Rogerio Boccato Quarteto - No Old Rain

Label: Red Piano Records, 2018

Personnel – Dan Blake: tenor and soprano saxophones; Nando Michelin: fender rhodes; Jay Anderson: bass; Rogério Boccato: drums, percussion.

Knowing the rhythmic skills of New York-based Brazilian percussionist Rogerio Boccato, it comes as no surprise that he has become one of the busiest sidemen on the scene. Recording/gigging with big names such as Maria Schneider, Kenny Garrett, John Patitucci, and Fred Hersch allowed him to mature as a musician and further develop his inspired pulses and rhythmic accents. 

For his debut record, No Old Rain, Boccato sought inspiration in the music of four indisputable Brazilian masters - Milton Nascimento, Toninho Horta, Egberto Gismonti, and Edu Lobo, infusing his personal touch with the help of virtuosic saxophonist Dan Blake, bright keyboardist Nando Michelin, and veteran bassist with a silky-tone, Jay Anderson.

The quartet opens with two gems by Milton Nascimento, the first of which, “Cais”, is cooked up with rich keyboard voicings and a restless drumming that contrasts with the delicacy of Blake’s soothing lines and the sobriety of Anderson’s sparse pizzicato. Although tension is not an uncommon factor here, emerging mostly from Blake’s melodic ideas and Michelin’s bossa-like accompaniment by the end, there is always lots of space that opens the door to a comforting spirituality. This aspect is reinforced on “Clube da Esquina Nr. 2”, a moving statement whose relaxed atmosphere never dissipates candidness.

The rendition of Gismonti’s “Tango” shows the band exploring more outside the lines, providing a simpatico Hancockian backdrop for Blakes’ soprano escapades, which slightly trespasses avant-garde zones.

The introductory bass roams that launch Horta’s “Bicycle Ride” leads to soaring sax melodies, yet, the tune passes through a steamy phase before returning to that straight-from-the-shoulder languidness.
 
Cravo e Canela" is delivered in six, serving well the motivic, folk-ish drives from Blake. He is a colorist whose improvisations can be neatly articulated, remarkably angular, and in-your-face. The final moments expand the melodic suggestion made in the beginning and adjust the new tempo to 6+8. 
 
Respecting the contexts and moods in which the songs are immersed in, the instrumentalists never let their music sound gratuitous or offbeat. This aspect is verified again on Lobo’s “Canto Triste”, a beautiful, hair-raising melancholic tune, crisply arranged with some noir Laswell-like drones, scintillating organ spell, subdued percussion, and poignant saxophone moans and ululations. Contrasting with this posture, there is Horta’s “Viver de Amor”, skillfully transformed into an ear-grasping fusion of post-bop and smooth funk, and Milton’s wistful “Morro Velho”.

Boccato is a versed stylist of the rhythm, who generously works for the collective. The tunes on No Old Rain take a flow of their own, suggesting stories through the sonic canvas that mirror the quartet’s extraordinary rapport and sensitivity, regardless the pace or dynamics. I hope this is the first of many records to come.

        Grade  A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks: 
02 - Clube da Esquina Nr. 2 ► 07 - Canto Triste ► 09 – Viver De Amor


Benoit Delbecq 4 - Spots On Stripes

Label: Clean Feed, 2018

Personnel - Benoit Delbecq: piano; Mark Turner: tenor saxophone; John Hebert: double bass; Gerald Cleaver: drums.

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Parisian pianist Benoit Delbecq conquered his own space in the edgier side of the jazz spectrum through flashes of compositional virtuosity and modernistic explorations of sound. His latest album, Spots on Stripes, features ten originals decorously shaped in the company of his talented cohorts: saxist Mark Turner, bassist John Hebert, and drummer Gerald Cleaver, all of them respected bandleaders and indomitable improvisers.

The title cut opens the recording like a free-ish, urban matrix carried out by the pungent bass/drums activity on top of which the bandleader, adopting a laid-back approach, delicately sketches sharp-angled figures. He comes back with a sack full of ostinatos after Turner sports a hip, penetrating timbre while piling up cliché-free expressions. Hebert also improvises before the jaunty theme is re-implanted.

The bassist pursues the spotlight again on “Broken World”, a lenient rubato ballad whose reflectiveness gets smaller proportions than on “Dripping Stones”, holder of an enigmatic charisma.

Anchored in a folk phrase, “Rosemary K” follows a cyclic, non-aggressive path. This tune can be paired with “De Stael”, where the simplicity and accessibility of the recurrent melody go well with the brilliancy of Turner’s wide-ranging impromptu outputs.

The Loop of Chicago” is an explosive exteriorization marked by convulsive piano strokes, vigorous bass thumps, and an agitated drumming that never brings forth more than the necessary. On top of this guttural, primitive groove, we have Turner’s angularities, Delbecq’s improvised phrases loaded with odd intervals and hard-pressed lines, and a brief solo by Cleaver. The tune ends up enveloped in a dreamy texture weaved by soft pianism, brushed cymbals, bowed bass, and high-pitched saxophone wails.

Contrasting with “Old Vinyl”, a sculptural modal exercise packed with syncopated rhythms and enthusiastic swinging passages, “Disparition Du Si” and “Dawn Sounds” show off distinct yet hypnotic African pulses. Equipped with prepared piano, the former reminded me an old static music box, while the latter is a mesmerizing, full-steamed avant-garde number with rhythmic juxtapositions and an exuberance that harks back to Roscoe Mitchell and The Art Ensemble of Chicago.

Relying on dynamic combinations and rich tonalities while probing indefinitely, Delbecq eschews any sort of redundancy, bringing out one of the most exciting works of his career.

         Grade  A

        Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
04 - The Loop of Chicago ► 06 - Dawn Sounds ► 10 - De Stael


Marc Sinan / Oguz Buyukberber - White

Label: ECM, 2018

Personnel - Marc Sinan: guitar, electronics; Oguz Buyukberber: bass clarinet, clarinet, electronics.

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White is a compelling duo record co-orchestrated by German-Turkish-Armenian guitarist Marc Sinan and Turkish clarinetist Oguz Buyukberber. Trading in the modern creative and electronic music, the artists create often spacious, occasionally knotty musical textures in their symbiotic emotional expressions.

The 5-part “Upon Nothingness” was written by Sinan with the exception of the ‘White’ module, an ominously depressive piece, heavy on electronics and probing loose string pluck effects, that was penned conjointly with Oguz. Based on field recordings of Armenian prisoners of war sent to detention camps in Germany during the WWI, the suite also comprises: ‘Yellow’, in which clarinet trills get involved with guitar arpeggios in an atypical intervallic allure, having cloud-covered electronics around; ‘Blue’, an odd dance whose electronic drones seek for a denser texture, some of them deeply noir; ‘Green’, an atmospheric exercise where distorted guitar strokes trigger some rock jolt along with some calculated string scraping and volume manipulation; and the closing ‘Red’, in which the partners, motivating each other, set up another experimental scenario filled with the recurrent vocal samples of Armenian chants in the background and a bit of white noise.

Also comprising five parts, There is credited to Oguz, who skillfully squeezes written material and improvisation over the same dish to improve taste. If “There I” thrives with guitar dissonances and rapid pointillism in response to the clarinetist’s sinuous lines before the unison final phrase, then “There II” is a bold exercise exhibiting parallelisms, staccatos, and counterpoint as part of an animated conversation.

