Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet - Jersey

Label/Year: Motema, 2017

Lineup – Jason Rigby: saxophone; Fabian Almazan: piano; Chris Morrissey: bass; Mark Guiliana: drums.

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American drummer Mark Guiliana combines an affirmative versatility, aesthetic sensibility, and puissant technique in every project he participates. Those features make him able to play in many different settings. Besides being an integral part of the urban jazz projects led by Donny McCaslin and Dave Douglas, Guiliana got broadened notoriety when he took responsibility for all the rhythmic work in David Bowie’s final album, Blackstar.

Despite the constantly busy schedule, the drummer found the time to gather his adjustable jazz quartet in 2015, in order to build the excellent album Family First, an acoustic mix of easygoing post-bop and irresistible pop/rock.

That’s exactly the line of action followed in his new outing, Jersey, which unfolds with strong melodic ethos while breathing deeply and methodically with an unyielding musicality.

For this record, Fabian Almazan sits down at the piano replacing Shai Maestro, while saxophonist Jason Rigby and bassist Chris Morrissey remain in their respective positions.

An upbeat drumming style, marked by tom-tom expansiveness and timely hi-hat staples, introduces “Inter-are”, a piece dank in smothered and highly-rhythmic low-pitched notes delivered by Almazan, who, once in a while, infuses fulminant, bright chords with his right hand. Rigby’s solo benefits from this particular mood and the tune resumes the initial percussive eruption after Almazan’s short and sweeping solo.

Evincing a strong propensity for touching balladry forged with catchy melodies, Guiliana presents us the title track, a soulful, sunshiny pop song earnestly written and passionately delivered with a reinvigorating in-and-out improvisation by Rigby; “September”, whose soaring drones emitted by Morrissey’s bass arco form a prayerful, modal atmosphere when combined with Rigby’s melodies and Almazan’s reverberating harmonies; and David Bowie’s poignant ballad “Where Are We Now?”, which closes the album in a crescendo, regardless its benevolent character and crystalline lyricism.

Morrissey’s “Our Lady” and Guiliana’s “Big Rig Jones” take disparate directions, considering that the former is an eventful cocktail of happy folk melodies, bracing harmonic passages, and Afro-Latin pulses, while the latter, also falling into post-bop orthodoxy, varies in intensity. It embarks on a storytelling that is nice and quiet when Morrissey has the word for a brief moment, but earns a sparkling flair when Rigby comes to the forefront, fueling the combustion with his incendiary dialect. A tender pianism softens the fervency for the finale.

Jersey, another great accomplishment by the Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet, is here to fill your ears with achingly warm sounds and true emotions.

        Grade A-

        Grade A-

Favorite Tracks: 
02 - Jersey ► 06 - September ► 07 - Big Rig Jones


Hudson: DeJohnette, Grenadier, Medeski, Scofield - Hudson

Label/Year: Motema, 2017

Lineup - John Scofield: guitar; John Medeski: keyboards; Larry Grenadier: bass; Jack DeJohnette: drums.

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In my mind, the word Hudson establishes an immediate link to the river that flows through eastern New York, which includes the Hudson River Valley and its adjacent communities. However, and from now on, it will also be associated to a super quartet composed of colossal jazz musicians, namely, drummer Jack DeJohnette, bassist Larry Grenadier, guitarist John Scofield, and keyboardist John Medeski. From different generations, they nonetheless share similar music tastes and the fun of creating together. 

Their first album, equally entitled Hudson, brings not only originals but also curious renditions of tunes by Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, The Band, and even Jimi Hendrix in a clear celebration of the music from the late 60s and early 70s.

The title track, the only piece credited to the collective, opens the record rooted in an off-the-cuff funky groove, coalescing with the surrounding noirish drones created by Medeski and generating an exuberant milieu for Scofield’s sometimes-lachrymose, sometimes-vigorous stringed chatters.
El Swing”, the following tune, is a product of the guitarist’s mind and mirrors all his compositional adroitness and flair for fusion. The structure accommodates a migrant folk melody on top of a rock music web, which, despite closely knit, arrives reinforced by unabashed power-chords. This scenario is seamlessly linked to swing passages, where the tension accumulated is momentarily released with groove and laid-back discipline.

The subsequent four tracks allow us to picture the past with vivid colors of the present, starting with Bob Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay”, here deeply immersed in warm Jamaican waters to acquire the intended reggae complexion. The melodic insinuations come almost exclusively from Scofields’s driving vocabulary.

After reviving “Woodstock” by Joni Mitchell with idiosyncrasy and nostalgic devotion, the band crafts “A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall”, another song by Dylan turned into a highly atmospheric concoction of folk, jazz, and blues, and where Medeski feels compelled to deconstruct a bit, employing vaporous abstractions that steal the spotlight from Scofield. 

On Hendrix’s “Wait Until Tomorrow”, the blues elements remain strongly central, even if the rock contortions threaten to take over the setting. The Hendrixian side of Scofield doesn’t disappoint and packs an intense punch while Grenadier and DeJohnette respond accordingly. The former, introducing clipping bass slides and plucking the strings with pure enchantment; the latter, by sending in propulsive flares with a double purpose: embellish and push forward.

The drummer, a true living legend, not only brings three assorted compositions of his authorship into the game, but also sings on two of them. If “Song For World Forgiveness” embraces a conscious pop air after an enigmatic introductory section, “Dirty Ground”, co-written with the pianist/singer Bruce Hornsby, is reminiscent of the latter’s gospel-tinged pop/rock, whereas the optimistic “Great Spirit Peace Chant” is sketched out with indigenous woodwinds and vocals over regular tom-tom thumps.

Not as powerful as some of the projects in which the members of the quartet have been involved lately, Hudson still blooms with a sumptuous elegance and ostensible effortlessness proper of the masters.
To me, not every song reached the same level, but one can’t deny the involving sound and scorching vibrancy drawn by the amalgam of moody blues and several other styles.

        Grade B

        Grade B

Favorite Tracks: 
02 – El Swing ► 05 – A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall ► 06 – Wait Until Tomorrow


Nicole Mitchell - Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds

Label/Year: FPE Records, 2017

Lineup – Nicole Mitchell: flute, electronics; Kojiro Umezaki: shakuhachi; Alex Wing: guitar; Tomeka Reid: cello; Renée Baker: violin; Avery R. Young: vocals; Tatsu Aoki: bass, shamisen, taiko; Jovia Armstrong: percussion.

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With her stupendous new album Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds, recorded live at the Museum of Contemporary Arts in Chicago in 2015, American flutist/composer Nicole Mitchell assumes a prominent position in the most adventurous flank of the modern jazz.

In order to explore unfamiliar regions, Mitchell gathers a flexible band whose most of its members play multiple instruments, widening the musical possibilities of an eclectic journey that feels transformative and innovative in many ways.

When I first heard the abrasive compound of low-toned bass drones and percussive chops that launches "Egoes War” into the air, I couldn’t imagine how much I would enjoy the uncanny groove that kept sustaining the acid strokes of Alex Wing on the electric guitar. The flutes of Mitchell and Kojiro Umezaki connect and create murmuring rants, triggering a hypnotic oddity that breathes both suburban pollution and the fresh scents of a distant, untouched forest.

