Orrin Evans - #knowingishalfthebattle

Label/Year: Smoke Sessions, 2016

Lineup - Orrin Evans: piano; Kurt Rosenwinkel: guitar; Kevin Eubanks: guitar; Lucques Curtis: bass; Mark Whitfield, Jr.: drums. Guests: Caleb Curtis: saxophone; M’Balia Singley: vocals.


American jazz pianist Orrin Evans was born in New Jersey and is based in Philadelphia, where he perseveres and takes inspiration to compose his music. He usually probes other influences such as neo-soul and hip-hop and likes to test new lineups in order to make his music sound unique each time he records.
Thus, if in 2014 he gathered a quintet with a two-horn frontline to record Liberation Blues (Smoke Sessions), in 2015 he opted for a stirring trio, featuring bassist Christian McBride and drummer Karriem Riggins, to bring The Evolution of Oneself (Smoke Sessions) into life.

His latest work, #knowingishalfthebattle, feels strongly contemporary as much in the title as in its pliable sonorities. 
This time, Evans resolved to hire two expert guitarists, Kurt Rosenwinkel and Kevin Eubanks, in order to infuse extra color in his illustrated stories. Joining them here on a regular basis are the bassist Luques Curtis and the young drummer Mark Whitfield, Jr., while the guests Caleb Curtis and M’Balia Singley, saxophonist and vocalist, respectively, have sporadic appearances.
Maintaining his habit of incorporating both originals and covers, Evans’s pianism shows an underlying feel for groove and mood.

The one-minute title track is arranged with vocal samples, electronica, and a hip-hop beat. It gives us a distorted idea of the rest of the album, and “Calls”, composed by Carla Bley, contradicts it through a keen sense of swing. The tune starts with Evans’ voice and proceeds with adventurous solos by the guest saxophonist and the bandleader whose rhythmic discernment comes accompanied of a daring in/out melodic concept. Lastly, it's Eubanks who picks up at a moment where the bass-drums rhythmic flux is catching fire, magnifying it with tortuous statements.

Rosenwinkel outlines the melody of Kenny Baker’s “When Jen Came In”, a waltz with an appealing rhythmic accentuation that discloses a gradual holding back of tempo for the finale. It features fervent improvisations by Evans, whose line of action falls between Jarrett and Monk, and Rosenwinkel, who strikes again in “Chiara”, a lyrical ballad by pianist Curtis Clark, this time by adopting trippy guitar chops wrapped in flute-like effects.

Two of the most stirring tunes are Evans' creations and reveal his compositional skills and unreserved musical nature: “You Don't Need a License to Drive” is an uptempo groovy extravaganza where he and Eubanks go flip, while “Half the Battle” is cooked with the irresistible ingredients of master Rosenwinkel. 
All this frenzy contrasts with Curtis’ atmospheric “Heavy Hangs the Head That Wears the Crown” and Evans’s “Zeni Bea”, a delicate piece named for the two-month-old daughter of Curtis and enriched with dulcet flute and vocals.
M'Balia Singley vocalizes a pair of songs: David Bowie’s “Kooks”, here dropped with a fancy groove, and “That’s All”, a product of the Great American Songbook.
Pumped up by motivational pulses and an elevated lyricism, #knowingishalfthebattle, is an impressive effort from a skilled pianist that deservedly claims for immediate attention.

Favorite Tracks: 
02 – Calls ► 06 – You Don't Need a License to Drive  ► 07 – Half the Battle

Dayna Stephens - Gratitude

Label/Year: Contagious Music, 2017

Lineup - Dayna Stephens: reeds; Brad Mehldau: piano; Julian Lage: guitar; Larry Grenadier: bass; Eric Harland: drums.


Dayna Stephens, a top saxophonist and bandleader with a knack for calm post-bop adventures and ballads, translates his gratitude to the world and to himself into a set of nine tunes (only one is original) that compose his eighth album as a leader.
To bring Gratitude to life, Stephens called the same illustrious musicians who had recorded Peace in 2004 - pianist Brad Mehldau, guitarist Julian Lage, bassist Larry Grenadier, and drummer Eric Harland.
After Stephens has been diagnosed with a grave disease, he started seeing life in a different manner and this recording transpires appreciation, celebration, and life itself in its most varied musical forms.

Built with warm, amiable tones, “Emilie” is gently Latinized by Mehldau’s thoughtful comping, effortlessly adhering to the rhythmic flow set by Grenadier and Harland. This version of Olivier Manchon's composition lies between a typical jazz standard and the richness of a Jobim’s tune, featuring animated sax-guitar dialogues by the end. 

A soulful approach is reserved for both “In a Garden” and “Amber Is Falling (Red and Yellow)”. While the former, composed by pianist Aaron Parks, is a languorous ballad colored by Grenadier’s enlightened bass solo, the latter, written by vocalist/composer Michelle Amador, starts slowly but becomes rapidly enveloped by a positive energy, glimmering with Stephens and Mehldau’s fluid language and improvisational creativity. Harland is particularly stimulating here, exhibiting his rhythmic potentiality all along the way.

Lage’s “Woodside Waltz” combines pop, jazz, and folk through disciplined harmonic sequences and easy melodies. 
In a sweet melancholy, “We Had a Sister” is a Pat Metheny celebrated song where Stephens plays EWI, pulling out this weird flute-synth sound of the instrument. The saxophonist switches to baritone in the drum-less version of Billy Strayhorn’s “Isfahan”, boasting a full, deep timbre over the crystalline voicings liberated by Lage’s electric guitar. 

Stephen’s only original, “The Timbre of Gratitude”, draws a laudable coordination between all the musicians involved, yet it’s “Clouds & Clouds” that creates surprise through its modern trip-hop beats and cyclic synth trajectories saturated in color. On top of it, Stephens calmly formulates unclouded melodies with a pureness of intention.

Balanced and overflowing with awesome musicality, Gratitude will engage jazz fans in general since it lives from tradition and modernity alike. Regardless of which format the group may acquire, the proximity of the musicians and their huge synergistic sensibility lead to a beautiful work in all its subtlety.

Favorite Tracks:
01 – Emilie ► 03 – Amber Is Falling (Red and Yellow) ► 07 – Isfahan

Alex Wintz - Life Cycle

Label/Year: Culture Shock Music, 2017

Lineup - Alex Wintz: guitar; Lucas Pino: tenor saxophone; Victor Gould: piano; Ben Williams: bass; Jimmy MacBride: drums.


Born in California and raised in New Jersey, Alex Wintz is an emergent young guitarist whose musical approach has been requested for ambitious projects led by Etienne Charles, Nick Finzer, Ben Williams, and Lucas Pino. With them, Wintz has developed a solid maturity that is now passed to Life Cycle, his debut album as a leader, to be released soon on Culture Shock Music.

