Arthur/Fitzsimons/Otts - The Cheap Ensemble

Label/Year: Self-produced, 2017

Lineup - Patrick Arthur: guitar; Dana Fitzsimons: drums; Chris Otts: tenor saxophone.

The Cheap Ensemble, a cohesive and quirky jazz trio based in Atlanta, is composed of drummer Dana Fitzsimons, guitarist Patrick Arthur, and tenorist Chris Otts. It was the band’s wish to counteract the troubles and fear we’re living in today with a non-aggressive music style that works as a stress reliever.

Keeping a strong melodic keenness in sight while constructing texture and structure, the band navigates quietly, breathing a soaring tranquility that is quite enjoyable on Roberto Somoza's “Ithaca”, the memorable opening tune. Otts and Arthur converse with freedom, having Fitzsimons' cymbal strokes as a unique rhythmic support. Space is wide and the repose everlasting.

Following identical guidelines and evincing a balladic quality that suits Otts’ calm probes, “Poor Butterfly” seems inspired by those gorgeous jazz standards that cradle and serenade. To counter this tendency, Otts’ “Volkslied” heats things up with an inner energy that stems from sudden mutations we don't find on other tunes. The ternary accentuation and folk-influenced melodies end up in a circular harmonic prowess so characteristic of the pop/rock tradition.

A rendition of “Pure Imagination”, written in 1971 specifically for the film Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, introduces itself through a guitar ostinato punctuated by saxophone observations. It advances unhurriedly until a slight twist that launches off-kilter guitar textures and emphasizes the saxophone behaviors.

Chick Corea’s “Matrix” was included to homage drummer Hoy Haynes. The tune is everything but quiet, boiling with a pressurized rock-ish steam ready to burst anytime. The powerful triangular layers become denser with the time, finding orientation in an unexpected funk-rock rhythm that goes to the end.

The session culminates with an apparently hushed rendition of Bruce Hornsby’s “Fortunate Son”, which starts with bucolic contemplation but decides to instigate some action during Otts’ improvisation. Crescent reverb-drenched guitar waves gain preponderance guided by Fitzsimons light beats.

Indeed, The Cheap Ensemble earned my respect and succeeded in pacifying my soul with their atmospheric agility and timely poise.

        Grade B+

        Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Ithaca ► 03 - Volkslied ► 05 - Matrix

Ivo Perelman - The Art of Perelman-Shipp

Label/Year: Leo Records, 2017

Lineup - Ivo Perelman: saxophone; Matthew Shipp: piano; William Parker: bass; Michael Bisio: bass; Whit Dickey: drums; Bobby Kapp: drums; Andrew Cyrille: drums.

I don’t know any musician as much prolific as the Brazilian saxophonist Ivo Perelman. In the course of the last three years, he has released 24 albums with formations that keep changing according to a well-defined set of habitual collaborators. Namely pianists Matthew Shipp and Karl Berger, bassists William Parker and Michael Bisio, guitarist/bassist Joe Morris, violist Mat Maneri, and drummers Whit Dickey and Gerald Cleaver. Among them, one may say that Shipp, a top-notch avant-garde pianist of limitless ambidexterity, is his musical soulmate, and nothing better to celebrate that kinship than seven volumes of The Art of Perelman-Shipp.
Not all the musicians cited above contributed to the sessions, which were recorded between August 2015 and November 2016, but the duo added two drummers whose presences are not so recurrent: the heavyweight Andrew Cyrille and the undisclosed Bobby Kapp.

Each volume got the name of a moon of Saturn except for the sixth, a pure Perelman-Shipp duet, which was identified as the planet Saturn itself, the core in which everything comes into being, develops, and returns.

On Volume 1: Titan, the duo invites the sturdy bassist William Parker to join their creative arena, and creativity is something he doesn’t lack. The trio starts by walking on flat ground with Perelman almost whispering hushed murmurs, but after a short period, there’s a deflection into rugged territories, where his saxophone timbre switches from bright to dark. Both Shipp and Parker follow him by equally plunging into a mystery, hardening the ecstatic axis while stirring dynamics around it.

I found Tarvos, the second volume, slightly more pugnacious than the first. You may think of David S.Ware’s prayers interweaving with Albert Ayler’s eventful strolls, ending in purgative agitation and overwhelming fire. However, on “Part 6”, the introspection takes over, and I was able to spot a few scrupulous melodies delineated with lots of motifs and outcries encircling them.

Volume 3: Pandora, featuring a quartet with William Parker and Whit Dickey, has a strange appeal and exhibits impertinent postures in cleaner environments. As usual, the band plays with the mutability of tones, timbres, and moods, but in a more controlled, lyrical way. Shipp’s influences of classical music are quite noticeable here as he transforms creative ideas into wholehearted dances.

Michael Bisio, who draws a superb round sound from his bass, plays on the next two volumes Hyperion and Rhea. The latter also features Dickey in the drummer’s chair, and his percussive chops inject some more robustness. “Part 6” was particularly entrancing with inspired blows by Perelman, sometimes carrying some folk in the melody, and striking sonic gusts that made my feet come out of the ground. The adventures are quite elliptical, full of sweeps, contortions, and stretches.

The literal art of the duo can be enjoyed on Volume 6: Saturn, which comprises ten short pieces. “Part 9” is a highlight that brings beseeching melodic contours and highly percussive piano.

The great Andrew Cyrille joins for Volume 7: Dione, soloing upfront in the opening tune. The hosts adhere to the visitor’s suggestions in a triumphant point of entry and embrace an agitated asymmetry that drifts volubility from then on. The trio is on the same page and there are plenty of ravishing moments to be discovered.

Every different lineup offers different possibilities within the same line of approach and the seven volumes form a valid and meritorious body of work. My advice is: for a better absorption, don't listen to the seven volumes in a row. Doing so, you'll dig more precious details in the cathartic creativity of Perelman-Shipp.

        Grade B+

        Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
03 (Vol 1) – Part 3 ► 09 (Vol 6)  – Part 9 ► 01 (Vol 7) - Part 1

Oscar Feldman - Gol

Label/Year: Zoho, 2017

Lineup - Oscar Feldman: tenor and soprano saxophone; Leo Genovese: piano; John Benitez: bass; Antonio Sanchez: drums + guest Guillermo Klein: vocals, keyboards.

Versatile Argentine saxophonist Oscar Feldman opens his new album, Gol, with an inspired Latin feel associated to the colorful harmonic discernment of Duke Ellington’s “I Let a Song Out of My Heart”, impeccably arranged by Paquito D’Rivera. It features electrifying improvisations by the bandleader and his fellow countryman pianist Leo Genovese.

Another Argentine, Guillermo Klein, a highly respected pianist/composer with a flair for contemporary jazz exodus, appears as a special guest on “La Cancion Que Falta”, translated into ‘the song that’s missing, an original of his own where he sings the initial theme and plays keyboards, blending the agreeable linearity of a pop song with the profundity of the Argentine sentiment. Feldman reinstates the theme’s final melody on soprano saxophone.
Feldman borrows another challenging composition from Klein. Standing for ‘no name’, “N.N.” references the disappearances of several innocent people during the dictatorship in Argentina. The denunciation is made via vibrant soprano speeches, curious shifting rhythms, electric piano expansions, and meteoric percussive strikes.

