Marquis Hill, Jeff Parker, Joachim Florent, Denis Fournier - Escape Lane

Label/Year: The Bridge Sessions, 2017

Lineup – Marquis Hill: trumpet; Jeff Parker: guitar; Joachim Florent: bass; Denis Fournier: drums.

Escape Lane is an avant-garde jazz record and quartet that feels cohesive regardless the distinct backgrounds and styles of its members.

Trumpeter Marquis Hill shows an inclination for groundbreaking sounds, feeling comfortable in playing over inventive rhythms as he explores fresh musical concepts. In his latest works as a leader, Hill has been teaming up with altoist Christopher McBride and the quirky drummer Makaya McCraven, both longtime collaborators.

Creative guitarist Jeff Parker, a member of the indie rock band Tortoise since 1998, loves to electrify the air around him with chops that aggregate free improvisation, avant-jazz, and stylish art-rock. As a sideman, he teamed up with Fred Anderson, Joshua Redman, Brian Blade, and Scott Amendola.

Not so prolific in terms of recordings, Belgian Joachim Florent studied classical and jazz bass, while the active French percussionist Denis Fournier has embraced several styles in a career that spans almost five decades.

The contrapuntal title track gives an idea of the record’s mood, creating a sensation of dissonance through the polyphonic lines poured out by Hill and Parker. The latter, setting off on an individual exploration, holds the blues and the alternative rock as tools. Hill returns afterward, well backed by the impenetrable foundation created by the rhythm section, to wrap up with an interchange of solicitude and nonchalance.
Entering in a bubbly sphere of bliss, the quartet shows an extreme affinity for balladry on “Le Sel De La Situacion”. In an early phase, Hill’s thoughtful dissertations occupy the center of a song whose placidity is enhanced by Fournier's lenient brushwork and cymbal scratches and Florent's unaccompanied final narrative.
Lever de Soleil Au Loin Sur La Lac Agité” is 21 minutes long and serves as a showcase for the quartet’s textural ambiances, from airy to paradoxical to groovy. There are many opportunities for individual flights, and Parker, now and then, exhibits a pleasurable folk-jazz disposition to remodel a usually abstract modus operandi. After probing enigmatic paths, one after another, under the rhythmic conduction of Fournier, the tune initiates a swinging motion that serves Hill's motivic efficiency, before decelerating toward a reflective state of limbo.

Introduced by chimes and guitar harmonics, “4800 S. Lake Park” ekes out poetic drifts declaimed by Hill, having Florent’s bowed bass underneath. Similar meditative tones and ruminations build “Une Petetite Fille Danse Asisse” where the trumpeter straddles Coltrane’s exultations and Miles’ cool vibes.

The title “Roughed Grooved Surface” is sufficiently transparent to let us have an idea about its mood. Fournier’s hyperactive drumming and the eerie vibes invented by Parker hang together. The guitarist also uses chromaticism and strident, rapid-fire strokes to respond to Hill’s intercalation of high-pitched blows and ascendant/descendant movements.

Wielding a keen sense of perception, these four explorers create unorthodox layers of sound to be stacked up and become strangely appealing.

         Grade B+

         Grade B+

Favorite Tracks: 
02 – Le Sel De La Situacion ► 03 – Lever De Soleil Au Loin Sur La Lac Agite ► 06 – Rough Grooved Surface

Jason Kao Hwang - Sing House

Label/Year: Eonymous Records, 2017

Lineup – Jason Kao Hwang: violin and viola; Steve Swell: trombone; Chris Forbes: piano; Ken Filiano: bass; Andrew Drury: drums.

American violinist, violist, and composer from Chinese descent, Jason Kao Hwang, has followed his own path in the avant-jazz scene with a few interesting albums of his own authorship and many memorable collaborations along the way with Lawrence "Butch" Morris, Dominic Duval, Anthony Braxton, William Parker, and more recently with trumpeter Taylor Ho Bynum.

On his new work, Sing House, he establishes immersive sonic architectures with the help of a brand new quintet whose musicians have been accompanying him throughout the years, whether in personal projects like EDGE and Burning Bridge or other formations that some of them might put together. They are Steve Swell on trombone, Chris Forbes on piano, Ken Filiano on bass, and Andrew Drury on drums.

The band conjures a variety of moods throughout the 49 minutes of an equilibrated album whose each of the four original compositions lasts between 11 and 14 minutes.

No Such Thing”, the opening piece, surges with a romping start, exposing the collective prowess through ever-shifting rhythms and natural sound manipulations. The introductory chapter fades out evenly, giving an opportunity to Drury, alone, to exhibit a few chattering drum scrambles. The improvisations are placed over the textural compactness formed by piano, bass, and drums. Still, the improvised discourses of Swell and Hwang occur within different settings. The former blows while having a denser funk-rock foundation under his feet; the latter bowed with a more volatile if audacious broken swing as a framework. Forbes’ bluesy pianism and rhythmic whirlwinds bring Horace Tapscott’s demeanors into the scene, impelling Drury to fire back with potent palpitations. Before finishing with calm poise, there is still time for Filiano’s complex bass plucking with bends, and Hwang’s violin whines and woes.

Everyone must agree that dream walking is an instance of perils and an exposure to risk. It’s exactly this sense of uncertainty and even obscurity that Hwang describes in “Dream Walk”, where a mix of creaky and deep-toned sounds crush in and respond to one another with diligent counterpoint. A sudden wake up may bring another wild adventure and the quintet also covers that part with a half festive, half desperate sense of urgency, which translates into another set of extemporaneous outpours.

When What Could”, obeying to six note beats per bar, embraces malleable contortions as it flutters from spacious chamber music to catchy rock inflections, which are transformed and adapted again into a more freeing and abstract concept for the final section.

The closing tune, “Inscribe”, nurtures beautiful orchestrations with different paces and resolute rhythms. Also overlapping ostinatos, triumphant solos, and enthusiastic parallel motions and unisons are also part of the trade.

Never gratuitous, this is wise avant music on the cutting edge, thriving with an unmitigated magnetism, rhythmic resourcefulness, and shimmering lyricism.