The album consists of a set of nine tunes, seven originals and two jazz standards, outfitted with diverse colors and played in different band formats (trio, quartet, and quintet). The lineup includes Lucas Pino on tenor saxophone, Victor Gould on piano, Ben Williams on bass, and Jimmy MacBride on drums.

The opening tune, “Action-Reaction”, is an exciting ride to the 60’s and to the hard-bop guitar sounds of jazz giant Grant Green. The pulsing chord changes emanated from Gould’s piano are attached to the magnetic swinging groove provided by Williams and MacBride in order to underpin Wintz’s clear-toned phrasing and the improvisations that follow it. This lively atmosphere continued on the jazz standard “Sweet and Lovely”, a Wes Montgomery-ish bop exploration played in trio and carrying a strong Latin touch. It shows the extroverted musicality of the bandleader through a clever combination of well-delineated melodic ideas and compliant harmonic movements. The tune also features a brief bass solo by Williams, loaded by bountiful lyricism.  

Also delivered in trio, we have “I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance”, a ballad standard, “The Low Road”, a soothing country-like song that also brings cool bluesy tones and energizing vibes, and “Locust Ave”, which adopts a nice melody over a consistent textural amalgam of pop/rock and modern jazz. 

The blues factor is heavily intensified in “Shared Stories”, a ternary-form tune where the guitar trio was expanded into a quartet with the addition of Gould’s piano. In opposition, “Life Cycle” and “Taking Sides” are two straightforward post-bop fantasies explored in quintet. Despite flowing at different tempos, they have pretty much identical structure and arrangements, including MacBride’s percussive exteriorization over a final vamp. The title track is boosted not only by Pino, who motivically quotes “Fascinating Rhythm” in his improvisation, but also by Wintz’s racing motions and Gould’s rich and more breathable melodic sense.

Delivered at a propulsive 3/4, “Seeing Distance” bestows a jubilant nature that calls up the famous quintet led by Dave Holland. After the solo guitar intro, it relies on an unbreakable chain of well-built harmonic movements, pompously enriched with clever interactions and improvisations atop.

Boasting a thorough command of the instrument and mature compositional skills, Alex Wintz dynamically transfers elements from the past into the modern jazz spectrum with a glitzy determination.

Favorite Tracks: 
03 – Life Cycle ► 05 – Seeing Distance ► 06 – The Low Road

Andrew Hartman - Compass

Label/Year: Self-produced, 2017

Lineup - Andrew Hartman: guitar; Chris Cheek: tenor and soprano saxophones; Ike Sturm: bass; Zach Harmon: drums.


Formerly based in London and now in New York, Andrew Hartman is a passionate guitarist/composer whose sophomore album, Compass, comes out in May. This work was recorded with a tight quartet whose members include the much-admired saxophonist Chris Cheek, bassist Ike Sturm, and drummer Zach Harmon.
The compositions were written while Hartman was still in London and reflect a period of travels and moves between cities and countries. 

The Heights” opens the album with Hartman uttering a continuous melodic cadence on top of a steady bass-drums tandem. The trio was waiting for Cheek to join them for a well-delineated post-bop drive where guitar and sax mesh up with brightness, purpose, and instinctive intent.
Even with Harmon's active drum chops catching our attention, the unpretentious “Waiting” feels smooth and gentle, making room for Paul Simon’s “America”, the only cover of the record. Tuneful sax melodies and assertive guitar strokes imbued of American folk and jazz idioms help to color a canvas whose origins are rooted in the pop/rock genre.

Using a smart pun, “Chic Korea” brings neither Oriental flavors nor Chick Corea’s moves to the table. It rather spreads easygoing, bluesy vibes in a more swinging approach that ends up in lively trades between Hartman, Cheek, and Harmon, during the final section. 

If Cheek’s improvisational ideas were particularly attractive on “Devices”, Hartman’s guitar gains preponderance on the Eastern-influenced “London Blues”, a meditative multi-cultural celebration that also features Harmon’s extraordinary percussion and Sturm’s intelligible bass solo.

The quartet sets off into intimate balladry on “For Marie Elaine” and then returns to the post-bop mood with “New Day”. The former is a laid-back waltz that features solos by Sturm, Hartman, and Cheek on a lustrous soprano, while the latter, welcoming the same soloists in the opposite order, is a soaring glam that initially moves at a 7/4 tempo.
The journey ends in a crisp pop-jazz ecstasy with the absorbing “Family Tree”.

Andrew Hartman boasts musical qualities that can speak louder if he gets more exposure out there. His peers provided him solid ground, helping him stretching his sound and sharp his vision. Compass is a step forward toward the visibility and recognition that his music claims.

Favorite Tracks:
04 – Devices ► 06 – London Blues ► 10 – Family Tree

André Matos - Múquina

Label/Year: Robalo Music, 2017

Lineup - André Matos: guitar.


Portuguese guitarist André Matos has been a regular presence on the ‘scene’ since he moved to New York in 2006 after graduating from the New England Conservatory.
He thenceforth had the chance to record/perform with illustrious musicians such as Tony Malaby, Thomas Morgan, Leo Genovese, Jacob Sacks, Billy Mintz, Noah Preminger, Colin Stranahan, and Masa Kamaguchi, just to name a few.

After last year’s All the Dreams recorded in duo with his wife, the vocalist and composer Sara Serpa, he’s back with an intimate solo album entitled Múquina, released on the Portuguese label Robalo Music.

With an enveloping sound modulated by gorgeous effects, Matos begins the harmonious journey with the title track whose soft textures and pacific sound waves are comforting and moving. 
Força da Natureza” is made of the same nature but more verbalized, showcasing the sturdy technique of the guitarist.

My favorite track, “Malé”, is a hypnotic piece that flourishes with transcendent beauty, intriguing surroundings, and a bit of sadness. The emotion rises with the ascendant harmonic movements of the incisive finale.
Five of the fourteen tracks last less than two minutes, working as interludes. “MA” is one of the strongest, feeling like a lullaby whose passionate lyricism carries pronounced folk influences. The low-pitched drones of “Baixo Alentejo” are joined by sharp melodic contours, creating uncanny vibes that feel no less cinematic than the loose “European Film Scene”. Disruptive silences widen the space and deepen the scenario.

While “Horizontais” feels like a minimalistic exploration, “Cavalos Selvagens”, an old tune that actually gallops in its start, gets a more cerebral and less experimental approach than at other times.

The homogeneous Múquina glitters with lush, slow-motion soundscapes. The airy, meditative moods take us to a lenitive universe that opposes to the tense times living in the present world. Once there, you’ll find glimpses of Bill Frisell and Terje Rypdal, as well as pure reflections of Matos’ peace of mind.