Emitting a stable effulgence, “There III” and “There V” are free roams for solo clarinet and solo guitar, respectively. They fly in the face of “There IV”, which advances calmly with an air of blissful sorrow, later turned into rapid mutual staccatos to conclude.

With an underlying feeling of abandonment allied to a solid improvisational compatibility, the pair, besides technically strong, is also very capable when it comes to electronic choices. The result is a bountiful creative freedom.

        Grade  B+

       Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Upon Nothingness, Yellow ► 04 - There II ► 05 - Upon Nothingness, Green


Henry Threadgill - Double Up, Plays Double Up Plus

Label: Pi Recordings, 2018

Personnel – Henry Threadgill: composition, conduction; Roman Filiu: alto sax, flute; Curtis Macdonald: alto sax; David Virelles: piano, harmonium; Chris Hoffman: cello; Jose Davila: tuba; Craig Weinrib: drums, percussion.

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Acclaimed alto saxophonist Henry Threadgill, a recipient of 2016 Pulitzer Prize in Music, organizes another intriguing odyssey in the 4-track Double Up, Plays Double Up Plus, one of the two albums he is releasing this year on the Pi Recordings label.

The musicians convened for this session are practically the same as in the album Old Locks and Irregular Verbs, but with two major alterations. Pianist David Bryant, who also participates in the 15-piece new ensemble that shaped Dirt…and more Dirt, replaces Jason Moran, while Luis Perdomo joins for the first time as the third pianist. The remaining elements of The Ensemble Double Up are saxophonists Roman Filiu and Curtis Macdonald, pianist David Virelles, who doubles in harmonium, cellist Christopher Hoffman, tuba wizard Jose Davila, and drummer Craig Weinrib.

The 22-minute “Game Is Up” challenges our ears with refined intricacies that range from structural to rhythmic to the way melody and harmony are cohesively knitted. An introductory piano work later finds the company of flute spellbinds in loose counterpoint with alto sax and the sure-footed tuba strides, which also keeps defining the foundation together with the drums. This ebullient polyphonic passage is interrupted to bring the piano to the forefront, this time exclusively accompanied by keen drumming techniques that involve mallets and brushes. The nimble keyboard activity originates sudden swirls, feathery classical-like movements, and jarred loud sounds counterpointing frantic trills before collective illustrations intercalate with multiple improvisations. These happen over diversified comping environments.

The band has its odd way to swing, an indistinct procedure that is also felt on the closing piece, “Clear and Distinct”. Davila inaugurates it with a deep, raucous tuba dissertation before highly motivic piano stretches, oscillating between tense and harmonious, lead us to an epic finale.

The pieces “Clear and Distinct From the Other”, versions A and B, are distinctly attractive. The first version starts with a ceremonious chamber solemnity and ends in an overflowing commotion, having a sharp alto saxophone voice stimulating the band from the midpoint on. In turn, the B version begins with solo piano but veers to a chamber dance, compressing tuba, cello, and flute lines into the same space. Similar to other tracks, the piano takes over for the last two minutes, creating arresting moments that fit into creative jazz and classical as well as modern composition.

Even staying a few steps behind when compared with the ensemble lushness displayed by his brand new 15-piece orchestra, this Double Up-plus-one session is, nevertheless, another fantastic work by master Threadgill, whose music indefinitely intrigues and enchants.

        Grade  A

       Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Game Is Up ► 03 - Clear and Distinct From the Other B ► 04 - Clear and Distinct


Noam Wiesenberg - Roads Diverge

Label: Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records, 2018

Personnel – Immanuel Wilkins: saxophone, clarinet; Philip Dizack: trumpet; Shai Maestro: piano; Noam Wiesenberg: acoustic bass; Kush Abadey: drums + guest Dayna Stephens: tenor saxophone.

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Hailing from Tel Aviv, Noam Wiesenberg is a reliable bassist who has been a stalwart in New York, the city where he moved after graduating from Berklee in 2010. For his debut album, he surrounded himself with likes such as trumpeter and co-producer Philip Dizack, saxophonist/clarinetist Immanuel Wilkins, pianist Shai Maestro, and drummer Kush Abadey. Tenor saxophonist Dayna Stephens makes a single appearance on the title track, “Roads Diverge”, delivering a categorical solo in a tune that also gleams with provocative snare drum rolls and deep-toned piano motions promenading hand in hand with the bass.

Prelude” opens the record with dismayed synth harmonies and lustrous bass resolutions atop, preparing the way that leads to “Resfeber”, whose title refers to an untranslatable Swedish word. Brimming with keen musical ideas and a dashing tempo feel, this number starts with solitary drums, after which Maestro sails in melodic waters for a while until the horn section brings their splendor, agitating the trip. The pianist then expresses his thoughts individually, whereas Dizack and Wilkins empathically share an improvisational timeframe, revealing enthusiasm and stimulating their linguistic capacities. Abadey is impeccable throughout, placing unexpected beats with aesthetic impact.

They follow the same rule on “Where Do We Go From Here”, blowing in and out with a zigzagging post-bop force over a sturdy harmonic progression that comprises a minimal amount of chords. Everything is well anchored in Wiesenberg’s groovy walks. 

The stupendous groove in eleven attained in “Davka” favors the bluesy cruises of Maestro, who returns later for the final vamp. With excitement and power, the band melds the musculature of rock with the malleability of today’s jazz.

Two of the nine tunes smite us with balladic reflections: “Shir Le’Shir”, a silken tone poem positively affected by the potency of Wilkins’ phrasing, and Radiohead’s pop song “The Tourist”, orchestrated by the bandleader alone with multiple layers of bass, both in its arco and pizzicato forms.

Being about the power of choice and making choices, Roads Diverge shows enough assertiveness for us to conclude that Wiesenberg has made the right ones. His upright bass holds down the desirable amount of esprit to make each listening experience a gratifying, fun ride.

        Grade  A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Resfeber ► 03 - Shir Le’Shir ► 04 - Where Do We Go From Here  


Henry Threadgill 14 or 15 Kestra: Agg - Dirt... And More Dirt

Label: Pi Recordings, 2018

Personnel – Henry Threadgill: alto sax, flutes; Liberty Ellman: guitar; Chris Hoffman: cello; Jose Davila: tuba; Ben Gerstein: trombone; Jacob Garchik: trombone; Jonathan Finlayson: trumpet; Stephanie Richards: trumpet; Curtis Macdonald: alto sax; Roman Filiú: alto sax, flute; David Virelles: piano; David Bryant: piano; Thomas Morgan: bass; Elliott Humberto Kavee: drums, percussion; Craig Weinrib: drums, percussion

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Saxophonist Henry Threadgill, holder of a sui-generis jazz style, debuts his 14 or 15 Ekstra: Agg, another singular project that includes guitar - adroitly handled by longtime collaborator Liberty Ellman, who also produces the record - cello, tuba, two trombones, two trumpets, two or three saxophones (depending on if Threadgill conducts or plays), two pianos, one bass, and two drums.

The album, Dirt… and More Dirt, presents ten compositions that pretty much represent the gravitating sound of the multi-awarded altoist, whose unmistakable signature, built on power, finesse, and mystery, constantly undermines the listeners’ expectations.
The Dirt section comprises six parts, the first of which opens with loose drumming and a cutting bowed bass, later reinforced by the strangeness of the harmonium and the robustness of the cello, whose plucks function as a second bass line. While the low-pitched hops of the tuba create an eccentric groove, Ellman’s guitar solo arrives with that non-conforming feel that characterizes his playing. He finds Virelles’ harmonium chords skittering and zinging behind him. Pianist David Bryant also marvels in his individual statement, at the same time that the sonic curtains get thicker and richer. 