Viva Belgrano”, Feldman’s only original, couldn’t be more vivid and enthusiastic as it celebrates the moment that his hometown soccer team scored an important goal. The narration by Matias Barzola is placed at the beginning and end of a post-bop bravado stirred with hasty swinging passages and flammable solos. By the end, before the theme’s reinstatement, drummer Antonio Sanchez scores a monumental goal while signing his famous reverberant percussive attacks.

More swinging bass movements laid over post-bop harmonic preparations arrive with “Is That So?”, a Duke Pearson’s composition arranged by Bill Nelson. Besides Feldman’s expressive soprano trip, this tune also thrives with expeditious piano surges hooked up with shimmering voicings and the infatuated rhythmic dialogue between Sanchez and bassist John Benitez.

The exploration of diversified genres is effortlessly embraced through “Murmullo”, a traditional Cuban bolero that delicately intensifies the maritime air of a sweltering night on the Caribbean island, also Beck’s melodious song “Nobody’s Fault But My Own”, and The Beatles’ “I Feel Fine”, engendered with a straight ahead attitude to grasp variable time stamps and rhythmic flexibility. Feldman’s famous tonalities find groovy refreshment on the net created by Benitez’s propelling electric bass lines, Genovese’s nimble cadences, and Sanchez’s metrical impetus.

Suggesting persuasive moods, these expressive renditions are totally redesigned from scratch rather than imitated from the original versions. Gol, a product of Feldman’s personal maturation as a musician, is full of dominant counter-attacks and brings a fresh lure to the game.

        Grade B+

        Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
03 - Viva Belgrano ► 05 - N.N. ► 08 - I Feel Fine

Mike Reed - Flesh & Bone

Label/Year: 482 Music, 2017

Lineup – Greg Ward: alto saxophone; Tim Haldeman: tenor saxophone; Ben Lamar Guy: cornet; Jason Stein: baritone clarinet; Jason Roebke: bass; Mike Reed: drums.

Riding high in the aftermath of his previous album, the propulsive A New Kind of Dance (482 Music, 2015), and moved by a harrowing racial experience in Europe, Chicago drummer Mike Reed presents us his new rewarding project, Flesh & Bone. The band features the core of People, Places & Things quartet - Greg Ward on alto saxophone, Tim Haldeman on tenor, and Jason Roebke on bass - plus a pair of sturdy improvisers, Ben Lamar Guy on cornet and Jason Stein on baritone clarinet. There’s also the spoken word of Marvin Tate who tries to call our attention to a few specific problems of this world.
On “Voyagers”, the chord-less ensemble inaugurates a celebratory state of affairs that flourishes with multiple horn timbres dancing in-the-groove of an unflinching percussive motion.
Another tune that strikes with invigorating horn spins is “A Separatist Party”, which besides exhibiting often-static bass notes and a funky backbeat, also welcomes the horn players into the spotlight of a hot improvisational steam.

In a totally different mood, “Conversation Music” features unobvious cornet routes by Lamar Gay and comes orchestrated with a Mingus feel and densely populated with expressive horn fills in the background.

The introduction of “My Imaginary Friend” (referring to a possible dream with his fellow drummer Tyshawn Sorey) consists of a saxophone monologue provided by Ward. His peers join him, kicking into a happy swing momentarily disrupted to introduce a neurotic solo by Stein, who operates his bass clarinet embracing an extended tonal range. Shoulder to shoulder, Lamar Gay and Haldeman pop into the scene for a sparkling conversation that finishes with tonalities of a serious argument.

I Want to Be Small” and “Watching the Boats” are deviated from rugged paths to provide for the melodious tranquility that also reveals the generous spirit of the group. The former, a tune dedicated to the painter Archibald Motley, features Ward developing a phraseology whose cordial sound and sweetness take us to Duke Ellington’s times. In turn, the latter, following Roebke’s bass intro, opens the doors to an Indian-tinged meditation whose melodic contours are exemplarily designed by the reedists.

Tate’s poking words can be heard in three tunes. On one of them, “Call of Tomorrow”, the band harks back once again to Mingus, while continuously changing scenarios, from effusive carnivalesque parades to good-old-times swinging walks to rousing collective improvisations.
Mike Reed melts past and present, fusing them beautifully in Flesh & Bone, an album that allows us to hear and feel the tactile intensity of the collective and the individual expression of the soloists.

        Grade A-

        Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 – Voyagers ► 03 – Conversation Music ► 06 – My Imaginary Friend

Charles Lloyd New Quartet - Passin Thru

Label/Year: Blue Note, 2017

Lineup – Charles Lloyd: saxophone, flute; Jason Moran: piano; Reuben Rogers: bass; Eric Harland: drums.

At the age 79, spectacular saxophonist Charles Lloyd keeps wielding the same impactful language and elegant expressiveness that assured him a prominent place in the history of jazz.

The long-awaited successor of the amazing Wild Man Dance (Blue Note, 2015), Passin’ Thru, encompasses old and new material in a total of seven ravishing long tracks that match very much his own style.

The album is another Blue Note Records outing and marks the 10th anniversary of Mr. Lloyd's new quartet, now with Jason Moran on piano, Reuben Rogers on bass, and Eric Harland on drums.

Lloyd re-examines the highly celebrated “Dream Weaver”, first recorded in 1969, with spiritual incisiveness and renewed harmonic intensity. His dramatic timbral interchanges combine wonderfully with Moran’s flurries in a mystifying, beautiful intro, where Rogers and Harland remain focused and connected. After a while, one can easily notice that catchy riff and seductive rhythm that made this tune so known and gracious in its sparkling danceability. 

Part 5, Ruminations”, one of the new compositions, feels quite loose as the quartet adapts to an unsettled route that makes a gradual detour into a pleasant swing. This ultimate cheery mood galvanizes the bandleader and Moran for another pair of striking improvisations.

The remaining new compositions take different orientations under Lloyd’s monstrously compelling power of speech, which varies from contemplative and affectionate to exultant and entrancing. The newest creations are “Nu Blues”, which carries a positive bop vibe due to its musical nature, “Tagore on the Delta”, which is nothing else than a decorative, far-flung, groovy fusion marked by the lightness of Lloyd’s flute over strummed piano strings, funk-oriented bass licks, and undemanding percussion attacks, and the closing piece, “Shiva Prayer”, a poignant meditation written for the late Judith McBean that features wet mallet drumming, deep bowed bass, and dreamy piano voicings.

Completing the roster, we have “How Can I Tell You”, an optimistic, heartfelt ballad that haunts, gazes at the infinite, and rejoices all at the same time, and "Passin' Thru", introduced by Rogers’ expressive pizzicato and exhibiting brisk melodies over a frantic rhythm. The former was first recorded on the album Discovery! in 1964 while the latter saw the daylight in 1963 when Lloyd was still a member of the Chico Hamilton Quintet.

Equal to himself, Lloyd never ceases to amaze. He takes advantage of the strong bonds established by the members of the quartet and throws in his limitless instrumental resources to envelop the world with bliss. Insightful, exciting, prayerful, genuine… ladies and gentlemen… my dearest saxophonist, Charles Lloyd, has a great new album. 

