Ernesto Cervini's Turboprop - Rev

Label/Year: Anzic Records, 2017

Lineup – Joel Frahm: tenor saxophone; Tara Davidson: alto and soprano saxophone; William Carn: trombone; Adrean Farrugia: piano; Dan Loomis: bass, Ernesto Cervini: drums.

cervini-turboprop-rev.jpg

Born and based in Toronto, Ernesto Cervini is a fluid drummer who deserves a space on the new scene. He is involved in several interesting projects that include Myriad3 and MEM3, both contemporary piano jazz trios; his own quartet - with Joel Frahm on tenor, Adrean Farrugia on piano, and Dan Loomis on bass; and Turboprop, a sextet he leads, displaying a forceful three-horn frontline.

In truth, the latter project, whose debut occurred in 2015, is an expansion of his original quartet, featuring Tara Davidson on alto/soprano saxophones and William Carn on trombone. This configuration leaves him plenty of wiggle room to arrange originals, covers, and even standards with a personal touch while squeezing the best musical qualities out of his peers.

Making use of a killer-instinct jazz as a point of departure, Rev comprises eight diversified pieces that are blistering and inspiring in its melodic/harmonic demeanors, as well as profoundly rhythmic in its instinctive drive.
 
With epic contortions, “The Libertine” couldn't have been a more delightful opener, comprehending varied time signatures in its multiple passages flooded with insurgent textures. Working dexterously with both hands, Farrugia, who penned the tune, combines clear melodies and sweeping gestures on the upper registers, while accompanying on the lower with dressy syncopated voicings. The following soloist, Frahm, strikes with a highly developed post-bop vocabulary over a brisk, rock-inflected groove, before flowing in parallel with Davidson for the theme’s reinstatement.

A jubilant merry-go-round of pronounced Spanish accents and Eastern folk dialects seems a good way to describe Cervini’s “Granada Bus”. Grooving in 5 and then waltzing lustfully in the B section, it feels simultaneously forward-moving and yearning. It also features a soulful solo by Davidson.

The bandleader brings another tune, precisely the one that gave the album its title. “Rev” is a blues, in the same line of Oliver Nelson’s “Cascades”, and was inspired by the sounds of traffic. It also serves as a showcase for the drummer’s energetic charges, as well as for a bass-less collective improv.

The other originals, “Ranthem” and “Arc of Instability”, were written by Loomis and Carn, respectively. The former piece stands out as a mutant folk dance, while the latter boasts an elegant sophistication and nice line conception.

The external songs, inevitably chosen from the pop/rock universe, include Blind Melon’s electro-acoustic hit “No Rain”, here transformed into a modern jazz hymn, and Radiohead’s B-side “The Daily Mail”, whose original characteristics were left recognizable, regardless the simultaneous horn-driven improvisations suffused with bluesy lines.

By rendering the beautiful standard “Pennies From Heaven”, the group honors tradition with passion, sagacity, and a genuine swinging feel, which gives the tune as much grit as glow. Dedicated to Cervini’s 1-year-old daughter, this striking arrangement by the proud dad, features Frahm in another majestic solo, this time further rooted in the bop compendium. The improvisational section is closed after Carn and Loomis made their voices heard.

Turboprop displays an enormous musical quality and the rapport between its members is unquestionable. Rev confirms Cervini as a drummer of witty accomplishment.

       Grade A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks: 
01 - The Libertine ► 04 - Rev ► 06 - Pennies From Heaven


Brian Blade & The Fellowship Band - Body and Shadow

Label/Year: Blue Note Records, 2017

Lineup – Brian Blade: drums; Myron Walden: alto saxophone, bass clarinet; Melvin Butler: tenor saxophone; Dave Devine: guitar; Jon Cowherd: piano, keyboards; Chris Thomas: bass; 

brian-blade-body-and-shadow.jpg

American drummer Brian Blade has conquered many jazz fans with his sophisticated technique, open nature, and instinctual rhythm. His unique touch, never too loud and never too soft, has played a crucial role in projects of likes such as Kenny Garrett, Joshua Redman, Mark Turner, David Binney, and Wayne Shorter. He also built an amazing reputation as a leader of the Fellowship Band, a 20-year endeavor that normally comprises two saxophones, one or two guitars, piano/keyboards, and bass.

Body and Shadow is Blade’s fifth CD with this band, whose regular members include saxists Myron Walden and Melvin Butler, pianist/keyboardist Jon Cowherd, and bassist Chris Thomas. The novelty here is guitarist Dave Devine, a sure-footed Denver-based rock guru, who makes his debut in the group after Daniel Lanois, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Marvin Sewell, and Jeff Parker have occupied the position in the past.

Embracing identical methodologies as in the previous albums, yet cutting a bit in the improvisations in detriment of a more crafted textural work, the band opens with “Within Everything”, a melodious, unfussy piece that carries the lightness of a pop song entwined with the warm melancholy of Americana. I’m quite sure that both Joni Mitchell and Oasis would approve its atmosphere.

The title track was divided into three parts according to the parts of the day. “Body and Shadow (Night)” upholds a flowing chamber jazz quality, enhanced by bass clarinet melodies (expertly handled by Walden), low-toned key vibes, and bowed bass. The guitar, whether translucent or distorted, fingerpicked or strummed, fits perfectly within the uncongested musical scenario. Conversely, the ‘Morning’ part increases the electrified sounds, getting a tangy indie rock bite, while the ‘Noon’ part is a stagnant electro-acoustic episode with emphasis on Devine’s guitar.

Obeying to a 7/4 time signature, “Traveling Mercies” is arranged with compassionate melodies and harmonies that bring some sadness attached. It rekindles the flame during the chorus, in a successful combination of genteel jazz and untroubled folk-rock, as if Joshua Redman has fused with Crosby, Stills, and Nash.

The resplendent Christian hymn “Have Thine Own Way, Lord” was subjected to two opposite treatments. The first was ‘sung’ exclusively by Cowherd's harmonium, and the second devotionally orchestrated according to Blade’s categorical arrangement.

The syncopated rhythms that initiate “Duality” are also velvety. They are an integral part of a magical soundscape, which, even shifting along the way, maintains both the consistency and stability. The improvisations are further extended here, beginning with Cowherd, who pulls out interesting melodic lines over exuberant chord changes. Giving the best sequence to a short bridge, packed with horn unisons and counterpoint, it’s Walden who, taking advantage of the recently appeared balladic tones, makes his alto saxophone cry and beseech intensely within an outstanding, repeatedly motivic post-bop language.

Holding an absolute control of tempo, “Broken Leg Days” closes the session, flowing elegantly while Blade's drumming brings together simple rudiments and dynamic rhythmic accentuations.

Brian Blade, as stylish and generous as ever, continues to persuade, and Body and Shadow is another great personal achievement that also serves to commemorate two decades of a tight musical bond.

       Grade A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks: 
03 - Traveling Mercies ► 07 - Duality ►09 - Broken Leg Days


André Santos & Bruno Santos - Mano a Mano Vol. 2

Label/Year: Self-produced, 2017

Lineup – Bruno Santos: guitar; André Santos: guitar.

mano-a-mano-vol-2.jpg

Mano a Mano, a duo of brothers/guitarists from Portugal, Bruno and André Santos, just released their sophomore album, Mano a Mano vol. 2, following a similar principle applied to their self-titled debut in terms of tune selection, which includes repertoire from the Great American Songbook, bossa nova classics, as well as original compositions explored with fresh electro-acoustic ideas and bold effects.