       Grade A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 – No Such Thing ► 03 – When What Could ► 04 – Inscribe

Steve Coleman's Natal Eclipse - Morphogenesis

Label/Year: Pi Recordings, 2017

Lineup – Steve Coleman: alto saxophone; Jonathan Finalyson: trumpet; Maria Grand: tenor saxophone; Rane Moore: clarinet; Kristin Lee: violin; Jen Shyu: vocals; Matt Mitchell: piano; Greg Chudzik: bass; Neeraj Mehta: percussion.

On today’s scene, only very few musicians can be proud of following their own musical instincts and still generate a style that is very much their own. American alto saxophonist and composer Steve Coleman is undeniably one of those. A glance at his career reveals defying aesthetics, laudable eclecticism, staggering arrangements, and a scrupulous technique that makes his saxophone speak volumes.

He just keeps getting better with the age. Hence, if Synovial Joint, composed for a large ensemble, was one of the best albums if not the best of 2015, his brand new Morphogenesis, also released on Pi Recordings, is a serious candidate for that title again.

In his new all-star ensemble, Natal Eclipse, Coleman catches up with some regular members of The Five Elements and The Council of Balance groups, as well as two great new additions, cases of percussionist Neeraj Mehta, who plays on five tracks, and the highly sought-after pianist Matt Mitchell.

The percussion-less “Inside Game” provides an excellent overture with Greg Chudzik and Mitchell assuring the tune’s heartbeat. They are joined by the frontliners’ intervallic infiltrations, Kristin Lee’s abrasive violin strokes, and Jen Shyu’s finesse vocalizations. It’s all about this organic conjunction that expands ecstatically and makes us thirsty to discover more about the textural consciousness that reigns in the group.

Pull Counter” uses a specific phrase as a motive and places it over a malleable bass flow that occasionally swings, especially when Coleman and trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson improvise. In turn, Mitchell’s gut reaction is as much lyrical as rhythmically audacious.

Mehta’s percussive spells play a strategic role not only on “NOH” and “SPAN”, two spontaneous and floatingly counterpointed improvisations, but especially on “Shoulder Roll” whose sensuous exoticism is fully cooked in the company of Chudzik’s grooves. This bonhomie also offers unisons delivered with pinpoint accuracy, as well as short but intrepid improvisations.

With “Morphing”, Coleman conjures up a sort of Baroque dance where the sobriety of classical music blends with the mischief of jazz. Embracing sleekness and dodging obstacles, this tune rushes into shifting counterpoint and smart polyphony whenever the horn collective is not acting as one. And what a force has the voice of Ms. Shyu here!

Coleman’s sophistication of speech is well patented on “Dancing and Jabbing”, a piece that is poetry for the ears. It also reflects the refined musicianship of the band members, who call up for their own space as they keep creating on top of an incandescent coalition.

The record closes with “Horda”, a pungent orchestration holding magical African pulses and angular melodic traits. The swaggering movements and hasty verbalizations also bring classical influences to the table while every player searches and fetches.

The connectedness of the nine tunes in Morphogenesis becomes fundamental to achieve a cohesive whole. It’s an indestructible relationship between structure, unity, and improvisation.

Less dense or polyrhythmic than previous works, this is a deluxe Coleman that enters directly to the top picks of the year.

       Grade A+

       Grade A+

Favorite Tracks:
01 – Inside Game ► 05 – Morphing ► 09 – Horda



JD Allen - Radio Flyer

Label/Year: Savant, 2017

Lineup – JD Allen: tenor saxophone; Liberty Ellman: guitar; Gregg August: bass; Rudy Royston: drums.

With Americana: Musings on Jazz and Blues (Savant, 2016), the notable saxophonist JD Allen deserved every accolade he got.

Now, for his brand new collection of originals, Radio Flyer, his 10th as a leader, he resolved to change direction but maintaining the same faithful peers, Gregg August on bass and Rudy Royston on drums. However, this time, the band expands their sonic palette by adding the magical spells of guitarist Liberty Ellman, who besides his own projects, got also known for his amazing work with Henry Threadgill and Steve Coleman.
The outcome is an exciting neo-postbop adorned with influences from the masters John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, and Sonny Rollins.

That rich legacy is detected in the opening piece, “Sitting Bull”, whose main melody is positively driven by sax and guitar over a vagrant foundation laid down by August and Royston. Allen discourses with a quasi-philosophical insight, closely followed by Ellman’s tasteful comping, which feels simultaneously subtle and penetrating. The tune then acquires a rash swinging flow suitable for Ellman’s explorations on top of bass hops and restless drumming. The guitarist’s approach draws curiosity as he interpolates chordal voicings into the melodic lines without losing a bit of clarity of ideas.

Surrounded by a special aura, the title track features the dusky, dry timbres of Allen, Royston’s tom-tom-cymbal artistry, August’s solemn bowed bass, and a spectral glow that comes out of Ellman’s guitar’s chiming effects. Amidst ostinatos occasionally subjected to pitch transposition, Ellman smartly catches phrases delivered by the bandleader and proceeds with the flow.

Untamable drumming mixes with wry saxophone tours for the starting of “The Angelus Bell”, which also turns to its advantage the granular harmonics and beautifully contrasting voicings thrown in by Ellman.

Coltrane’s imprints can be located on “Daedalus” whose unison statement, quirky swing, and freeing mood carry vibrant energies coming from within. Allen’s heart is all in there.

The quartet is put to a test of endurance on “Heureux”, where ethereal guitar voicings oppose to the jittery drumming and robust walking bass put together by Royston and August. While Allen employs a vivid language, encouraging his peers to exteriorize feelings, Ellman acquiesces, blowing our minds through a contagious improvisation.
Radio Flyer feels so homogeneous that I would dare to call it a suite. It not only waves at you with an array of bold and fresh solutions but also makes you fly with the grandiosity of its sound.