         Grade A

         Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Dream Weaver ► 04 - How Can I Tell You ► 05 - Tagore on the Delta

Kirk Knuffke - Cherryco

Label: SteepleChase Records, 2017

Lineup – Kirk Knuffke: cornet; Jay Anderson: bass; Adam Nussbaum: drums.

// this review was originally published on LondonJazz News on Jun 12 //

"Cherry-co" was the title of a tune by Don Cherry, which first appeared on the 1966 album The Avant Garde, a revolutionary piece of work jointly authored by Cherry and John Coltrane. The title, was in part a punning reference to the jazz standard "Cherokee", in part a conflation of Cherry and Co(ltrane). 

Kirk Knuffke, the virtuosic NYC-based cornetist, has a new album CherryCo consisting of tunes by Cherry and Ornette Coleman - seven by Cherry and five by Coleman, and is in the company of two experienced master craftsmen of rhythm, bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Adam Nussbaum, working with both of them for the first time.

With a strong musical sensibility, both melodic and rhythmic, the trio plunges deep into the progressive universe of these composers, taking the opportunity to innovate as well while re-shaping the tunes with a tweak of their own. With a full-bodied acoustic sound and an infallible understanding of one another’s movements, the band begins this journey to the past with the reggae-ish "Roland Alphonso" by Cherry, who composed it for the Jamaican tenorist referred to in the title. After blowing the theme’s deep-seated melody with crisp delicacy, Knuffke embarks on a trippy improvisation that will keep you engaged and enthralled, at the same time that stimulates his peers to push forward. After Anderson’s loping bass solo and the reinstatement of the theme, the final vamp briefly allows Nussbaum to intensify his unostentatious brushed attacks. 

Coleman’s shape-shifting "The Sphinx" is obstinate and animated in equal measure. The drummer's  percussive intro has the feel of a march throughout, preparing the ground for the brisk melody that erupts from Knuffke’s cornet. Well accompanied by Anderson’s playful game, he engages in a funk rock backbeat when the time to improvise arrives, but just until they decide to make another adjustment toward a hasty swinging flow. When Knuffke regains the spotlight again, Nussbaum throws in lots of cymbal and snare drum whisks. 

In the same vivid spirit, Cherry’s "Paris Ambulance Song" stands out through gracious coordination. By the end, we have Knuffke and Anderson trading fours with the drummer - which they also do on Coleman’s "Jayne", but this time expanding it into eight bars. This last tune, delivered with strong Latin accents, swings aplomb, propelled by a rhythm section that moves constantly in the pocket. 

Mood variations are constant throughout the recording. If "Art Deco" feels like a gentle jazz standard and grooves along with sweet-sounding solos, "Remembrance", a blues-based piece packed with Latin touches, funk, and swing, gains a stimulating African pulse whenever Nussbaum operates with mallets. In contrast, "Golden Heart" displays bouncing unisons uttered by cornet and bass on top of a fluid rhythm, carrying an inherent Arabic feel attached. 

The session ends with the title track, which is made of three different layers juxtaposed with as much elegance as freedom. The cornetist pours out multiple creative ideas taken from the freebop compendium and beyond, and the tune gradually decelerates toward the finale. 

Cherryco, a collection of classic jazz tunes given a passionate and tasteful contemporary treatment, is a treat for the ears.

        Grade A-

        Grade A-

Favorite Tracks: 
01 – Roland Alphonso ► 04 – Rememberance ► 07 – Jayne

Simona Premazzi - Outspoken

Label/Year: 2017

Lineup - Simona Premazzi: piano; Dayna Stephens: saxophones; Joe Martin: bass; Nasheet Waits: drums + guests Jeremy Pelt: trumpet; Sara Serpa: vocals.

Italian-born, New York-based pianist/composer Simona Premazzi aligns a bunch of interesting compositions, mostly original material, in her fourth outing, Outspoken, recorded with a gifted quartet whose respected members are Dayna Stephens on saxophones, Joe Martin on bass, and Nasheet Waits on drums.

A pair of decorous guest musicians joins the group on a couple of tracks, adding extra color to the diversified sonic palette employed by the pianist. They are trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, who besides producing the record also shows off his powerful and articulated jazz dialect on “Peltlude”, a song written with his inspirational musicality in mind, and the Portuguese singer Sara Serpa, who takes on the words of Harold Pinter’s poem to push “It Is Here” into unearthly spheres.

Ms. Premazzi prepares a soft blend of classical and jazz elements to be delivered in trio format on the opening tune, “Euterpe's Dance". This same tune also closes the album, with the pianist embarking on a lyrical duet with Martin.

Sustained by a static energy, “Premaxity” shines through Stephens’ communicative remarks while “Up On A. Hill” underpins colorful tango-ish impressions created by Premazzi’s expressive comping, and placed between interesting sectional passages linked to each other with precise coordination and observant sensitivity. Stephens’s improvisation pokes Waits, who reacts and converses by employing graceful rhythmic touches. Like the saxophonist, Premazzi draws the same reaction as she picks up the road of improvised spontaneity.

On “Digression”, one finds lush chords, delicate melodies crafted on soprano saxophone, and a sluggish, non-imposing rhythmic flux, suitable to receive Martin’s pinched bass solo.

A totally different feel comes out of the agile melodic conduction observed in “Blakonian Groove”, a showcase for the call-response strategy adopted by Premazzi and Stephens, who wrote the piece for the drummer Johnathan Blake. Vaulting bass lines and bustling drumming limn the rest of this sonic portrayal.

If the rendition of Billy Strayhorn’s classic ballad “Lush Life” didn’t impress me much, “Later Ago” did, with the stylish, effervescent, and emphatic avant-folk-jazz exhibited.

Outspoken is a pleasant follow up to The Lucid Dreamer, released in 2013 on Inner Circle Music, and exposes the crescent maturity and evolution in the way Ms. Premazzi composes, arranges, and plays.

         Grade B

         Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Premaxity ► 03 - Up On A. Hill ► 09 - Later Ago



Tyshawn Sorey - Verisimilitude

Label/Year: Pi Recordings, 2017

Lineup - Cory Smythe: piano, electronics; Chris Tordini: bass; Tyshawn Sorey: drums, percussion.

As one of the most innovative, consistent, and in-demand drummers on the current scene, Tyshawn Sorey always brings something bold and new to the projects he’s involved in, whether as a leader or a sideman.

After the complex yet absorbing musical poetry of last year’s unclassifiable The Inner Spectrum of Variables, Sorey is back with Verisimilitude, another spontaneous body of work full of unlimited ideas and conceived to be played in a malleable trio with pianist Cory Smythe and bassist Chris Tordini.

The opening tune, “Cascades in Slow Motion”, is also the shortest on the album and mirrors exactly what its title suggests as it dives in an apparent textural fragility that is progressively denied by Sorey’s decisive solidification of the rhythmic basis. Smythe’s regular moves anchor in inconsolable voicings for the final moments.

Like a classical mourning chant that wouldn’t embarrass Chopin or Debussy, “Flowers for Prashant” walks at snail’s pace through Smythe’s intriguing and tactile combinations of granular notes, intervallic cadences put out by relentless left-hand movements, and perplexing phrases and chords.