André’s “Super Mario”, a tune inspired by the famous computer game popularized in the 80s, opens the record as a unified effort delivered with 6 beats per measure in the form of an exalted rhythmic dance. Appropriate guitar hammer-ons and pull-offs are combined to emulate the excitement of playing the game with the guitarists taking advantage of the percussive possibilities offered by their instruments whenever they can.

Boasting an impressive tempo feel and swinging brio, the pair digs a few mainstream classics with a laid-back, unmystifying assertiveness. One can enjoy the melody of “Dinah”, designed in parallel, before a contagious swing is imposed in favor of the solos, “Without a Song”, which was elevated by a deep bluesy impression, “Grand Slam”, tackled with a robust rock n’ roll intuit, and pianist Hank Jones’ bopping valse “Vignette”, which functions as a getaway from the archetypal 4/4 time signature.

Bruno, the elder brother, contributes with two compositions, disparate in nature, but equally positive when it comes to stirring emotions. If “A Cadeira, o Baloiço e a Rosa" is an affectionate lullaby perfused with the folk delineations of André’s braguinha (a traditional four-string instrument from Madeira island, where they were born), “Nem Tudo é o Que Parece” is a multi-layered experiment on folk-rock and jazz fusion that could have been mounted by Pat Metheny or Mike Stern. This visible urgency in being more expansive with their sounds and textures should be further explored. The same dynamic duo that plunges headfirst into these waters also colors Jobim’s “Modinha/Carta ao Tom” with grandiose voicings and touching honesty, and “Bolinha de Papel”, a tune popularized by the great João Gilberto, with elated rhythms, shifting tempos, and the shrill sounds of the braguinha. 

Mano a Mano” (mano means brother in Portuguese and the expression ‘mano a mano’ stands for face-to-face or confrontation/competition) closes the session more as a fair cooperation rather than a duel, mixing Herbie Hancock’s subtle vibes with ethereal pop and wrapping it up with surrounding electronic loops. 

Rendered with irresistible orthodoxy, Chico Buarque’s “Carolina” is presented at the end as a hidden track, and definitely deserves to be discovered.

       Grade B+

       Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Super Mario ► 06 - Nem Tudo é o Que Parece ► 07 - Modinha/Carta ao Tom


Kamasi Washington - Harmony of Difference

Label/Year: Young Turks, 2017

Lineup – Kamasi Washington: tenor saxophone; Ryan Porter: trombone; Dontae Winslow: trumpet; Cameron Graves: piano; Brandon Coleman: keyboards; Miles Mosley: acoustic bass; Thundercat: electric bass; Ronald Bruner Jr.: drums; Tony Austen: drums.

kamasi-washington-harmony-difference.jpg

After the enormous acclamation received with the triple-album The Epic in 2015, LA saxophonist Kamasi Washington returns with Harmony of Difference, an EP that showcases six compositions deftly arranged to encompass such a different styles as post-bop, smooth jazz, psychedelic soul, funk, and gospel.

For this concise (total time is 31:54) yet impactful body of work he relies on many of the bandmates who helped him to conceive The Epic, namely, trombonist Ryan Porter, pianist Cameron Graves, keyboardist Brandon Coleman, acoustic bassist Miles Mosley, electric bassist Thundercat, and drummers Ronald Bruner Jr. and Tony Austen. Trumpeter Dontae Winslow is the new addition here, replacing Igmar Thomas, while leading vocalist Patrice Quinn joins the influential choir that enriches “Truth”, the 13-minute spacey opus that closes the record. Despite sharing an identical melody as the opening tune “Desire”, set as an ambient soul-jazz trance with chill-out harmonies and cool solos, this piece is expanded with additional sonic layers that include an 8-piece string section, guitar, vibraphone, flute, an extra sax (alto), and stately vocals. Embracing a fully-fledged symphonic poise, the tune revolves around the melody at first but speeds up conveniently for Kamasi’s solo, favorably challenged by guitarist Matt Haze’s pretty annotations and Graves’ responsive and diametrically opposed harmonic layouts. In the final section, ornamental guitar and dreamy horn ostinatos function as pigment intensifiers.

Only sinning for their too short duration, the remaining compositions trigger instant empathy and connection, revealing the strong bond between Kamasi and his peers. 

If “Humility” is a demonstrative spiritual exaltation suffused with plenty of joy and excitement and featuring fervent if succinct improvisations from piano, trumpet, and tenor, “Knowledge” is a seductive, danceable manifestation of the spirit, propelled by sweet-tempered funky bass lines and a fulfilling patterned rhythm. The improvisations belong to Ryan Porter and the bandleader.

Perspective” boasts an outlandish, hypnotic intro before settling in a zone dominated by R&B and retro funk. It will make you clap your hands. As usual, the melody in the chorus is simple and attractive, a procedure also followed on “Integrity”, an unanticipated 100% Brazilian samba song with cuíca sounds included and a hard-driving groove.

Kamasi Washington, whose music remains passionate and poignant, exteriorizes his musicality with feeling and manages to attract followers from opposite sides of the jazz spectrum. He does this with a deep understanding of the past and an eye in the future.

       Grade A

       Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Desire ► 03 - Knowledge ► 06 – Truth


Earl MacDonald - Open Borders

Label/Year: Death Defying Records, 2017

Lineup – Earl MacDonald: piano; Kris Allen: alto saxophone; Wayne Escoffery: tenor saxophone; Lauren Sevain: baritone saxophone; Jeffrey Holmes: trumpet; Josh Evans: trumpet; Alex Gertner: French horn; Sara Jacovino: trombone; Henry Lugo: bass; Ben Bilello: drums + guests Atla DeChamplain: vocals; Ricardo Monzon: percussion.

earl-macdonald-open-borders.jpg

Pianist, composer, arranger, conductor, and educator Earl MacDonald, a native of Winnipeg, Canada, leads a 10-piece ensemble on his new album Open Boarders. Besides original material, his fourth outing as a leader also includes carefully selected tunes authored by both acclaimed and not so known musicians, as well as celebrated jazz standards.

Dig In Buddy”, composed by Alberta’s drummer Tyler Hornby, bursts with a compelling arrangement sparkled by fantastic rhythmic accentuations and magnifying unisons, at the same time that favors individual extemporizations selected from the bountiful horn section. Initially, tenor saxophonist Wayne Escoffery and trombonist Sara Jacovino collide for a brief period, but then split, alternating every two, and then four, bars of improvised statements. Josh Evans made a pompous entrance evoking a noticeable phrase from Freddie Hubbard on Art Blakey’s version of “Moanin”, and there was still space for drummer Bern Bilello appear, well backed by opportune horn fills.

Sordid Sort of Fellow” offers up the swinging verve from the 60s as it carries much of that bop feel in his arms. Again, Evans quotes recognizable phrases from other times while improvising with Hubbard-esque lucidity. MacDonald also stands out with a two-hand demonstration on how to groove within the harmony.

Even thickened with powerful layers of sound, Jackie McLean’s “Appointment in Ghana” evinces a legitimate lightness that is put to the test during Lauren Sevian’s opulent baritone solo. She is momentarily left alone with the drums for a further kicking effect.