       Grade A

       Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
02 – Radio Flyer ► 03 – The Angelus Bell ► 06 – Daedalus

Samo Salamon Sextet - The Colours Suite

Label/Year: Clean Feed, 2017

Lineup - Samo Salamon: guitar; Achille Succi: bass clarinet; Julian Arguelles: tenor saxophone; Pascal Niggenkemper: bass; Roberto Dani: drums; Christian Lillinger: drums. 


Slovenian guitarist Samo Salamon has been consistent and stimulating throughout a career made of multiple interesting collaborations. More inclined to innovate rather than keep the tradition alive, Salamon has shown what he’s capable of in albums like Kei’s Secrets (2006) and Government Cheese (2007), and more recently with his bassless trios on Little River (2015) and Unity (2016).

On his first recording for Clean Feed, The Colours Suite (recorded live at the Ljubljana Jazz Fest), he plunges deep into experimentation, becoming immersed in the intoxicating waters of avant-garde with the help of talents such as old time associates Achille Succi on bass clarinet, Julian Arguelles on tenor sax, and Roberto Dani on drums, and new rhythm mates Pascal Niggenkemper on bass and Christian Lillinger also on drums.

Yellow” was the chosen color to open the suite, and does it bluntly. It starts with the enthusiastic colloquy presented by guitar, clarinet, and tenor, in which a specific phrase serves as the main idea for communication. An endless, fidgety rhythm becomes the perfect vehicle for Salamon’s guitar noise before the reeds take over and wrap up with unfussy counterpoint.

What can you expect from “Black”? Darker hues in his palette, great unisons, a transitional passage filled with irregular pointillism and acerbic phrasing dispensed at high speed, as well as call-response movements on top of jittery drumming inflections. Solo percussion ends the adventure.

Green” brings more enigmas to the puzzle. Beautifully layered, it’s the kind of tune that you never know what to expect as it keeps playing with your emotions. During the casual, leisurely-paced first section, both Succi and Arguelles prowl with circumspection, colliding once in a while with stylish graciousness. The middle section is far more obscure, resorting to bowed bass drones, extended trills, and contrasting flutters of many kinds. The band reactivates the groove for the finale.

Salamon’s openness to different sounds transpires on “Red”, an atmospheric invention charged with individual flourishes, and “Blue”, where we find him soloing with no harmonic concern on top of an atmospheric hum formulated by the horn players. This latter tune ends in a vibrating outcry stirred by a guitar ostinato, syncopated drumming, and fractious horn unisons.

Brown” is another stimulant and well-orchestrated post-bop piece turned into a boisterous free jazz dance. Succi’s untamed bass clarinet stands out, gradually inflaming the double drums and driving the rest of his bandmates to a hype collective upheaval. 

The Colours Suite means Salamon embracing a total freedom, as we have never seen him doing before. The result is thought-provoking, powerfully complex, and immensely creative.

      Grade A-

      Grade A-

Favorite Tracks: 
01 – Yellow ► 03 – Green ► 06 – Brown 

Dickey, Maneri, Shipp - Vessel in Orbit

Label/Year: AUM Fidelity, 2017

Lineup – Whit Dickey: drums; Mat Maneri: viola; Matthew Shipp: piano. 


Vessel in Orbit is a musical narrative of a fictional spatial voyage piloted by a trio of talented musicians and longtime associates. I'm talking about the quick-tempered drummer Whit Dickey, conceptualist violist Mat Maneri, and groundbreaking pianist Matthew Shipp.

Together, and furnished with the appropriate palettes, they illustrate this cosmic adventure that starts with the characterization of their “Spaceship 9”. There’s an imminent sense of danger brought by an insistent chord, an unambiguous rhythmic provocation by Shipp, who inspires Maneri for a few virtuosic and full-blooded runs that initially sound like a horn. The percussive currents emitted by Dickey sometimes gain the form of an imperial march. Despite some textural iteration and occasional mitigation in the intensity, the tune vibrates with movement.

The crew stops the engines for a “Space Walk”, which is done at an irregular pace as a result of freedom. They describe the dark and bright sides of the mysterious planet they’re stationed.
Forcing them into a huge vortex of tension, “Dark Matter” brings a jittery effervescence that will lead them to “Galaxy 9”, a quiescent cogitation, later turned into vehement imploration conducted by Maneri’s dramatic phrasing.

While passing a risky zone of “Turbulence”, they experience oscillating moves regulated by Dickey’s technique and loaded with contrapuntal dissertations from his peers, whose paths occasionally cross.

The impact was so strong that a fourth member of the crew didn’t resist and succumbed. That's the reason why lugubrious tones embrace “To a Lost Comrade”, conveying despair and consternation. Here, it's Dickey who tries to pull his mates out of the lethargy.

Space Strut” shows us Shipp bolstering and propelling the spaceship with left and right-hand attacks, forming beautiful atmospheric textures of wide tonal range.
Already in another dimension, “Hyperspatial” comprehends contemplative reflections and euphoric exaltations punctuated by stratospheric noisy blasts.

If you want to step out of this world for a while, grab this record, which was passionately devised by an experienced trio of galaxy explorers, and let the portions of madness and lucidity invade your own space.

         Grade A-

         Grade A-

Favorite Tracks: 
01 – Spaceship 9 ► 04 – Galaxy 9 ► 07 – Space Strut

Riverside - The New National Anthem

Label/Year: Greenleaf Music, 2017

Lineup - Dave Douglas: trumpet; Chet Doxas: saxophone and clarinet; Steve Swallow: electric bass; Jim Doxas: drums.

Riverside - New-National-Anthem

American trumpeter Dave Douglas has left an indelible trace of respectful music throughout a career that spans almost 20 years. An outgoing posture makes him one of those fearless musicians who are not afraid to experiment new musical concepts.
Whereas last year, we could hear him with an exciting quartet co-led by pianist Frank Woeste or trying new currents with his futuristic High Risk Quartet, now he returns to Riverside, a quartet he co-leads with Canadian saxophonist Chet Doxas, a Juno award nominee. Rounding out the band is a pair of rhythm technicians from different generations: veteran electric bassist Steve Swallow and Chet’s brother, Jim Doxas, on drums.
The New National Anthem is their sophomore album to be released on the trumpeter’s record label Greenleaf Music. Besides originals, predominantly composed by Douglas, the record features three compositions by Carla Bley. Two of them, the title track and “King Korn”, are short in duration with less than two minutes each, while the bohemian “Enormous Tots” carries all the creative extravagance inherent to the pianist’s musical intentions. It’s served up with snare ruffs, voice calls, electrifying melodic conductions, and a deeply reverberant intervention from Chet, whose ascending phrases are as precise as infinitesimal calculus.