Favorite Tracks:
01 – Múquina ► 04 – Malé ► 06 – Baixo Alentejo

Elliott Sharp Aggregat - Dialectrical

Label/Year: Clean Feed, 2016

Lineup - Elliott Sharp: tenor and soprano saxophones, Bb and bass clarinets; Taylor Ho Bynum: trumpet; Terry Greene: trombone; Brad Jones: bass; Barry Altschul: drums, percussion.


Prolific multi-instrumentalist and composer, Elliott Sharp, always deserves my attention. His boundless musical universe encompasses completely different styles that include avant-garde jazz, experimental ensembles, free improvisation, noise rock, electronic, contemporary classical, and music for film and opera/theater. The 66-year-old Cleveland native studied several theoretical correlations on music and scientific algorithms that helped him to become a first-rate innovator.

Taking advantage of an explorative state of mind, he composes with fierce autonomy and unrestricted creative sense, resulting in a solid avant-jazz album entitled Dialectrical. It was recorded with his chord-less quintet Aggregat, now featuring trumpeter Taylor Ho Bynum, trombonist Terry Greene, bassist Brad Jones, and veteran drummer Barry Altschul. 
Leaving the guitar behind, the bandleader sets the tone by extracting great sounds from his clarinets and saxophones.

Off-Objekt” is a tragicomic outburst; a disrupted cacophonous razzmatazz colored by vibrant soprano sax trills that efficiently counterpoint with trombone and less often with trumpet lines. On and off, they intersect, taking the form of impactful unisons that also serve to indicate a changing in pace/mood.

Greene’s trombone's extended pitches open “We Control the Horizontal”. He soon gets the company of Jones’ bass before the tune adopts the characteristics of a whimsical march. The bandleader, dominating through breathless attacks on bass clarinet, has the responsive percussion from Altschul, impeccable in his rhythmic incursions. The last third feels like a bizarre carnival parade whose mood shifts to playful in the concluding two minutes.

The marching pace described above finds a natural sequence in the quasi-military “Ununoctium”, a free-floating cinematic epic that favors collective extemporization. The multi-horn-aggregation principle adopted here can be heard again in “Bbb” whose theme consists of repetitions of a catchy riff. Altschul is on fire on this one, showing off his skittish stomp. 

Oh See (for Ornette Coleman)” brings us Ornette's recognizable rhythmic/melodic patterns over a swinging groove that is inevitably interrupted to reap benefits from another reactionary collective rampage, followed by Sharp’s long and intricate tenor improv.

The array of atonal festivities reaches an end with “Tile the Plane”, a dance-friendly allure marked by variable African drumbeats, uninterrupted horn ostinatos sustained by circular breath, and tom-toms and cymbals propagation waves.

Sharp communicates freely and his jazz language stands out in this particular Aggregat’s adventure. He manages to sound fresh and warmly contemporary, making of Dialectrical a pure, disciplined, and arresting avant-garde explosion. 

Favorite Tracks:
01 – Off-Objekt ► 02 – We Control the Horizontal ► 07 – Tile the Plane

Brian (Shankar) Adler - Radioactive Landscapes EP

Label/Year: Circavision Productions, 2017

Lineup - Matt Moran: vibraphone; Santiago Leibson: piano; Jonathan Goldberger: electric guitar; Rob Jost: bass; Brian (Shankar) Adler: drum set, ghatam.

Drummer/composer Brian (Shankar) Adler brings out another EP entitled Radioactive Landscapes, following up last year’s fusion doublet, Binary and Mysteries Of The Deep.
This work comprises three tunes, each of them lasting around five minutes. To shape it, Adler reunited his quintet composed of vibraphonist Matt Moran, guitarist Jonathan Goldberger, pianist Santiago Leibson, and bassist Rob Jost.

Gowanus 40” kicks in by spreading a scent of mystery before setting foot in a groove laid down by Jost and Adler. Leibson and Moran infuse great part of the harmony and melody while Goldberger fills with stringed texture. The generated funk-rock pulse suffers occasional disruptions and variations, and Goldberger’s final breakthrough wakes us up from a sweet state of levitation and lethargy.

In “Watertown 34”, it’s possible to imagine water drops falling while listening to the synchronous intersections of Moran’s vibes and Leibson’s keys. The hypnotic ghatam's vibes introduced by the bandleader, push them into a mystic dance that gains an extra layer with Goldberger’s punctual guitar tremolos wrapped in effect. An abrupt detour leads us to a rock-inflated rhythm set up by bass and drums, triggering a distorted improvisation by the persuasive guitarist.

On the last tune, “Nuearth 49”, the quintet sets a more melancholic musical landscape, working together in an introspective commitment.
Gracious moments can be enjoyed in a confluence of diverse ambiances and influences.

Favorite Tracks:
01 – Gowanus 40 ► 02 – Watertown 34

Tony Malaby/Mat Maneri/Daniel Levin - New Artifacts

Label/year: Clean Feed, 2017

Lineup - Tony Malaby: tenor and soprano saxophones; Mat Maneri: viola; Daniel Levin: cello.


This symbiotic musical gathering between saxophonist Tony Malaby, violist Mat Maneri, and cellist Daniel Levin happened at the Three’s Brewer in Brooklyn in August 2015. This collaboration is not so surprising to me, taking into account that the members of this trio are prone to new experiments and alternative sounds.

Comprising four tunes, whose durations range from seven to thirteen minutes, New Artifacts opens with the title track, a fearless exploration of tones and textures in an innuendo of avant-jazz meets modern classical. Whether jarring or idyllic, the soundscapes are vast and sumptuous, yet the communication remains focused and alert. Despite occasional escapades, Maneri and Levin are in consonance for the most part of the time, leaving the unrestricted Malaby discoursing via tenor phrases mounted with a wide variety of timbres.

The saxophonist makes use of the soprano for “Creation Story” in which he embarks on a dissonant dialogue with Maneri. They speak frankly and only intermittently reach an agreement. At some point, Levin increases the rhythm by tapping the cello and plucking the strings to make it sound like a bass. The sounds of the instruments blend so thoroughly that sometimes it’s difficult to tell who’s playing what. The tune ends with Malaby’s high-pitched whistles over percussive sounds.

Open and atmospheric, “Freedom From the Known” starts by testing the waters through minimalistic fluctuations in order to gradually compose a wide and complex scene. Here, Maneri influences the mood by contrasting sad melodies with rugged tones.
In opposition to the previous compositions, “Joe” hauls us into a spooky musical setting, forcing us to traverse multiple obscure dimensions.