While “Miles Apart” expresses the cool-toned qualities of a ballad that finishes with a perhaps too abrupt fade out, both “Smoke and Mirrors” and Jerrold Dubyk’s “Catch of the Day” are dazzling, shapeshifting pieces pushed forward by the highly coordinated actions of the band. However, if the former displays multiple transitions in rhythm (funky beats with bass grooves, a vainglorious march brought up by snare eruptions, a rock flow adorned with horn unisons and counterpoint, and a final trumpet-piano poem in the form of gentle prayer), the latter assumes a metamorphic, daring posture when alternating time signatures.
  
After casting a strong Latin spell with the percussive “Dolphy Dance”, which starts as a ternary fantasia but veers into a 4/4 salsa big band, the album closes with the popular “East of the Sun”, completely transformed by the unique vocal touch of guest singer Atla DeChamplain and piqued by Kris Allen’s striking solo on top of punchy chords emanated from the Fender Rhodes.

Diversity, dynamism, and equilibrium are fundamental aspects in Earl MacDonald’s music making. These eleven stylishly orchestrated pieces are a pure reflection of his musical capabilities.

       Grade A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Dig In Buddy ► 07 - Smoke and Mirrors ► 08 - Catch of the Day


Tom Harrell - Moving Picture

Label/Year: HighNote Records, 2017

Lineup – Tom Harrell: trumpet, flugelhorn; Danny Grissett: piano; Ugonna Okegwo: bass; Adam Cruz: drums.

tom-harrell-moving-picture.jpg

American trumpet/flugelhorn player and composer, Tom Harrell, keeps up a very active career with high levels of quality on each work released. 
The successor of the commendable Something Gold, Something Blue (HighNote Records, 2016) is Moving Picture, which features a quartet comprising regular bandmates Danny Grissett on piano, Ugonna Okegwo on bass, and Adam Cruz on drums.

Despite the conspicuous inclination to embrace Latin/Brazilian rhythms throughout this record, the quartet opens with blazing post-bop inspiration. The title track, following an exciting 6/8 meter, has this quasi-imperial grandeur that imports Eastern folk idioms into the head’s melody, while bass/piano pedals, affixed to a nearly marching drum routine, sustain the whole thing together. This happens before a lustrous danceable groove walks in and brings the best in Harrell, an incredibly articulated declaimer in his melody-driven constructions. Furthermore, one can dig the brilliant moves of Grissett, constantly soulful and motivically versed, and Cruz, whose unhurried statement evolves into a luscious crescendo. 

Apple House” has distinguished features when compared to the other pieces. During its first minutes, it sounds like an electronic-influenced piece delineated by an almost puerile melodic line. However, instead of any crazy beat, the song progresses with Cruz’s subtle brushed drumming gradually procuring a docile bossa nova feeling.

Montego Bay” wrings multiple rhythmic accentuations while elegantly integrates post-bop dialects and a sultry Caribbean pulse.
 
Latin America flavors also permeate “Time Passage”, whose initial impulse is given by geometric tom-tom figures and hi-hat triplets on the drum kit. Harrell unleashes transparent yet vibrant ideas throughout, having brisk harmonic movements developing underneath.

Both “Different Clouds” and “Gee A Bee” are easy-listening exercises. The former carries a breezy vibe and singable melody, while the latter opens the door to an elated jazz funk hinged to a perennial harmonic cycle.

As a jazzified Brazilian pop song, “Happy Ring” invites to chill out and would have given Michael Franks another vocal hit. Also with a Brazilian soul, “Sea” triggers lush harmonies delivered at 4/4 tempo, regardless the ternary folk dance as the starting point.

Flaunting a solo piano introduction that could fit in Jobim’s lyrical repertoire, “Vibrer” is a riveting trumpet/piano duet influenced by Olivier Messiaen and the music of New Orleans. It includes nice melodic lines over waltzing cadences and harmonic gestures typical of the rock genre. 

Encircled by affable warmness, bold color combinations, and a soaring optimism, this is another recommended title from a trumpeter that got me recurrently hooked on his musical creations.

       Grade A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Moving Picture ► 05 - Different Clouds ► 08 - Vibrer


Esteves da Silva / Mario Franco / Samuel Rohrer - Brightbird

Label/Year: Arjunamusic Records, 2017

Lineup – João Paulo Esteves da Silva: piano; Mário Franco: bass; Samuel Rohrer: drums.

Brighbird-Rohrer-Silva-Franco.jpg

Immersed in a shimmering sea of creative beauty, Brightbird feels disciplined and free at the same time. The album results from a triangular interaction between the open-minded Swiss drummer Samuel Rohrer and two Portuguese explorers, pianist João Paulo Esteves da Silva and bassist Mario Franco.

The 13 original pieces oscillate between the static exploration and the minimalism, passing through erratic, contemplative ballads that sometimes are turned into classical-tinged laments. 

With an enchanted tranquility, “The Fireplace” opens the album as a surreptitious expression of the soul, ending with Silva’s ruminative solo articulacy.

After a wayward introductory section, “Sun” becomes suavely propelled with a nice groove laid down by Franco and Rohrer, who provides the rhythmic stability for Silva’s prayerful utterances in an appreciative and contagious heliolatry.

The minimalistic “Trusting Heart/Cosmos” contains profound piano voicings, punctual bass reinforcements with floating harmonics, and timely cymbal splashes, opening up for a hypothetical spirituality. Also searching for an indestructible equilibrium we have “Noon Tide”, brought to life by a bass ostinato, discreet percussive touches, and intriguing intervallic exploration on piano, and also “Winter”, based on a descending phrase recurrently designed by piano and bass. “Oldness”, for instance, acquires a relentless percussive throb on the piano, which is manifestly complemented by arco bass hums and occasional taps, together with Rohrer’s attentive and unobtrusive drumming.

Stubbornly stationary but shrouded in a positive emotional cloud, “Renewal” encapsulates nuanced harmonic movements adorned with a few opportune snare drags thrown in by Rohrer, who seems to request some motion.

Melody plays a vital role in song-like tunes such as “Bird” and “There Were Shadows”, infusing a particular taste on the cerebral “Uncertain Steps”, which doesn’t sound so abstract as the title suggests but eschews the song format as it builds a sort of lament supported by mellifluous classical intonations.
 
Waking” is perhaps the unique title that stood out poignantly against the lethargy embraced by the threesome throughout the record. The rhythmic steam clings to their triangular sound, forming an interesting combination of ecstatic turbulence and confined buoyancy.

Taking an unambiguous direction, the explorative Brightbird is made of intimate moments that require a no-noisy atmosphere to be fully apprehended. With that aspect assured, this classic piano trio gains both satisfying and unexpected perspectives.

       Grade B+

       Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Sun ► 03 - Trusting Heart/Cosmos ► 10 – Oldness


Maciej Obara Quartet - Unloved

Label/Year: ECM, 2017

Lineup - Maciej Obara: saxophone; Dominik Wania: piano; Ole Morten Vagan: bass; Gard Nilssen: drums.

maciej-obara-quartet-unloved.jpg

With eager expectation but also unflinching confidence, Polish alto saxophonist Maciej Obara leads his inspired quartet, established in 2012, with a solid sense of unity, hoping for a great debut on the ECM label.
In fact, Unloved, the group’s first studio album doesn’t disappoint, thriving in a crescendo and maturing in our ears after repetitive listenings.