Part II” relies on a piano conversation to make the transition into the unorthodox yet stimulating groove that assaults “Part III”. We understand alto saxes speaking with strange boppish accents and an explicative trombone reasoning with an unfussy guitar next to him. To close, we have unisons delivered with a melodic sinuosity that feels almost religious. 
 
High-pitched trumpet blows can be found on “Part IV”, an exquisite celebration whose exuberance matches that in “Part V”. The latter is enveloped by an imaginative exaltation that comes from the horn section’s blows and reinforced with Weinrib's dry snare drum ruffs. Even when having the flutes chirping atop and the tuba vociferating at a lower level, the drummer's work is the highlight.

Part VI” flourishes with a guitar ostinato widely expanded in an effusive communion with the actively-involved woodwind and brass instruments. This burning, convulsive altercation is suddenly disrupted to accommodate a passage where dulcet flutes mix with a stalwart trombone. They dance freely as several rattles, gongs, and other percussive elements join them with gusto.

Shorter than the Dirt, the More Dirt section encompasses four tunes that altogether run for around 12 minutes. The attractive polyrhythmic complexity of “Part I” and the solemn pianistic nocturne turned into merry folk stride on “Part IV” are the highlights. The latter piece features the bandleader, who pulls off laments, screams, and contortions with a fiery atonal determination. 

As a top-tier experimentalist, Threadgill continues to innovate through a spontaneity and reflex that navigate the abstract and the emotional. For the ones experiencing the saxophonist’s forms and textures for the first time, this can be a real challenge. Yet, it's just a matter of time before concluding that his airy (de)constructions never lack drama or elegance.

        Grade  A+

       Grade A+

Favorite Tracks: 
01 - Part I ► 03 - Part III ► 07 - Part I (from More Dirt)


Jamie Baum Septet+ - Bridges

Label: Sunnyside Records, 2018

Personnel – Jamie Baum: flutes, singing bowl; Amir ElSaffar: trumpet, voice; Sam Sadigursky: alto sax, bass clarinet; Chris Komer: french horn; Brad Shepik: guitar; John Escreet: piano; Zack Lober: bass; Jeff Hirshfield: drums + guests Jamey Haddad: percussion; Navin Chettri: percussion, voice, tanpura.

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Jamie Baum, an in-demand flutist based in New York and a prominent figure on the current jazz scene, gathered her acclaimed Septet+ in order to release Bridges. Co-produced with the pianist Richie Beirach, the album is a multicultural feast that straddles the boundaries between various musical styles. Here, the contemporary jazz is interlaced with Arabic/maqam, Jewish, and South Asian musical traditions.

The exotic scale inherent to “From The Well”, the odd-metered piece that starts the session, suggests all those influences. Typical rock harmonic movements intercalate with the improvisations, with Baum introducing that section by delivering dexterous phrases while having Brad Shepik's cracking guitar comping in the background. Also, Sam Sadigursky conducts his fluid bass clarinet counting on the suaveness of John Escreet’s piano to support his moves. At a later stage, employing swirling techniques with both hands, the pianist becomes crucial in the creation of an avant-garde scenario that best fits Amir ElSaffar’s foreign world of fascination. The piano then acquires dreamy tones while Jeff Hirshfield’s drumming gets sprightly with cymbal preponderance. For the finale, sonic layers are tied up together, deep-laid by the competent horn section.

Influenced by a Jewish prayer and conveying a celestial peace, “Song Without Words” sounds superbly sweet-toned in the voice of ElSaffar, who got melodic support from Chris Komer’s French horn and the woodwinds. Baum penned this song in memory of her late father S. James Baum.
 
Hirshfield’s way of brushing the drums here is intimately relaxing, and he shows it again on “Contemplation”, the third and last part of Honoring Nepal: The Shiva Suite, which is Baum's response to the devastating 2015 Nepal earthquake. The first two movements are “The Earthquake” - initiated with singing bowl and piano, followed by a low-pressure chamber section slowly invaded by the stormy winds of Shepik and Hirshfield - and “Renewal”, which advances confidently through a priceless rhythmic disentanglement in five. Featuring percussionist Jamey Haddad, this piece exposes piano and guitar in strict textural collaboration, and also shows Baum and Sadigursky alternating bars while improvising.

Deriving from a melody of Pakistani Qawwali vocal master Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, “Joyful Lament” was arranged with Shepik’s guitar as the main focus, and the guitarist reacted with a monumental solo filled not just with blazing flames and impactful distortion but also with an open soul. It is definitely one of the boldest and most delightful moments on the album. 

Mantra” features Nepali musician Navin Chettri, who sumptuously plays tanpura and sings with a penetrating timbre. The embraced mood clashes with the one in “Ucross Me”, which almost feels like an electronic exercise due to repetitive multi-pitched phrases. Bassist Zack Lober ultimately locks a funky groove that validates ElSaffar's motivation to coloring unabashedly until Shepik appears in big once again.

Jamie Baum intelligently fuses the earthly and the spiritual, the modern and the tradition, in a lavish, catchable effort that extracts multiple abilities from this brilliant cast of players. Crossing these ‘bridges’ signifies to live rich musical experiences. What are you waiting for?

        Grade  A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks: 
01 - From The Well ► 05 - Renewal ► 07 - Joyful Lament  


Meg Okura - Ima Ima

Label: Self produced, 2018

Personnel - Meg Okura: violin, vocals, erhu; Tom Harrell: trumpet; Sam Newsome: soprano sax; Sam Sadigursky: bass clarinet, clarinet; Anne Drummond: flutes; Riza Printup: harp; Rez Abbasi: guitar; Brian Marsella: piano, electric piano; Pablo Aslan: bass; Jared Schonig: drums.

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Japanese violinist Meg Okura records for the fourth time with her Pan-Asian Chamber Ensemble, this time having first-rate improvisers Rez Abbasi and Tom Harrell in the roster, guitarist and trumpeter, respectively. Containing seven original compositions, the album Ima Ima put on view her lucid musical vision as she explores material across the world-fusion spectrum. Thus, it’s more than common to hear timeless Eastern melodies running over contemporary jazz arrangements.

Black Rain” is one of those cases, with the Japanese pentatonic scale integrating so well with the harmonic progression of the jazz classic “Invitation”. The inaugural Oriental enchantment that stems from violin, harp, and soprano, suddenly mutates to a bolero cadence that serves the individuality of pianist Brian Marsella.

Ima”, meaning mom in Hebrew and now in Japanese, is a phenomenal opening. The beautiful piano/flute and harp/soprano combinations create cinematic tension throughout the introductory section, which is subsequently deviated to a waltzing route varnished with sporadic swinging segments. Sopranist Sam Newsome energizes his impromptu statement with literate swoops and rhythmic focus.