Americana, a genre that the Riverside members are no stranger to, marks a vital presence with numbers like “View From a Bird” by Chet and “Il Sentiero” by Douglas. The former is bolstered by the horns' folk-tinged guidelines that rest on top of a frictionless foundation built by Swallow’s understated bass and Jim’s ambitious percussive activity. In turn, “Il Sentiero” is a ternary folk ballad whose final seconds slip out to a brief animated rodeo dance.

Compact rock pulses not only start up “Old Country”, where parallels and obliques of sax and trumpet live freely, but also “Americano”, which exults rhythmically creative improvisations over a nuanced bass pedal.

In addition to entailing undeviating trumpet-clarinet unisons, “King Conlon” modernly swings like Swallow loves to do, differing in everything from “If I Drift”, a composition by Douglas, who confidently strolls on top of a static groove right after Chet has interrupted a crystalline clarinet ostinato.

Limber is a word that fits well in the description of The New National Anthem, a richly textured work where genres are unambiguously bent with a positive collaborative effort. Even reluctant about taking risks, the band makes it genuinely graceful.

         Grade B+

         Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
04 – King Conlon ► 07 – Enormous Tots ► 10 – If I Drift

Troy Roberts - Tales & Tones

Label/Year: Inner Circle Music, 2017

Lineup – Troy Roberts: tenor and soprano saxophones; Silvano Monasterios: piano; Robert Hurst: upright bass; Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts: drums.

Troy Roberts is a multi-awarded Australian saxophonist/composer whose sleek style and shimmering sound led him to perform with respected names such as Aretha Franklin, Christian McBride, Dave Douglas, and Orrin Evans.

Meshing efficiently the bop tradition with new currents, Roberts has released seven albums as a leader and the latest of them, Tales & Tones, which includes both originals and jazz standards, is probably his strongest.

For this session, he convenes a quartet, whose members include Venezuelan Silvano Monasterios on piano and an accomplished bass-drums rhythm team with Robert Hurst on bass and Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts on drums.
They open with “Decoration”, Robert's adventurous tune of variable intensities and rhythmic nuances, which recalls Don Byron’s progressive approach. After the theme’s statement, Hurst and Watts cling to an unaccompanied swinging groove that paves the ground for Roberts’ rollicking yet intelligible stroll on soprano. Here, everyone is allowed to express their individuality and Monasterios, Hurst, and finally Watts also deliver brazen improvisations. 

Trams” is propelled by a well-defined bass groove together with the wild, dry drumming of Watts, who only relaxes in his gestures on the meddling swinging passages. Elements of hard and post bop are seamlessly interlaced on top of rich harmonies and bouncing rhythms.

Contrasting with the crestfallen ballad “Rivera Mountain”, which feels a bit overlong, the animated “Bernie’s Tune” arrives deeply rooted in tradition and brings up the rich phraseology used by the hard-boppers from the 50s. While Roberts combines a warm timbre with the vivacity of Jackie McLean’s lines, Monasterios finds space to quote “Ain’t Misbehavin” amidst his rambunctious sweeps. Everything flows through a forwarding attitude that encompasses swing and brief Latin incursions, ending up with eight-bar trades between the drummer and the other members.

The band puts a lot of rhythmic pepper in the rendition of Strayhorn’s classic “Take the A Train”, which sounds victoriously fresh with the multiple variations.

Carrying funny titles and cool transitory passages, “Pickapoppy” and “Mr. Pinononnk”, two smooth exercises composed by the bandleader, are strong parts of the whole. The former thrives through the impulsive stimulus counteracted by Roberts and Monasterios, while the latter allows light in, blossoming by the virtue of a winsome combination of sweet melodies delivered in unison, counterpointed sections, and the quietly powerful snare drumming of Watts, even only lasting for a few minutes.
Positive and emphatic, Roberts crafted a solid record that vibrates with the quartet’s chemistry and creative latitude. By listening to it, you will certainly agree with me about his musical appeal and technical sophistication.

         Grade A-

         Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 – Decoration ► 07 – Pickapoppy ► 08 – Mr. Pinononnk

Bill Evans - Another Time

Label/Year: Resonance Records, 2017

Lineup - Bill Evans: piano; Eddie Gomez: bass; Jack DeJohnette: drums.

Iconic jazz pianist Bill Evans doesn’t need an introduction. He will have his name rolling on the jazz circuit again with the release of a new album on Resonance Records. Another Time comes in the sequence of the double-CD Some Other Time: The Lost Session from the Black Forest and was recorded live at the Netherlands Radio Unit in Hilversum on June 22, 1968, when the pianist performed with one of his many emblematic trio formations, this time featuring the amazing Eddie Gomez on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums.

The album includes six classic standards and three scintillating originals where we can find the trio at the peak of its capabilities. Even discerning a slight static noise in the background, the sound is pretty good overall, and the swinging animosity of “You’re Gonna Hear From Me”, the opening tune, makes us forget it right away.

Evans’ first known tune, “Very Early”, was paced at mid-tempo with the usual emotional passion sprouting from mesmerizing melodies, opportune rhythmic figures, and an array of other magical ideas. Gomez’s tremendously diatonic appeal is spread through expressive individual statements, not only on this tune but also on “Who Can I Turn To?” and Miles Davis’ “Nardis”, in which he excels in the company of DeJohnette. The drummer reserves a considerable amount of time for himself, in a phenomenal demonstration of his rhythmic skills. 

Evans also abdicates from the spotlight on the bass-driven “Embraceable You”, while on “Alfie” and “Turn Out the Stars” he conveys the intimate, moving, and almost tearful ambiances he got known for.