Highly conceptual, New Artifacts is everything but an easy listening and even staunch avant-gardists will have a challenge here. If you’re sufficiently courageous as a listener, go ahead and try to capture the richness of these triangular propagations.

Favorite Tracks:
03 – Freedom From the Known ► 04 – Joe

Corsano / Courvoisier / Wooley - Salt Task

Label/year: Relative Pitch Records, 2016

Lineup - Chris Corsano: percussion; Sylvie Courvoisier: piano; Nate Wooley: trumpet.

corsano-courvoisier-wooley-salt- task

Drummer Chris Corsano, pianist Sylvie Courvoisier, and trumpeter Nate Wooley are three inveterate improvisers who joined forces in Salt Task, another hallucinating trip into arduous avant-garde galaxies.

All the members of the trio have been very active lately, participating in a variety of recordings and performing live with regularity. The versatile Corsano, whose collaborations can range from Bjork to Evan Parker, is a member of the powerhouse quartet led by the Portuguese saxophonist Rodrigo Amado, which also features American saxophonist Joe McPhee and bassist Kent Kessler. Besides recording with the avant-rock trio Rangda, he keeps on teaming up with saxophonist Paul Flaherty, a longtime collaborator.

Wooley launched great records in duo with multi-reedist Ken Vandermark and released Argonautica (Firehouse 12 Records, 2016) with a hot sextet that includes cornetist Ron Miles, pianist Cory Smythe, keyboardist Jozef Dumoulin, and drummers Rudy Royston and Devin Gray.
Last year, Courvoisier put all her musical passion in Miller’s Tales (Relative Pitch, 2016), an avant-jazz delight cooked in partnership with her violinist husband Mark Feldman and featuring saxophonist Evan Parker and electronics wiz Ikue Mori. This year, she could be heard in Crop Circle (Relative Pitch), recorded in duo with the nonconformist guitar sensation Mary Halvorson.

Salt Task opens with the revolutionary title track, a 20-minute-piece that erupts with dense contrapuntal cogitations simultaneously driven by the trio. After the opening section, the musicians usually interact two by two, exploring different sonic possibilities and moods until reaching the final section, where the trio strikes again. Depending on the setting, one may float serenely over idyllic landscapes, march at the sound of a military trumpet, startle with ominous low-pitched piano vibes, revolve around cyclic ideas, or become energized through piano-drums sweeps and thunders.

Eminently percussive, “Last Stat” displays extra alternative textures with Corsano in the spotlight. He reproduces the sound of a plastic trashcan rolling down the street while Courvoisier strums the piano strings to make it sound like a stale harp. Wooley contributes with airy sounds and rapid attacks that often uncover playful melodies.

Tall Stalks” conveys admiration through Wooley’s muted phrases on top of Corsano’s combustible rhythm flows and Courvoisier’s unflagging textures. She creates tension by continually hitting the same key with her left hand.

The gently atmospheric “Stalled Talks” finishes the album with a circumspect narrative flow, probing techniques of meditation that feel intense on one side and tranquilizing on the other.

The inventive trio wisely plays with textural agitations and composures, arranging them with freedom, responsibility, and an evident musical insight that makes them first-rate avant-gardists. 

Favorite Tracks: 
02 – Last Stat ►03 – Tall Stalks

MEM3 - Circles

Label/Year: self-produced, 2017

Lineup - Michael Cabe: piano; Mark Lau: bass; Ernesto Cervini: drums.


MEM3 is a contemporary piano-bass-trio formation composed of American pianist Michael Cabe (Duchess), Australian bassist Mark Lau, and Canadian drummer Ernesto Cervini (Myriad3, Turboprop), whose musical and personal friendship lasts for 13 years now.
The band assumes influences by The Bad Plus, Peter Erskine Trio, and the late Swedish pianist Esbjorn Svensson, who has a song dedicated to him on this recording.

Circles, their sophomore album, is an ambitious follow-up to Pennsylvania Grey released in 2008.
The opening tune, “Centrical”, meshes dream-pop and rock music with poise. The band reserves an intermediate section to set a different groove, where Cabe doesn’t squander the chance to demonstrate his improvisational creativity.

Cabe’s “Native Dancer” is also rhythmically daring, interspersing busy rock passages with other quieter and tuneful. Motivated by Cervini’s brush technique and Lau’s bass groove, Cabe resorts to interesting rhythmic figures to adorn his solo. An energetic piano riff, proper for a guitar-driven metal band, allows Cervini to set his drums on fire.

Breaking the current, the title track takes us to the realms of electronic music through piano phrases played in a loop, synth sounds, and syncopated backbeats. Its ecstasy finds abatement with “Quiescent”, a ballad that features an expressive bass solo by Lau. Confident, he delivers again in “Shire Song”, a beautiful waltz whose lavish climax is attained with a conclusive vamp.

The threesome doesn’t vacillate when rhythmic complexities go their way, like in the progressive “Olympic”, a fertile piece in terms of variations and subtleties. Cabe’s pianistic tact, Lau’s steady pedal, and Cervini’s nimble drum fills contribute to thickening up the sonic layers by the end.

The drummer’s “4ES (for Esbjorn Svensson)”, also held by a bass pedal, has an atmospheric start where piano and xylophone notes overlap. Eventually, Cable’s piano takes the control until a weighty rock pulse drives the way, pushing us into a vigorous odd-meter groove.

Moving effortlessly between styles, MEM3 allows Circles to thrive with an exciting sound that mirrors the favorable sense of cohesiveness that reigns among the trio members.

Favorite Tracks:
02 – Native Dancer ► 05 – Shire Song ► 09 – 4ES

Matt Mitchell - Forage

Label/Year: Screwgun Records, 2017
Lineup - Matt Mitchell: piano.


Matt Mitchell is a sought-after pianist whose acerbic voice and impressionistic musical vision have been featured in works of likes such as Rudresh Mahanthappa, Dan Weiss, Greg Osby, Anna Webber, Dave Douglas, Michael Attias, and Darius Jones. If this wasn’t enough, Mitchell is a valuable and integral member of Tim Berne’s Snakeoil, a collective with plenty of creativity. 
It’s exactly in these creative contexts that Mitchell feels comfortable, however, for his third album as a leader he goes even further in his boldness.

The successor of Vista Accumulation (Pi Recordings, 2015) is a solo work entitled Forage, produced by the sound wizard David Torn and released on Screwgun Records. The album comprises inventive interpretations of seven compositions by Tim Berne, in a recognizable tribute from the pianist to the one who perceived his virtues and abilities, even during a premature stage of his career. 
The attempt of drawing something new and meaningful in this essay really paid off, and the reason is because whenever this inveterate colorist lays his fingers on the piano keys, the resultant melodies and harmonic progressions blossom with imagination, trust, and charm, regardless the intensity and pace they are played.