Brimming contemporary vibes, “A Summer in Jerusalem” displays Israeli sounds through the self-disciplined combination of Okura’s violin and Pablo Aslan’s bowed bass. Sam Sadigursky makes you tap your feet to the cadence by wielding a powerful deep-toned groove in seven. This steams up polychromatic keyboard attacks and punchy rhythmic accents that emerge from Jared Schonig’s roiling drumming. A chamber passage, vaguely resembling “Concierto de Aranjuez”, jumps at us before the discerning improvisations from Harrell, Abbasi, and Okura, who also colors with her vocal chants. Everything is so gentle and exciting at the same time. The complex structure still encompasses a vamp that brings back the trumpeter and the violinist to the spotlight before the reinstatement of that rousing, groovy theme.
 
A Night Insomnia” is a sophisticated fusion feast. The band keeps groovin’ aplomb while embarking on a journey replete with smooth soul, funk, and ever-shifting rhythms that are constantly disrupted, just like the eight note figure that accompanies the song throughout. The violinist employs swift patterns and phrases to leap between registers, whereas Harrell swings and funks with a clever choice of notes. You’ll also hear improvisations from flute, bass clarinet, and soprano sax at the very end.

Reflective strings and woodwinds bring “Birth of Shakyamuni” to life. Sandwiched by moments of contrapuntal ostinato, Abbasi speeds up a concise yet highly articulated solo à-la Larry Coryell, contrasting with Sadigursky, whose tranquil melodies lead to a classy tango passage turned classical epic. The guitarist returns afterward for another supersonic intervention before a compelling flute incursion.

With the bandleader’s classically trained voice in evidence, “Blues in Jade” seems to explore the incorporeal. Conversely, “Tomiya” feels gleefully secular as it recreates the rhythm of a taiko drum ensemble. Elements of Japanese folk merge with jazz harmonies, shaping a gracious chamber jazz that lands on an uplifting Latinized vamp dominated by Harrell’s soloing aptitude. 

Ms. Okura was able to create magical crossover soundscapes with intimacy and subtlety, resorting to a pure lyricism and fascinating collective passages that never put the homogeneity of the whole into question.

        Grade  A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 – Ima ► 02 – A Night Insomnia ► 03 – A Night Insomnia



Roman Filiu - Quarteria

Label: Sunnyside Records, 2018

Personnel – Roman Filiu: alto saxophone; Ralph Alessi: trumpet; Dayna Stephens: tenor saxophone; David Virelles: piano; Matt Brewer: bass; Craig Weinrib: drums; Yusnier Sanchez: percussion.

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The adventurous forms of expression by Cuban-born, New York-based alto saxophonist Roman Filiu find uppermost expression in Quarteria, a relevant project featuring Ralph Alessi on trumpet, Dayna Stephens on tenor saxophone, David Virelles on piano, Matt Brewer on bass, Craig Weinrib on drums, and Yusnier Sanchez on percussion. 

Envisioning an interesting conceptual sensibility, Filiu, an honorable member of Henry Threadgill's groups, penned all the twelve compositions on the record to serve improvisation, often resorting to an out-of-the-ordinary bond between modern jazz, classical, and Cuban music. 

Fulcanelli” is an exuberant horn-driven piece with hooky textures and zig-zag melodies. The improvisation time is distributed to the bandleader, whose conversational, often motivic approach sparks with sophisticated patterns, and Virelles, owner of a distinguished language loaded with exquisite accents and chromatic melodicism. 

Highlighting Weinrib’s efficient drumming, “Grass” also displays the horn section artisans working closely with Virelles. While the pianist installs an unbending tension through the combination of sparse bass motions and recurrent atonal impulses created on the higher register, the drummer perseveres in his neurotic improvisational path.

The theme of “Harina Con Arena” is rhythmically rich in every aspect. The band pulls it off flawlessly with the pronounced Cuban vibe arriving from Sanchez’ percussive flux. Grasping an arty doctrine through his clear-cut lines, Alessi speaks modern dialects, inviting Filiu to follow a similar process. Eloquently, the saxophonist injects his declamatory urgency before Virelles conclude in a sane yet quizzical crescendo.

A trio of inventive Danzas was beautifully outlined, each one capturing its own mood. “Danza #5” is a piano improvisation; “Danza #1” not only interweaves folk melodies with Messiaen’s subtle classical intonations but also puts freewheeling jazz spontaneity side by side with percolating Cuban rhythms; and “Danza #3”, which starts with a bass soliloquy, displays impressionistic improvisations, and carries considerable vertigo in its harmonic progressions. All these three numbers find a positive equilibrium between discipline and freedom.

Countervailing with a more meditative quality, we have “Choral”, “Imperator”, and also “Tursten”, one of the two pieces featuring guest tenorist Maria Grand.

The session gets completed with “Kaijufrem”, a spellbinding piece whose passages change from lustrously poetic to harmonically rockish. The energetic groundwork forged by Brewer and Weinrib serves two purposes: thrust the band forward and provide textural robustness for the improvisers’ assaults.

Filiu transpires all his innate musicality and strong dynamism, establishing sure-footed connections between musical styles with a forward-thinking posture.

         Grade  A

        Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
03 – Harina Con Arena ► 06 – Danza #1 ► 12 - Kaijufrem


Jon Irabagon Quartet + Tim Hagans - Dr. Quixotic's Traveling Exotics

Label: Irabbagast Records, 2018

Personnel – Jon Irabagon: tenor saxophone; Tim Hagans: trumpet; Luis Perdomo: piano; Yasushi Nakamura: double bass; Rudy Royston: drums.

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Searchers and enthusiasts of contemporary jazz will probably agree with me about the works of saxophonist Jon Irabagon being a must-listen. Let me add that his explosive new album of originals, Dr. Quixotic’s Traveling Exotics, is one of his very best. Portentous trumpeter Tim Hagans was invited to join the saxophonist’s sonically-solid quartet, which includes musicians of the highest caliber such as pianist Luis Perdomo, bassist Yasushi Nakamura, and drummer Rudy Royston. This multi-cultured, multi-perspective collective engenders giddy dynamics with the same impact they craft inventive improvisations.

The Demon Barber of Fleet Week” kicks off with the bandleader on his own, excavating ideas from the resourceful language he has been developed throughout the years. Trenchant rock strokes lead to an effusive bass solo over a smooth funk-inflected vamp prior to accelerated circular harmonic movements swoop down on a hyperkinetic articulation of bass and drums. The occasion serves to uphold Perdomo’s fast and thunderous flurries. The earliest rock frame of mind is then regained, time when Irabagon exerts his authority on tenor.

Emotional Psychics/The Things” invites us to another tour-de-force locomotion that rocks and swings aplomb. The well-defined structure includes concurrent logics that take into account catchy ostinatos, free rambles, galloping counterpoint, and mutable intensities and paces. Followed closely by Hagans, the saxophonist shows determination and resolve in his rhythmic ideas and melodic paths. This piece guarantees such a fun ride, swamping us in its lively extravagance.

With a natural predisposition to diversify paces and textures, the quintet digs “You Own Your Own”, a fantastic integration of written score and improvised material. A revolutionary hip-hop rhythm, sturdy bass strolls, and punchy Coltranean lines, whether delivered in unison or counterpoint, join the introductory piano with avidness. While exchanging sparkling phrases with grip and receptiveness, Hagans and Irabagon bring the house down with their vertiginous eloquence.

Carrying something gypsy or Spanish, and at the same time mixing elements of avant-garde and post-bop, “The Bo’Ness Monster” highlights not only the expeditious rides of the horn section, packed with fiery and indomitable energy, but also the remarkable piano work by Perdomo, whose melodicism gravitates between Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea. His improvisation comes suffused with delightful angularities that make us beg for more.