Starting to flow at an inviting 5/4 tempo, “Dance of Many Hands” sweeps you up with the counterpoint created by flutes and violin that dance over a repetitive guitar motif. After a massive percussion invasion, both flutes embark on unison phrases, this time having a sluggish 3/4 cello ostinato created by Tomeka Reid underneath. The cellist concludes the piece with a solo trip.

The band grasps a more regular beat and simpler groove for “Listening Embrace”, a composition that invites to a meditation before entering in a contrasting rhythm propelled by Jovia Armstrong’s percussion and Tatsu Aoki’s shamisen. The exotic dynamics provide the propitious setting for multiple improvisations.
 
Forestwall Timewalk”, a zany shamanic experience, is shaped through heavy drumming, rough guitar strokes with varied pitches and intensities, and woodwind unisons. A radical mutation occurs by the end, when a brief stylish passage jumps ahead, arising a spiral of euphoric, noisy whirls.

On the R&B/blues-tinged “Staircase Struggle”, the multi-disciplinary artist and poet, Avery R. Young, sings: ‘we keep on doing the same thing, over and over again’, which definitely doesn’t happen on this record. He also vocalizes “Shiny Divider” with might and main, a protesting song steeped in the soul music, and the closing piece “Timewrap”, an unorthodox funk.

Mandorla Awakening II happens to be Nicole Mitchell’s boldest record in years as it pushes the vanguard jazz to edgier extremes. You may think of it as a mystic, electrifying version of The Art Ensemble of Chicago, where the absence of barriers allows a pacific coexistence between the modern and the ancient, the rhetoric and the philosophical, the euphony and the dissonance…

        Grade A

        Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 – Egoes War ► 05 – Forestwall Timewalk ► 06 – Listening Embrace


Manny Echazabal - Short Notice

Label/Year: Self-produced, 2017

Lineup – Manny Echazabal: saxophone; Tal Cohen: piano; Dion Kerr: bass; David Chiverton: drums.

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Short Notice, the auspicious debut CD by Miami-born saxophonist Manny Echazabal, is a fun post-bop ride that reveals compositional ingeniousness and an adventurous side that draws from Wayne Shorter and Michael Brecker, but still brandishing a valid signature of its own.

Echazabal doesn’t refrain from exteriorizing emotions throughout the nine original tracks that compose this album, recorded in the good company of pianist Tal Cohen, bassist Dion Kerr, and drummer David Chiverton.

Time Out” sets the tone, starting in an invigorating post-bop fashion and emanating elegant remarks, whether from the bandleader or the pianist, on top of warm harmonic movements.

The title track, a straight-ahead, hard-swinging modal piece, is as much responsive as it is playful, becoming immediately a highlight on the album due to its outgoing nature and mighty charisma. By blowing the saxophone with muscular authority, the saxophonist stimulates his peers, who respond with regard and excitement.

When it comes to finding space to breathe, “Abraham’s Warrior” is a notable example of textural finesse. In truth, this is a piano-less waltz showcasing Kerr’s bass pedals, Chiverton’s supple brushwork with an emphasis on the snare drums, and Echazabal’s attractive timbre variations, which derives naturally from the fluency of his language.

The Green Monk”, the first tune ever written by Echazabal, is highly symptomatic in its rhythmic accentuations and melodic drive, presenting well-oiled hinges that turn the mechanism flexible and operational. Cohen’s forward comping has much to admire, not only on this remarkable piece but also on “New Dawn”, a three-part composition painted with distinct techniques and evincing particular tempers. The pianist excels in his solo moment within the last part (reprise), stepping further afterward, when the tune fences an endearing groove. Then, the bandleader wraps it up, attaching passion and discernment to his melodic initiatives.

Short Notice is impressive and becomes even more admirable when we think of it as a debut album. Even if some tunes had their origin in an academic environment (with a little stimulus and push from educators such as Terence Blanchard and Shelly Berg), their level is far from scholastic, rather proclaiming an elevated maturity and care for the sound.

        Grade A-

        Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Time Out ► 03 - Short Notice ► 08 - New Dawn (reprise)


Alan Ferber Big Band - Jigsaw

Label/Year: Sunnyside Records, 2017

Lineup – Alan Ferber, John Fedchock, Jacob Garchik, Jennifer Wharton: trombone; John O'Gallagher, Rob Wilkerson, John Ellis, Jason Rigby, Chris Cheek: saxophones; Tony Kadleck, Scott Wendholt, Alex Norris, Clay Jenkins: trumpet; Anthony Wilson: guitar; David Cook: piano, keyboards; Matt Pavolka: bass; Mark Ferber: drums; Rogerio Boccato: percussion.

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Besides being a skillful trombonist, the Grammy award nominee Alan Ferber is a magical arranger and a focused bandleader. These true gifts make him an inevitable figure in the contemporary jazz universe. As a leader, he got notoriety for conducting a vibrant nonet whose album Roots & Transitions was definitely one of the most irresistible I had the chance to tackle last year.
The same sense of fulfillment applies to Jigsaw, his seventh album of originals, recorded with a 17-piece big band that includes some of the most enlivening jazz artists on the scene.

The superior quality that results from this compositional vision-meets-ravishing arrangements is fully felt on the first track, “Impulso”, an absolutely impulsive, gritty scorch established within a sumptuous, contemporary setting. Flowing at a moderate pace with a Latinized cool spirit, the tune finds the band wading into striking interplay before each soloist begins to express what's going on in their minds, starting with the bandleader, then saxophonist John O’Gallagher, and finishing with trumpeter Alex Norris, who finishes the story.

Guitarist Anthony Wilson handles the introductory section of a song he wrote, “She Won’t Look Back”. He employs slightly dissonant chords modeled by acerbic sound effects, a tactic that beautifully fits the languid air surrounding this half-dreamy, half-conscious pop fantasy. Here, the bass of Matt Pavolka is particularly highlighted.

Reveries of freedom arrive with the title track, whose more abstract, free-form overture obtains a bold avant-gardish tonality created by the kinky sounds flowing from David Cook’s keyboards. In addition to the enticing rhythmic contortions, one can indulge in O’Gallagher’s highly expressive saxophone improvisation filled with volcanic episodes, and there’s also time for a spontaneous percussive escapade by Mark Ferber, Alan’s twin brother.

Contradicting this last tune, we have the silkiness of “North Rampart”, a weeping ballad that besides intelligently harmonized and orchestrated, exhibits a catchy melody imprinted on the head. There’s also the Latin-tinged breezes of Paul McCandless’ “Lost in the Hours”, which acquires a pronounced Brazilian feel, considerably intensified through the action of percussionist Rogério Boccato, especially during the improvisations of trombonist John Fedchock and saxophonist Rob Wilkerson.

Muted trombones and trumpets prepare the ground for the soulfully groovy vibe that sustains “Get Sassy”, a brassy piece reminiscent of Mingus’ exultations, where the amazing teamwork eases the glorious blend of traditional and modern elements. A different concoction was achieved for Clay Jenkins’ “Late Bloomer”, artistically devised to contain unpretentious swinging jazz and brawny rock passages.

Jigsaw is a kaleidoscopic, up-to-the-minute jazz album that doesn’t need frivolous pyrotechnics or radical asymmetries or complicated meters to sound marvelous. It rather uses a genuine reciprocity between the highly committed musicians who, under the keen direction of Alan Ferber, provide another lovely and contagious big band record.