Even identifying Berne’s traits here and there, the whole belongs entirely to Mitchell. On one hand, we have combinations of Berne’s tunes squeezed into one; on the other, Mitchell’s approach opts for ruminative, intelligible, and reflective thoughts imbued of crystalline lyricism, which feel less hectic than Berne’s renderings.

Paene”, “Aas”, and “Siin” exemplify well these steep dramatizations of temperate character, making us imagine a cross between Keith Jarrett and Paul Bley, pianistically speaking.

In “Cerbs”, the pianist works on a procession of chords and juxtaposed melodies to set the seductive tones that characterize the beginning and the ending. Never static, he reserves the middle section to wallowing in further rhythmic experimentation. In a similar way, “Traces” is conjured with an eruptive plot of textural melodic flurries, which play an essential part of the puzzling structure. Here, rumbling lower-register dynamics interweave with rapid-fire right-hand attacks, forming complex geometric figures of random shapes. 

As a highlight, “Cloude” is an achingly beautiful experience that never stops to mesmerize through a crescendo surrealism. The initial dreamy tones reach the climax at some point of the middle section, where Mitchell’s technique excels with tremendous emotional focus and natural spontaneity. It made me think of an intersection between Matthew Shipp’s fragmented rhythms and dusky classical music.

Boasting a sheer amount of fresh ideas, Matt Mitchell’s Forage defies any categorization beyond the word 'modern'. Tim Berne has every reason to be proud of his reliable and insightful sideman.

Favorite Tracks: 
01 – Paene ► 05 – Cerbs ► 06 – Cloude

Cynthia Hilts - Lyric Fury

Label/Date: Blond Coyote, 2017

Cynthia Hilts: piano, vocals; Jack Walrath: trumpet; Lily White: alto and tenor saxophone; Lisa Parrott: baritone and soprano saxophone; Deborah Weisz: trombone; Marika Hughes: cello; Ratzo B. Harris: bass; Scott Neumann: drums.


Cynthia Hilts, a competent and underrated pianist, composer, and singer, associates creativity with a predisposition for musical activism, in her latest album Lyric Fury, released on her own label, Blond Coyote. 
The album title is also the name of the eight-piece jazz ensemble she leads, which comprises multifaceted musicians such as trumpeter Jack Walrath, saxophonists Lily White (who also produces) and Lisa Parrott, trombonist Deborah Weisz, cellist Marika Hughes, bassist Ratzo Harris, and drummer Scott Neumann.

Instigating a 5/4 reggae groove, “Those Basinites” was inspired by the residents of Basin, Montana. The improvisations succeed one after another in a typical 4/4 blues form, here and there complemented by the horn section’s joyful fills.

Teacher” starts with solo piano, but soon develops a chamberesque aura through the classical melodies delivered by Hughes’s cello and Parrott’s soprano sax. The bandleader, finding more space to express her improvisational skills, orchestrates the piece with balladry, turning it into a gentle medieval dance.
Musical diversity is strongly encouraged. Thus, while the blues sound fresh in “Blues For the Bronchs” and the warm strokes of reggae hit us again in “Jam & Toast”, the Latin pulses of “Previously a Thing” takes us to the euphonic universe of Horace Silver.

Completely distinct in nature, “Peace Now”, is a vocalized African-tinged exultation of peace, love, truth, and justice. The song ends with the female members singing on top of Neumann’s percussive chops.
The word peace can be heard again in “Celebration”, a non-standard AABA form and a festive communion of horns and vocals that thrive at a daring 5/4 tempo and flutters with brisk, colorful improvisations by Walrath, Hilts, and Parrott on baritone. 

White’s tenor is responsible for stating the theme's melody of “Three Wishes”, an epic tune of mystical resolve that concedes an opportunity for Neumann to express his rhythmic faculties in front of the drum kit.
Painted with darker colors, “Please, Mercy” brings us beseeching trombone lines and desperate vocals over a lower-register piano ostinato. The mood changes when a victorious march imposes, commanded by Neumann’s snare-drum rolls.

Imaginative, Cynthia Hilts drives this caravan with an infallible sense of orientation, taking advantage of a wide range of musical genres and instruments’ timbres to create a conscious jazz sealed with her own signature.

Favorite Tracks:
01 – Those Basinites ► 05 – Three Wishes ► 06 – Celebration

Randy Weston - The African Nubian Suite

Label/Date: African Rhythms, 2017

Randy Weston: piano; Wayne Chandler: narrator; Billy Harper: tenor saxophone; TK Blue: alto saxophone, flute; Cecil Bridgewater: trumpet; Robert Trowers: trombone; Howard Johnson: tuba; Min Xiao Fen: pipa, vocals; Alex Blake: bass; Lewis Nash: drums; etc.


Recorded live on Easter Sunday April 8th, 2012 at NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, The African Nubian Suite is an unconventional double-disc album that speaks history. 
The project was conceived by the praised pianist Randy Weston, who gathers a respectful set of musicians, habitual and new, to illustrate his deep love for Africa, the origin of all music and main source of inspiration for so many years.
Previous works like Uhuru Afrika (Roulette, 1960) and The Spirits of Our Ancestors (Verve, 1992) mirror this African spirituality with brilliance, but none of them went so deep into the roots like this one.

Before almost every musical piece, Wayne Chandler narrates about Nubia, the oldest civilization in the world and the mother of Egypt. We learn that all the other civilizations came from this one, and Weston’s music, a joyful celebration that oscillates between traditionally minimalistic and collectively exuberant, spreads all those ancient scents through the sound of fascinating instruments like the kora, ganawa, pipa, nefer, and balafon. 
They can be heard on disc one, which is more centered on the primordial roots, taking us not only to different African places, but also to China’s Shang dynasty and Sufi folklore moods.
The Call”, a composition arranged by Melba Liston, features trumpeter Cecil Bridgewater's lines on top of the stylish and enigmatic textures created by Weston, who uses both lower and upper registers of the piano to enchant. The rhythm is predominately marked by the African percussion of the veteran Candido Camero of 94 years old. 

While “Spirit of Touba” evokes the holy city of Senegal through Saliou Souso’s kora and TK Blue’s flute, “The Shang” visits the Orient, flowing with the sinuous melodies of Min Xiao-Fen on pipa and vocals.

Disc two is more blues-centered, featuring acclaimed jazz leaders such as saxophonists Billy Harper and TK Blue in a head-to-head battle. They bring all their African magic into “The African Family”, which also features a trio of percussionists that include Lewis Nash, and Neil and Ayanda Clarke.