The group eases the rampant impetuosity with “Pretty Like North Dakota”, an emotionally driven piece that starts circumspectly and ends boldly, culminating the session with a sonic description of the “Taipei Personality”. Expect percolating rhythms and syncopation, variations in motion, tight interplay, and vibrant solos.

Nothing in this music is pointless or forced, in the same way that everything is tangible, honest and risk-taking. Irabagon shows off brilliant compositional skills and a personal tenor conception that elevates him to a superior level.

        Grade  A+

       Grade A+

Favorite Tracks: 
01 - The Demon Barber of Fleet Week  ► 02 - Emotional Psychics/The Things ► 04 - The Bo’Ness Monster


Larry Goldings / Peter Bernstein / Bill Stewart - Toy Tunes

Label: Pirouet, 2018

Personnel – Larry Goldings: hammond organ; Peter Bernstein: guitar; Bill Stewart: drums.

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The trio of jazz organist Larry Goldings, guitarist Peter Bernstein and drummer Bill Stewart, has started their adventures back in 1991 with the album Intimacy of the Blues, at that time led by the organist . Toy Tunes, a collective effort, is their twelfth album, and like has been happening before, includes originals penned by all the three musicians, jazz standards, and other remarkable compositions by creative minds such as Wayne Shorter and Carla Bley.

The trio opens the session with “Fagen”, an easy-going ride marked by an affable melody. Goldings dedicates it to the adult contemporary rock singer and keyboardist Donald Fagen, one of the two co-founders of Steely Dan. One can enjoy a sweet relaxation in this song, which leisurely unfolds from the smooth theme to dedicated improvisations by the organist and the guitarist.

Stewart’s “Don’t Ever Call Me Again” was first included on Scott Colley Quartet’s 1997 album Subliminal, getting the first-rate treatment here as it shapes into a sultry groovy song conform to a 6/4-meter signature. The melody, empathically expressed with playful irony by Bernstein, is placed on the top of the rich organ harmonies and contagious drumming pulse.

Bernstein is a masterful colorist, both harmonically and melodically, and his rubato introductory section of “Lullaby For B”, a waltz he wrote for his son, carries shades of Jim Hall in the chord voicings. 

Both the standard “I’m In The Mood For Love” and Charles Strouse’s “Maybe”, a number from his Broadway musical Annie, follow similar structural alignments, with Goldings designing the A sections of the theme and Bernstein taking care of the Bs. The latter piece spreads a swinging perfume that favors the rounded post-bop trajectories of the guitarist. After the respective improvisations, guitarist and organist team up by alternating eight bars of logical, creative phrasing before Stewart’s tasteful attacks.

Shorter’s “Toy Tune” is presented with less 30 seconds than the original version, which dated from 1980, and comes wrapped in the same sophisticated harmonic complexity. However, I missed the sound of the saxophone and the tune didn’t touch me as much as Carla Bley’s “And Now The Queen”, a beautiful four-bar melody reiterated with a mutable expressionistic touch. This song, tackled many times by pianist Paul Bley in solo mode, loses its reflective nicety in detriment of a futuristic organ-driven experimentalism. It never loses its achingly emotional quality, though.

With an incredible facility of adaptation, the trio dynamically convenes a set of jazz compositions for all tastes, treating each note, chord, and pulsation with a fleshed-out sense of purpose.

        Grade  B+

       Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Fagen ► 02 - Don’t Ever Call Me Again ► 05 - And Now The Queen


McClenty Hunter Jr. - The Groove Hunter

Label: Strikezone Records, 2018

Personnel - Stacy Dillard: tenor saxophone; Eric Reed: piano; Corcoran Holt:  bass; McClenty Hunter: drums + guests Eddie Henderson: trumpet; Donald Harrison: alto saxophone; Dave Stryker: guitar; Christian Sands: piano, Rhodes; Eric Wheeler: bass.

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The drumming qualities of McClenty Hunter could be fully enjoyed throughout the years while performing with Kenny Garrett, Eric Reed, Jim Snidero and Dave Stryker. His faultless rhythmic drives have a special meaning now since he gathered some of the most revered heavyweights on the scene to play with him on The Groove Hunter, his debut full-length album. The guest appearances include emblematic musicians like trumpeter Eddie Henderson, altoist Donald Harrison, and guitarist Dave Stryker, but also emergent talents such as pianist Christian Sands and bassist Eric Wheeler on three tunes each. They expanded the possibilities of a tight core quartet composed of Stacy Dillard on tenor sax, Eric Reed on piano, Corcoran Holt on bass, and McClenty in the drummer’s chair.

The album, pure post-bop thrill, comprises four gentle originals and a selection of five exciting covers. It kicks off with Herbie Nichols’ “Blue Chopsticks”, delivered in a classic piano trio format and exhibiting a push-forward attitude with fascinating rhythmic accents. After demonstrating his energy while trading fours with his bandmates, Hunter eases down his tempting rudiments so that Holt’s bass may speak.

Wayne Shorter’s “The Big Push” is tremendous lush playing, having the first 16 bars defined exclusively by horns in parallel and drums. The Cookers’ members, Harrison and Henderson, contribute with their vitality as soloists, well seconded by Reed and Dillard before the reinstatement of the mesmerizing theme.
 
Adrenalized by Harrison’s fiery blows, “Countdown”, a Coltrane classic, starts with dynamic drums and sticks to a rhythmic locomotion that only captures the original melody in the last half minute. 

The diversification also includes an interpretation of Stevie Wonder’s “That Girl”, packed as an elastic crossover jazz with improvisations by Sands and Stryker, as well as Gary McFarland’s “Sack Full Of Dreams”, a beautiful moment of brushed relaxation with the same couple of soloists opting for balmy, often bluesy melodies with deep feeling attached to their phrasings. I was struck by a joyous tranquility while listening to it.

Pleasurable were also McClenty’s original compositions, predominantly explorative of the 3/4 meter along with a contemplation of melody that doesn’t cheat or disappoint. The one touching me the most was “My Love”, where the drummer, brushing elegantly, finds a poetic meaning in the combination of bowed bass and a delicate classical-imbued piano movement à-la Franz Liszt, before veering to a spiritual waltz with much to be admired. Dillard projects his tenor prayers in a soulful way, well followed by Reed, whose note choices and phrase constructions are riveting. Both are at the height of their improvisational prowess.

The concluding piece, “Give Thanks”, exquisitely propelled by mallets for a deep-toned sound, also deserves a mention.

The Hunter Groove is a notable jazz ride whose tightness and dynamism defines the rhythmic pathos of a gifted drummer who will certainly conquer much more in the future.

        Grade  A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 - The Big Push ►05 - My Love ► 06 - Sack Full of Dreams  


Jeff Swanson - Case-fitter

Label: Bace Records, 2018

Personnel – Jeff Swanson: guitar, electronics; Greg Ward: alto sax; Dustin Laurenzi: tenor, OP1; Artie Black: bass clarinet, tenor sax; Quentin Coaxum: trumpet; Paul Bedal: Fender Rhodes; Lane Beckstrom: electric bass; Greg Artry: drums.

