite Tracks:
01 – Onward ► 04 – Giant Steps ► 06 – Deviation


BJ Jansen- Common Ground

Label/Year: Self-produced, 2017

Lineup - B.J. Jansen: baritone saxophone; Delfeayo Marsalis: trombone; Duane Eubanks: trumpet; Zaccai Curtis: piano; Dezron Douglas: bass; Ralph Peterson: drums.

bj-jansen-common-ground

Cincinnati-born B.J. Jansen, a gifted baritone saxophonist and composer with a 20-year career and a flair for traditional jazz, brings together a devoted sextet that allows him to take the vocabulary from the past into modern escapism. His tenth album, Common Ground, symbolizes what he calls of Harlem/Philadelphia connection (due to where he lived) and is probably his most accomplished work to date. 
The distinguished peers that join him here are Delfeayo Marsalis on trombone, Duane Eubanks on trumpet, Zaccai Curtis on piano, Dezron Douglas on bass, and Ralph Peterson on drums.

Stacked with hyped up tones, “Stacey’s Pace”, is a post-bop ecstasy whose energy is channeled uninterruptedly through improvisations that reveal not only rhythmic proficiency but also a strong instinct for melody. This quick-witted nature is equally audible in “Angela’s Aggravation”, an evocative piece with a hard-bop vein. If the chord progression is right up Parker’s alley, the multicolored melodic phrases recall Hank Mobley, Clifford Brown, and Jackie McLean in his early phase.

The form and sound of the blues are very present and the band digs “Brandon’s Blues” with swinging vigor, and also “Bucket Full of Soul” whose generous doses of funk and soul come close to Horace Silver. Enveloped in buoyancy and featuring a deft drum solo by master Peterson, this tune also recalls the Latin sides of Joe Henderson and Lee Morgan.

On “Street Walk”, the group dabbles in a reinvigorating 4/4-tempo dance imbued of groove and fluidity. While Jansen, who shows a powerful connection with his instrument, draws sparkling reactions from Peterson throughout his stimulating improvisation, Eubanks gets the same type of responses from Curtis when he is in control. The solid bass-drums alliance is intensified with extra freedom before the reemergence of the main theme.

Searching for more peaceful ambiances amidst such a high excitement, we have “Carol’s Dream”, whose beautiful melody is distributed by trumpet and baritone, and “Soul Loss”, a ballad enunciated by Jansen and gently quivered by Peterson’s brushwork.

The most irresistible moment of the record takes place when the title track brings the spiritual expansiveness of Coltrane into the scene. Jansen is motivically attractive in his solo, impelling the deep sounds of his baritone to hit us hard in the face. Curtis also excels through serial piano sweeps.

Common Ground is a categorical revival of the mainstream jazz and a vital step in B.J. Jansen’s career. Well adapted to the present times, it comes equipped with sufficient baits to get us stuck in its harmonious sonic net.

Favorite Tracks:
01 – Stacey’s Pace 03 – Street Walk 09 – Common Ground


Dave Liebman / Joe Lovano - Compassion: The Music of John Coltrane

Label/Year: Resonance Records, 2017

Lineup - Dave Liebman: saxophone, flute; Joe Lovano: saxophone; Phil Markowitz: piano; Ron McLure: bass; Billy Hart: drums.

dave-liebman-joe-lovano-compassion-coltrane

We couldn’t have asked for better! Two veterans and top-notch horn masters like Dave Liebman and Joe Lovano playing together the bright music of John Coltrane in the commemoration of his 50th anniversary on Resonance Records.

Regardless their different styles, approaches, and timbres, the co-leaders seamlessly adjust their eloquent phrasing and give a new life to these iconic pieces.
Compassion: The Music of John Coltrane features the striking duo accompanied by the also experienced Phil Markowitz on piano, Ron McLure on bass, and the great Billy Hart on drums. 

Locomotion”, an electrifying hard-bop tune first recorded in 1957 as part of the acclaimed album Blue Trane (Blue Note), immediately gets the band together for a ‘crazy motion’ as the title suggests. The vivacity that arises from the rhythm section’s coalition instigates Liebman and Lovano to draw vigorous and articulated melodic sequences full of oblique angles and action-reaction momentum.