        Grade A

        Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Impulso ► 03 - Jigsaw ► 05 - Get Sassy


Henrique Eisenmann - The Free Poetics of Henrique Eisenmann

Label/Year: Red Piano Records, 2017

Lineup - Henrique Eisenmann: piano; Gustavo D’Amico: soprano saxophone; Jorge Roeder: bass; Rogério Boccato: percussion.

New York-based Brazilian pianist Henrique Eisenmann gathers an attractively eclectic quartet - bassist Jorge Roeder, soprano saxophonist Gustavo D’Amico, and percussionist Rogério Boccato - to give wings to his free, erudite, and often blatantly rhythmic composures.

The Free Poetics of Henrique Eisenmann starts with “Niños Peruanos”, where the voice of a 6-year-old Peruvian child reciting a poem in Spanish becomes the inspiration and main motif for the pianist’s creative reactions, emancipated with the assistance of Roeder’s smothered bass and Boccato’s understated percussion. The elegant scenario is intensified during the stunning rendition of Hermeto Pascoal’s “Zurich”, a musical conclave where enlightening jazz, Brazilian folk, and modern classical are the preponderant elements. The pianist is peremptory in responding to D’Amico’s rhythmic provocations, a feature that characterizes his playing.

The classical influences are noticeable again on “Sarabande No. 2”, a velvety carpeting whose final workmanship weaves highly rhythmic ostinatos.
Stepping on avant-garde ground, “Dans un Fracas de Plumes” brings in an ecstatic, free-feel posture that grapples with smothering low-toned notes on the piano and a buzzing, folk-inflected final cadenza.

Eisenmann also employs this smothering technique to get a percussive effect on “Zumbi”, a lyrical, stylized, and slightly mystic chant that also exhibits strong Brazilian flavors in its groovy trance. It shows less Brazilian pronunciation than “Epilogue: Pifanos”, though, where we find samba rhythms, typical choro melodies, and collages of piano sweeps and whirls that run at different tempos.

One of the most pleasurable moments on the record comes with “Afro-Latidos”, supposedly inspired by animal sounds, according to its title. Recurrent expansions and contractions are motivated by brisk piano movements, breathable bass accompaniment, and a vibrant percussive flow that gains extra resonance during the individual statements by D’Amico and Eisenmann. After a bridge encompassing both wistful and sprightly melodies in its passages, Boccato communicates expressively, secured with an embellishing piano-bass pattern in the background.

Bringing into play their musical and cultural backgrounds, the band delivers sheer moments of musical tightness and stimulating ecstatic exploration, achieving the artistic freedom envisioned by the bandleader. It confirms how jazz can work beautifully with other influences, making its universe a better place.

        Grade A-

        Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Zurich ► 05 - Afro-Latidos ► 08 – Zumbi


Fred Hersch - Open Book

Label/Year: Palmetto Records, 2017

Lineup - Fred Hersch: piano.

Open Book is another wonderful opportunity to get in touch with the compelling and always emotional music of Fred Hersch, an established pianist who, playing solo, presents three originals and four selected covers of disparate nature.

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The gifted musician confesses in the booklet notes of his 11th solo release that what gives him more pleasure lately is sitting down at the piano and let it flow to see what happens. That’s exactly the sensation we got when this record is spinning. It starts by conveying a delicate intimacy in its opening tune, “The Orb”, an original and very personal composition whose touching lyricism is freed by the magic touch of his fingers as he couples melodic and harmonic richness. Everything is surrounded by a glorious sense of dreaming.
 
Plainsong” is another original composition that reflects this state of melancholy, generating an idyllic crossing between jazz and classical genres. Its structure has nothing to do with “Through the Forest”, a ruminative 19-minute free improvisation that explores imaginary paths and trails of a secret forest. There are amazement, abstracted reverie, and dazzle in the depiction, but also mystery and an intermittent tension that is mostly created by the deep-sounding chords unhooked with the left hand.

Jobim’s “Zingaro”, also known as “Portrait in Black and White”, shows up with a heavenly aura, carrying all that crushing sentiment in the beautiful melody and harmonic progression.

Benny Golson’s classic “Whisper Not” is dissected with wisdom and perceptiveness, and then reconstructed with adventurous melodic counterpoint and ruling staccato voicings that, in an early stage, difficult the perception of which tune we are listening to. The main melody only becomes clearly discernible when we reach the final shout chorus.

In turn, Monk’s “Eronel" theme is delivered when most expected. Holding on to its natural bop gaiety, Hersch’s rendition exerts inventive rhythmic variations, stout phrases enriched with exciting passage notes, and attractive motifs. It diverges from Billy Joel’s lyric poem “And So It Goes”, which, interpreted with elegance, closes the album with a romantic touch.

As a curiosity, the previous solo album by Fred Hersch, precisely entitled Solo, also included one Jobim and one Monk song, and closed with a pop/rock piece, in the case, Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides, Now”. Regardless the observation, Open Book is another story and a wonderful one, replete with fantastic moments that should be enough to make you exploring it with no reservations.

        Grade A

        Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 – The Orb ► 02 - Whisper Not ► 04 - Through the Forest 


Darren Barrett's dB-ish - The Opener

Label/Year: dB Studios, 2017

Lineup – Darren Barrett: trumpet; Clay Lyons: saxophone; Erena Terakubo: saxophone; Santiago Bosch: piano, keyboards; Alexander Toth: bass; Anthony Toth: drums; Judith Barrett: percussion; Chad Selph: keyboards + guests Kurt Rosenwinkel: guitar; Nir Felder: guitar.

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With his dB-ish project, Canadian trumpeter Darren Barrett excavates voguish ground by merging different styles such as post-bop and hip-hop with a nice, cool touch, and then spicing it with the addition of electronic samples and other valuable soundscapes.

Barrett’s music background includes a graduation at Berklee College of Music and the first place in the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition, as well as enriching collaborations with the likes of Elvin Jones, Jackie McLean, Herbie Hancock, and Roy Hargrove, just to name a few.

For his new outing, dB-ish: The Opener, the trumpet ace invited American guitarists Kurt Rosenwinkel and Nir Felder to participate in one track each, joining an impressive band that features Clay Lyons and Erena Terakubo on saxophone, Santiago Bosch on piano and keyboards, Alexander Toth on bass, Anthony Toth on drums, Judith Barrett on percussion, and Chad Selph on keyboards.

The Opener” is where rhythmic hip-hop invention meets luxurious post-bop with strong modal accents and a crisp usage of sampling techniques. Barrett, who shows all his impetuousness every time he puts his horn to his mouth, delivers elastic phrases surrounded by delay effect, and is well accompanied in terms of improvisations by Bosch and Rosenwinkel. The latter, resorting to an affirmative synth guitar sound, expatiates on effervescent melodic escalation.
The lucid jazz-hop of “Beauty on Beauty” sounds invigoratingly beautiful in its melodious and superiorly articulated trumpet incursions, which gains an impish sound effect in the chorus, section that also scintillates with the riffscape of a saxophone.
 
Even if there’s a vibrant inner energy constantly bubbling underneath the surface, you’ll find several other occasions to chill out throughout the session. Examples are the reflective “Don’t You Know I Love You”, and the slightly more avid “Db-Lemma”.