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With his debut full-length album, Case-fitter, guitarist/composer Jeff Swanson cultivates the already vibrant Chicago jazz scene with a set of seven plucky compositions. This live recording was a product of a four-week residency at The Whistler in Chicago, in which the bandleader formed a consistent rhythm section with Paul Bedal on Fender Rhodes, Lane Beckstrom on bass, and Greg Artry on drums, and had a valuable frontline of explorers with him: Greg Ward on alto saxophone, Dustin Laurenzi on tenor and OP1, Artie Black on bass clarinet and tenor, and Quentin Coaxum on trumpet. 

Graham’s” makes a very good impression, opening the recording with frontal horn manifestations within an affecting pop/rock nature that, having started with a musing posture, gets infectiously bracing over the course of the improvisational section. The first improviser that steps to the forefront is Coaxum, whose translucent melodies are transformed into high flies. Before Ward sets about a juicy narration strategy, we have the tenor explorations of Laurenzi, whose language and timbral appeal cause rhythmic reactions in his peers.

Boasting a furiously active horn section, “Two-Nineteen” covers the ground with a full-throttle rhythm and enveloping bass lines. The soloists take distinct approaches, with Ward sounding much more neurotic than Bedal or the bandleader, who crafts his first solo on the record with faded shades of sepia and gray. On the 17-minute “F-Bomb”, a composition propelled by a laid-back rhythmic flux and buoyed by the druggy expressivity of the horns in unison, he is in evidence again, this time through bluesy melodic drives. The tension comes and goes whimsically as the artists extend themselves in individualistic efforts.

Swanson and his associates are practitioners of an engaging jazz that may be burning, accessible, and more experimental. The latter case is mirrored on “MF”, a piece containing harmonics, drones, and vocal samples in an incipient electronic haze. The mood is renewed into something more probationary when the trumpeter discourses on top of chromatic bass movements and restless drumming. The rhythm section almost swings by the end, but the experimental procedures with Artry’s turbulent press rolls in the foreground, engulf this intention. This is very contrasting not only with “Little Big Run”, an Afro-funk examination, more in the style of Abdullah Ibrahim than Randy Weston, with a collective romp at the end, but also with “Let The Children Play”, where hard-rock surfaces meet jazz and folkish phrasing.

The excitement of playing live sometimes extends the improvisations a little too long. That is a fact that Swanson has to deal with. However, the band enthusiastically channels their waves of passion and driving energy to convey emotions in an ardent way. They were particularly successful in this fundamental aspect.

        Grade  B+

       Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Graham’s ► 04 - F-Bomb ► 05 - Little Big Run


Nik Bartsch's Ronin - Awase

Label: ECM, 2018

Personnel - Nik Bartsch: piano; Sha: bass clarinet, alto saxophone; Thomy Jordi: bass; Kaspar Rast: drums.

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Swiss pianist-composer Nik Bartsch has been tracing a unique musical path with a persistent hybridization and idiosyncrasy of projects such as Mobile and Ronin. His new ECM album, Awase, features the latter band, a fascinating quartet formed in 2001, whose current members include Sha on bass clarinet and alto saxophone, Thomy Jordi on bass, and Kaspar Rast on drums. Each musician captures the essence of the composer’s gift for texture, which is usually bolstered by juxtaposing exquisite lines in the form of ostinatos. 

The opening tune, “Modul 60”, follows the minimalist concept of layering simple melodic ideas by subjecting them to a broader dimension of interplay. Treading on the heels of a surreptitious piano introduction, where a half-step descendant interval prevails and recycles itself, Sha’s saxophone dreams and floats with sheer beauty. He reiterates the dose on his own composition “A”, which consists of a friendly lullaby-ish melody turned into an additive (3+4) tempo ostinato. With an impressive simplicity in the processes, the band incurs into a variation whose recalcitrant piano notes make us think of electronic music as an inspirational source.

Bartsch’s cerebral moods are all about form and texture and that is well patented on compositions such as “Modul 36”, where arpeggiated piano with sporadic pointillism work together with the mobility of the electric bass to create beautiful moments. Jordi then rebels and sets up a funk-inflected manifesto armed with piano’s sinuous melodic exclamations and extended techniques. “Modul 34” also boasts a cool funky pose launched after a serene preparatory passage. Whenever Rast exhibits his dry drum fills, he announces nuanced mutations in the intensity of the groove delivered in six.

The 18-minute “Modul 58” can be seen as a sum of all the other pieces. It starts with slowly built piano layers enlivened by occasional bass harmonics and pumps, delicate cymbal splashes, and non-intrusive sax embellishments. Obstinate high-pitched notes on the piano drive us into a hypnotic rhythm that feels half-rock, half-electronic. Afterward, the quartet goes through a percussive phase enriched by saxophone pop sounds and air notes, muted pianism, and hi-hat delineations. It all ends up in a danceable acid jazz-funk hooked up in the fine rhythmic counterpoint between sax and piano.

Terminating the session, the four slow down on the atmospheric, picturesque “Modul 59”, but only until a titillating groove is installed, quickly becoming impregnated with repetitive figures.

Bartsch’s Awase might feel easy on the ear, but, taking into account its level of musical thoroughness, is certainly an arduous work to execute. Don’t expect improvised moments in the way they are commonly associated with jazz. This is a totally different approach, where the bandleader distills contemporary musical luster with sure-footed ritualistic grooves.

        Grade  A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Modul 58 ► 04 - Modul 36 ► 05 – Modul 34


The Nels Cline 4 - Currents, Constellations

Label: Blue Note, 2018

Personnel – Nels Cline: guitar; Julian Lage: guitar; Scott Colley: bass; Tom Rainey: drums.

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Whether digging into glam pop songs, avant-jazz routines with punk attitude, or sophisticated garage-rock episodes, impetuous guitarist Nels Cline, a creative powerhouse in small group settings, always sounds unique and fetching. Blue Note’s Currents, Constellations marks the debut of The Nels Cline 4, a quick-witted group featuring Julian Lage on guitar, Scott Colley on bass, and Tom Rainey on drums. Both guitarist and drummer had recorded with Cline before, whereas Colley is the novelty here, feeling totally comfortable in the new job. 

Furtive” kicks off with one single guitar stroke followed by an artsy drumming demonstration. 30 seconds later, an unstoppable, frantic bass ostinato glues to the drums, upholding the highly contrapuntal work of the two guitarists, whose directions occasionally converge into parallel motions. Stylish rocking riffs and fervent avant-garde moves are on full display. 

That mood has nothing to do with the mutable jazz-rock jammer “Swing Ghost 59”, which swings with conviction from time to time, opening a space for Colley's improvisation before falling into a quiet guitar-driven passage. Surprisingly, the band plunges into a bluesy, retro-swing movement that seamlessly morphs into a type of Jimi Hendrix’s Foxy-Lady-rhythm for the finale.

A prolonged jarring drone opens “Imperfect 10”, a composition with a catchy theme impregnated with awesome and complementary guitar licks extracted from different octaves. Cline channels his energy through his habitual inventiveness of sound and surprising chops, while Lage, known for a more formal posture, fills the atmosphere with a bold rocking reverie.

Hauntingly beautiful, “As Close As That” was inspired by guitarist Ralph Towner and interweaves mystery and tenderness with a remarkable honesty. Like an alternative pop/rock ballad, it favors space over density, just like “River Mouth Pt.1 and 2”, where textural explorations overcome any searching or confrontational postures. The first part of this composition carries celestial non-angularities, making us wander among the stars, while the second, predominantly folk, evokes Towner once again, sounding ennobling and spontaneous.