The effervescence winds down for “Central Park West/Dear Lord”, a smooth medley where Lovano controls the first part with soulful enthusiasm while Liebman is in charge of finding benevolent melodies and take them to the second, as an ode to the Creator.
 
The mood changes once more on “Olé”, a lavish modal piece that takes us to Spanish traditions, in the present case, more exciting and less harmful than their bullfighting. Sweet flute intonations set the right tone and are quickly joined by the percussive scratches drawn by the piano strings. Moments later, McLure and Hart underpin a Latin-tinged groove that invites the horns for an urgent, magical feast à-la Coltrane. The tune ends with McLure’s bass ruminations.

Both “Reverend King” and “Equinox” bring hope into the world as true conveyers of a beneficial spiritual aura. The former, a push-pull rubato, is built with bowed bass, flute, and cymbal’s splashes; the latter, flowing at a slightly faster pace than the original, is a minor blues coated with Liebman’s rapturous soprano flights, Markowitz’s poised linkage of chords and melodies, and Lovano’s heartwarming tenor strains. 

The rhythmic sophistication of Billy Hart stands out on “Compassion”, an almost 18-minute devotion that also expands with the saxophonists’ igneous phrases, which converge into unisons and then scatter up to uproars that go in and out of focus.

Liebman/Lovano quintet strikes with ravishment and gusto, showing their reverence for Coltrane’s legacy while exhibiting their own special gifts. 
In addition to knowing inside out the territory they’re stepping into, refinement and dynamism became keys in the process. 

Favorite Tracks:
01 – Locomotion ► 03 – Ole ► 06 – Compassion


Mats Gustafsson & Craig Taborn - Ljubljana

Label/Year: Clean Feed, 2017

Lineup - Mats Gustafson: saxophone; Craig Taborn: piano.

craig-taborn-mats-gustafsson-ljubljana

Swedish saxophonist Mats Gustafson and American pianist Craig Taborn, two dauntless explorers with an accentuated inclination for avant-garde jazz and free improvisation, had never joined forces until the 2015 Slovenia Jazz Festival. 
That singular happening, a live duo performance completely improvised was turned into a two-long-track vinyl record, entitled Ljubljana, which is now available on the Portuguese label Clean Feed.

While this is the first move of the year for the prolific saxophonist, the highly in-demand pianist saw his magnificent album, Daylight Ghosts, coming out on the ECM label three months ago. 

The Eyes Moving Slowly”, the opening and lengthiest track at over 20 minutes, begins with Taborn’s dark combination of bass notes while Gustafson sneaks in with a few air blows. A few minutes later, the latter unleashes the beast in him, showing us the power of his baritone saxophone through vociferous deep-toned outcries that can be tied in with pain, pleasure, or fear. At this phase, Taborn embraces the macabre scenario by creating continuous murky textures of distinct intensities. The verbal fury is gradually mitigated, opening space to a punctilious pianism supported by single-note lines rather than wider chords. Simultaneously, Gustafson plays with timbres and explores sounds of various kinds. The tune ends up in an oddly disjointed dance.

The almost-18-minute “The Ears Facing the Fantasies” starts out through (un)geometric figures engendered by Taborn, who takes in Gustafson’s attacks with a ceaseless, self-ruling posture.
The saxophonist puts into practice a variety of extended techniques - his famous slap and flutter tonguing, roars, growls, and whistles. He complements all this with rapid-fire phrases and the sound of his own voice. Moods range from dense/grotesque to minimalistic/graceful.

The liberties arise with an opulent fervency, drawing intense musical moments that could make this record a hard nut to crack, especially if taken by someone whose taste falls out of the free jazz circuit.