The six original compositions plus one cover were brought forth with the talents of his country fellowman pianist Dominik Wania, who met the saxophonist during a fruitful stint with the Tomasz Stanko group, and the Norwegian Ole Morten Vagan and Gard Nilssen on double bass and drums, respectively.

Obara and his peers set up varied musical settings that range from duskily contemplative to controllably busy to powerfully abrasive.

Both “Ula”, the opening track, and “Joli Bord”, a crepuscular portrait of a desolate landscape, belong to the first kind mentioned above, the sort of composition that Eberhard Weber would write. The former piece comes enfolded in this wintry, almost elegiac coating that derives from minor harmonies and the concise chamber movements provoked by Vagan, whenever he employs the arco. Whether a lament or a prayer, it appends a strong, gray-hued lyricism.

Conversely, the nearly pop atmosphere of “One For” lets the light in as an ear-catching bass groove adheres to the understated drumming and nice piano accompaniment. On top, Obara’s brushstrokes color the canvas with leveled timbres and surgical precision. Yet, it’s Wania who steals the show here, taking off on a tactful solo that brings up his advanced jazz language.

Symbol of astounding interplay and communication, “Sleepwalker” exposes folk charisma in the theme’s statement and, at last, presents Obara as a dashing improviser, capable of stimulating listeners and the rhythm section itself, which responds with prompt counteractions and triggers further incitement to exploration.

The only non-original selected for this album was the title track, a plainspoken ballad composed by Krzysztof Komeda and arranged with subtle arpeggiated harmonies as well as melodic parallelism and counterpoint.
  
After a solo piano preliminary section shrouded in alluring intrigue (a stern, slashing bowed bass joins for the final minutes), the stirring “Echoes”, an uptempo yet static tune, makes the bandleader return to the spotlight. Always alert to Obara’s fervent attacks, Wania responds and also shines in his improvisation as he fearlessly incurs in labyrinthine alleys with extraordinary agility.

The unobstructed sounds of Maciej Obara Quartet, a group with a strong talent to transform and adapt, oscillate extravagantly in mood, according to the emotional fragility or exhilarating imperiousness that might prevail. It is, indeed, a wonderful ECM debut.

       Grade A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 - One For ► 05 - Sleepwalker ► 06 - Echoes


David Lopato - Gendhing For a Spirit Rising

Label/Year: Global Coolant, 2017

Lineup – David Lopato: piano, keyboards, vibes, marimba, glockenspiel, Sudanese kendhang; Marty Ehrlich: alto and soprano saxophone; Lucas Pino: soprano saxophone, clarinet; Mark Feldman: violin; Erik Friedlander: cello; Bill Ware: vibraphone; Ratzo Harris: bass; Tom Rainey: drums; Michael Sarin: drums; William Moersch: marimba; I.M. Harjito: Javanese rebab; Anne Stebinger: Javanese kendhang; Marc Perlman: Javanese kendhang; John Hadfield: percussion.

david-lopato-gendhing-spirit-rising.jpg

World fusion is in good hands with pianist, composer, and bandleader David Lopato, who hired an eclectic A-list band for his 2-CD set outing, Gendhing For a Spirit Rising. Moving with ease between Javanese gamelan, contemporary jazz, and other South Asian sounds, Lopato’s music benefits with both the experienced and the emerging jazz artists that followed him in this adventure.

Due to the palpitating rhythmic structure and the presence of an Eberton-Friedlander virtual violin, “Landrang” and “Jalan Jiwa” made me recall Billy Bang’s Vietnam Reflections

The folk-steeped “This Life” features saxophonist Marty Ehrlich, who first outlines the free chant-like theme on alto and then improvises on soprano, handsomely backed up by Mark Feldman’s melodicism on violin. Before this stage, the bandleader had shown rhythmic inventiveness and strong sense of resolution during his statement.

Disc one comes to a conclusion with the 20-minute “Gendhing”, a ruminative, grateful, and feathery instrumental that keeps shifting without altering the musing spirit.

The second disc is filled with Western harmonic motions and brings further colors to the already kaleidoscopic palette. It features the up-and-coming saxophonist/clarinetist Lucas Pino on all four tracks.

Beboppin With Bella” stretches into a swinging bebop stance after a peaceful 3-minute introductory section established by piano, vibraphone, and percussion. Even limited to eight bars each, the soloists: Pino, Lopato, vibraphonist Bill Ware, and bassist Ratzo Harris, are quite generous in what comes to ideas. The vibist was the only one with permission to disseminate creativity to a greater extent after extra time has been given to him.

Jakshi” draws Middle Eastern snaky melodies mounted in unison over the audacious percussive joy put up by Sarin and John Hadfield.

The two concluding pieces, “Ambush and Aftermath” and “Peace March”, are installments of the 911 Suite, which considers portraying Lopato’s experience of living up the street from World Trade Center. Surprisingly robust in conception, the former tune takes the form of an avant-jazz spirit call, in the same line of adventurers like Albert Ayler and Oliver Lake. As a consequence of the textural surfaces that arose from Lopato’s rambling runs and dissonant flurries, a fine 6/8 groove is settled to welcome Pino’s unceremonious creative output. The final piece is a static, touching poem created with noble intentions and conveying a new sense of liberation.

Gendhing For a Spirit Rising spills grip and humanity, reinforcing the idea that the exquisiteness of world music and the openness of jazz are not mutually exclusive.

       Grade B+

       Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
02 (cd1) - This Life ► 03 (cd2) - Ambush and Aftermath ► 04 (cd2) - Peace March


Wadada Leo Smith - Najwa

Label/Year: TUM Records, 2017

Lineup – Wadada Leo Smith: trumpet; Brandon Ross: guitar; Michael Gregory Jackson: guitar; Henry Kaiser: guitar; Lamar Smith: guitar; Bill Laswell: electric bass; Pheeroan AkLaff: drums; Adam Rudolph: percussion.

wadada-leo-smith-najwa.jpg

Trumpeter-composer Wadada Leo Smith owns an inimitable avant-jazz voice and an out-of-the-box creativity that is patented throughout a prolific career. If last year he delighted me twice with A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke (duo record with pianist Vijay Iyer) and America’s National Park, this year he strikes again with another couple of powerful albums, Solo Reflections and Meditations on Monk and the object of this review, Najwa, a bow to major American jazz artists.

The album’s acute bite comes not only from Wadada’s limpid sequence of notes, but also from quirky textures weaved by the four guitarists in service: Brandon Ross, Michael Gregory Jackson, Henry Kaiser, and Lamar Smith, plus the constantly ominous bass presence of Bill Laswell and the impressive, ever-adaptable percussive flow by drummer Pheeroan AkLaff. The rhythms are magnified by the actions of percussionist Adam Rudolph.

The duskily cosmic “Ornette Coleman’s Harmolodic Sonic Hierographic Forms” is a transformational and explorative combination of distorted guitar acidity, dark and powerful bass lines, polyrhythmic disinhibition, and the shimmering phrasing of the bandleader. Passing the initial commotion, the rhythm becomes steady and the trumpet cries on top of atmospheric surroundings fed by recurrent bass slides and perplexing, multi-dimensional guitar innuendos.
 