Those uncertain ways develop into sinister vibes on “Obsidian”, an 18-minute volatility that simulates utopian molecular activities through organized layers of sound. Electronic manipulations serve as points of departure, evolving into organic statements delivered conjointly by pianist and drummer, whose actions oscillate between static and dynamic. Tordini appears in the middle, soloing aplomb, but his speech is ultimately engulfed by Smythe’s low-tone hammering and the bandleader’s mystifying tribal artifacts. This is a tune that piques your imagination and turns your senses widely alert.

With almost 31 minutes of unstoppable instrumental exploration over a fluctuant, improvised ground, the Homeric “Algid November” lives from vital sonic elements that include several percussion effects, atmospheric vagueness, paradoxical piano incursions, and small, controlled explosions of variable intensity and purpose. The trio becomes delightfully melodious at some point in the middle of this intriguing trajectory, breaking the currents of ambiguity and shaping its sound with more accessible procedures. Another particular stage of this tune comprises multiple nuanced piano ostinatos accompanied by percussive chimes and offbeat drum punches. One can also hear different kinds of chimes, gongs, and cymbal splashes on “Contemplating Tranquility”, the wide but still tangible closing piece.

Defying every attempt of music categorization and declining musical conventions, Tyshawn Sorey takes a traditional piano jazz trio to another level through his crepuscular, unconventional creativity. This music is not instantly absorbed. It’s a slow infusion of intricate sounds that cross, connect, and live for real.

        Grade A-

        Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Flowers for Prashant ► 03 - Obsidian ► 04 - Algid November

Ben Allison - Layers of the City

Label/Year: Sonic Camera Records, 2017

Lineup – Jeremy Pelt: trumpet; Steve Cardenas: guitar; Frank Kimbrough: piano; Ben Allison: acoustic and electric bass; Allan Mednard: drums.

Through beautiful records such as Buzz and Riding The Nuclear Tiger, American bassist Ben Allison made me aware of the mighty power that a compelling bass groove can infuse on a tune. His creative compositions, carriers of a contagious, nonchalant energy, are penned to set positive vibes on the loose, while the arrangements never feel knotty or forced. In fact, one of his strongest musical features, which I much admire, has to do with this capacity to let the music breathe and flow naturally.

From this breathable articulation comes the empowerment and enchantment of his recent work, Layers of the City, which comprises seven responsible original pieces. To shape them according to his own vision, Allison reunited two frequent collaborators - pianist Frank Kimbrough and guitarist Steve Cardenas, and added a pair of new partners – trumpeter Jeremy Pelt and drummer Allan Mednard.

The opening piece, “Magic Number”, erupts groovily static, obeying to a slow compound meter and featuring brief solos. While Pelt unites relaxation and resolve in his incursions, Cardenas drives his unobstructed lyricism with a lucid sound. This musing posture shifts to a restless, fast walk on “Enter the Dragon”, initially marked by smothered piano notes, and modernly propelled by a singing electric bass and hi-hat rhythmic bites. Assuming a pop/rock core here, the band plunges into experimental waters in a beautiful section that encompasses Kimbrough’s unhesitating breakthroughs, Allison’s jittery bass slides, and Mednard’s cymbal chatters. In turn, Pelt sticks to the main melody, creating unorthodox polyphonies with his mates before the re-establishment of the theme.

Feeling more hypnotic than intimidating, “Ghost Ship” appends a slow bass groove to refined brushed drumming, using Kimbrough’s appealing voicings as conductors. Pelt and Cardenas throw in Eastern-tinged melodies to substantiate the voluptuous distant dance.

Also inviting us to a Turkish-like folk dance, the title track brims with a joyous ecstasy. Even suggesting foreign flavors, this tune may only intend to sonically emulate the rush hours of NYC, where Allison lives. There’s also a delicious shifting passage where the bassist draws a typical hard-rock movement consisting of a repetitive minor third interval that implies power chords. This same approach is repeated on “Get Me Offa This Thing”, but having trumpet and guitar probing a few telepathic vibes sunk in gorgeous sound effects.

Drawing from tradition, but sounding contemporary, “The Detective's Wife” and “Blowback” also contribute to the diversity of the material. The former has an evident Latin touch, falling somewhere between the bolero and the tango, while the latter is a waltz draped with bass staccato moves.

The quintet’s good chemistry is never in question and the music becomes a pure reflection of their cohesive spontaneity. Layers of the City mirrors Allison’s uniquely expressive compositional style with illuminated strokes of genius, becoming an important entry in the bassist’s stupendous discography.

        Grade A-

        Grade A-

Favorite Tracks: 
02 – Enter The Dragon ► 03 – Ghost Ship ► 04 – Layers of the City

Gonçalo Leonardo Quartet - East 97th

Label/Year: Robalo Music, 2017

Lineup - André Matos: guitar; Yago Vazquez: piano, Fender Rhodes; Gonçalo Leonardo: bass; Tommy Crane: drums.

Eschewing hypothetical startles and unnecessary intricacies, East 97th, the encouraging debut album by the Portuguese bassist Gonçalo Leonardo, provides agreeable listenings through the aggregation of well-composed textures within clarified structures. The record was recorded in New York, where Leonardo lived for a couple of years, and features an international quartet comprising the also Portuguese André Matos on guitar, Spanish Yago Vazquez on piano and Rhodes, and American Tommy Crane on drums.

Ó Calma Que Vai Caindo”, a traditional Portuguese folk song, opens the session with uncompromising subtlety and contemporary vein. The breathable movements bestow a monochromatic tone and dreamlike feel that is prolonged till the end. You’ll find bountiful interchanges between guitar and piano, which are amassed rather than run over each other.

The folk genre is revisited once more on the penultimate track, "Just a Folk Song", an original by Leonardo that flows unhurriedly with a 3/4 time signature.

Another ternary piece on the album, "Spring Beat", evinces strong connotations with the pop/rock universe and its lingering sounds feel easy on the ear.

Ahead” is probably the boldest piece and kicks in with a vamp in which lush piano voicings are thrown against a one-note guitar ostinato. Matos’ melodies are slightly reminiscent of Abercrombie’s “Spring Song” while the rhythmic pulse mutates to support the improvisations of Vazquez and the bandleader.

Advancing with a laid-back beat and influenced by Western music, “Easy Going” is pampered by a pair of inspired improvisations, first from Vasquez, whose bluesy approach flourishes with a few outside escapades and soulful motifs, and then from the adventurous Matos, who boasts an inventive vocabulary while denoting a skilful handling of the guitar-effect unit.

Anthracite” burns initially with Crane’s exciting drumming before entering into a state of melancholic limbo. It gains a temporary swinging flow for less than half a minute as Vasquez timidly steps forward.
Train Talk”, serving as a vehicle for the bassist’s free rambles, and “Loken”, designed with bubbling vibes and mysterious tones, are no more and no less than spontaneous collective improvisations.

With East 97th, Leonardo crosses genres with a strong aesthetic vision, unveiling his relaxed nature through enjoyable compositions. His ideas are vividly expressed with the help of likes that clearly understood his communication processes.

        Grade B+

        Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
02 – Ahead ► 03 – Easy Going ► 05 – Spring Beat

Kevin Eubanks - East West Time Line

Label/Year: Mack Avenue Records, 2017

Lineup - Kevin Eubanks: guitar; Nicholas Payton: trumpet; Orrin Evans: piano, Rhodes; Dave Holland: bass; Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts: drums; Bill Pierce: saxophone; Rene Camacho: bass; Marvin ‘Smitty’ Smith: drums; Minu Cinelu: percussion.