Favorite Track:
01 – The Eyes Moving Slowly


Kurt Rosenwinkel - Caipi

Label/Year: Razdaz Records, 2017

Lineup – Kurt Rosenwinkel: guitars, voice, bass, piano, synth, percussion; Mark Turner: tenor saxophone; Pedro Martins: voice, drums, synth; Frederika Krier: violin; Chris Komer: French horn; Alex Kozmidi: baritone guitar; Eric Clapton: guitar; Andi Haberl: drums; Amanda Brecker: voice; Zola Mennenoh: voice; Kyra Garey: voice; Antonio Loureiro: voice.

kurt-rosenwinkel-caipi

Influential American guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel opted to radically change direction in Caipi, a Brazilian jazz fusion record whose concept and compositions had been worked on over the last ten years. 
Accompanying the virtuoso guitarist, who also sings and plays bass, keys, and percussion, are international artists of undeniable quality. The lineup includes the saxophonist Mark Turner, multi-instrumentalist Pedro Martins, and intermittent appearances of violinist Frederika Krier, French horn player Chris Komer, baritone guitarist Alex Kozmidi, drummer Andi Haberl, rock/blues guitarist Eric Clapton, and a quartet of vocalists.

A myriad of colorful confetti covers the tropical landscapes described by the title track, where typical Brazilian rhythms fuse seamlessly with the straight-ahead post-bop style that the guitarist has been plunging in. On top of the highly-colored acoustic voicings, the radiance of his effect-drenched electric guitar sound is completely identifiable with previous works, even if applied to a new context.

Both “Kama” and “Casio Vanguard” are inspiringly utopian, having Portuguese lyrics uttered with recurrent falsettos. The former is inundated with synth vibes, acquiring an R&B feel that takes us back to the 80s. In turn, the latter is encircled by a Brazilian pop-folk that combines many influences, from Gilberto Gil to Hermeto Pascoal. Rosenwinkel mesmerizes every time he expresses himself on the guitar. 

Summer Song” is a breezy, ear-catching piece that features singable melodies over an underground dream-pop atmosphere. 

A ternary bass groove, glued to a festive samba rhythm, is laid down in “Chromatic B”, creating the ideal conditions for the guitarist’s explorative take offs. It gets us stoned of relaxation before opening a way to a double dose of indie pop with “Hold On” and “Ezra”. The latter, composed for Kurt’s son, features Mark Turner soloing in-the-rhythm. 

The saxophonist can be heard again in “Casio Escher”, a floating, feel-good tune initially driven by acoustic guitar and superiorly vocalized by Amanda Brecker and Pedro Martins. It comes recharged by the empowerment and colorful expressiveness of the soloists, Turner and Rosenwinkel, in the case.

Tinged with an Afro-Brazilian rhythm and richly harmonized, “Interscape” is another favorite of mine, and comes shaped by wordless vocals in a grateful exultation of beauty and joy. 

Fans of Kurt Rosenwinkel will certainly be surprised with the new path but don’t really have to worry. Firstly, because the compositional expertise and guitar skills of their hero remain intact and recognizable. Secondly, because this fusion sounds good, spreading blissful vibes over the blue skies.

Favorite Tracks:
01 –  Caipi ► 09 – Casio Escher ►10 – Interscape


Jim Yanda Trio - Home Road

Label/Year: Corner Store Jazz, 2017

Lineup - Jim Yanda: guitar; Drew Gress: bass; Phil Haynes: drums.

jim-yanda-home-road

Guitarist Jim Yanda, an Iowa native whose career was partially built in Chicago, and his brave trio composed of bassist Drew Gress and drummer Phil Haynes, set off on a musical adventure that combines jazz and blues traditions with a modern flare.

The trio had already hooked up in the Americana-influenced Free Country project led by the drummer while Gress and Haynes, forming a pliable rhythm section, were precious in a couple of records from German reedist Gebhard Ullmann. Besides Home Road, the double-disc album in analysis, which works as a recipient for newly-recorded music, Yanda is also releasing Regional Cookin’, an old recording from 1987 that never saw the daylight and features the same peers. Both records are coming out on Haynes’ Corner Store Jazz label.

Opening disc one, “My Ship” is a beautiful song written by Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin for the 1941 Broadway musical Lady in the Dark. Etched by Yanda’s serene guitar and moving with plenty of space, the trio employs sweet and mellow tones.

Several songs are deeply rooted in the blues, cases of “In-Source”, in which Yanda and Gress trade fours with the drummer after their respective solos, “Blulious”, the album’s closing tune, and “Country Mother”, a mutable, swinging piece that flourishes with a contemporary feeling and smiling affirmation.

The relaxing moods of “Sundog”, where we hear the guitarist fingerpicking with propinquity and the bassist creating amenable melodies, together with the reflective tranquility of the title track, help to balance paces. 