Amenette” was first heard on Room (Mack Avenue, 2014), the magnificent duo album by Cline and Lage, but here was re-interpreted with richly contrasting instrumental approaches. The quartet alternates between ferociously swinging and discreetly laid-back, with the soloists often taking their actions to the edge of dissonance. When the experimentation takes over, Rainey shows how masterful he is in the art of tom-toming, and everything ends in an electric fizz before the theme rings again.

On Carla Bley’s rare and temperate “Temporarily”, the melodic juxtapositions from guitar and bass are anchored by rich chord voicings, and brushed drumming patterns.

There’s a deep sense of understanding among the musicians and that reflects positively in their nimble moves and sounds. The levels of abstraction in Currents, Constellations makes it more indisputably alluring than any recent project led by Cline, who has here one of his best albums since the masterpiece New Monastery.

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Swing Ghost 59 ► 03 – Imperfect 10 ► 04 - As Close As That


WorldService Project - Serve

Label: RareNoise, 2018

Personnel – Dave Morecroft: keyboards, vocals; Tim Ower: saxophone; Raphael Clarkson: trombone, vocals; Arthur O’Hara: bass; Harry Pope: drums.

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Serve, the fourth album by London-based quintet WorldService Project, is composed of eight energetic tracks whose musical irreverence derives from a blend of impactful punk rock, stimulating funk, authoritative heavy metal, and light jazz.

Plagued With Righteousness” links passages that can go from acutely boisterous to soaringly atmospheric. The piece is a confluence of funk groove a-la Morphine and classic heavy metal with an easy melodicism, more in the line of Scorpions than Judas Priest. While the trombonist spreads energizing lines, keyboardist Dave Morecroft, the band’s principal composer, solos like if he had a guitar in his hands.

Sometimes disruptive, sometimes ultra-compact, “Dai Jo Bo” is a spunky punk exercise punctuated by a mild groove, horn ostinatos, and funky keyboard accompaniment. 

Playful, brassy, and burlesque, “The Tale Of Mr.Giggles” adds a vocalized narration to the initial Charleston-style rim-clicks, intensifying the rock posture along the way with an effect-drenched trombone solo. Also, “Runner” is quite playful, hooking in a repetitive Balkan-like riff before displaying a gorgeously intense sax-over-drums discharge as if it was announcing an acrobatic circus number. The final ramp inflates the adopted celebratory posture.
Words in English, Italian, French and German play an important role on “Now This Means War”, whose heavy textures are built with predictable power chord sequences. 

While “Ease” is rhythmically daring, exhibiting a singable riff at the end, “To Lose The Loved” contains naive melodies and a snare-induced marching passage with vibrant bass pumps. 
False Prophets” concludes the album as a static jazzified exercise at first that develops gradually toward a crescendo of distorted harmonies with vocals and horn outcries atop.

The rebellious attitude of the quintet is well alive, but some aspects of their sound feel a bit rigid, carrying a commercial tongue-in-cheek side that was not so attractive to me. I’m convinced this music should work better when played live.

        Grade  C+

       Grade C+

Favorite Tracks:
04 - Ease ► 05 - Runner ► 08 - False Prophets


Mike McGinnis - Singular Awakening

Label: Sunnyside Records, 2018

Personnel – Mike McGinnis: saxophone, clarinet; Art Lande: piano; Steve Swallow: electric bass.

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Rising-star clarinetist/saxophonist/composer Mike McGinnis couldn’t have had better associates to develop his musicality than pianist Art Lande and electric bassist Steve Swallow, whose experience and distinct styles provide an elegant carpet for his strides. Singular Awakening is the natural follow-up to last year’s Recurring Dream. The album comprises twelve tracks, eight of them being improvised numbers, while the bassist and the pianist contribute with two compositions each.

Swallow’s groovy jazz compositions occupy the extremities, starting and closing the album with bliss. On “Here Comes Everybody” the bassist takes a moment to fly alone, while Lande’s ideas rekindle Keith Jarrett’s folk-influenced serenity from the 70’s. In turn, “Bite Your Grandmother”, a classic from the 1994 album Real Book, swings unabashedly, exalted by a boppish bounce, positive tension, and exciting rhythmic flair. The individual work of Lande is remarkable, followed by McGinnis, whose daring lines, explored with equal ease and devotion, evoke the best of Monk and Lacy. His Monkian modes are also discernible on “Insist on Something Sometimes”, a piece brought up by a repetitive bass lick with folkloric accentuation.
This type of groove contrasts from the one adopted on “Beau Nivea”, which, flying in seven, instantly makes us harking back to Cedar Walton’s “Bolivia”. Despite the vitality of the bass flow, I found myself wishing some more adventure on top of it, something out of the convention.

The trio achieves that fruition by furnishing a subliminal textural work on “O'Flaherty Decides To Play Jazz”. Lande starts with grandiose harmonies, cleanly executed on the lower register, having the clarinet atop. Later on, with the swinging bass guaranteeing solid ground, the pianist embarks on a ruminative perspective often driven by motivic sketches.

Uncluttered exercises such as “A First Memory” and “Slow Dance In A Whisper” makes us suspended in the air with the clarinet lines unfolding with a gentle touch. The former starts with bass and piano aligned in perfect counterpoint, while the latter fluctuates with autumnal tonalities like a sonata.

Mini's Can-Do Club” is a static and happy exertion. This time around, Swallow doesn’t lead the way, operating on a high register, whether holding a pedal or designing disciplined melodies with his signature sound. It is Lande who assumes the bass notes, resorting to percussive mutes throughout McGinnis’ solo. The pianist´s compositions unquestionably mirror his singular voice, with the classical-influenced “Shining Lights” unveiling a lyric fragility in a well-cadenced 4/4 tempo, and “For Elise” diving into stark introspection and showing a propensity for the airy and the permeable.

Both the established compositions and the collective improvisations enrich a session in which three multi-generational voices crisscross with imagination and clarity of purpose.

         Grade  B

        Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Shining Lights ► 07 - O'Flaherty Decides To Play Jazz ► 12 - Bite Your Grandmother


Andrew Rathbun Large Ensemble - Atwood Suites

Label: Origin Records, 2018

Personnel – Andrew Rathbun: composer, conductor // Reeds: John O’Gallagher, Ben Kono, Quinsin Nachoff, Dan Pratt, Carl Maraghi // Trumpet and Flugelhorn: Tim Hagans (flugelhorn soloist), Seneca Black, Matt Holman, Dave Smith, Russ Johnson // Trombone: Alan Ferber, Mike Fahie, JC Stanford, Chris Olness // Vocals: Luciana Souza, Aubrey Johnson // Nate Radley: guitar; Jeremy Siskind: piano, rhodes; David Ambrosio: bass; Bill Stewart: drums; Owen Howard: drums.

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The new album from Canadian saxophonist Andrew Rathbun comprises three suites. The 2-CD set Atwood Suites, co-produced by Rathbun and drummer George Schuller, features a contagious 18-piece jazz orchestra of respectful instrumentalists and renowned soloists, including saxophonists Quintin Nachoff and John O’Gallagher, trumpeters Tim Hagans (as a featured soloist on CD1) and Russ Johnson, trombonist Alan Ferber, guitarist Nate Radley, and keyboardist Jeremy Siskind, among others. As builders of the bottom foundation layer, we have David Ambrosio and Bill Stewart on bass and drums, respectively, while the verbal storytelling belongs to vocalist Luciana Souza on the first disc, while Aubrey Johnson sings wordless phrases on the second one, vocalizing more like an instrument. 