It’s not uncommon to see the American guitarist Kevin Eubanks leaning on funk, soul, pop, and R&B to obtain the right flavors for his bending jazz style. Born in Philadelphia, Eubanks attained the peak of his career in the 80s, when he was part of the legendary Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. In the 90s, and for 15 years, he became the bandleader of The Tonight Show With Jay Leno while making an effort to maintain his solo career alive. Eubanks is also a reliable sideman whose work goes from avant-garde (with Oliver Lake) to progressive post-bop (with Dave Holland and Billy Hart) to more traditional jazz (with Diane Reeves). Recently, he has set his guitar on fire in Orrin Evans’ #knowingishalfthebattle.

His new record, East West Time Line, is divided into two distinct parts, each of them comprising five tracks and a different band. 
The first five tunes are all originals played in the company of amazing East Coast artists like Nicholas Payton on trumpet, Orrin Evans on piano and Rhodes, Dave Holland on bass, and Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts on drums.

The opening piece, “Time Line”, a bright, infectious fusion of post-bop and jazz-funk, bursts with a hard-swinging stamina and burning activity. The bandleader doesn’t waste time and shows off his advanced technique through the use of octaves, creamy harmonic sequences, intervallic erudition, and steadfast phrasing.

Watercolors” is a 3/4 acoustic demonstration of musical faculty. It’s an Eubanks’ original composition despite carrying the same title and mood of Pat Metheny’s 1977 tune of the same name. Although the pace is not winged, there’s a palpable energy overflowing from the consonant arrangement and enhanced by Payton’s terrific solo.
The Fender Rhodes of Evans, whose chord progressions take us to the universes of pop and soul, dominates the first half of “Poet”. For the second half, he switches to acoustic piano, exuding tranquil sound waves with the contribution of Holland and Watts. A distinct intensity emanates from “Carnival”, a pulsating crossover jazz experience with two unequal passages.

Absent from the two tunes mentioned above, Payton returns for “Something About Nothing”, an atmospheric but still groovy funk-rock-jazz excursion.

The last five tunes are renditions of songs chosen from different musical spheres, featuring a West Coast band composed of saxophonist Bill Pierce (also a former Jazz Messenger), bassist Rene Camacho, drummer Marvin ‘Smitty’ Smith, and French percussionist Minu Cinelu. 
They dug Ellington’s “Take The Coltrane” with a half-funky half-Latin feeling, Chick Corea’s “Captain Señor Mouse” with a hazy straight-ahead adhesive label affixed, and Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” with happy vibes. However, it was through the moving standard “My One and Only Love”, where Pierce exceeded the limits of beauty in his improvisation, and the jazzified “Cubano Chant”, a tune of melodic slickness composed by Eubanks’ uncle, Ray Bryant, that the band captivated me the most in this second set.

        Grade B+

        Grade B+

Favorite Tracks: 
01 – Time Line ► 02 – Watercolors ► 10 – My One and Only Love

Steve Nelson - Brothers Under The Sun

Label/year: HighNote Records, 2017

Lineup - Steve Nelson: vibraphone; Danny Grissett: piano; Peter Washington: bass; Lewis Nash: drums.

American vibraphonist Steve Nelson, an influential member in the sound shape of Dave Holland Quintet and Big Band for more than a decade, releases an album under his own name on HighNote Records. Brothers Under the Sun features experienced longtime associates Peter Washington on bass and Lewis Nash on drums, while pianist Danny Grissett, sitting in for the habitual Mulgrew Miller who passed away in 2013, rounds out the quartet.

In truth, this record is a tribute to the latter, whose style and sound merged beautifully with Nelson’s on several records. Some examples are Miller’s Wingspan and The Sequel, Lewis Nash’s Rhythm Is My Business, Sam Newsome’s Sam I Am, and Nelson’s Communications.

To open the session they pick “The More I See You”, a jewel of the Great American Songbook whose cool swinging flow doesn’t strike us as much as the more appetizing locomotion evinced in “Eastern Joy Dance”, the first of six vibrant tunes by Miller, a dignified, visionary composer. 

The following piece, conveniently entitled “Grew’s Tune”, spreads an agreeable Herbie Hancock-ish post-bop scent and sparks with rhythmic accentuations, while “Soul-Leo” boasts a groovy vibrancy mixed with a slightly Latin touch, shifting to swing at the end of the B section before adopting an illustrative blues progression for the improvisations. A totally different mood is set up for “Samba D'Blue” where Brazilian delicacies are served up conjointly by Grissett, Washington, and Nash. In turn, Nelson focuses more on the melody, operating the mallets with dexterity to bring in his luxury phrasing.

Two originals were purposely composed to be part of this record and celebrate Miller’s music and friendship: the title track by the bandleader, and “Melody For Mulgrew” by Grissett, both post bop creations that dwell in the expectancy.
Language and rhythm are synonym of fluency and fluidity, respectively, being keys in Nelson’s music. 

Miller, wherever he might be, is certainly thankful for Brothers Under the Sun, which is well-intentioned and aesthetically composed, yet unexceptional.

        Grade B

        Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
01 – The More I See You ► 02 – Eastern Joy Dance ► 03 – Grew’s Tune

Lars Danielsson - Liberetto III

Label/ Year: ACT, 2017

Lineup - Lars Danielsson: bass, cello, piano, guembri; Gregory Privat: piano; John Parricelli: guitar; Magnus Ostrom: drums + guests - Arve Henriksen: trumpet; Dominic Miller: guitar; Hussam Aliwat: oud; Björn Bohlin: english horn, oboe; Mathias Eick: trumpet.

// this review was originally published on LondonJazz News on May 30 //

Swedish bassist Lars Danielsson, a master of melodious lines within accessible musical textures, leads the third installment by Liberetto, an eclectic ensemble composed of guitarist John Parricelli, percussionist Magnus Öström and pianist Grégory Privat, who replaces Tigran Hamasyan.

Danielsson’s background is rich in fruitful collaborations, including recordings with Dave Liebman, Jon Christensen and Bobo Stenson - the members of his acclaimed quartet in the 1980s and ‘90s - as well as Jack DeJohnette, John Abercrombie, John Scofield and Rick Margitza.

Liberetto III opens with a softly meditative "Preludium" that spreads Oriental perfumes through a composed setting formed by acoustic guitar, feathery, strummed bass and the calm horn sounds projected by the special guests, Arve Henriksen on trumpet and Björn Bohlin on oboe d’amore. The latter switches to English horn on "Agnus Dei", which flows with diatonic freedom as it advances at an imperturbable moderate pace regulated by Öström’s brushed drums. Privat, who plays a vaporous Rhodes here, sticks to an ostinato while the theme is delivered simultaneously by the bandleader and muted trumpet.

If you’re looking for a pop tune that truly grooves, "Lviv" does it wonderfully, and with an odd time signature. The B section brings some Eastern influences, which are intensified by Danielsson’s expressive bass solo. Still tinged with Arabic colors, "Taksim by Night", a song retrieved from How Long Is Now, a trio album recorded last year, flourishes with the tunefulness of the oud's sounds. Hassam Aliwat, the oud player, also appears on "Sonata in Spain", a song whose passages are engraved with commercial pop melodies and wrapped in a flamenco aura.