Different” mixes a self-assertive urban vibe with off-kilter rhythms that seem to fit between Brazilian samba and African lilt. The invitation to the dance floor is imposed by Anthony Toth's dry snare thumps and swift hi-hat, yet this posture is occasionally curbed by a more traditional jazz approach during the improvisations.

One of the highest peaks on the album happens on “To Conversate”, a piece that thrives with amazing collective timing and synchronization, as well as incredibly dynamic solos by the bandleader and then Felder, whose expressive six-string flux stirs up the groove.

Following the examples of fellow trumpeters Terence Blanchard and Marquis Hill, who also strive to push boundaries, Darren Barrett shows no fear of agitating style conventions through bold ideas. The scrumptiously groovecentric dB-ish: The Opener provides a gut punch of originality in its no-nonsense conception. Open mind, open ears, open style, open world… the future of jazz might well reside here!

        Grade A

        Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 - The Opener ► 02 - Beauty on Beauty ► 06 - To Conversate 


Paul Jones - Clean

Label/Year: Outside in Music, 2017

Lineup – Paul Jones: tenor saxophone; Alex LoRe: alto saxophone; Matt Davis: guitar; Glenn Zaleski: piano; Johannes Felscher: bass; Jimmy Macbride: drums.

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Paul Jones, an emergent tenor saxophonist based in New York, exhibits higher levels of maturity and a willingness for originality in his incredible new album, Clean, a considerable step ahead since the release of his full-length debut album, Short Stories, recorded in 2014 with his reliable sextet. The band members are maintained here with the exception of pianist Sullivan Fortner, who gave its place to Glenn Zaleski. The remaining artists, all young and powerfully talented, are Alex LoRe on alto saxophone, Matt Davis on guitar, Johannes Felscher on bass, and Jimmy Macbride on drums.

Some tunes feature a group of woodwind players that plump for a classical chamber tone rather than a jazz-oriented drive. The admitted influence of classical minimalists like Phillip Glass and Steve Reich are noticeable in these short-lived pieces: “Ive Sn Th Gra Md”,“Romulo's Raga”, “Im Prety Uch Fkd", and “The Minutiae Of Existence”, in which we can hear cello, oboe, bassoon, clarinet, and extra saxophones that often embark on circular breathing techniques, unisons, and well-driven counterpoint. On “Alphabet Soup”, for instance, Jones’ tenor surfs on top of the motivic, danceable waves created by Nanci Belmont’s bassoon and Susan Mandel’s cello. Those involved then change positions, effortlessly readapting to the new setting.

The title track brings the saxophones to the forefront, exerting cyclic behaviors intercalated with Davis’ melodic guitar. Improvisations by Jones and Zaleski occur on the surface of a static groundwork.

Immersed in post-bop shimmer, the catchy “The Generator” and the leisurely-paced “Dirty Curty” become intensely perceptive in their musical transparency. If on the former, one is able to relax at the sound of the introspective guitar and then perk up with the sinuous phrasing of the saxophone, on the latter piece, we find unison melodies in the head and iridescent improvisations, with special focus on the fantastic piano work developed by Zaleski who surprises with polyrhythm in his clever interspersion of chords and melodic phrases.

The bandleader not only delivers his best solo on “Centre In The Woods”, a lucid, wispy, and dramatic enchantment, but also unveils his aptitude for luminous songcraft. Despite the harmonic humbleness, the tune goes directly to your heart and senses through the elasticity of Jones’ language and the control of Macbride’s gentle snare drumming. The drummer gains preponderance once again in the minimalistic “Trio”, a beautiful poem that easily and softly invades the space around us.

Moving in different stratospheres, “I Am An American” carries a more familiar jazz signature as it mildly swings, while “Hola, Amigo” sprinkles a hip-hop flavor in the air and boasts exhilarating solos from tenor and guitar.

Combining the thrillingly emotional with the astonishingly lyric, this impressive body of work feels like a balmy elixir in today’s jazz. Paul Jones is not just the revelation, but also the revolutionary musician of the year.

         Grade A

         Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
03 - Alphabet Soup ► 04 – The Generator ► 06 - Centre In The Woods 


David Virelles - Gnosis

Label/Year: ECM, 2017

Lineup includes: David Virelles: piano, marimbula; Roman Diaz: percussion, vocals; Thomas Morgan: bass; Allison Loggins-Hull: flute, piccolo; Adam Cruz: steel pan, claves; Matthew Gold: marimba, glockenspiel; Rane Moore: clarinets; Alex Lipowski: perc.; Mauricio Herrera: perc; Yunior Lopez: viola; Christine Chen: cello; Samuel DeCaprio: cello.

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Cuban jazz pianist and composer, David Virelles, has been widely solicited by the attentive musicians on the current scene, who immediately recognized his outstanding creative capabilities. In the recent past, he has played key roles in projects led by trumpeter Tomasz Stanko and saxophonists Henry Threadgill and Chris Potter.

As a leader, Virelles always brings heritage into the game, and both Continuum (Pi Recordings, 2012) and Mboko (ECM, 2015) received accolades from the specialized media for his inventive avant-Afro-Cuban-jazz venture. Last year, the multifaceted pianist left everyone mouth-watering with the Vinyl/EP Antenna, a fully experimental mix of Latin rhythms, electronic vibes, and avant-garde jazz.
 
His roots and devouring appetite for experimentation become decisive again in Gnosis, meaning an intuitive apprehension of spiritual truths, his new CD and the second on the reputable ECM label.
Lacking the electronic maneuvers that once worked in his favor, the album consists of 18 short compositions (the longest has about six minutes while the shortest 40 seconds) that attempt to transform the Cuban tradition, strongly represented by the Abakua rhythms, into eclectic and sometimes abstract pieces of modern jazz.

Sparse piano strokes, bass perambulations, and multiple percussive approaches set the mood of the amorphous opening tune, “Del Tabaco Y El Azucar”, which at a certain point explodes with a long, thunderous roar.

In turn, the stylish “Fititi Ñongo” encourages everyone to move freely through the loose-jointed Afro-Cuban rhythm that accompanies the propulsive harmonies and well-discernible voice leading. Another super enticing African throbbing arrives with a work song feel in “Erume Kondo”, whose short story is chanted by the acclaimed percussionist/poet Roman Diaz.

Virelles plays unaccompanied on “Lengua I”, a piece with sudden variations in rhythm, texture, and mood, climaxing in a frenetic rhythm adorned by rapid runs, incisive flurries, and mechanical harmonic smacks. Its second part, “Lengua II”, provides a completely different setting, resorting to the efficacious chamber ensemble to adjust the lines.

Also with two different parts, “De Ida Y Vuelta” enchants with the classical romanticism and dulcet lyricism of the earliest segment, and then provides us with the gracious cinematic vision of the more folkloric and motivic second half.

Virelles’ distinguished ideas flow continually on “Tierra”, a 6-minute trip initially sparked by piccolo, bass clarinet, piano, and hypnotic rhythms, and also on “De Portal”, in which he finds the ideal balance between sound and silence, operating in a wide tonal range before dropping anchor in a catchy groove. A more meditative examination was selected for “De Cuando Era Chiquita”, despite the pianist’s low-pitched blows on the lower octaves and dramatic voicings on the higher. The quasi-childish, totally-singable melody expressed before the finale and its subsequent inspired groove made me wish the tune's duration had been extended.