With the unbeatable spirituality of A Love Supreme in mind, “Ohnedaruth John Coltrane” pays a tribute to the legendary saxophonist by sustaining a sonic liquidity that encapsulates assertive unisons, scattered electric guitar spasms burning in multiple effects, penetrating wha-wha bass licks, and brumous drum assaults. On top of that, Wadada’s stream of conscious improvisation, often encompassing long high notes interspersed with kinetic phrases, forces the rotation between fluidity and motionless. Midway, the rhythmic flow unexpectedly veers to a pacific hip-hop/funky groove that persists until the end.

Immersed in ethereal electronic ambiguity and reviving Miles’ muted trumpet, the short title track spreads balmy breezes before the band busts through boundaries that separate creative jazz and progressive rock on “Roland Shannon Jackson”, a tribute to the pioneer avant-jazz/free-funk drummer of the same name. Naturally, the tune’s epicenter is located on AkLaff’s unhesitating pulses with irregular hi-hat attacks, powerful tom-tom timbres, and colorful cymbal crashes. Notwithstanding, the tension that rushes out of the rhythm section’s constant charge contrasts with the tranquil melody.

For the last number, “The Empress, Lady Day”, the group abstains from the noir urban feel in favor of a fragile placidity. The composition, dedicated to Billie Holiday, passes a sensation of widely spacious due to floating harmonies and vague acoustic guitar rambles.
 
Even with four avid-for-action guitarists in the roster, Wadada eschews unnecessary clashes or insubstantial sonic transgressions. In turn, and taking advantage of all timbral possibilities, he takes us out of our comfort zones with unflinching, daring, and sculptural forms and sounds.

        Grade A

        Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Ornette Coleman’s Harmolodic Sonic Hierographic Forms ► 02 - Ohnedaruth John Coltrane ► 05 - The Empress, Lady Day


Jen Shyu - Song of Silver Geese

Label/Year: Pi Recordings, 2017

Lineup: Jen Shyu: voice, Taiwanese moon lute, Korean gayageum, piano; Chris Dingman: vibraphone; Mat Maneri: viola; Thomas Morgan: bass; Satoshi Takeishi: percussion; Anna Webber: flutes; Dan Weiss: drums + The Mivos Quartet 

jen-shyu-song-silver-geese.jpg

Acknowledged as original and creative, the experimental vocalist/composer/dancer, Jen Shyu, meritoriously earned the trust of groundbreaking jazz luminaries such as Steve Coleman and Anthony Braxton.

Born in Illinois to Taiwanese and East Timorese immigrant parents, the New-York based singer brings her musical heritage and other multi-cultural influences into nine original compositions, which she calls doors (to other worlds). Although heavily steeped in the world music genre, her work also includes gritty jazz layers piled up by her Jade Tongue band, as well as the unabashed, trenchant sounds occasionally dispensed by the Mivos Quartet.

Sung in seven languages, Song of Silver Geese is a never-heard fusion between East and West cultures, originally conceived as a performance piece in a straight collaboration with the Japanese dance artist Satoshi Haga. The music is an unusual compound of raw traditional folk (Korea, Indonesia, Timor, Taiwan, and Java), cinematic chamber drama, and encouraging contemporary jazz moods.

Prologue-Song of Lavan Pitinu" blossoms with an immaculate combination of voice and lute, leading to “World of Java”, a piece that highlights Shyu’s precise low timbres and where Anna Webber’s intervallic flute notes sound as audacious and cool as Eric Dolphy’s. The flutist culminates the piece with a contemplative solo improvisation, which guides us to the next mysterious door, “Dark Road, Silent Moon”, a decidedly cinematic and experimental journey reinforced by the purely dramatic chops of the strings.

World of Hengchun” is a Taiwan-influenced piece whose dramatic orchestration feels propitious for serious puppet shows or operas, while “World of Ati Batik” is an interesting, quasi-robotic litany, beautifully put up by voice, piano, and flute. The vocalist also shows a remarkable ability for delineating stunning harmonies and incorruptible ostinatos on the piano.

The doors close with “Contemplation”, a solo poetic English-language narrative (words are by Taiwanese poet Edward Cheng), where Shyu accompanies herself with the Korean gayageum. Yet, before that, we are taken to an odd Korean dance with “World of Baridegi”, a showcase for supple percussive elements that collude with the competent instrumentation and distant foreign words uttered with a vehemence of a blazing prophet. Shyu’s flexible voice and improvisational skills are all energy, clarity, rhythm, and emotion. Expect something outside the conventional.

        Grade B

        Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
07 - World of Ati Batik ► 08 - World of Baridegi ► 09 - Contemplation


Ambrose Akinmusire - A Rift in Decorum

Label/Year: Blue Note, 2017

Lineup – Ambrose Akinmusire: trumpet; Sam Harris: piano; Harish Raghavan: bass; Justin Brown: drums.

ambrose-akinmusire-rift-decorum.jpg

Trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire has only four albums under his belt but his influence in the current jazz panorama is tremendous. A skillful composer, Akinmusire has also put a lot of his musical talent on projects of likes such as David Binney, Esperanza Spalding, Roy Hargrove, Jack DeJohnette, and Tom Harrell.

A Rift in Decorum: Live at the Village Vanguard, a double-disc quartet session that contains only original compositions, was recorded at the cited emblematic New York venue in the company of pianist Sam Harris, bassist Harish Raghavan, and drummer Justin Brown.

The disc one opens and closes with phenomenal masterstrokes. “Maurice & Michael (Sorry I Didn't Say Hello)” makes a great starting point, blooming with urgency and triumphantly demarcating the post-bop territory with stimulating clashes of color. The trumpeter speaks an attractive, modern jazz idiom, articulating his statements with exquisite intervallic engagement. Right after him, the risk-taking Harris juggles with notes and chords to produce imaginative polychromatic effects. The prominent rhythmic foundation doesn’t abstain from the freedom that becomes visible again on the closing tune, “Trumpet Sketch (Milky Pete)”, a metrically daring avant-garde shake with kinetic improvisations. The steam is constantly under pressure, especially during an unaccompanied head-to-head between trumpet and drums.

On “Response”, the title is taken seriously once the pianist responds to the trumpeter’s intro with the same melody, which overhangs on the top of his voicings. While improvising, the bandleader shows how muscular his playing can be without ever losing melodic focus.

Moment in Between the Rest” cools the heat by conjuring up tranquil soundscapes, in a mix of sadness and contemplation. The lachrymose trumpet lines are set against cordial harmonic progressions, static bass lines, and understated brushed drumming. Even conveying a soothing effect, the tune is not devoid of a few staggering sounds.
 
Opening disc two, “Taymoors World” feels very close to the latter piece described, but attempting to provoke something more through impulsive rhythmic shifts interposed in an abrupt and unceremonious way.
Like a frantic locomotive, Brown put his drums to talk loud on the last pair of tunes. As extra stimulus, he counts on Raghavan’s anxious bass pedal on “Withered” and a galvanizing collective ostinato on “Umteyo”.

Even not flying so high as in the previous When the Heart Emerges Glistening and The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier to Paint, the groove and gravitas of Akinmusire’s compositions plus his tour-de-force improvisations can be enjoyed here.