Ghosthood” is perhaps the most provocative tune with its ghostly effects drawn from Yanda’s steel guitar and Haynes’ cymbals chatter, after which it acquires a titillating percussive flow.
Earth Way” showcases the excellence of Haynes’ drumming and features fluid improvisations by Gress and the bandleader.

The easy-listening Home Road arrives with genuine moments of individuality and interplay. Those with an inclination for tradition will find here some interesting ideas well adapted to the current times.

Favorite tracks:
04 (cd1) – Sundog ► 05 (cd1) – Ghosthood ► 01 (cd2) – Earth Way


Ralph Towner - My Foolish Heart

Label/Year: ECM, 2017

Lineup - Ralph Towner: guitars

ralph-towner-my-foolish-heart

Resourceful acoustic guitarist Ralph Towner has been an exemplary case of productivity and dedication since his first appearances in the early 70s. 
His virtuosity is patented in a variety of recordings whose listenings will disclose the incomparable sound and accurate technique that make him unique.

Towner was a co-founder of Oregon, a world-fusion chamber jazz group that also included the versatile experimentalists Collin Walcott, Paul McCandless, and Glen Moore. In this particular band, his instrument was not only the guitar but also the keyboards. He was also a crucial member of the new age ensemble led by the American saxophonist Paul Winter, during its early phase.

In 1973, he started a collaborative association with the record label ECM and that fruitful liaison was extended until the present time. In truth, My Foolish Heart is his 23rd album as a leader/co-leader on the cited label and is now out to prove him in top form.
On this new record, Towner returns to the solo format 11 years after Time Line (ECM, 2006). Since then, he has recorded with guitarists Slava Grigoryan and Wolfgang Muthspiel, as well as with the Italian trumpeter Paolo Fresu.

Charged with Third Stream improvisation, “Pilgrim” opens the recording with strong folk influences that are definitely not American but rather Eastern.
Through the passionate melodies of “I’ll Sing to You”, the guitarist exhibits his technical splendor translated into stylish fingerpicking, shivering trills, and modern classical lyricism. The enormous facility in combining melody and harmony in a smooth, seamless manner comes to our attention again in “Saultier”, which feels less folk and more postbop.

The title track, a bright rendition of a widely-known jazz standard, is delivered with sentimental melancholy, naturally contrasting with the stunning “Clarion Call” where the rich sounds of a 12-string guitar infuse a transcendental beauty. My soul was filled with these hypnotic, often percussive reverberations modulated with delay effect, and decisive guitar slides and harmonics. Connotations with world music and progressive jazz are easily identifiable and can be heard again in the shorter “Binding Time”. 

Different moods are those of “Dolomiti Dance”, steeply folk in its most traditional current, and “Rewind”, another compound of jazz and classical with splashes of Brazil fragrances, in the same line of Toquinho.

Another eclectic paragon is “Blue as in Bley”, a piece composed for the late pianist Paul Bley that overflows with enigmatic multi-colored tones resultant from postbop, classical, folk, and blues.

Ralph Towner has enough inventive qualities to never step on clichés. Whether extemporizing his own originals, working as a sideman, or digging selected jazz standards with circumstantial vision, Towner is always immensely vibrant in his musical approach.

Favorite Tracks:
02 – I’ll Sing to You ► 06 – Clarion Call ► 11 – Blue as in Bley


Orrin Evans - #knowingishalfthebattle

Label/Year: Smoke Sessions, 2016

Lineup - Orrin Evans: piano; Kurt Rosenwinkel: guitar; Kevin Eubanks: guitar; Lucques Curtis: bass; Mark Whitfield, Jr.: drums. Guests: Caleb Curtis: saxophone; M’Balia Singley: vocals.

orrin-evans-knowigishalfthebattle

American jazz pianist Orrin Evans was born in New Jersey and is based in Philadelphia, where he perseveres and takes inspiration to compose his music. He usually probes other influences such as neo-soul and hip-hop and likes to test new lineups in order to make his music sound unique each time he records.
Thus, if in 2014 he gathered a quintet with a two-horn frontline to record Liberation Blues (Smoke Sessions), in 2015 he opted for a stirring trio, featuring bassist Christian McBride and drummer Karriem Riggins, to bring The Evolution of Oneself (Smoke Sessions) into life.