David Virelles, just like his countryman and fellow pianist Aruan Ortiz, maintains his roots and traditions well alive by adapting them to today’s edgier jazz. He does it exemplary through a unique and adventurous voice that can be fully recognized in the course of this conceptual work.

        Grade A-

        Grade A-

Favorite Tracks: 
02 - Fititi Ñongo ► 09 - De Ida Y Vuelta II ► 17 – De Cuando Era Chiquita


Vector Families - For Those About to Jazz/Rock We Salute You

Label/Year: Sunnyside, 2017

Lineup - Brandon Wozniak: saxophone; Dean Granros: guitar; Anthony Cox: electric bass, cello; Dave King: drums.

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Minneapolis-born drummer Dave King, a bottomless well of rhythmic creativity, has been participating in several modern jazz projects that vary in nature and formation. In addition to the widely acclaimed trio The Bad Plus, King has been making interesting music with Happy Apple, Halloween Alaska, Buffalo Collision, and his Trucking Company group, whose excellent album Surrounded by the Night was reviewed last year on JazzTrail.

2017 signals another debut project led by King, a skittish quartet called Vector Families, featuring Brandon Wozniak on saxophone, Dean Granros on guitar, and Anthony Cox on electric bass and cello.
The title For Those About To Jazz/Rock We Salute You is a flattering way of saying thanks to the ones who follow their music and support their open style.

Free Funk!” is partly indicative of what you’ll find in the opening tune, an excellent source of jazz/funk hybridity that brims with bass freedom, rough-and-tumble drum chops, and explorative melodies on the saxophone. All the more, we are driven to an unorthodox guitar solo, rich in scintillating harmonics and punctuated by unfettered atonal inventions. The guitarist coaxes the saxophonist to join the party, and both get back to reciprocal action by the end, delivering jointly extemporaneous runs and stimulating the percussive attacks of the drummer, who seems reluctant to ease things off.

Duetz Duetz” is another suggestive title for a number that combines three duets to compose a solid whole. First, we get a modern classical feel as we spot Cox’s solemn cello gluing to the renegade acoustic temper of Granros. Afterwards, the latter is briefly joined by King, whose understated percussive environments also find Wozniak’s dramatic speeches in the concluding section. In this third phase, the initial vulnerable tone becomes denser as the saxophonist explores further, favoring spontaneous reactions from King.

Strayhorn’s classic piece “Satin Doll” is freely fragmented and graciously deconstructed through an unnervingly brash funky feel created by bass and drums, and the casual conversations between Granros, whose midi guitar technology emulates rusty piano sounds, and Wozniak, who scrutinizes around the theme’s melody.

Boasting a mantra-like percussive vibe and irregular chimes, the almost 18-minute “10,000-year-old Rotary Club” feels introspective as the saxophonist displays his introductory poetic vision. Cox infiltrates himself, adding effect-drenched bass lines to assure extra textural consistency. After Granros place his thoughts over a steady bass groove and syncopated rhythms, the tune ends up in multiple collective exultations.
 
The jolting “Dee Dee”, a composition by Ornette Coleman, starts as a typical swinging stretch that gradually advances into avant-garde territory. It is crammed with free rambles, just like the closing piece “African Dictaphone”, a sagacious exercise in free improvisation with Coltrane hints that, by turns, feel as much compact as elastic. 

Vector Families actuates with uncanny power, exploring the aesthetic on the bolder side of the jazz spectrum. This first record is to be listened to attentively and its energy fully absorbed.

         Grade A-

         Grade A-

Favorite Tracks: 
04 - 10,000-year-old Rotary Club ► 05 - Dee Dee ► 06 - African Dictaphone


Gary Peacock Trio - Tangents

Label/Year: ECM, 2017

Lineup - Marc Copland: piano; Gary Peacock: bass; Joey Baron: drums.

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For many decades, the consistently solid bassist Gary Peacock became a crucial voice in trio projects led by master pianists such as Bill Evans, Paul Bley, and Keith Jarrett.

A couple of years ago, he joined his own traditional piano trio composed of nimble pianist Marc Copland, with whom he collaborated many times before, and scintillating drummer Joey Baron, also not a stranger to him. The result was Now This, released in 2015, and now the brand new Tangents, a wonderful excuse to celebrate his 82nd anniversary. This intimate body of work consists of original compositions by all three musicians plus two covers.

Contact” opens the curtains that lead to Peacock’s musical serenity with an uplifting solo bass introduction. After a reflective period where the ambivalence spreads, the trio sticks to a sweet-tempered groove that unties the knot of abeyance and takes them to triumph.

December Greenwings”, which first appeared on the bassist’s 1979 album December Poems, flows in a rubato mode and is initially set with Copland’s intermittent harmonic movements. Bassist and pianist speak the same language, sharing analogous ideas that are quickly volatilized with the help of Baron’s non-expansive brushwork.
 
Tempei Tempo” gradually gained my attention through its enticing rhythmic accentuations and a seductive swinging flow that would fit the universes of Keith Jarrett and Charles Lloyd.

A ruminative triangular free improvisation entitled “Empty Forest” is placed between two timeless ballads of eternal contemplation that definitely make this session richer. They are Alex North’s love theme for “Spartacus” and Miles Davis’ “Blue in Green”, both carrying the perfect ambiance for Copland’s lush chords, Peacock’s full-bodied woody sounds replete of intention, and Baron’s round brush strokes.

With the intention of agitating a bit this marvelous lethargic state they got immersed in, the trio inflicts some more rhythm with the addition of “Rumblin”, an Ornette-inspired tune where folk, blues, and swing elements are thrown into the same bag.

Even with the word blues in the title, Copland’s “Talkin’ the Blues” is devoid of the genre’s explicit tics since the band uses their superior artistry to turn it into a floating and whispering roam. This tune was retrieved from Copland/Peacock's 2004 duo album What It Says.
 
Cooked up with in-depth excogitation, “Cauldron” and the title track exhibit the same open nature, exploring widely within the noble aesthetic arrangements.

Playing with polish and gravitas, Gary Peacock and his peers go deep in the music, communicating effectively and poetically while expressing themselves with no preconceptions.

         Grade A-

         Grade A-

Favorite Tracks: 
01 – Contact ► 05 – Spartacus ► 11 - Tangents


Jane Ira Bloom - Wild Lines: Improvising Emily Dickinson

Label/Year: Outline, 2017

Lineup - Jane Ira Bloom: soprano saxophone; Dawn Clement: piano; Mark Helias: bass; Bobby Previte: drums.

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To follow up last year's Early Americans, a vertiginously irresistible trio album cooked up with bassist Mark Helias and drummer Bobby Previte, soprano saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom took inspiration from the work of American poet Emily Dickinson to mount a double-disc album containing 14 originals and a single jazz standard.

The conception envisioned for this body of work, suggestively entitled Wild Lines: Improvising Emily Dickinson, allowed Ms. Bloom to expand her trio into a pliable quartet with the addition of the much-appreciated pianist Dawn Clement, who had given her contribution in 2008 and 2010 to the albums Mental Weather and Wingwalker, respectively. Her crisp comping and energizing improvised lines fit like a glove in the ambitious vision of the bandleader, who reserved the disc one for instrumentals and disc two for a dramatic combination of music and the poetry of Dickinson declaimed by actor Deborah Rush.