       Grade B+

       Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 – Maurice & Michael ► 03 – Moment in Between the Rest ►07 – Trumpet Sketch


Marc Copland - Nightfall

Label/Year: InnerVoice Jazz, 2017

Lineup – Marc Copland (piano).

marc-copland-nightfall.jpg

Nightfall, the second outing of the year by the virtuous pianist Marc Copland, is a poetic and heartfelt solo recital that pays tribute to friendship and fruitful musical collaborations with longtime associates such as bassist Gary Peacock and guitarists Ralph Towner and John Abercrombie.

Along with renditions of some of their compositions, the pianist performs three of his own originals and also adds an astonishing take on “Jade Visions” by Scott LaFaro, a pure, melancholic waltz devised with smooth touches and emotional richness. It is exactly with this reassuring tune that Copland opens the album, running some descendent melodic phrases reminiscent of Bill Evans, a natural rather than slavish influence, and elegiac harmonies of subtle introspection.

A sublime musing mood is fully embraced on the nocturnal “Nightfall”, an original piece whose unstoppable one-note pedal delivered at a middle register works as a steady axis for the oblique upper melodies that float in the company of irregular yet intense low-pitched voicings. The sounds are very much capable of describing the post-impressionistic painting of Van Gogh exhibited on the CD cover (Starry Night over the Rhone).
 
Displaying congruous harmonic movements that are easier to interiorize, the polished “String Thing” gets closer to the song format, remaining poetic as its inner bliss pops out like lava from a spewing volcano.

Impressions of a luminous sentiment are absorbed on Ralph Towner’s “Song For a Friend”, an affecting ballad in minor retrieved from the 1975 duo album Match Book with the vibraphonist Gary Burton. Conciliating melodies and harmonies with a lyric precision, Copland is equally incisive with his left hand, working diligently on the low-toned edge of the piano.

While his “LST” gains a different dimension with no accompaniment, the pensive if searching “Vignette”, composed by Gary Peacock, is reimagined with a cerebral posture.

Copland concludes this session with a pair of tunes by the late John Abercrombie, taken from his 2013 ECM release 39 Steps: “Another Ralph’s” (originally written for Towner) doesn’t take any surprising detours when compared to the type of ambiance envisioned for the record, while “Greenstreet”, which could have been shaped into a regular hard swinger or a ballad, is mounted as a moderately fast, often-rubato post-bop excursion instead.

Copland’s first solo release since 2009 dives inward places of strange intimacy, becoming a consistently beautiful work. Throughout his musical solitude, the piano speaks volumes, resulting in a generous, dainty gift.

        Grade A

        Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Jade Visions ► 02 - Nightfall ► 04 - Song For a Friend


Tom Guarna - The Wishing Stones

Label/Year: Destiny Records, 2017

Lineup – Tom Guarna: guitar; Jon Cowherd: piano, Rhodes; John Patitucci: bass; Brian Blade: drums.

tom-guarna-wishing-stones.jpg

In order to sonically illustrate 11 originals on his new CD The Wishing Stones, guitarist/composer Tom Guarna assembles a super quartet composed of Jon Cowherd on piano, John Patitucci on bass, and Brian Blade on drums, all of them bandleaders in their own right.

On the crystalline “Prelude”, a welcoming piece filled with full-blown melodicism and arpeggiated piano, the guitarist works his way into “Song for Carabello”, a responsive, breezy song in 7, delivered with a vibrant Rosenwinkel-feel. Soloing alternately, Guarna and Cowherd sound pretty much in-the-groove.

The relaxing “Surrender Song” is warmly propelled by the lightness of Blade’s brushwork and Patitucci’s dancing bass groove. Together, bassist and drummer craft a fetching rhythmic hook up to serve the prodigious soloing aptitudes of both the pianist and the bandleader.

There is a time for guitar synth-inflected balladry with “Moments=Eternity”, an opportunity to listen to Patitucci’s ideas, and also for amiable jazz-funk with “Unravel”, where folk-like melodies embrace the three-chord harmonic pattern with firmness. Guarna improvises over a subtle bass pedal that is later discontinued when Cowherd starts exploring on Fender Rhodes.

Bouncy post-bop symptoms occur on “Modules”, whose swinging motions serve not only to feed the individual creative moments but also the trading eights between Blade and his cohorts.

Beautiful and lyrical is the guitar intro of the title track, a joy to listen to. This number evinces buoyant funk/soul qualities pervaded in its colorful and slightly Latin soundscapes. While Cowherd often goes bluesy in his statements, Guarna exerts resolute attacks to show off crisp motivic phrases as he manipulates his Collins Soco Deluxe guitar with ample vision. A vamp is established at the end to spark off Blade’s reactions. 

The album closes with “Native Tongue” whose intro instantaneously revives “The Girl From Ipanema” in my head. Regardless the false rumor, the tune goes in a completely different direction while maintaining a temperate Latin rhythm.

With fascinating compositions, The Wishing Stones shows a quartet whose strong rapport and commitment to the music is undeniable.

       Grade A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Song for Carabello ► 06 - Unravel ► 08 - The Wishing Stones

Bob Ferrel - Jazztopian Dream

Label/Year: BFM Productions, 2017

Lineup includes – Bob Ferrel: trombone; Dwight West: vocals; Vinnie Cutro: trumpet; Rob Henke: trumpet; Joe Ford: alto sax; Frank Elmo: tenor and alto sax; Roy Nicolosi: alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones, trumpet; Sharp Radway: piano; Daryl Johns: bass; Steve Johns: drums; Frank Valdes: percussion; and more.

bob-ferrel-jazztopian-dream.jpg

Experienced trombonist Bob Ferrel was not only a valuable member of the Duke Ellington Orchestra (conducted by Mercer Ellington) but also backed up amazing jazz singers such as Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, and Nancy Wilson.
 
On his latest, Jazztopian Dream, he shows a true penchant for crisply executed musical dialects, hailing from the hard line repertoire of both bop and post-bop currents.

My Secret Love” is an uptempo quartet rampant where Ferrel’s gleaming tone buoys up sharp phraseologies.
The cool, Latin-infused “Alter Ego” obeys to a beautiful arrangement by its composer, the late pianist James Williams. It brims with strong melodies, an exuberant rhythm, and flashy colors. After the trombone solo, Joe Ford and Vinnie Cutro, on alto sax and trumpet, respectively, show how melodically assertive they can drive their improvisations. The pair also interacts on the neat and conscious rendition of “You’ve Got to Have Freedom” by Pharoah Sanders, complementing each other’s phrases with logical astuteness. The latter tune also features American vocalist Dwight West, whose casual posture in the way he addresses the songs is also noticeable on Parker's “Yardbird Suite”, “Don’t Go to Strangers”, a tune popularized in the 60s by Etta James, and on the totally dispensable “Every Day I Have the Blues”.

As an undoubted highlight, we have McCoy Tyner’s “Inner Glimpse”, the third part of his breathtaking Enlightenment Suite (from the 1973 album Enlightenment), which thrives with a ravishing rhythm and the typical modal approach that dominated the pianist’s scene in this particular phase of his career. On this version, the piano was entrusted to Sharp Radway who didn’t squander the chance to fly freely and expand the perception of the music. His explorations were competently followed by the forceful, Hubbard-esque lines of Cutro, and the vibrant trombone sounds of Ferrel duetting with Steve Johns’ punchy rhythms. This trombone-drums connection is also peremptory on Ferrel's only original, “Soul Bop”, a power-trio swing packed with raucous, multiphonic tones and a funk-rock pulse.