Dawn Dreamer, a lyrical waltz drawn from classical and jazz genres, features Parricelli’s distorted guitar at the end. The guitarist shines again on "Gimbri Heart", soloing with a hypnotic, rockish devotion after we have been taken to Sub-Saharan African landscapes through the enlightening rhythm that sustains Henriksen’s slinky trumpet lines.

Danielsson also prepares three prayerful tone poems, "Orationi", in which he improvises before Henriksen matches his voice to the trumpet’s, leading "Da Salo", another waltz worthy of a minstrel, and the instinctively Nordic "Mr. Miller", which features Mathias Eick on trumpet, Sting’s guitarist Dominic Miller and Öström’s distinctive snare drumming.

"Barchidda", a ballad à-la Bill Evans, closes the album in a reflective way, culminating a long journey that has encompassed Western Europe, Turkey, the Arab Middle East and Africa.

Enriched with suave melodic improvisations (except for Parricelli, who seemed far more adventurous), Liberetto III shows discipline in its structure and relaxing warm tones. It is as much recommended for traveling as for chilling at home.

        Grade B+

        Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
02 – Agnus Dei ► 09 – Gimbri Heart ► 10 – Mr. Miller

Roscoe Mitchell - Bells For The South Side

Label/Year: ECM, 2017

Lineup: Roscoe Mitchell: saxophones, flute, percussion; James Fei: saxophones, clarinet, electronics; Hugh Ragin: trumpet; Tyshawn Sorey: trombone, piano, drums, percussion; Craig Taborn: piano, organ, electronics; Jaribu Shahid: bass, percussion; Tani Tabbal: drums, percussion; Kikanju Baku: drums, percussion; William Winant: percussion, glockenspiel, vibraphone, marimba, woodblocks, timpani


Prolific avant-garde saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell was one of the mighty members and co-founder of the open-minded collective Art Ensemble of Chicago, a group that definitely changed the way of seeing and approaching jazz.

His recent double-disc album, Bells For the South Side, is his fourth for the ECM label and embraces all the slashing experimentalism that has been characterizing his music making for more than half a century.

Every single musician from this lineup had recorded with Mitchell before, namely, pianist Craig Taborn, bassist Jaribu Shahid, trumpeter Hugh Ragin, multi-reedist James Fei, and drummers/percussionists Kikanju Baku, Tani Tabbal, William Winant, and Tyshawn Sorey.

Disc one, comprising six tracks, opens with “Spatial Aspects Of The Sound”, an abstract piece designed for the amorphousness of Taborn’s piano, which intercalates with percussive bell chimes and occasional gunshot-like sounds. Mitchell’s flute suddenly appears in the last minutes. The same orientation is followed on “EP 78492", a percussive dive into the abstract, and also on the title track, which sounds like an anthem and brings all the above plus Ragin’s trumpet dissertations.
Arranged solely for reeds, “Prelude to a Rose” counterpoints swaggering melodic lines in order to sketch curvy and angular configurations alike. The precise blows come from Mitchell, Sorey, and Ragins on alto saxophone, trombone, and trumpet, respectively.

One of the most enticing compositions of this first set is “Panoply”, whose title corroborates the overflow of percussive rattles, authoritative and expansive horn purges, and on/off kinetic drumming. To neutralize the occasional silences, there are a couple of feral improvisations with prominence for Winant on marimba. “Dancing In The Canyon” is another worthy trip piqued by Taborn’s effective pianism and electronic elements, Baku’s jittery rhythms, and the bandleader’s outlandish cries. After a while, the sounds are tunneled to form a bigger mass, intensifying the consistency and coordinating other smaller explosions with rhythmic sense.

Disc Two introduces the 16-minute “Prelude to the Card Game, Cards” with saxophone and bowed bass followed by Tabbai’s long drums monologue. The tune resumes the sax/bass reciprocity for the ending.
On “The Last Chord” there’s also plenty interactive work with the horn section responding to ferocious piano sweeps and energetic percussion discussions.

Eerie vibes take hold of “Six Gongs and Two Woodblocks” and are extended to the beginning of the 25-minute closing tune “Red Moon in the Sky, Odwalla”. Things get intensely wild in the middle, but find repose when stepping on a groovy blues with a swing/Latin feel adorned by fantastic improvisations.

Roscoe Mitchell continues to blur the line between composition and improvisation, targeting adventurous listeners with non-stereotyped languages. For the ones who are not familiar with his music, this can be quite difficult.

        Grade B+

        Grade B+

Favorite Tracks: 
02 (disc1) – Panoply ► 04 (disc1) – Dancing in the Canyon ► 02 (disc2) – The Last Chord

Gerald Cannon - Combinations

Label/Year: Woodneck Records, 2017

Lineup: Gerald Cannon: bass; Gary Bartz, Sherman Irby, and Steve Slagle: alto saxophone; Jeremy Pelt and Duane Eubanks: trumpet; Rick Germanson and Kenny Barron: piano; Russel Malone: guitar; Willie Jones III and Will Calhoun: drums.


McCoy Tyner’s regular bass player, Gerald Cannon, has been a valuable sideman since he arrived in NY at the age 28. In his career, he had the privilege to gig with iconic artists such as drummers Art Blakey and Elvin Jones, pianist Cedar Walton, Hammond master Jimmy Smith, and saxophonists Dexter Gordon, Eddie Harris, and Stanley Turrentine, just to name a few.

His reputation has risen exponentially, but a busy schedule kept preventing him from recording under his own name. He eventually did it in 2004, on his eponymous album, whose lineup included alto saxophonist Sherman Irby and pianist Rick Germanson, who both joins him in this Combinations. By using specific band formats for each tune, Cannon enriches his work with the sound of accomplished individualities.

Every bass note played on the intro of Slide Hampton’s “Every Man is a King” feels like resonant punches on the bull’s eye until anchoring in an evocative hard-swinging romp whose vitality stems from the combination of agitated walking bass, tilting drumming, and luxurious piano harmonies. Brisk solos filled with nimble ideas burst from the musical minds of trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, saxophonist Gary Bartz, and ultimately Germanson, who quotes a tiny bit of “Fascinating Rhythm” before trading fours with the drummer.

Also resorting to a bass intro, the vibrant “Columbus Circle Stop” is my favorite of the 11-track list. Cannon’s lick serves as the basis for the A section groove and matching melodies find poise over the piano accompaniment, which almost reproduces the sound of a train on the tracks. Scalding argumentations arise when Irby and Pelt activate the call-response mode, also encouraging the rhythm section to participate in their continual exchanges.

Two classics claim their own space on the track list: while “Prelude to a Kiss” swims in beautiful sentiments drawn from Steve Slagle’s alto sax and Russell Malone’s rounded guitar chops, “Darn That Dream” is designed solely by Cannon, whose fingers slip to Parker’s “Donna Lee” once in a while.
Bassist and guitarist form a duet in the African-American religious hymn “How Great Thou Art” and interact once again on “Gary’s Tune”, where they are joined by Bartz and drummer Will Calhoun, in order to create a smoothly textured crossover jazz.