The motivic “Five” gets a more adventurous treatment, swinging hastily but not without sensitivity, to finish the recording in style.

Bill Evans is flawless and Another Time could also be called 'Another Treasure'.

          Grade A

          Grade A

Favorite Tracks: 
02 – Very Early ► 08 – Turn Out the Stars ► 09 – Five

Amir ElSaffar Rivers of Sound - Not Two

Label/Year: New Amsterdam, 2017

Lineup includes – Amir ElSaffar: trumpet; Ole Mathisen: saxophone; JD Parran: saxophone; Mohamed Saleh: oboe; Miles Okazaki: guitar; Craig Taborn: piano; George Ziadeh: oud; Jason Adasiewicz: vibraphone; Tareq Abboushi: buzuq; Carlo DeRosa: bass; Nasheet Waits: drums; etc.

// this review was originally published on LondonJazz News on May 15 //

The musical capacities of Amir ElSaffar deserved wide recognition in 2007 when his acclaimed debut album entitled Two Rivers was released on Pi Recordings. Born in Chicago to an Iraqi father and an American mother, ElSaffar, a trumpeter, vocalist, composer, and bandleader, has been an enthusiastic emissary of a fusion style that blends Iraqi maqam music and contemporary jazz. His aptitude to merge both styles as an organic whole was strengthened after learning from maqam music masters in Baghdad, as well as collaborating with jazz forward-thinkers like Cecil Taylor, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Oliver Lake, and Vijay Iyer.

ElSaffar’s new double-disc album, Not Now, released on Amsterdam Records, features a closely-knit 17-piece ensemble that comprises both Western and Middle Eastern musicians of remarkable technical caliber.

The disc one opens in a surreptitious way with “Iftitah”, where layers of sound are gradually stacked up, creating mystery at first, and then gaining majestic contours with the horn section. The finale displays the saxophone players embarking on a striking collective improvisation over a racing, swinging pulse commanded by bassist Carlo DeRosa and drummer Nasheet Waits. It took me to another dimension in a rare moment of exalted ostentation. Too bad it didn't last longer!

Exotic perfumes are exhaled from “Jourjina Over Three”, which overflows with serpentine microtonal melodies delivered in unison, and “Penny Explosion”, an enchanting piece that initially dances at 3/4, but eventually shifts in tempo, still maintaining the festive tonalities.

Plaintive and hypnotic, the slow-paced “Ya Ibni, Ya Ibni (My Son, My Son)” is a burst of sentiment. It features an intensely harmonious and glowingly spiritual piano solo by Craig Taborn, who resorts to thoughtful polyphonies to impress. The latter also designs the final setting, together with vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz, and guitarist Miles Okazaki in a juxtaposition of provocative ostinatos.

Opening the disc two, “Layl (Night)” is a levitating prayer immersed in Byzantine scales and sinuous phrases played in unison, while “Hijaz 21/8” and “Shards of Memory/B Half-Flat Fantasy” invite us to dance with their modal incursions and chromaticism. On the former, amidst several other improvisations, we can hear ElSaffar’s dissertations on trumpet, while the latter finds the perfect poise between Arabic sounds and chants, sectional classical formulas, jazz infusions, and mesmeric rhythms. Everything leads to a massive collective improvisation.

I've found soul in ElSaffar’s compositions and responsiveness in his arrangements. It’s perceptible that these tunes never close doors to exploration and new possibilities. Regardless the great individual moments, the main force of Not Two comes from the collective whose members, unselfishly and victoriously, walk in the same direction.

          Grade A

          Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 (CD1) – Iftitah ► 04 (CD1) – Ya Ibni, Ya Ibni ► 03 (CD2) – Shards of Memory

Linda May Han Oh - Walk Against Wind

Label/Year: Biophilia Records, 2017

Lineup - Ben Wendel: tenor saxophone; Matthew Stevens: guitar; Linda May Han Oh: bass; Justin Brown: drums.


The developed technique of Linda May Han Oh, a Malaysian-born, Australia-raised bassist/composer based in New York, translates into exciting vamps and appetizing grooves on her new album, the fourth as a leader, Walk Against Wind.

For this adventurous ride, Ms. Oh, who is a distinctive member of Dave Douglas Quintet and recently toured with Pat Metheny, has gathered saxophonist Ben Wendel, guitarist Matthew Stevens, and drummer Justin Brown. Three of the eleven tunes feature Cuban-born pianist Fabian Almazan, while Minji Park makes a single appearance, playing traditional Korean instruments.

The opening track, “Lucid Lullaby”, is simultaneously made of delicacy and effervescence, flowing with an amazing sense of tempo. Introduced by solo bass, the tune slowly builds texture with the unobtrusive addition of percussion and the assertive chords of Matthew Stevens, whose magnetic guitar sound stands between the clean and the dirty. The theme’s melody, fulfilled with rich accentuations, is partly delivered in unison by bass and saxophone before the improvisational section becomes dominated by the rhythmic agility of the bandleader and Stevens. After a final vamp where Brown intensifies his percussive chops, there’s an atmospheric finale that reminded me of Jan Garbarek.

Dotted by convulsive strokes of sax and piano in its early stage, “Firedancer” is a lesson on bass freedom. It’s a gravitational exercise that develops into a cyclic bass-piano unison phrase before Wendel and Stevens flare up an unorthodox dialogue.

The initial steady pace of “Speech Impediment” is determined by Oh, who draws warm voicings from strumming the bass strings. Controlled, beseeching, and out-of-sync sax/guitar clamors are placed on top of this foundation. The bassist also reveals her vocal aptitudes in a game of unisons with sax and guitar while holding onto an occasionally-shifting bass ostinato. Brown’s quasi-mechanical individual statement anticipates the reinstatement of the sluggish theme.