Deep-seated in the tradition but incorporating up-to-the-minute strokes, Jazztopian Dream encompasses a great selection of tunes, reviving the old times with a contagious liveliness. This makes for an enjoyable record.

       Grade B+

       Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Alter Ego ► 04 - Inner Glimpse ► 09 - Soul Bop


François Bourassa Quartet - Number 9

Label/Year: Effendi Records, 2017

Lineup – François Bourassa: piano; André Leroux: tenor sax, flute, clarinets; Guy Boisvert: bass; Greg Ritchie: drums.

francois-bourassa-number-9.jpg

Underrated Quebecois pianist François Bourassa, an inveterate experimenter with wide-ranging technique, truly deserves more international recognition than he has been receiving.

To sculpt his rhythmically explosive, harmonically advanced ninth album of originals, Number 9, he gathered his elastic quartet whose members consist of multi-reedist André Leroux, bassist Guy Boisvert, and drummer Greg Ritchie, longtime collaborators who first recorded together in 2003 on the pianist’s album Indefinite Time.

Exerting cutting-edge rhythmic variations and enticing angular movements, “Carla and Karlheinz”, the spellbinding opening piece, shows the well-oiled band in its full force, hitting their stride with telepathic powers. For this particular tune, Bourassa imagined an unlikely musical encounter between the jazz pianist/bandleader Carla Bley and the electronic virtuoso Karlheinz Stockhausen. Curiously, the outcome revealed an exciting appeal, also due to other salient influences like Monk (dissonant intervallic charm), E.S.T. (refined harmonic movements and rhythmic flow), and Berne/Mitchell (textural/timbral work for the duration of the saxophone solo). Switching from flute to tenor, Leroux cooks up a blistering improvisation, occupying a prominent position throughout this piece.

Plodding along with a 5/4 tempo, “5 and Less” is made of light and darkness in equal parts, flourishing with an artistic sumptuousness akin to Andrew Hill.

The early, quiet reflections on “Frozen”, delivered with an intensified chamber feel due to Boisvert's spacious arco work, quickly deviates toward a dark harmonic corner, perfect for the fiery timbral explorations of Leroux.

While both “Past Ich” and “18, Rue de L’Hotel de Ville” showcase the lyrical side of the bandleader, “11 Beignes” starts as a controlled avant-garde exercise, beautifully sculpted with relentless shrilling piano notes and the rich tones of the clarinets. It made me think of an experimental crossing between Muhal Richard Abrams and Don Byron. However, it all leads to an enchanting 11/4 groove worthy of Chick Corea.
 
Number 9 refrains from swinging in a typical way. Instead, it wittily uses rhythmic and harmonic twists and turns to defy our expectations. Possible categorizations are lyrical avant-jazz, progressive post-bop, or modern free. However, what's important is that you can have fun while absorbing one of the boldest and most gratifying records of the year.

       Grade A

       Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Carla and Karlheinz ► 03 - Frozen ► 07 - 11 Beignes


Rez Abbasi - Unfiltered Universe

Label/Year: Whirlwind Recordings, 2017

Lineup – Rez Abbasi: guitar; Rudresh Mahanthappa: alto saxophone; Vijay Iyer: piano; Johannes Weidenmueller: bass; Dan Weiss: drums + guest Elizabeth Mikhael: cello.

rez-abbasi-unfiltered-universe.jpg

Since a young age, Pakistan-born American guitarist Rez Abbasi realized that the six strings of his guitar were a fantastic way to express himself. Throughout the years, he has been proving a deep understanding of the instrument and a prodigious facility in painting his modern style with multi-colored Eastern elements and a superb technique.

Unfiltered Universe, the last installment of his Indo-Pakistani-influenced jazz trilogy, entraps us in complex sonic webs, embracing improvisation over well-defined structured forms with unlimited freedom.
For the third time, Abbasi summoned the multi-cultural, stellar aggregation baptized as Invocation whose members include saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, pianist Vijay Iyer, bassist Johannes Weidenmueller, and drummer Dan Weiss. Together, they formulate piquant Carnatic South Asian seasonings to enhance the flavors of today’s contemporary jazz dishes.

The quintet takes the plunge with “Propensity”, a changeable piece marked by exotic melodic lines and a free-funk feel that derives from the bass groove. Mahanthappa flings a scalding improvisation using the raw instinct and the unmistakable timbre that has always highlighted his playing. Abbasi follows him, discoursing with pertinacity over the edgy accompaniment fomented by Iyer. 

The title track acquires an eminent chamber tone in its first minutes due to the incisive cello slashes inflicted by guest Elizabeth Mikhael. The mood changes for the improvisations as the bandleader sketches geometric figures by whether employing sharp angles or rounding off the edges with reliable melodic sense. The pianist, on the other hand, constructs slowly but virtuously. 

Functioning as an interlude, “Thoughts” is a less-than-2-minute free-form solo ride wrapped in synth-like effect.

Every tune carries Eastern folk accents in the melody, to a certain extent, but both “Disagree to Agree” and “Thin-King” are particularly driven by a rock-tinged energy that strengthens their muscular cores. The latter, whimsically shifting in tempo, displays Iyer, Abbasi, and Mahanthappa soloing interspersedly. After a short collective romp, it's Weidenmueller’s elegant bass dissertation that concludes the improvisational section.

Turn of Events” precipitates a wider sense of mystery and awe attached to the strange, dreamy textures. Once again, Mikhael contributes substantially to the atmosphere, while Abbasi and Mahanthappa ignite the fire by exchanging improvised, transonic wallops. The turns of events don’t end here.

The album closes with the gracefully groovy “Dance Number”, where guitarist and saxophonist throw in plenty of phenomenal hooks. On top of that, Iyer’s wry harmonic twists and punchy phrasing are there to gain sonic preponderance near the end.

Innovation and positivism are vital factors that Rez Abbasi doesn’t renounce. Unfiltered Universe exposes a world fusion extravagance, which even tumultuous at times, is no less than emphatically magical.

        Grade A

        Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 – Propensity ► 04 – Thin-King ► 05 – Turn of Events 


Marc Copland - Better By Far

Label/Year: Innervoice Jazz, 2017

Lineup – Marc Copland: piano; Ralph Alessi: trumpet; Drew Gress: bass; Joey Baron: drums.

marc-copland-better-by-far.jpg

Marc Copland is a tremendous jazz pianist with a special ability to create stunning atmospheres with unrugged textures. Having collaborated in the recent years with the virtuous bassist Gary Peacock (Now ThisTangents) and the late guitarist John Abercrombie (39 Steps; Up and Coming), Copland never turned his back to his personal projects, which usually overflow with melodic sensibility and strong rhythmic discernment.

The compositions included in Better By Far, his newest work, were skilfully penned to be performed by the same enlightened quartet that delivered the 2015 album Zenith, which deserved every accolade received. The top artists - trumpeter Ralph Alessi, bassist Drew Gress, and drummer Joey Baron, are experienced musicians who move effortlessly within the modern jazz environment.