His latest work, #knowingishalfthebattle, feels strongly contemporary as much in the title as in its pliable sonorities. 
This time, Evans resolved to hire two expert guitarists, Kurt Rosenwinkel and Kevin Eubanks, in order to infuse extra color in his illustrated stories. Joining them here on a regular basis are the bassist Luques Curtis and the young drummer Mark Whitfield, Jr., while the guests Caleb Curtis and M’Balia Singley, saxophonist and vocalist, respectively, have sporadic appearances.
Maintaining his habit of incorporating both originals and covers, Evans’s pianism shows an underlying feel for groove and mood.

The one-minute title track is arranged with vocal samples, electronica, and a hip-hop beat. It gives us a distorted idea of the rest of the album, and “Calls”, composed by Carla Bley, contradicts it through a keen sense of swing. The tune starts with Evans’ voice and proceeds with adventurous solos by the guest saxophonist and the bandleader whose rhythmic discernment comes accompanied of a daring in/out melodic concept. Lastly, it's Eubanks who picks up at a moment where the bass-drums rhythmic flux is catching fire, magnifying it with tortuous statements.

Rosenwinkel outlines the melody of Kenny Baker’s “When Jen Came In”, a waltz with an appealing rhythmic accentuation that discloses a gradual holding back of tempo for the finale. It features fervent improvisations by Evans, whose line of action falls between Jarrett and Monk, and Rosenwinkel, who strikes again in “Chiara”, a lyrical ballad by pianist Curtis Clark, this time by adopting trippy guitar chops wrapped in flute-like effects.

Two of the most stirring tunes are Evans' creations and reveal his compositional skills and unreserved musical nature: “You Don't Need a License to Drive” is an uptempo groovy extravaganza where he and Eubanks go flip, while “Half the Battle” is cooked with the irresistible ingredients of master Rosenwinkel. 
All this frenzy contrasts with Curtis’ atmospheric “Heavy Hangs the Head That Wears the Crown” and Evans’s “Zeni Bea”, a delicate piece named for the two-month-old daughter of Curtis and enriched with dulcet flute and vocals.
M'Balia Singley vocalizes a pair of songs: David Bowie’s “Kooks”, here dropped with a fancy groove, and “That’s All”, a product of the Great American Songbook.
 
Pumped up by motivational pulses and an elevated lyricism, #knowingishalfthebattle, is an impressive effort from a skilled pianist that deservedly claims for immediate attention.

Favorite Tracks: 
02 – Calls ► 06 – You Don't Need a License to Drive  ► 07 – Half the Battle


Dayna Stephens - Gratitude

Label/Year: Contagious Music, 2017

Lineup - Dayna Stephens: reeds; Brad Mehldau: piano; Julian Lage: guitar; Larry Grenadier: bass; Eric Harland: drums.

dayna-stephens-gratitude

Dayna Stephens, a top saxophonist and bandleader with a knack for calm post-bop adventures and ballads, translates his gratitude to the world and to himself into a set of nine tunes (only one is original) that compose his eighth album as a leader.
To bring Gratitude to life, Stephens called the same illustrious musicians who had recorded Peace in 2004 - pianist Brad Mehldau, guitarist Julian Lage, bassist Larry Grenadier, and drummer Eric Harland.
After Stephens has been diagnosed with a grave disease, he started seeing life in a different manner and this recording transpires appreciation, celebration, and life itself in its most varied musical forms.

Built with warm, amiable tones, “Emilie” is gently Latinized by Mehldau’s thoughtful comping, effortlessly adhering to the rhythmic flow set by Grenadier and Harland. This version of Olivier Manchon's composition lies between a typical jazz standard and the richness of a Jobim’s tune, featuring animated sax-guitar dialogues by the end. 

A soulful approach is reserved for both “In a Garden” and “Amber Is Falling (Red and Yellow)”. While the former, composed by pianist Aaron Parks, is a languorous ballad colored by Grenadier’s enlightened bass solo, the latter, written by vocalist/composer Michelle Amador, starts slowly but becomes rapidly enveloped by a positive energy, glimmering with Stephens and Mehldau’s fluid language and improvisational creativity. Harland is particularly stimulating here, exhibiting his rhythmic potentiality all along the way.