Blues for Tricky Sam” starts with the gorgeous voicings of the bandleader and proceeds with a trombone stroll by Robert Trowers. The same principle is used with Billy Harper in “Cleanhead Blues” yet with slightly extended interaction. 
The real Southern heat comes from bassist Alex Blake in “Nanapa Panama Blues” where he shows off a rock‘n’roll-ish rhythmic flow through a mixed technique of slapping and plucking. 
The party ends with the tribal groove of “Love, The Mystery Of”, which exhibits a great orchestration with piano trills and saxophone fills in the background.

Despite digging into the origins of humankind and music, The African Nubian Suite lacks the charm of Weston’s past gems cited above.

Favorite Tracks: 
03(CD1) – The Call ► 05(CD2) – Nanapa Panama Blues ► 11(CD2)  – The African Family Pt. II

David Virelles - Antenna

David Virelles: piano, organ, synth, samples, computer programming; Henry Threadgill: alto saxophone; Rafiq Bhatia: guitar; Marcus Gilmore: drums; Alexander Overington: cello, electronics; Román Diaz: vocals; Etián Brebaje Man: vocals;  


Cuban-born David Virelles, a forward-thinker pianist with a luminous touch, progressively gained prominence within the modern jazz universe, not only due to his original works but also through collaborations with Chris Potter, Tomasz Stanko, Jonathan Finlayson, and Henry Threadgill.
His previous album, Mbókò, is dated from 2013 and competently fused Afro-Cuban traditions with contemporary jazz.

If Mbókò presented peculiar rhythms and dispositions, the new Antenna, a 6-track vinyl released on ECM Records that only lasts for 22 minutes, is even more absorbing and daring, innovating through a grippingly fresh Nu Jazz.
The cycle starts and ends in the same way, purely percussive with the Afro-Latin polyrhythms of “Binary” and “Text” set by a fictional percussive ensemble programmed by Virelles. In the middle, we have four electro-acoustic avant-garde explorations whose textures fluctuate from blissfully spacious to stratospherically dense.

Water, Bird Headed Mistress“ combines ambient electronica, intriguing chamber music, and beseeching melodies tossed by the acclaimed altoist Henry Threadgill. It’s a hypnotic piece that piques our curiosity through its dazzling magnetism. 

Threshold” is even more experimental, letting out creaky sounds and other weird noises, as well as Roman Diaz’s inflamed words over Marcus Gilmore’s understated drumming. In the last two minutes, we’re all ears for guitarist Rafiq Bhatia, who sets a distorted, quirky mood that feels simultaneously rich and obscure.

Rumbakuá” is filled with Cuban street poetry and hip-hop grooves, featuring the rapper Etián Brebaje Man.
An interesting combination of textures is put to work in “El Toro de Bronce”, the longest track of the LP with 6:45 minutes. The bandleader starts by designing unmelodious clusters, having the uncanny arrhythmias of Gilmore as support. This climate gives place to darker chill-out vibes on top of which Virelles brings up a cerebral improvisation. All ends up in a sinister pianistic hammering.

Antenna gathers strange multi-cultural rituals that feel urban and kaleidoscopic, showcasing Virelles’s strong experimental vein and musical boldness.
Odd? Yes, I agree, but utterly satisfying. 

Label: ECM
Favorite Tracks:
02 – Water, Bird Headed Mistress ► 03 – Threshold ► 05 – El Toro de Bronce

Miles Okazaki - Trickster

Miles Okazaki: guitar; Craig Taborn: piano; Anthony Tidd: electric bass; Sean Rickman: drums.


Miles Okazaki, a Brooklyn-based guitarist/composer who boasts quirky melodic and harmonic drives in his modern compositions, is back with a new body of work released on Pi Recordings.
In his three previous releases, Okazaki resorted to creatives such as David Binney, Chris Potter, Dan Weiss, Miguel Zenon, and Thomas Morgan to craft his originals.

His fourth album, Trickster, exposes a new quartet with the inventive Craig Taborn on piano and Steve Coleman’s frequent rhythm partners - Anthony Tidd on electric bass and Sean Rickman on drums. By bringing their influences and flair, they helped to elevate the music, both in its written and improvised forms, and shape the various trickster figures (ancient archetypes in human folklore) that inspired the quartet’s leader.

Kudzu”, the opening tune, gives a staggering first impression. Okazaki and Taborn deliver the theme statement simultaneously over a steady funky groove. The former exhibits disconcerting trills and tangled phrases while the latter allows the music to breathe by adopting a sparse accompaniment. He also improvises with suddenness and focus.

Inspired by the African deity Eshu, “Mischief” intertwines the Brazilian rhythm that comes out of the bandleader’s guitar with the funk groove created by Tidd and Rickman. Together, they pave the road for Taborn’s melodic runs.

At the sound of striking backbeats, “Box in a Box”, a relentless jazzified sort of reggae, flows elegantly, sustaining Okazaki’s in-and-out rambles. It diverges from “Eating Earth”, whose initial dismayed tones anchor in an easy-going rhythmic propulsion. From that moment on, Taborn takes the lead, coloring the picture with small, uncrowded units of melody that feel minimalistic and ethereal.

Both short in duration, “Black Bolt” and “The West” reveal distinct natures. The former is a wistfully optimistic exercise cooked with remarkable guitar-piano coordination, whereas the latter serves more as a showcase for the refined drumming of Rickman.
Favoring improvisation in the form of extensive breezy perambulations, “The Calendar” shows off the guitarist’s language’s impetus and lucidity, while “Caduceus” blossoms with groovy dialogues and crushing unisons and polyphonies.

With an underlying feel for mood and an insatiable appetency for unorthodox textures, Miles Okazaki shows all his musical instinct through an extroverted conversational facility.
Trickster, lying between the sonic universes of Steve Coleman and Henry Threadgill, results in elaborate layers of sound that intrigue and astound.

Label: Pi Recordings, 2017
Favorite Tracks:
01 – Kudzu ► 07 – The Calendar ► 08 – Caduceus

Nasheet Waits Equality - Between Nothingness and Infinity

Darius Jones: alto saxophone; Aruan Ortiz: piano; Mark Helias: bass; Nasheet Waits: drums.


Reinforcing his credentials as a bandleader, Nasheet Waits, an impressive drummer from New York, releases a stimulating album on the French label Laborie Jazz.

The percussionist has a flair for straight-ahead jazz and avant-garde categories but moves with equal confidence in post and neo-bop styles. Past collaborations include Antonio Hart, Mark Turner, Andrew Hill, Fred Hersch, David Murray, Jason Moran, and Steve Lehman, while more recently, his groundbreaking drumming techniques were put at the service of Logan Richardson, Miroslav Vitous, Avishai Cohen, Tony Malaby, and Ralph Alessi.