Ms. Oh plays electric bass and even sings on “Perpluzzle”, a funk-inflated groovy piece whose joyfulness and forward pull become close to Esperanza Spalding’s Emily’s D+Evolution. She plays electric again on the slightly piquant “Ikan Bilis”, but this time with no vocals adorning.
You may sing an altered-pitched ‘twinkle twinkle little star’ on the title track’s melody, which serves as an ostinato, running in the background of Oh’s full-bodied acoustic improvisation. Later on, combustible drum swipes glue on a nuanced bass pedal to receive the quick-witted expressiveness of Wendel’s discourses and Stevens’ lavish guitar discharges.

The enthralling closing number, “Midnight”, has an undeniable appeal. The quartet keeps the music tense enough underneath an apparent dreamy surface, tightening and loosing their movements in accordance with the flow.

Walk Against Wind successfully straddles the realms of post-bop and modern groove music. It’s a ruminative, unfiltered, and often sparkling album that also happens to be Ms. Oh’s finest.

         Grade A

         Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 – Lucid Lullaby ► 05 – Walk Against Wind ► 11 – Midnight

Cuong Vu 4tet - Ballet

Label/Year: RareNoise Records, 2017

Lineup – Cuong Vu: trumpet; Bill Frisell: guitar; Luke Bergman: bass; Ted Poor: drums.

Cuong Vu, an innovative avant-garde trumpeter who was born in Vietnam and has a knack for crossing musical boundaries in the company of mighty guitarists, provides you with plentiful of thrills on Ballet: The Music Of Michael Gibbs, a gritty new experiment that came out on RareNoise Records. 

Last year, Vu and his regular trio - Stomu Takeishi on bass and Ted Poor on drums - invited the eclectic jazz guitarist Pat Metheny to participate in their alternative soundscapes, drawing positive reactions worldwide. 
Now, Vu resolved to explore five pieces by Michael Gibbs, a master conductor, arranger, and composer, whose work usually blends rock elements with orchestral jazz.

Shaping Gibbs’ compositions with a strong personal charisma, Vu gathered his 4-tet composes of Luke Bergman on electric bass, longtime associate Ted Poor on drums, and the amazing Bill Frisell on guitar, who returns after the memorable It’s Almost Residual (EMI Music, 2005). 

The title track romps out of the gate with meticulous abandon, holding firmly to an initial rubato that lightly pushes us into a waltzing hybridity of folk, blues, rock, and jazz. The band keeps the focus in and out through Frisell’s inventive and often atonal voicings and playful melodic lines, which work in conjunction with Vu’s elliptical, and quite breathtaking melodies. Almost unexpectedly, the tune acquires a swinging flow and an indelible bluesy feel, even if occasionally squeezing its nose on other fervid sonorities.

Folk and blues are combined once again on “Blue Comedy”, whose stable rhythm is permanently fed by Poor’s rock cadences and Bergman’s walking bass. If Frisell brings bluesy elements into his improvisational stratagem, Vu benefits with the rhythmic disruptions and subsequent change of pace. He starts slowly, accompanied by guitar and bass, but increases the sweeps when Poor re-enters with an irregular marching pulse based on snare drums. 

Definitely more static but no less bracing, the sublime “Feelings and Things” floats freely and passionately. While Bergman’s subdued bass joins the comprehensive drum chops crafted by Poor, Vu chooses the best notes to garnish Frisell’s balmy harmonic narratives. 

Also marked by serene tones, “Sweet Rain” invades the gray skies of a spring-blooming rainy day with the warming colors of a rainbow. The guitarist populates spacious pop/rock ambiances with constructive voicings, sharp harmonics and trills, and clever effect-drenched melodies. Totally into this mood, the trumpeter places silky melodies atop.

Probably the most engrossing track is “And On the Third Day”, a trance-like meditation turned into a noise-rock excursion. It opens with a relaxing exotic flavor penned by a nuanced bass pedal and irresistible percussion, and closes strongly electrified, fascinating along the way.
With Frisell aboard, the sound of the 4-Tet is broadly expanded, regardless where the band decides to go. Absolutely addictive and remarkably infectious, Ballet is a tour de force album that you won't regret to treat yourself with.

          Grade A

          Grade A

Favorite Tracks: 
01 – Ballet ► 04 – And On the Third Day ► 05 – Sweet Rain

Gerald Clayton - Tributary Tales

Label/Year: Motema, 2017

Lineup - Logan Richardson: alto sax; Ben Wendel: tenor sax; Dayna Stephens: baritone sax; Gerald Clayton: piano; Joe Sanders: bass; Justin Brown: drums

Multifaceted pianist Gerald Clayton showed throughout all these years that he could easily adapt to any musical environment, from strictly traditional to spaciously untrammeled. His appreciated musicality has found expression in disparate projects, and we can hear him playing smooth jazz with Diana Krall and Michael Bubblé with the same enthusiasm as when he grooves with Charles Lloyd, Ambrose Akinmusire, or Roy Hargrove.

Besides this active role as a sideman, Clayton boasts a solid career as a leader and his fourth album of originals, Tributary Tales, confirms his writing talents and flair for modern post-bop. The set of creative artists that joins him here comprises a 3-horn section with saxophonists Logan Richardson, Ben Wendel, and Dayna Stephens, and a competent rhythm crew composed of bassist Joe Sanders, drummer Justin Brown and percussionists Henry Cole and Gabriel Lugo.

Hooks and thumps are distributed at full throttle in the opening piece, “Unforeseen”, whose compressed energy is expelled in great style. Clayton shows a remarkable self-sufficiency in the way his hands craft and interweave single lines and chords to build texture. The vigorous collisions of his left hand’s fingers with the piano’s lower register’s keys feel like opportune intense blows while the right hand follows the fierceness of the rhythmic pulse laid down by his bandmates. The saxophonists, flying more in parallel than oblique, also contribute for the collective commotion, which elegantly shifts from dizzying amusement to triumphant delight. A stunning first move, indeed.

Narrated with less agitation, but still steeped in a somewhat nervy stance, “Patience Patients” gains emphasis through the imaginative improvisations supplied by Clayton and Wendel.