Lage’s “Woodside Waltz” combines pop, jazz, and folk through disciplined harmonic sequences and easy melodies. 
In a sweet melancholy, “We Had a Sister” is a Pat Metheny celebrated song where Stephens plays EWI, pulling out this weird flute-synth sound of the instrument. The saxophonist switches to baritone in the drum-less version of Billy Strayhorn’s “Isfahan”, boasting a full, deep timbre over the crystalline voicings liberated by Lage’s electric guitar. 

Stephen’s only original, “The Timbre of Gratitude”, draws a laudable coordination between all the musicians involved, yet it’s “Clouds & Clouds” that creates surprise through its modern trip-hop beats and cyclic synth trajectories saturated in color. On top of it, Stephens calmly formulates unclouded melodies with a pureness of intention.

Balanced and overflowing with awesome musicality, Gratitude will engage jazz fans in general since it lives from tradition and modernity alike. Regardless of which format the group may acquire, the proximity of the musicians and their huge synergistic sensibility lead to a beautiful work in all its subtlety.

Favorite Tracks:
01 – Emilie ► 03 – Amber Is Falling (Red and Yellow) ► 07 – Isfahan


Alex Wintz - Life Cycle

Label/Year: Culture Shock Music, 2017

Lineup - Alex Wintz: guitar; Lucas Pino: tenor saxophone; Victor Gould: piano; Ben Williams: bass; Jimmy MacBride: drums.

alex-wintz-life-cycle

Born in California and raised in New Jersey, Alex Wintz is an emergent young guitarist whose musical approach has been requested for ambitious projects led by Etienne Charles, Nick Finzer, Ben Williams, and Lucas Pino. With them, Wintz has developed a solid maturity that is now passed to Life Cycle, his debut album as a leader, to be released soon on Culture Shock Music.

The album consists of a set of nine tunes, seven originals and two jazz standards, outfitted with diverse colors and played in different band formats (trio, quartet, and quintet). The lineup includes Lucas Pino on tenor saxophone, Victor Gould on piano, Ben Williams on bass, and Jimmy MacBride on drums.

The opening tune, “Action-Reaction”, is an exciting ride to the 60’s and to the hard-bop guitar sounds of jazz giant Grant Green. The pulsing chord changes emanated from Gould’s piano are attached to the magnetic swinging groove provided by Williams and MacBride in order to underpin Wintz’s clear-toned phrasing and the improvisations that follow it. This lively atmosphere continued on the jazz standard “Sweet and Lovely”, a Wes Montgomery-ish bop exploration played in trio and carrying a strong Latin touch. It shows the extroverted musicality of the bandleader through a clever combination of well-delineated melodic ideas and compliant harmonic movements. The tune also features a brief bass solo by Williams, loaded by bountiful lyricism.  

Also delivered in trio, we have “I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance”, a ballad standard, “The Low Road”, a soothing country-like song that also brings cool bluesy tones and energizing vibes, and “Locust Ave”, which adopts a nice melody over a consistent textural amalgam of pop/rock and modern jazz. 

The blues factor is heavily intensified in “Shared Stories”, a ternary-form tune where the guitar trio was expanded into a quartet with the addition of Gould’s piano. In opposition, “Life Cycle” and “Taking Sides” are two straightforward post-bop fantasies explored in quintet. Despite flowing at different tempos, they have pretty much identical structure and arrangements, including MacBride’s percussive exteriorization over a final vamp. The title track is boosted not only by Pino, who motivically quotes “Fascinating Rhythm” in his improvisation, but also by Wintz’s racing motions and Gould’s rich and more breathable melodic sense.

Delivered at a propulsive 3/4, “Seeing Distance” bestows a jubilant nature that calls up the famous quintet led by Dave Holland. After the solo guitar intro, it relies on an unbreakable chain of well-built harmonic movements, pompously enriched with clever interactions and improvisations atop.

Boasting a thorough command of the instrument and mature compositional skills, Alex Wintz dynamically transfers elements from the past into the modern jazz spectrum with a glitzy determination.

Favorite Tracks: 
03 – Life Cycle ► 05 – Seeing Distance ► 06 – The Low Road