In his new album, philosophically entitled Between Nothingness and Infinity, he leads the completely renewed quartet Equality, which comprises high-caliber artists such as alto saxophonist Darius Jones, pianist Aruan Ortiz, and bassist Mark Helias. They replace Logan Richardson, Jason Moran, and Tarus Mateen, respectively, who were in the recording of Infinity (Fresh Sound New Talent) in 2008.

Waits’ “Korean Bounce” couldn’t be a more exciting opening, boasting an exuberant pulse that works as a recipient for Ortiz’s timely piano voicings and Jones’ rugged saxophone lines, intentionally imbued of Oriental flavor.

Helias’ “Story Line” flows through African-tinged percussive spells. The theme statement is supplied in unison by sax and piano, and the riveting improvisations make us alert at all times. Jones, whose slightly dissonant contortions are never gratuitous or frivolous, proves he’s a quick-witted explorer while Ortiz’s rhythmic sense and levels of inventiveness thrust him into the limelight of modern pianism.

An uncanny dark mood envelops the title track, a solemn piece composed by the bandleader to be performed by piano trio formation. It opposes to the Parisian charm of Andrew Hill’s “Snake Hip Waltz” whose bohemian feel is instantly absorbed. The amiable melodies blown by Jones, who opts for a post-bop language, encounter Ortiz’s titillating voicings. The pianist’s movements demand clever and intuitive responses from Waits, who nails it.

In Sam Rivers' “Unity”, you’ll find Jones and Ortiz dialoguing over a well-heeled bass-drums incitement while Nasheet is breathtaking on toms and cymbals.
Envisioning a diversity of pace and color, the quartet delivers “Kush”, a leisurely waltz that recalls Bill Evans, and Parker’s “Koko”, which has sufficient rhythmic variations to sound fresh. In the latter, Waits follows Ortiz’s piano mosaics, carrying his chattering percussive vibes before Helias embarks on a frantic walking bass that seems to ask for bebop scales, a request that Jones immediately refuses, engaging instead in an alternative and more interesting soloing concept with a focus on timbre.

Nasheet Waits unwraps an extraordinary body of work that serves as a showcase for his vibrant driving grooves and impeccable compositions. This is a hidden treasure that every fan of contemporary jazz should look for. Another highlight of the year.

Label: Laborie Jazz
Favorite Tracks: 
01 – Korean Bounce ► 02 – Story Line ► 07 – Koko

Angelica Sanchez Trio - Float the Edge

Angelica Sanchez: piano; Michael Formanek: bass; Tyshawn Sorey: drums.

As a natural sound explorer, avant-garde jazz pianist Angelica Sanchez couldn’t have found a better company for her intents than bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Tyshawn Sorey, two passionate and constantly in-demand adventurers from different generations that form a powerful and pliable foundation.

Float the Edge comprises only originals and was released on Clean Feed Records, a label that has been serving as recipient for the pianist’s latest artistic creations.

Shapishico”, a mythical creature of the Amazonian jungle, is painted here with fine strokes of modernity instead of any ominous or mysterious sound portraiture. Tension and delicacy coexist in Sanchez’s ruminative prowls, triggering instinctive reactions in her associates, who swing along with plenty of freedom. It’s a gripping opening at the minimum.

In the title track, Sanchez scatters harmonics and knotty phrases over the dense texture weaved by Formanek’s buzzing arco and Sorey’s unflinching percussive craftsmanship.

The lucid “Hypnagogia” tries to step on the threshold of consciousness by setting up a watchful scenario composed of intriguing piano voicings, gliding bass gravitations, and elongate sounds of brushed cymbals to maintain us alert.

What the Birds Tell Me” boasts a solo piano intro that’s simultaneously dreamy, mystifying, and contemplative in its conception. This floating ambiance is maintained, even after Formanek and Sorey add some more textural layers.

Inspired by the 1979 science fiction novel Shikasta by Doris Lessing, “Sowf (Substance of We Feeling)” is an elastic piece whose bass intro lands on a simple-yet-effective groove that is immediately enhanced by Sorey’s brilliant brushwork. With Sanchez’s brisk lines, the tune acquires a steaming pulse that doesn’t last too long. Step by step, the trio seamlessly changes direction, anchoring this time in a swinging groove that materializes with a fun boppish feel and rhythmic figures atop.

Moved by audacity and colored by a wise sense of action-reaction, “The Traveler” and “Black Flutter” flourish with extemporaneous interactions full of energy and inventiveness. The former seems an acerbic variation of “Caravan”, inviting us to a blind dance of pure astonishment; the latter, closes the album resorting to Coltrane’s epic tones.

Float the Edge spills thrills, overflowing with a spectral expressionism that is more enchanting than rebellious.
This music is filled with beautiful moments of clarity and open-ended dialogue. Listeners with avid ears will want to keep an eye on the following moves of Angelica Sanchez Trio.

Label: Clean Feed, 2017
Favorite Tracks:
04 – Sowf ► 07 – The Traveler ► 08 – Black Flutter

DKV Trio & The Thing - Collider

Ken Vandermark: reeds; Kent Kessler: bass; Hamid Drake: drums; Mats Gustafsson: reeds; Haker Flaten: bass; Paal Nilssen-Love: drums. 


Joining two of the most well-established free/avant-garde jazz trios of our times on the same recording can be simultaneously bold and risky. However, the idea is not a novelty for DKV Trio, which already teamed up with AALY Trio in Double or Nothing (2002) and Gustafsson/Nilssen-Love/Pupillo in Schl8hof (2013). 
In Collider, the undamaged, piercing sounds of DKV and The Thing trios merge, evincing a high compatibility without losing a bit of identity. None of the formations superimpose to the other, but rather combine efforts for striking us through their bracing sonic textures.

The American DKV Trio, active since 1996, has drummer Hamid Drake, bassist Kent Kessler, and multi-reedist Ken Vandermark as its pillars while the nordic The Thing, whose debut was in 2000, is composed of Paal Nilssen-Love on drums, Haker Flaten on bass, and Mats Gustafsson on reeds. 

Collaborations with individual musicians are not uncommon practices for the trios - DKV had saxophonist Fred Anderson and guitarist/bassist Joe Morris on their side; The Thing joined forces with vocalist Neneh Cherry and Sonic Youth’s singer-guitarist Thurston Moore. 
The three extended tracks of Collider, driven by fluent, improvised melodic interactions and insane rhythmic locomotion, were recorded live in 2015 at Manggha Hall in Krakow, Poland.

The opening tune, “Cards”, shows a top-notch sextet dropping wild cards on the table and winning us over with an upfront attitude that brings raucous sounds wrapped in hard-and-groovy bass-drums contractions and expansions. The energy can be felt in every section, where the expansive languages of free jazz and rock music cross with an upbeat power funk of colossal intensity. We have the perfect notion that there’s a multitude of creative possibilities for these wild cats.