Many of these tunes can be found in Bloom’s previous record and were naturally subjected to a different treatment here. Among them, the highlights are the Steve Lacy-esque “Cornets of Paradise”, which primarily acts in an avant-garde setting before shifting to an enthusiastic swing, ultimately falling into a vehement African pulse just to return to the theme with demonstrative contentment; “Big Bill” whose upbeat 4/4 groove and catchy melody are quite contagious; “Singing the Triangle” whose question marks in the head’s melody often work as a point of reference in the collective’s explorations; and “Dangerous Times”, which feels like an Indian rhapsody maintained by rubber-coated drum chops prepared with percussive mallets. 

Among the previously unrecorded compositions, “Emily & Her Atoms” is particularly lyric in its classical enunciations, “Alone & In A Circumstance” strives with spot-on disruptions and Previte's noticeable mallet work, and “One Note From One Bird” denotes an attractive charm that derives from the clear terminology employed in the improvisations, the uninterrupted swinging pulse, and Helias’ bass roams avoiding the traditional walking way.

Immersed in Dickinson’s 19th-Century poetry and competently assisted by the gifted musicality of her bandmates, Jane Ira Bloom renders a contemporary jazz album that it’s poetry itself.

        Grade A-

        Grade A-

Favorite Tracks (Disc1):
02 - Alone & In A Circumstance ► 08 - Cornets of Paradise ► 14 - Big Bill


Tim Berne's Snakeoil - Incidentals

Label/Year: ECM, 2017

Lineup - Tim Berne: alto saxophone; Oscar Noriega: clarinets; Ryan Ferreira: guitar; Matt Mitchell: piano; Ches Smith: drums, vibraphone, percussion + guest David Torn: guitar.

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Credited for developing an adventurous work within the hard-line of contemporary jazz for almost four decades, alto saxophonist Tim Berne has created almost incessantly since 2012 to feed the repertoire of Snakeoil, a group whose core members are Oscar Noriega on clarinets, Matt Mitchell on piano, and Ches Smith on drums, vibraphone, and percussion. The band’s fourth ECM outing, Incidentals, also features for the second time Ryan Ferreira on guitar (he was in the previous You’ve Been Watching Me), and counts on the atmospheric guitarist and producer David Torn on a couple of tunes.

His soaring guitar prevails in the intro of “Hora Feliz” (the Portuguese title means ‘happy hour’), a tune that before expressing an ebullient extravagance through melodic unisons of sax and guitar, remains nearly four minutes in a sort of atmospheric limbo layered by clarinet, piano, vibraphone, and a shrilling guitar. Buoyed up by Berne and Noriega’s improvised narratives, Mitchell ekes out a variety of extemporaneous harmonic responses, always well backed by Smith’s polyrhythmic punch.
 
Stingray Shuffle” starts a crawling process with Berne and Ferreira attempting a deliberately inexact unison turned into thin polyphony. The mood becomes viscerally spectral as a panoply of prolonged, multi-instrumental screeches haunts the scenario, right before the triumphant reinstatement of the theme.

Delightfully inventive and full of twists and turns, “Sideshow” occupies our attention during the 26 minutes it lasts. Never superfluous, this dazzling piece offers us plenty to chew on, from crackling, distorted guitar sounds (Torn is called into action) to the wonderful piano work by Mitchell, and from diversified rhythms and tempos to well-oriented horn-driven paths. The band works conjointly and tightly toward a grandiose epiphany that culminates in a serene auroral beauty.

The confident, action-packed “Incidentals Contact” is first activated by Smith's magical vibes but ends up navigating in those thrilling roundabouts engendered by Berne and amplified by powerful drumming. It develops a complex matrix that thrives with echoing rock momentum as it showcases the Stentorian improvisational skills by the bandleader and Mitchell, followed by a brief and hermetic interplay between Noriega and Ferreira.

The last track, “Prelude One / Sequel Two”, is also one of the most exciting pieces, consisting of two parts seamlessly connected. The prelude, co-authored by Berne and Mitchell, flows at a steady pace with melodic zigzags. The sound is then expanded and transformed into a swollen sonic mass for the sequel, where Berne’s intoxicating inflections are like blazing emotional outbursts. It’s a tour de force finale that makes you cry for more.

Tim Berne continues his sparkling creative saga with the Snakeoil, digging another taut album full of nerve, audacity, and mutual inspiration.

         Grade A

         Grade A

Favorite Tracks: 
01 - Hora Feliz ► 04 - Incidentals Contact ► 05 - Prelude One/Sequel Two


William Parker Quartets - Meditation / Resurection

Label/Year: AUM Fidelity, 2017

Lineup – William Parker: bass; Rob Brown: alto saxophone; Jalalu-Kalvert Nelson: trumpet, kalimba; Cooper-Moore: piano; Hamid Drake: drums, percussion.

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Exciting, fearless, and deeply resourceful avant-jazz bassist William Parker has been contributing to the enrichment of contemporary jazz in its most diverse forms for nearly four decades.

His followers have another reason to rejoice with the new double-disc album Meditation/Resurrection, released on his own label AUM Fidelity. The album encompasses two sessions, each of them featuring two different quartets that preserve the sax-bass-drums core.

Disc one comprises seven tunes played with his regular quartet whose members are Rob Brown on alto saxophone, the recently added Jalalu-Kalvert Nelson on trumpet (replacing Lewis Barnes), and Hamid Drake on drums and percussion.

The journey begins and ends with elated melodic themes over vigorous, free-flowing grooves. The kickoff is made with the politically charged, calypso-like “Criminals In The White House”, whose title couldn’t be clearer and the musical reciprocation, more robust and adhesive. The improvisations on this tune were held by Brown, a disciple of the inside/outside approach and adept of portentous exclamations, and Nelson, who opted for slightly more loquacious and vehement objections. The closing number, “Give Me Back My Drum”, also strikes with shifting rhythms and rhymes.

Sticking in the middle, we have the piece “Horace Silver” split into two parts – the first transforms abstraction into musical poetry, while the second starts with chimes, gongs, and other percussive embellishments, and spins with Brown’s meandering phraseology steeped in Eastern idioms. Nelson, who initiates this one by playing kalimba, later switches to trumpet, joining the saxophonist to form brief unison lines that evolve into catchy polyphonies.

The light-flowing bass grooves of the bandleader are the cool essence of “Handsome Lake” and “Rodney's Resurrection”, a pair of tunes that thrives with whether brisk, whether moderated improvisations, yet always articulated and motivic.

Disc two features five tracks by Parker put up by his acclaimed quartet In Order to Survive, with pianist Cooper-Moore instead of Nelson. It starts with a sublime spiritual hymn entitled “Sunrise In East Harlem”, whose perpetual vamp driven by the pianist’s silky voicings serves as a vehicle for Parker’s initial chromatic arco movements and Brown’s side-slipping devotional worships. 

Ironically, shades of Oliver Lake can be found on “Some Lake Oliver” where Brown's digressions are efficiently backed by Cooper-Moore’s shifting trills and intricate textures, Parker’s bass freedom, and Drake’s combustible drumming.
 