The two suites on disc one, Two Islands and Power Politics have three movements each and are evocative of Margaret Atwood’s poetry. Following the relaxed chamber opening, the warming voice of Ms. Souza gets the spotlight on “Two Islands I”, initially having the piano as sole accompaniment. Ensuing Hagans’ fluent solo and a captivating orchestral passage, Ambrosio and Stewart invest in a cozy groove characterized by a smooth funky feel and adorned by Radley’s alluring stretches.

Hagans also stands out on the balladic, non-vocalized second movement, where he leads all the way through with a conciliatory attitude, and also on the suite’s last section, whose waltzing cadence is announced by a drums solo upfront. In addition to the trumpeter’s catchy phrases, which can evolve from innuendo to exaltation, Nachoff also brings in a vibrant swinging feel as he expands his tenor possibilities. Radley searches for resplendent harmonies while comping behind the soloist.

The Power Politics suite was previously played by Kenny Wheeler at Birdland but never recorded. The second movement incorporates a beautiful solo piano moment in its earliest stage, whereas the third enters directly rubato with Souza’s voice over the piano. Unisons are established with the horn section, from which O’Gallagher stands out as he makes his saxophone talk with unbridled enthusiasm. Hagans spreads his multi-pitched facility before a bass divagation leads to the final theme statement.

The disc 2 opens with the majestic “Fractured”, which follows a post-bop lineage with a groovy foundation. Horn unisons and guitar ostinatos operate in counterpoint before the arrival of phenomenal improvisations by Radley, Siskin, and Russ Johnson.

The final movements “V”, “I”, “II” are distinct and distinguished. The first of the three gives rise to an elegant if yearning chamber mood, advancing at an unhurried 4/4 with Radley decorating on top of the harmonies; the middle one has a simple phrase as inspiration and features trumpeter Matt Holman as soloist; and the last one, running at a medium tempo with a shifting additive 6+7 metered groove, showcases a spotless trombone solo by Ferber.

As a zealous conductor, Rathbun extracts the most from the cast to fulfill the arrangements. Even giving his tenor a rest, his individual stamp is noticeable through a compositional taste that portents many thrilling successes to come.

        Grade  A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks: 
06 (CD1) - Power Politics III ► 01 (CD2) - Fractured ► 04 (CD2) - II


Bob Gingery - Kittyhawk

Label: Fresh Sound New Talent, 2018

Personnel - Jon Irabagon: tenor saxophone; Mike Baggetta: guitar; Bob Gingery: acoustic bass; Jeff Hirshfield: drums.

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Following his debut album, Traveler (Fresh Sound New Talent, 2015), bassist Bob Gingery convenes a proficient quartet with enough credentials to astound as they wade his new compositions. Saxophonist Jon Irabagon and guitarist Mike Baggetta are kept on the roster, while the experienced Jeff Hirshfield occupies the drummer’s chair, formerly taken by Mark Ferber.

Kittyhawk, gathering all the yummy ingredients to make a great jazz dish, includes six originals by the bassist, a tranquil rendition of Pink Floyd’s “Shine On Your Crazy Diamond”, whose atmospheric experiments, plus monumental riff, allows Baggetta to shine, and a spirited Brazilian take on Monk’s “Hornin’ In”, with delicious improvisations from saxophone and bass. While soloing, Irabagon is melodically ingenious, explanatory, and utterly convincing, whereas Gingery is conciliating, articulated, and flattery in his speech. 

They happen to be the soloists again on the opening piece, “Arrival”, in which the substructure is built up nicely at a 4/4 tempo by a consolidated net of bass and drums. By engraving pure, scattered impressions in the textural framework, Baggetta radiates light with a slippery counter-intuition. His sound goes through a radical transformation on “Bell Curve”, a half-refined, half-unpolished odd-metered composition. His impromptu creativity governs with winding synth effects and his harmonies produce rugged sounds with distortion, generating surprising elements and a broad sense of adventure. Irabagon also hooks you in through his well-known melodic and rhythmic sensibilities. 

Outskirts” is the type of song that John Scofield would do. Obeying a 6/4 tempo, the tune is a thrilling jazzified funk with a slicking bass groove and sax/guitar unisons driven by an exotic touch. 

The quartet concludes the album with “Eighties”, a dreamy pop song with nostalgic contours. Displaying all the simpatico attributes that characterize them, each artist channels positivism into the churning as Hirshfield brushes the drums with mildness.

Providing a rich listen, Kittyhawk sounds fresh (covers inclusive), and confirms Gingery’s potential as a reliable bassist and versed composer.

        Grade  A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 – Arrival ► 02 – Bell Curve ► 07 – Hornin’ In


Daniel Levin/Chris Pitsiokos/Brandon Seabrook - Stomiidae

Label: Dark Tree Records, 2018

Personnel – Daniel Levin: cello; Chris Pitsiokos: alto saxophone; Brandon Seabrook: guitar.

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Adventurous cellist Daniel Levin has been taken creativity further with bold trio projects totally lean on free improvisation. After collaborating with saxophonist Tony Malaby and violist Mat Maneri on New Artifacts (Clean Feed, 2017), he now presents us a new project co-lead by fiery altoist Chris Pitsiokos and the wildly virtuosic guitarist Brandon Seabrook.
The album title, Stomiidae, refers to a class of particularly small deep-sea ray-finned fish, and the seven tracks were named according to some of its representative species.

Photonectes Gracilis” opens with Pitsiokos’ incessantly frantic runs, which foment prompt responses by his peers. The result is vociferous, dispersed, and convoluted, only occasionally marching toward convergence and harmony. These dynamics, bracing a collective vision, end up in another noisy stir with saxophone growls and whistles, violent guitar discharges, and corrosive cello rips.

The art of noise is not so simple as it seems, and on “Eustomias Trewavasae” the threesome structures layers of drones with shifting moods and several intensities and densities. Levin uses the cello as a percussive element through bow tapping, leading the trio into a cacophony conversation that lies between lucidity and insanity.

Neonesthes Capensis” feels like a neo-folk extravaganza that cumulates endless circular movements, rapid-fire sprints, and provocative interjections. Its freedom and interplay make us feel alive. 

Both “Chauliodus Danae” and “Photostomias Atrox” last around two minutes, embracing distinct atmospheres marked by different granularities in its microtonal textures. The former stands out through the magnetic tonalities created by the bowed cello.

We are able to picture dark and gelid aquatic habitats from the fully-tilt passages that describe “Opostomias Micripnus”, a piece whose rhythmic control combusts with raw intensity, enhancing the frisson of discovery. High-energy aggregations are spontaneously lined up through several individual actions. While the saxophonist attacks with both piercing and popping sounds along with mercurial patterned sweeps, the guitarist inflicts short distorted blows and odd fingerpicking with strong accentuation toward the epicenter of the storm, with Levin injecting ominous sawing, panting low sounds.

Even if the sonic entropies are subjected to repetition, there are captivating abstract moments on Stomiidae that will make listeners of modern creative and new music styles fully immersed in the experimental, often-opaque waters in which the trio navigates.

         Grade  B

        Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Photonectes Gracilis ► 02 - Eustomias Trewavasae ► 04 – Neonesthes Capensis