The record wouldn’t be the same without the soft-toned Brazilian mood of “Amanda’s Bossa”, jazzed up with improvisations by Bartz, Pelt, and the pianist Kenny Barron. The latter also takes care of the passionate harmonic passages of “A Thought”, a tune suavely Latinized by the rhythm section.

Distinctly steeped in tradition, Combinations, also brings new blood into the game, allowing Cannon to reveal himself as a composer while materializing his artistic vision with vibrancy.

        Grade B+

        Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:  
01 – Every Man Is a King ► 04 – Columbus Circle Stop ► 05 – Amanda’s Bossa

Stephan Micus - Inland Sea

Label/Year: ECM, 2017

Lineup – Stephan Micus: balanzykom, nyckelharpa, voice, zither, bass zither, shakuhachi, steel string guitar, genbri.


Avant-world music continues to thrive in the person of Stephan Micus, a solitary German multi-instrumentalist, traveler, and inveterate sound explorer whose idiosyncratic new album, Inland Sea, brings us wintry tones and lyrical practices from afar.

This eclectic composer has been recording almost exclusively for the ECM (this one is his 22nd) and each of his opuses tells a quirky musical journey pretty much unlooked-for and deeply heartfelt.

Micus, alone, plays six distinguished instruments from different regions of the globe and also sings, layering the sounds with acuity and building entrancing textures that draw beauty, sadness, and mystery alike.

On the opening tune, “Haze”, he strums the balanzykom, a rare Tajik seven nylon string lute used in Sufi ceremonies, with melancholic affinity, while the laments of the nyckelharpa, a Swedish bowed instrument, take us to bucolic landscapes where ostentation is nothing and life is everything.

The crepuscular “Sowing Wind” sounds like a cry coming from secluded mountains, where the wind carries tearful words through the shakuhachi, a Japanese bamboo flute, which can be heard again on the transcendental “Reaping Storm”. The latter is introduced by bass zither whose bent strings produce a long, profound, and reverberating drone, simultaneously astonishing and arcane.

While “Dawn” and “Dusk” are exclusively shaped by three nyckelharpas each, acquiring a neo-classical chamber feel, “Dancing Clouds” is meticulously arranged through the juxtaposition of several instruments whose folk melodies, even if still dramatic, show signs of optimism and perseverance.

There are three vocalized pieces that probably will make your hair stand on end. They are “Flor Del Sur”, a ceremonial nomadic-style chant, “Virgen de La Mar”, composed of three genbri and sixteen polyphonic voices, and “Nuria”, the most enchanting piece on the recording, an idyllic ancient call that floats with acceptance and abandonment. Even not understanding the lyrics, I had the prayerful instinct of thanking for my life. It’s an outstanding conclusion of another remarkable body of work whose emotional emphasis suggests us to acknowledge the world as one.

Extremely scenic in its rustic descriptions, Inland Sea comes overflowing with sonic pleasures. It comprises ten hymns whose simplicity of expression hits you with the force of nature at the same time that offers you dollops of erudition. 
I wish you a pleasant spiritual meditation!

        Grade A-

        Grade A-

Favorite Tracks: 
02 – Sowing Wind ► 05 – Reaping Storm ► 10 – Nuria

Ed Neumeister & NeuHat Ensemble - Wake Up Call

Label/Year: MeisteroMusic Records, 2017

Lineup: Mark Gross, Adam Kolker, Billy Drewes, Rich Perry, and Dick Oatts on reeds; Tony Kadleck, Dave Ballou, Jon Owens, Ron Tooley on trumpets; Marshall Gilkes, Keith O’Quinn, Larry Farrell, David Taylor on trombones; Steve Cardenas: guitar; David Berkman: piano; Hans Glawischnig: bass; John Riley: drums; John Hollenbeck: percussion.


Ed Neumeister, a former member of the Duke Ellington Orchestra, is a versatile trombonist, composer, arranger, and conductor who debuted The NeuHat Ensemble in 1983. Since then, the reputed band has accommodated several jazz luminaries such as Joe Lovano, Kenny Werner, and Don Byron, just to name a few. Subjected to alterations in its lineup throughout the years, the ensemble was reunited after Neumeister has returned to the US from Austria, where he taught for nearly 15 years. As a result, Wake Up Call holds out to eight evocative originals solidly orchestrated through airy and polished arrangements.

Striding with a soft backbeat, “Birds of Prey” brings flutes and other woodwinds to the forefront, assuming an innocuous nature and progressing with unabashed determination.

Interesting rhythmic accentuations spice up “Dog Play”, an Ellingtonian wallop that features the enlightened patterns and phrases of clarinetist Billy Drewes, Neumeister’s former bandmate in the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra.

Combining Brazilian rhythmic touches and lyrical clarity, “Locomotion” eschews any type of percussive turmoil to fixate on a vibrantly dancing interplay that astounds. This piece, composed in 1995 and previously recorded for the Jazz Big Band Graz record, exudes scented spring breezes with dulcet benevolence and optimistic oceanic textures, featuring delightful saxophone and trombone solos from Dick Oatts and Neumeister, respectively. The title track follows a similar pacifism yet slightly more concentrated in texture.

With an impactful dramatic punch, “New Groove” is buoyed by hi-hat cymbal and a groovy cadence of piano and bass. The tune features the singular verbalization of saxophonist Rich Perry intercalated with orchestral usurpations.
The title “Reflection” was well chosen for a piece that achieves the desired level of symphonic sophistication through beautiful counterpoints delivered in the form of cries, whispers, and hushed murmurs. On the contrary, “Deliberation” is a gently swinging piece propelled by a controlled bass sway plus ticklish brushed drumming, and adorned with non-colliding guitar and piano compings and horn unisons afloat. The improvisers are Mark Gross on alto saxophone and Neumeister on an explicitly verbalized muted trombone.

Leading with a strong musical discernment, Mr. Neumeister harmoniously paints several landscapes using distinct techniques and intensities. Although glancingly evocative of Duke, there’s room for a contemporary attitude, which makes of Wake Up Call a bracing album packed with pleasurable sounds to be discovered.

         Grade A-

         Grade A-

Favorite Tracks: 
03 – New Groove ► 05 – Deliberation ► 06 – Locomotion

Bill Frisell, Thomas Morgan - Small Town

Label/Year: ECM, 2017

Lineup – Bill Frisell: guitar; Thomas Morgan: bass.

The re-encounter of two contemporary jazz giants and virtuosos in the handling of their respective instruments spawned an ECM album recorded live at the gorgeous Village Vanguard and entitled Small Town. The gentlemen in question are guitarist Bill Frisell and bassist Thomas Morgan, who have been working and recording together since 2011. Their sounds have interlocked outstandingly in Jakob Bro’s December Song and Time, Paul Motian’s The Windmills of Your Mind, and Frisell’s last work, I Wish Upon a Star.

The musical symbiosis that results from their interplay couldn’t have been more elucidative than in the opening tune, “It Should’ve Happened a Long Time Ago”. This airy piece is one of the most beautiful compositions by the late drummer Paul Motian, who first recorded it in 1984 with a bass-less trio that comprised Frisell and saxophonist Joe Lovano. Morgan speaks a language of his own, whether connecting with Frisell’s voicings and harmonics or roaming freely and with no apparent destiny. The clarity, weightlessness, and transparency of this piece sent me into a levitating state where gravity wasn’t enough to pull me down. It gave me such a peace of mind as I kept embracing its idleness with all my strength. 