Both the static “Urban Disruption” and the 18-minute collective ramble “Things Falling Apart” abound with serpentine melodic contortions and astute rhythmic ideas.

Regardless the tempo, languid or swingingly up, there’s always something to discover in Parker’s interesting tunes and immaculate groovy lines. His dedication to and innate passion for creative music is unflinching and an example and inspiration for every aspiring musician. 

        Grade A

        Grade A

Favorite Tracks: 
01 (CD1) – Criminals in the White House ► 01 (CD2) – Sunrise In East Harlem ► 04 (CD2) – Urban Disruption


Ethan Sherman - Building Blocks

Label/Year: pfMentum, 2017

Lineup – Ethan Sherman: guitar; Chris Rolontz: bass; Christian Euman: drums.

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Ethan Sherman is an L.A.-based guitarist and composer whose openness to different styles and facility of approach make him an interesting voice in the modern jazz world. His debut album as a leader, Building Blocks, was recorded in trio with Chris Rolontz on bass and Christian Euman on drums.

The translucent opacity of Sherman’s music punches like a matador in the introductory section of “Jungle Gym”, a rubato incursion that nods to Ben Monder and surprises through immersive, robust triads. Afterward, this same piece is recuperated, shortened to half, and accelerated in pace (called the fast version). Despite the opening tune’s premise, it was the pop/rock feast “Keltner”, written by Sherman with the drummer Jim Keltner in mind, that immediately gained focus through the mystery drawn by on-spot guitar chords coated with occasional powerful distortion and corroborated by a languid yet confident groove that guides and enthralls.

The easy melody presented in the light-hearted “Dangling” dances freely over the undeviating foundation formed by Euman’s riding cymbal strokes and Rolontz’s danceable pulsation from below. After improvising, the bassist continues with a discerning walking bass that leads us to Steve Swallow’s old happy creations.

The most beautiful piece is also the most reserved. Entitled “Norway”, this airy, far-sighted, Motian-esque composition paints autumnal landscapes with a mighty force that implodes, maintaining an unaltered surface that anchors in “Pretty Polly”, a traditional folk song reimagined to hinge distorted guitar dissonances and loose, often atmospheric bass-drums liaison.

Strongly influenced by the blues, “Motivation” takes the shape of an accessible song whose rustic, soulful touches get it closer to a ballad. It contrasts with "Positive Space”, a fruitful blend of dreamy folk and dissimulated funk where Sherman uses his peculiar vocabulary drawn from jazz and rock to speak frankly, and “Snowshoe”, a delicate pop mantra initially escorted by minimal mallet-driven drumming, bowed bass, and circular chord progressions embellished with harmonics. After Rolontz’s bass solo, the tune’s texture core is intensified but never altered.

This is an auspicious debut from a talented young guitarist that shows strong compositional skills and potential to do even greater things in the future.

        Grade A-

        Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Keltner ► 04 - Norway ► 08 - Positive Space


Logan Strosahl Team - Book I of Arthur

Label/Year: Sunnyside Records, 2017

Lineup - Logan Strosahl: alto saxophone, narration; Michael Sachs: clarinets; Sam Decker: tenor saxophone; Aquiles Navarro: trumpet; Nick Sanders: piano; Henry Fraser: bass; Connor Baker: drums; Julia Easterlin: narration.

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I first came across with the music of saxophonist Logan Strosahl last year, when I got the album Janus, recorded in duo with the pianist Nick Sanders, also a member of his Team collective group. I was very well impressed with the connectedness and genre bending adopted by the talented pair of musicians, who join forces with five other musicians to devise Book I of Arthur, the first of a planned set of three chapters inspired on the legendary King Arthur.

The session opens with “Prologue: In Nomine”, which introduces the tale with devoted medieval classical orientations. These cordial tones become frenzied in the introductory horn-driven exaltation of the following piece, “Wherein the Beast Is Ever More and More”. The ways of the troubadour come back shortly later to sustain the atmosphere with a properly cadenced piano accompaniment and multiple reed lines atop.
Strosahl expressively narrates “Uther Pendragon and the Birth of Arthur”, having changeable textures propagating in the background and enveloping the story with a strong cinematic sense.
 
A feisty and intense rhythm, projected with the force and passion of Sanders’ wanders and the sturdy bass-drum flow, initially takes over “Igraine Gives the Infant Arthur to Ector”, which decreases when the vigor is forever put to a halt to emphasize soaring, introspective moments delineated by clarinet and bowed bass.

If “The Woods So Wild” is shaped like a folk dance and filled with contrapuntal horn movements and dynamic pulse, the surprising “Narratio: Turn Thou Us...” goes from a gently-handled, pure classical approach to a fiery collective unfolding that hits hard on the ears. 
Battle of Bedegraine” and “Prooemium” provide some of the finest moments. The former, narrated by Julia Easterlin, develops with sharp angles and protuberances in the melody, acquiring depth by the presence of low-toned piano voicings and boosted by rampant saxophone incursions and trumpet stunts, which I wish would be further explored. The latter piece boasts lush harmonic sequences and a strapping improvisation by the bandleader before finishing in another collective manifestation.

This chapter culminates in the form of a conquering celebration where the knightly posture is recuperated within a monophonic classical arrangement.

Operating in his comfort zone, which encompasses both the jazz and classical genres, Strosahl takes some risk by superimposing the spoken words to the music. Even not matching the previous Up Go We, this new album still brings some interesting ideas and particular moods to be discovered and appreciated.

        Grade B-

        Grade B-

Favorite tracks: 
05 - Igraine Gives the Infant Arthur to Ector ► 09 - Battle of Bedegraine ►10 – Prooemium


Sam Boshnak Quintet - Nellie Bly Project

Label/Year: ARC, 2017

Lineup – Sam Boshnak: trumpet, vocals; Beth Fleenor: clarinets; Alex Chadsey: piano, keyboards; Isaac Castillo: acoustic and electric bass; Max Wood: drums.

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Following up the 2014 album Exploding Syndrome, Seattle-based trumpeter Sam Boshnak reunites her stalwart quintet: Beth Fleenor on clarinets, Alex Chadsey on piano and keyboards (replacing Dawn Clement), Isaac Castillo on acoustic and electric basses, Max Wood on drums - and delivers Nellie Bly Project, a 4-track album that navigates on explorative waters of the avant-garde genre while portraying the title character, a 19th-century American journalist and feminist known for her record-breaking trip around the world in 72 days.

Boshnak’s “Expositions” tears into a puissant rhythm and groove after an intriguing introduction featuring the deep tones of bass clarinet, which, together with bowed bass reinforces the foundation’s compactness with a swaggering stance. Rather intelligible than sprinting, the trumpet solo that follows, momentarily complemented with clarinet punctuations, leads to a bridge that breaks down with a vocalized ostinato interlude, obsessively iterate by the guest vocalists Valerie Holt and Anne Mathews. The structure is maintained through a bass pedal and rockish drumming, while piano melodies echo along. The tune has its consummation with an extemporized keyboard endeavor, melodically supported by the horns voice leading.