Moving Map” is 24 minutes long and opens with two bowed basses and the clamant, high-pitched notes of Vandermark’s clarinet. They seem to be asking for Gustafsson’s tenor saxophone, inviting him to take part in the game. When that happens, the tune is immediately reshaped into an ultra-rapid rhythmic blast. Minutes later, it suffers another mutation, this time settling on a hypnotic African-style pulse with baritone ostinatos on top. A polyrhythmic dialogue between the drummers brings unexpected Latin aromas before the band returns to the relentless untamed spirit they are known for.

Left And Left Again” draws darker atmospheres on the account of the bassists’ sinister lines. In order to frame this picture, industrial rhythms are put up with the same vigorous collective improvisations atop.

The impactful Collider is a delight for any enthusiast of the modern creative jazz genre. This is what happens when six members with this level of technique and creativity team up. They punch you in the face while keeping you dancing at the same time. 

Label: Not Two Records, 2016
Favorite Tracks: 
01 – Cards ► 02 – Moving Map

Michael Attias - Nerve Dance

Michaël Attias: alto saxophone; Aruan Ortiz: piano; John Hébert: double bass; Nasheet Waits: drums.


In his new release entitled Nerve Dance, saxophonist Michaël Attias focuses on a set of 11 exuberant originals (two of them by Hébert) in the company of pianist Aruan Ortiz, long-time associate bassist John Hébert, and drummer Nasheet Waits.
This is Attias’ sixth album on Clean Feed as a leader, after Credo (2005), Twines of Colesion (2008), Renku in Coimbra (2009), Spun Tree (2012), and Renku Live in Greenwich Village (2016).
As a sideman, Attias has been a regular choice of pianist Anthony Coleman and lent his engrossing sax lines for punctual works by Anthony Braxton, Paul Motian, Tony Malaby, John Hébert, and Eric Revis.

The chemistry of the quartet takes immediate effect on the first tune “Dark Net”, a crossroad between Andrew Hill and Steve Coleman. Attias throws in complex-yet-attractive phrases while Waits is constantly on the edge, defying the limits of stability and infusing all his rhythmic force, especially during and after Ortiz’s inventive improvisation. Hébert throbs along, assuring a resilient foundation from below and everything ends up in a groovy vamp with a sax ostinato. 

Nerve & Limbo” is clearly split into two sections. On the first one, the rhythm section prepares a modern-Latin pulse that waits for Attias’ ingress à-la Coltrane. This nervy rampage gives place to a minimalistic pianism to start the more reflective Limbo part.

There’s a sense of urgency in “Scribble Job Yin Yang”, which opens with Hébert plucking the bass strings heartily. The tune achieves an accordant balance between dark and light after some stormy inflections magnified by the bandleader’s rebellious attitude, Ortiz’s dancing chords, and Waits’s snare-drum gusts.

Variety is an important aspect in Attias’ body of work. Thus, significant differences can be found between “Moonmouth”, a floating ballad brought up with neo-classical intonations and a Threadgill-like approach, “Le Pese-Nerfs”, a deliberated experimental piece delivered with rhythmic displacements and bright-hued sax squeals, and Hébert’s “Rodger Lodge”, a post-bop portrayal with a charming thematic melody. 

All four members demonstrate an amazing sense of tempo and strong unity in the enigmatic and vindicatory “La Part Maudite” while in “Dream in a Mirror” we have beautiful solo incursions by Waits and Hébert for a start. Ortiz’s voicings delicately match Hébert’s notes and both welcome Attias’ Coltrane-influenced spiritual blows.
The record finishes with engaging reciprocities through “Nasheet”, a tune composed by Hébert and dedicated to Waits with whom he meshes so well. 

It’s inevitable to get stuck in this conceptual and textural web of sound and rhythm. Attias, stronger than ever, seems to have found his fabulous four.
Nerve Dance is a suburban ritualistic journey, an ear-opener, and an asset for any lover of contemporary jazz.

Label: Clean Feed, 2017
Favorite Tracks:
01 – Dark Net ► 09 – Dream in a Mirror ► 11 – Nasheet

James Brandon Lewis Trio - No Filter

James Brandon Lewis: saxophone; Luke Stewart: bass; Warren Trae Crudup III: drums + guests: Anthony Pirog: guitar; Nicholas Ryan Gant: vocals.


James Brandon Lewis is a NY-based tenor saxophonist and composer with post-bop and avant-garde inclinations. Moving effortlessly with a scintillating articulation, he mixes elements of gospel (a strong background), hip-hop, and R&B.

After years playing as a sideman for renowned musicians of different genres, Lewis released his debut album, Moments, in 2010. However, it was with his sophomore Divine Travels, recorded with a powerhouse trio composed of bassist William Parker and drummer Gerald Cleaver, that he gained more visibility from jazz aficionados and media.
The following step was Days of Freeman, another critically acclaimed trio work, featuring Jamaaladeen Tacuma and Rudy Royston on bass and drums, respectively.

Faithful to the trio formation, his new album, No Filter, was built in the company of bassist Luke Stewart and drummer Warren Trae Crudup III. 
Impelled by an intoxicating natural force, “Say What” delves into a rock-inflated jazz where Lewis looses up striking patterns, showing off his considerable flair for incendiary improvisation on top of the thick carpet weaved by his trusty rhythm mates.

Cut from the same cloth, the title track adds a good slice of funk to the recipe. Lewis, questioning with vehemence and answering with exclamations, takes advantage of the natural disposition of Stewart and Crudup toward groove. The tune ends with Lewis’ voice saying ‘If the good Lord gave me these melodies, they need to be heard’.

Y’all Slept”, a hip-hop statement featuring the MC P.SO the Earth Tone King, also gives the first welcome to the guest guitarist Anthony Pirog, who embarks on an ostinato whose melody is partially uttered by the bandleader at a faster tempo. With strenuous brio, the latter cooks his improvisation with sultry inventiveness.
Raise Up Off Me”, relying on a provocative melody delivered almost entirely with a sax-bass unison, creates an in-depth, ardent, and passionate narrative flow.

The title “Zen” can be misleading. You won’t find this joyful chant so peaceful as the word might suggest. It’s pronounced with highly catchy melodies and upbeat refluxes of gospel and rock.

Pirog returns for the closing tune, the sweeter-than-bitter “Bittersweet”, which also features the mellow voice of Nicholas Ryan Gant.

No Filter is a thrilling record from a young saxophonist who has so much to give. Not limited in genre, he has this get-up-and-go attitude that communicates spirituality and freedom in a very intense way.

Favorite Tracks:
01 – What to Say ► 04 – Raise Up Off Me ► 05 – Zen