Besides discovering poetry on the relaxing “Lovers Reverie” and “Dimensions: Interwoven” (spoken words by Carl Hancock Rux and Aja Monet), we can plunge into different musical settings like in the soul/gospel-inflected “Soul Stomp”, a fluctuating instrumentation armed with graceful moments, abundant rhythmic accentuations, and a rapturous, jovial posture.

Primarily propelled by Brown’s brushed rhythmic flux and Sanders’ spot-on bass lines, the persevering “Envisionings”, a waltz nurturing creativity, finds its emotional peak with Richardson’s authoritative improvisation.

The ebb and flow of “Are We” develops into multiple textural sections after starting a confluence of pensive poses and sparse touches delivered by piano and sax. Conversely, “Squinted” is colorfully brought by two distinct and buoyant saxophone melodies dancing on a firm percussive ground. Textural layers grow with the addition of piano, bass, and vocals, all heading toward a crescendo before a brief solo piano passage takes us to a restrained finale.

It’s noticeable how Clayton’s compositional style avoids traditional swinging grooves and bop clichés. Better than reviving dances of the past, he rather creates new ones, choreographing them with sophisticated movements. He does it unreservedly in the good company of his equally gifted peers.

          Grade A

          Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 – Unforeseen ► 06 – Envisionings ► 10 – Soul Stomp 

Joris Teepe & Don Braden - Conversations

Label/Year: Self-produced, 2017

Lineup: Joris Teepe: bass; Don Braden: saxophone and flute; Gene Jackson: drums; Matt Wilson: drums.


Clearly sailing on the same waters, bassist Joris Teepe and saxophonist Don Braden, who first met in 1992 at a session in NYC and discovered many compatibilities in their musical processes, converse with prodigious fluency and articulated precision on their new album, Conversations. Following up the previous Pay As You Earn, the co-leaders dug both originals and jazz classics in a gratifying way.

Seven of the nine chord-less tunes feature whether Gene Jackson or Matt Wilson on drums, who help to elevate the rhythmic flux and push the music forward.

Chick Corea’s “Humpty Dumpty” arrives stylishly packed with radiant energy and brings its author’s compositional wittiness, but the truly great moment of the record happens with Elvin Jones’ “Three Card Molly”, compellingly arranged by drummer Gene Jackson, who also excels in his performance by serving up elegant beats and instinctive flurries. Everything starts with Teepe’s nuanced bass pedal, which invites Braden to expressively state the main melody with pragmatic self-assurance. The melodic and rhythmic ideas rush through the soloists’ raw tones in a sort of edgy tightrope walk between postmodern and traditional post-bop.
A comparable approach is adopted in Braden’s original, “Eddieish”, a groovy piece that sometimes seems to implore to be subjected to further Latin manipulation.

Another extremely likable piece is Mingus’ elegiac “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” whose melody is equally dished out by Teepe and Braden. This is the first of three duets that include Kurt Weill’s “This Is New” and the closing tune, “We Take No Prisoners”, wrote by the hyperactive Teepe and embellished with Braden’s transient ascendant/descendant melodic movements.

Shorter’s “Footprints” was set up with a completely different tempo, gaining a new perspective and contrasting with Gershwin’s “Our Love Is Here To Stay”, which doesn’t get much far from what was expected. Even though, Wilson’s creative brushwork, first accentuated by hi-hat only and posteriorly adding a ride cymbal drive, gives it that special touch.

The assorted song selection is an asset and over the course of these beneficial conversations listeners can be certain to find admirable moments to indulge in.

         Grade B+

         Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 – Humpty Dumpy ► 02 – Three Card Molly ► 03 – Goodbye Pork Pie Hat

Mat Maneri, Evan Parker, Lucian Ban - Sounding Tears

Label/Year: Clean Feed, 2017

Lineup: Mat Maneri: viola; Evan Parker: saxophones; Lucian Ban: piano.

Sounding Tears is a nebulous musical session devised by the improvisational masters Mat Maneri, Evan Parker and Lucian Ban, American violist, British saxophonist, and American pianist of Romanian descent, respectively.

While Maneri teamed up recently with saxophonist Tony Malaby and cellist Daniel Levine on New Artifacts (Clean Feed, 2017), another abstract trio work, the prolific Parker followed a similar path on the astonishingly atmospheric As The Wind (Psi, 2016), recorded with percussionist Mark Nauseff and lithophonist Toma Gouband. As for Lucian Ban, he, too, released an album called Songs From Afar (Sunnyside, 2017) with his Elevation quartet, which comprises saxophonist Abraham Burton, bassist John Hebért, and drummer Eric McPherson. Maneri also played as a guest on half of the tracks.

As expected, the music of this trio arrives on the spur of the moment, acquiring random shapes and apparently flowing without a fixed structure.

On “Blue Light”, we have Parker’s uninterrupted enunciations secured by muted viola sounds and low-pitched piano notes, both working as a percussive obbligato. A lethargic disposition embraces us in the beginning of “Da da da”, whose uncanny vibes shift into an odd dance of violin and sax while the piano remains actively involved in the discussion.

Neglecting tempo and forsaking harmony, “The Rule of Twelves” finds Maneri and Parker playing an avant-chamber duet immersed in ambiguity. Also rendered in duet, but this time featuring Ban and Parker, “This!” takes a conversational path that, despite experimental, feels more graspable than the previous compositions.
Afterward, it's Ban alone, who shines with a solo piece, “Polaris”, being also preponderant on the enigmatic “Blessed”, in which his penetrating low notes superimpose to the sparse high-pitched lines. The setting he creates is perfect for Maneri’s microtonal approach and Parker’s uncompromised strays.

The record’s two closing tracks are lenient yet contrasting in nature. If “Paralex” evolves into a compulsive manifesto of disordered small flurries and spasms, “Hymn” is the closest the band can get from a song format and the most touching and ear-pleasing tune on the record. 

Sounding Tears is a one-of-a-kind experience. It can be a journey to the ends of a remote universe or a philosophical exploration about the measureless weight of some weird microorganism. It will all depend on the receptivity of your own senses.