The first couple of tunes, “Day and Night” and “Better By Far”, evoke the lyricism of Kenny Wheeler, acclaimed trumpeter with whom he joined in a trio that also included Abercrombie. Sometimes subtlety swinging, sometimes suspended in Gress’ loose rambles and Baron’s classy drumming, both tunes embrace a captivating erudition.

The quartet conjures up feathery sonic layers of scintillating beauty, whether they’re forging a disentangled, circumspect waltz such as “Gone Now”, or elegantly depicting grey landscapes smothered by sinister clouds like in “Dark Passage”.

There’s plenty of adventure throughout “Mr. DJ”, in which a daring rhythm invites to free improvisation. Here, we can hear Copland responding to Alessi’s poignant melodies through chordal sequences full of rhythmic intention. Also “Twister”, despite the ruminative and static posture evinced, follows a groovy conduct that encourages the musicians to opt for straightforward actions.

Proving that the art of swinging is fabulous and immortal, the quartet enters in that special mode when handling Monk’s “Evidence” and also “Who Said Swing?”, a playful tune in which Baron fires up a few instinct yet controlled rhythmic spasms.

Even actuating within patented structures and forms, Copland is all freedom and sophistication, preferring a beautiful time feel to complicated, showy maneuvers.
Indeed, Better By Far is by far, one of his best records.

        Grade A

        Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Day and Night ► 02 - Better by Far ► 08 - Dark Passage


Rudresh Mahanthappa's Indo-Pak Coalition - Agrima

Label/Year: Self produced, 2017

Lineup - Rudresh Mahanthappa: alto saxophone, electronics; Rez Abbasi: guitar; Dan Weiss: drums, tabla.

rudresh-mahanthappa-agrima.jpg

Fiery New York-based saxophonist/composer of Indian descent, Rudresh Mahanthappa, has risen to the jazz stardom by cultivating an impressive, unique sound that hallucinates and transfixes.

Besides the successful early partnership with pianist Vijay Iyer (Black Water; Mother Tongue; Codebook), a memorable collaboration with saxophonist Steve Lehman (Dual Identity), and an explorative original work with Charlie Parker's music as the central focus (Bird Calls), Mahanthappa formed the Indo-Pak Coalition, project with Pakistani-born guitarist Rez Abbasi and drummer Dan Weiss, an expert in Indian percussion.

Agrima, his freshest work, features this groundbreaking trio successfully resurfacing Eastern roots and traditions in order to fuse them with the most desirable improvised jazz. This is their sophomore album and a comfortable improvement regarding the debut CD Apti.

The airy, country-like atmosphere of “Alap”, the opening track, surprises due to an indolent predisposition that is not so habitual in Mahanthappa’s compositions. Restraining impetuousness in favor of a more cerebral approach, the saxophonist exhibits a distinguishable coordination with Abbasi on “Snap”, where they follow the steps of each other whether by echoing the theme’s melodic statement or engaging in ephemeral unisons. Abbasi’s textures fascinate, covered in distortion and often enriched with rock-ish riffs on the bottom register. As the guitar solo begins, Weiss switches the tabla for the drum kit, building a more robust foundation with the help of saxophone drones, which compensate the absence of harmony. Close to the finale, a cyclic harmonic progression runs on top of an animated rock pulse.

Predominantly folk, the westerner “Showcase” displays bluesy melodic phrases over a restricted harmonic movement. The band explores alternative sonorities as the time passes, opening up a space for Weiss’ polyrhythmic explorations.

Agrima”, the title track, lives from electronic stimulus to incur on an indie folk rock whose syncopated rhythm variates more than once. Again, Abbasi romps off on an abrasive improvisation that reveals all his forthrightness and confidence.

There’s plenty of bite in the bandleader’s horn on the elastic “Rasikapriya”. An early entrancing tabla soon gives its place to a brawny rock drumming after a rare abstract middle passage.

The 14-minute “Revati” departs from Abbasi’s spatial intro, which resorts to harmonics, low-pitched notes, and synth-like surroundings, to guide us toward pop/rock harmonic zones using folk jazz dialects as vehicles.

Mahanthappa closes the record with the edgy “Take-Turns”, where the splendid timbres, vertiginous language, and irreverence that made him a stalwart in the bolder side of the jazz spectrum mingles with nifty guitar chops and occasional, never-obfuscatory electronic sounds.
There’s never a dull moment in this world fusion celebration.

       Grade A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Snap ► 06 - Rasikapriya ► 08 - Take-Turns


Mats Holmquist - Big Band Minimalism

Label/Year: Mama Records, 2017

Lineup includes – Mats Holmquist: composition, arrangements; Randy Brecker: trumpet; Dick Oatts: alto and soprano saxophone; Magnus Wiklund: trombone; Karlis Vanags:  soprano saxophone; Gints Pabersz: tenor saxophone; Viktors Ritovs: piano; Edvins Ozols: bass; Artis Orubs: drums.

mats-holmquist-big-band-minimalism.jpg

Admired Swedish composer/arranger demonstrated a huge musical sensitivity on his previous record A Tribute To Herbie + 1, in which he invited the saxophonist Dick Oatts to co-lead his New York Jazz Orchestra.

This time, with Big Band Minimalism, things are different. Although counting on the saxophonist for the great part of the improvisations, Holmquist adds veteran trumpeter Randy Brecker to extemporize ideas and ensures a sturdy support from the Latvian Radio Big Band.

The opening piece, “The Girl in the Tree”, is divided into three sections. The first one kicks in with overlapping horn-driven layers, suddenly discontinued so the bassist speaks briefly and freely until being fetched by the pianist. Catchy melodies and cyclic harmonic progressions integrate until entering in section two. Here, a renewed rhythm takes a more funk orientation, bearing a competent trombone solo by Magnus Wiklund on its arms. Section three gives us back the beautiful harmonies that now accommodate potent horn blows atop.

A gracious walking bass advances on “The Same Old Song”, a 4/4 mid-tempo piece that vibrates with punchy melodic lines over the emancipated fluidity offered up by the rhythm section. Oatts and Brecker accessed the desired space for individual statements with relish, repeating the dose on a couple of tunes dedicated to and inspired by the minimal music pioneer Steve Reich. They are “Stevie R.”, which also appeared in Holmquist’s previous album and brims with conversational loop-like phrases surrounded by friendly pop/rock atmospheres, and “To The Bitter End”, a 6/4 fantasy that progressively liberates, ending up in a sort of military melodic cadence led by trombone.

Friends & Enemies” calls immediately our attention to a battle between the horn players and the drummer. They fight for the leadership with loud ostentation until an eventual sonic boom and before a smoother rhythm takes over, definitely imposing the ceasefire. The harmonic progression, a contrafact on Stravinsky’s Symphonies of Wind Instruments, sustains a hefty improvisation by Oatts on soprano.

A Quick Ride in a Jazz Mobile” starts as a ternary woodwind feast that becomes denser as other instruments introduce minimalist short phrases. Flowing with a steady backbeat, this number benefits with a stirring intervention from the Latvian Big Band and the pair of soprano solos by Brecker and Karlis Vanags.

The minimalist concept used by Holmquist has powerful repercussions in the reverberation and fascination of the sound. The tasteful arrangements were given excellent treatment by the group of musicians on board of a vessel that navigates with a remarkable sense of orientation.

       Grade B+

       Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
03 - Friends & Enemies ► 06 - A Quick Ride in a Jazz Mobile ► 07 - To The Bitter End