While the rendering of “Subconscious Lee” pays homage to its auteur, the saxophonist Lee Konitz, by combining happy bass hops with folkish infiltrating sounds and making the tune lose its original post-bop feel, “Song For Andrew No 1” is a recent piece composed by Frisell for drummer Andrew Cyrille. It was written for and featured in the drummer’s latest album The Declaration of Musical Independence. The duo version maintains the dreamy atmosphere, but finds even more room to breathe, conveying a lovely melancholy that could be compared to the Portuguese Fado.

From this point on, the versatile duo deliberately plunges into the folk genre, giving it their own touch and taking us to the vastness of American prairies and savannahs. While “Wildwood Flower” shows a typical narrative affiliated to its bluegrass roots, Fats Domino’s R&B “What a Party” carries something funny in its melody and rhythm, bringing to mind the farcical moves of Chaplin and Keaton in those classic silent movies.
Brimming with charisma, Frisell’s idyllic title track increases the sense of uncertainty through enthralling guitar voicings, differing from “Poet/Pearl”, the only composition by the duo, whose harmonic/melodic passages feel more familiar and some of them quite reminiscent of the popular “My One and Only Love”.

The record ends in a somewhat noirish mood with the furtive “Goldfinger”, a 007 theme that became popular in 1964 through the voice of Shirley Bassey.

This is a meritorious record by two high-flyers who already showed what they got. On every tune, one gets the impression of moving in an immense space and this music, at its purest artistic form, gets so easily under your skin.

        Grade A-

        Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 – It Should’ve Happened a Long Time Ago ► 03 – Song For Andrew No 1 ► 05 – Small Town

Aruan Ortiz - Cubanism

Label/Year: Intakt Records, 2017

Lineup – Aruan Ortiz: piano and composition.

Joining a powerful musical concept to a far-reaching technique, Cuban-born, New York-based pianist/composer Aruan Ortiz releases the second solo album of his career, 20 years after Impresión Tropical, his 1996 debut CD recorded in Madrid, Spain. The evolution is abysmal, and his contribution to the current elasticity of jazz is phenomenal. Lately, he has been a ubiquitous presence in the creative New York scene, appearing at the side of folks such as Michael Attias and Nasheet Waits, whose albums are part of my personal selection for this year’s best new releases, and gigging with other artists with a similar craving for exploration.

The ones who had the chance to listen to his previous work, Hidden Voices, recorded in trio with Eric Revis on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums, already know about Otiz’s amazing skills, both as an improviser and composer. However, his new outing, Cub(an)ism, offers a completely different vision, deliberately merging Afro-Cuban roots and rhythms with progressive jazz idioms where artistic abstraction and timbre acuity are prevalent.
The opening piece, “Louverture Op. 1”, reveals Ortiz’s independence of hands, each of them obeying to distinct lines of thought that envision to tell a story. At first, he holds to a reverberant, deep-voiced pedal with his left hand while flipping a ritualistic confluence of exciting rhythms and melodies with the right. The song, influenced by Cuban artist Wilfredo Lam, a representative voice of Cubism and revivalist of the Afro-Cuban spirit and culture, proceeds in a cyclic procession of rapid phrases and intriguing pulses.

Fairly dreamy, “Yambú” is a beautiful dismantlement of a Cuban rumba assembled into an evergreen musical inspiration whose low voicings and high-pitch trills are sensationally tone-controlled.

The longest piece on the record, at nearly 11 minutes, is “Cuban Cubism”, which echoes with suspenseful atmospheres, assimilating some darkness amidst its geometric shapes and interlocking planes. Silences provide the space to breathe and the dance is made through minimal pointillism, sporadic abrupt sweeps, and irregular multi-pitched grooves with strong percussive character. Similar guidelines are followed in “Monochrome (Yubá)”, in which Ortiz emulates the sound of a djambé or conga by smothering the keys with his left hand while designing simple upper melodies. Yubá is a toque of Tumba Francesa whose origins are Afro-Haitian.

The pianist throws in considerable amounts of tension on “Dominant Force”, a disjointed dance full of tone clusters that magnetize and liberate, and also on “Sacred Chronology”, a rhythmically daring composition containing sinuous lines, dissonant intervals, and tumultuous left-hand strikes.

Opposing to these while searching for an inner peace, “Passages” and “Coralaia” glide in quiescent silver waters. Although transpiring affability and composure, the former still searches reservedly, while the latter touches musicality with an auroral beauty.

Aruan Ortiz has so much music inside of him that we can feel the intensity when he touches the piano. Breeding ground for metaphoric poetry, Cub(an)ism is a  hybrid feast of heritage and novelty.

        Grade A-

        Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 – Yambú ► 03 – Cuban Cubism ► 10 – Coralaia

Aaron Parks, Ben Street, Billy Hart - Find The Way

Label/Year: ECM, 2017

Lineup – Aaron Parks: piano; Ben Street: bass; Billy Hart: drums.

Find The Way, the second ECM outing by praiseworthy American pianist Aaron Parks, flows steadily and unhurriedly as it keeps creating generous settings, each of them with delightful nuances to be discovered and savored. Opposing to his previous Arborescence, recorded solo, the new work flourishes in a classic piano trio with bassist Ben Street and drummer Billy Hart providing reliable substrative integrity.

Both “Adrift”, the opening tune, and “Unravel”, which expresses a doleful sincerity, shine with Park’s soft and nice touches, conveying a fluid lyricism over a dawdling melancholy that recalls the style of Steve Kuhn and sometimes Bobo Stenson. Hart’s percussive work is outstanding on that first tune as he molds his own textures, changes, and readapts them once more according to what’s happening around him.

Far more static and stripped to its essentials, “Hold Music” exhibits harmonic voicings in rotation with the bassist playing straight like in a pop/rock song and Hart losing himself in that percussive airiness that forces any sturdy surface to bend and quiver.

Covered with glossy splendor, “Song For Sashou” immediately detaches from the whole due to a rich combination of melody and harmony on top of a foundation carrying a gently brushed bossanova touch attached. This piece ranks right below “Alice”, a powerful piece inspired by the modal journeys of Alice Coltrane, in the competition for the most outstanding piece on the album. On the latter, one can find the bassist adventuring himself in unexpected portions of the song, always in the company of the inventive drummer, whose pulse acquires a rock flow that vehemently drives us to a dramatic finale. The liquidity in Parks’ progressions bestows the same effect as an oasis in a desert, irrigating and nourishing on all sides.

While “First Glance” craves a sluggish awake and fulfilling quietude, “Melquíades” results in a Bill Evans-like mood. Not that the breathable, spontaneous lines of Parks sound similar to the acclaimed pianist, but because of the harmonic movements and diaphanous suspensions.

The title track is the only cover on the album, closing it with abandoned benediction. It was composed by pianist Ian Bernard and popularized by Rosemary Clooney, for whom the song was written.

Aaron Parks and his trio don’t have to move fast to dazzle. Floating and never atonal, Find The Way sets the abstraction levels to the minimum and marks stretches as non-priorities. It’s a modern creative work with a profound, strong personality that will make many listeners feel good.

        Grade A-

        Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 – Song For Sashou ► 06 – Alice ► 09 – Find The Way