        Grade B+

        Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
04 – Blessed ► 05 –This! ► 10 – Hymn

Jason Rigby's Detroit-Cleveland Trio - One

Label/Year: Fresh Sound New Talent Records, 2017

Lineup - Jason Rigby: tenor and soprano saxophone; Cameron Brown: double bass; Gerald Cleaver: drums.

// this review was originally published on LondonJazz News on Apr 28 //


American saxophonist/composer Jason Rigby has this spontaneous capacity to adapt his way of playing to different styles and moods. He is a shape-shifter whose musical approach is a synonym of consistency regardless if he’s playing in small groups such as the quartets of Mike Baggetta and Mark Guiliana, or large ensembles like the Alan Ferber Big Band.

His work as a leader has been released on the Fresh Sound label and consists of Translucent Space (2006), Sage (2008), and this one, where we can find Rigby spearheading a trio of habitual partners: veteran bassist Cameron Brown and in-demand drummer Gerald Cleaver. The strong rapport built over the years is transferred to the recording, allowing us to indulge in tight trio maneuvers, solo stretches, dynamic interactions, and stirring improvisations.

The album opener, "Dive Bar", is an electrifying sax-drums duet of enormous force and stamina that pushes us to the particular worlds of Coltrane and David S.Ware. Playful and incisive in his phrasing, Rigby, who composed the tune, finds the required ebullience in Cleaver’s inventive drumming and methodical Afro rhythms.

Inspired by the literary work of Oscar Wilde, "Dorian Gray" is another original that kicks in with an odd-metered bass groove linked to a steady pulse. The solid ground consolidates Rigby’s adventurous verbalizations and figures of speech.

His brittle tenor makes a distinct impact on Rogers & Hart’s "You Are Too Beautiful", a sparkling ballad configured with well-resolved bop phrases and delivered with unexpected inner energy. He also digs Embraceable You, another jazz standard. However, this time he does it alone, employing lots of zig-zags and making the tune almost unrecognizable.

Interesting renditions of George Schuller’s "Newtoon", which takes an experimental path due to the trio’s unrestricted approach, and Herbie Hancock’s "Speak Like a Child", shaped by the agile cascades of notes poured out of Rigby’s soprano sax, are also part of the roster.

"Dewey", composed by the bandleader as a tribute to the late saxophonist Dewey Redman, closes the album in the best avant-garde jazz tradition. During the improvisational segment, Rigby throws in exciting rhythmic ideas, and insurgent swoops and slides, but he also caresses distinguishable melodies to balance and regulate the flow.

One is a formidable creation by a rhythmically advanced, intensely focused trio whose expansions and contractions will suit the tastes of modern creative jazz aficionados. Rigby leads with resolve, evincing an outgoing posture, compositional bravura, and a laudable flair for exploration.

         Grade A-

         Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 – Dive Bar ► 05 – Speak Like a Child ► 08 – Dewey

Paul Dunmall Quintet - The Dreamtime Suite

Label/Year: FMR Records, 2016

Lineup - Paul Dunmall: saxophones, penny whistle, bagpipes; Percy Pursglove: trumpet, bagpipes; Steve Tromans: piano; Dave Kane: bass; Hamid Drake: drums.


English saxophonist Paul Dunmall has built a strong reputation in the European free jazz scene throughout the years. From soliloquies to large ensembles, Dunmall never ceases to surprise through his dashing improvised statements and writing skills.

Among his successful past collaborations, saxophonist Elton Dean and drummer Tony Bianco come first in the list, while the improvising quartet Mujician with pianist Keith Tippett, bassist Paul Rogers, and percussionist Tony Levin will be always remembered for their audacity.
Dunmall’s latest was conceived for quintet and released on FMR Records, consisting of an inventive collage of 6-pieces that expands and contracts with multiple colors, textures, and rhythms.

The Dreamtime Suite opens with “Dreamtime”, a happy tune that carries a flamboyant calypso touch on its head. It brings together swing, Latin, and avant-garde jazz, in an effusive cocktail of modernity and tradition that you can picture by thinking of Monk’s “Well You Needn’t” meshed together with Lou Donaldson’s “Lou’s Blues” and bolstered by Coltrane-ish sax sounds. It unfolds within a traditional structure whose improvisational blocks are dominated by Dunmall, trumpeter Percy Pursglove, and pianist Steve Tromans. A collective divagation precedes the finale in which the main melody is suggested but not assumed.

Warning” is firstly designed through Dunmall’s discernible driving melodies paired with Pursglove’s rapid cackles. The interaction between bassist Dave Kane and drummer Hamid Drake is, by turns, uncompromised and elated. The percussionist is truly brilliant in his vivid intensifications of rhythm, followed closely by Tromans’s nimble voicings and piano trills.
Pure melody can be found on the 15-minute “Call an Elephant” where Dunmall plays penny whistle, welcoming the altruistic coexistence between tuneful trumpet and bowed bass. The layers get denser without reaching a real chaotic state, and Dunmall, switching to tenor, sounds more lyrical than ever. The last segment of the tune is left for the pliable moves of the piano-bass-drums trio formation.

Frame Drums and Bagpipes” is not misleading in its title. It’s a noisy and percussive Scottish babble that eventually cools down as the time passes.

The last couple tunes are jaw-dropping. “It Dawned on Me” boasts an uncompromisingly gripping groove, a true joy for the horn players, who enter into dialogue before Tromans takes the lead and work on the preparations for “Sacred Hymn”. The latter is a prayer whose spiritual and modal characteristics are perfect for Dunmall’s sinuous saxophone lines and hard-as-nails sound. His observations range from devotionally resolved to rhythmically playful.

It’s a great ending indeed for an album that feels so ordered in its apparent disorder. Dunmall keeps expanding his discography with good stuff and The Dreamtime Suite is definitely worthwhile.

         Grade A-

         Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 – Dreamtime ► 05 – It Dawned on Me ► 06 – Sacred Hymn

Meridian Trio - Triangulum

Label/Year: Clean Feed, 2017

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


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. 

          Grade A

          Grade A

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.


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.

         Grade A-

         Grade A-

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


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.

         Grade A-

         Grade A-

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