The following tune, “After One Is In Trouble”, is mounted by stumbling and contrasting dualities claimed by bass clarinet and trumpet as they operate together. Shifting tempos and rhythms are natural consequences of the infinite search for expansion, transcendence, and resolution. After the individual statement by Wood, who works on a clockwise hi-hat demonstration at the same time that explores tom-tom timbres, the band goes into a dazzling avant-garde tract that ends up in an abandonment of bowed bass and piano.

72 Days” wields a challenging bass groove throughout the first section, adorned with a vocalized ostinato and free trumpet trajectories atop. Piano trills are just a small part of the great work developed by Chadsey, who cleverly infuses a sort of spirituality in the harmonic sequences to exalt and stun. Vocals take over the second section, and we find Boshnak uttering Bly’s words in multiple layers - "I would rather go in dead and successful than alive and behind time". The organist, operating behind Fleenor’s passionate solo, intermittently repeats the associated melody. For the triumphant finale, the first section is retrieved and intensified by fluttering horn stamps and decisive percussion maneuvers.

The record ends with “Legacy”, another magnetic experimentation that will certainly be appreciated by the fans of Dave Douglas’ compositional style and formidable instrumentation. 

Whether functioning in spacious or dense areas, Nellie Bly Project vibrates with raw musicality and airs a remarkable honesty in its endeavor to capture Bly’s spirit.

        Grade A-

        Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 - After One Is In Trouble ► 03 - 72 Days


Matt Wilson - Honey and Salt

Label/Year: Palmetto, 2017

Lineup – Dawn Thomson: guitar, vocals; Jeff Lederer: reeds, harmonium, vocals; Ron Miles: cornet; Martin Wind: acoustic bass guitar; Matt Wilson: drums.

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Experienced American drummer Matt Wilson takes inspiration in the poetry of Carl Sandburg, poet of the people, for his new genre-bending outing, Honey and Salt, which features a talented group of musicians, and readings by guest jazz luminaries such as John Scofield, Carla Bley, Joe Lovano, Christian McBride, and more. Sandburg was a native of Illinois, as well as Wilson, who, well acquainted with the poet’s work, arranged the tunes in such a way that music and poetry could coexist symbiotically.

Throughout the 18 short pieces of the album, each one enveloped by a specific genre and mood, the band alternates between adventurous and prevailing approaches.

Soup” is a great opening, carrying the spirit of The Lounge Lizards on its shoulders and boasting a blues-rock guitar riff inscribed on the surface of a convivial rhythmic core. The vocalist/guitarist Dawn Thomson assumes the leadership, and the tune also marvels through parallel melodies delivered conjointly by Jeff Lederer and Ron Miles, on the saxophone and cornet, respectively.

Vibrating with lofty rhythmic accentuations, “Anywhere and Everywhere People” exhibits Martin Wind’s loose bass grooves and Thomson’s frank guitar chops over a funky beat that stimulates the improvisers to operate within the same time frame.

If “Stars, Songs, Face” is clearly a product of the pop genre, “As Wave Follows Wave”, “Bringers”, and “I Sang” bring accentuated folk scents attached to their melodies. They all have this ear-pleasing balladic nature in common. Country music is also represented through “Prairie Barn” and “Offering and Rebuff”, even if the latter,  mutates at a certain point to take a more pop direction. 

We Must Be Polite”, narrated by Scofield with an emphasis that occasionally reminisces Zappa, as well as “Choose”, are conducted with a similar fanfare-ish, animated stomp. The groovy throbs of the former tune become a formidable motivation for Lederer’s energetic blows and salient timbral maneuvers. The latter piece seems to have been inspired by Broadway musicals and classic films, exhibiting heroic snare ruffs n' rolls, and counterpointed cornet/flute melodic lines.

Wilson wouldn’t leave the jazz aside, and on “Snatch of Sliphorn Jazz”, he embarks on an interesting dialogue with Lederer, now blowing the soprano sax. All the impetuosity he conjures up on “Paper 2”, an alluring postbop momentum that swings and refreshes, is refrained on the following piece, “Trafficker”, which gets closer to Miles Davis’ cool line of action.
Pretty distinctive is “Night Stuff”, a slow paced procession propelled by Wilson’s mallet drumming, Thomson’s smart comping, and Lederer’s sweet melodic sketches on clarinet.

Everything ends in a joyful samba fashion with “Daybreak”, in which the warm vocalization increases the singableness of the very Brazilian melodies.

Honey and Salt provides moments of pure delight. Regardless the setting, Wilson’s ardent passion can be felt every time he wisely hits a piece of his drum kit.

        Grade A-

        Grade A-

Favorite Tracks: 
01 – Soup ► 05 – We Must Be Polite ► 13 – Paper 2


Zack Clarke - Random Acts of Order

Label/Year: Clean Feed, 2017

Lineup - Zack Clarke: piano, electronics; Henry Fraser: double bass; Dre Hocevar: drums.

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Emergent pianist Zack Clarke is constantly searching for brilliant textures to be delivered at the perfect moment. He does this by linking up creative melodic lines with titillating voicings and instinctive intervals with the intention of firstly build up tension and then release it. Operating with his reliable peers, bassist Henry Fraser and drummer Dre Hocevar, Clarke opens up new musical paths using both simple and complex processes.

Random Acts of Order, his debut album comprising only originals, holds a suggestive title since the impromptu lives within a well-founded structural order. This doesn’t mean that exploration is blocked. On the contrary, Clarke explores with logic in order to establish clear perspectives of the scenarios he imagines.

The opening piece, “Before The Cause” is sunken in abstract minimalism and wrapped in noisy shadiness. 
Act 1” is a daintily articulated piece that brims with shifting symmetries and sparkling motivic figures installed on top of a controlled agitation mounted by bass and drums. While Fraser keeps alternating between bowing with mystery and plucking with a groovy pulse, Clarke hits the keys with speedy eloquence to form whirls of sound, often triggering ascendant chordal movements that look back at Chick Corea’s chapter of Now He Sings Now He Sobs.

This music concept is interrupted when we listen to “Elements”, an abstract, atmospheric composition evincing static noise in the background and emulating watery sounds that quickly transports us to humid and swamping landscapes.

Static tension is also served up in “Act 2”, a spinning emancipation of self-expression that penetrates our ears with captivating exclamations and melodic zigzags.

Conspicuous modern classical movements belong to “Low Gardens”, a composition that merges different musical backgrounds to define obfuscatory scenarios enhanced with dramatic poise. On this tune, Clarke’s classy pianism and prodigious facility unravel consecutive piano trills that, joining the ominous bowed bass and effervescent drumming, become exceptional points of departure for free rambles built with patience and heading nowhere in particular.

Up On The High” is an eventful joyride that starts with advancing piano drifts á-la Paul Bley, responsive rhythms, and timid bass screeches, but evolves into an unflinching, proud groove that supports well-versed pianistic textures. Even relying on particular rigid ideas, expectation never abandons the trio’s juncture. 
The session ends with “Dee”, a passive yet striking solo piano piece that captivates through beautiful if morose melodic passages.

Contemporary jazz lovers who still don’t know Zack Clarke have in Random Acts of Order a great opportunity to visit strange musical territories and find out how prominent structural alignments sustain adequate amounts of dynamic exploration and experimentation.

        Grade A-

        Grade A-

Favorite Tracks: 
02 - Act 1 ► 05 - Up On The High ► 07 - Dee