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


Jeff Williams - Lifelike

Label: Whirlwind Recordings, 2018

Personnel – John O’Gallagher: alto saxophone; Josh Arcoleo: tenor saxophone; Gonçalo Marques: trumpet; Kit Downes: piano; Sam Lasserson: bass; Jeff Williams: drums.

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Experienced American drummer Jeff Williams, who worked with Dave Liebman, Lee Konitz, Stan Getz, and Ted Curson, sports a deft rhythmic control that can make a simple tune sound brighter and invigorating. His new album, Lifelike, a feverish sextet session recorded live at Vortex Jazz Club in London, is a remarkable follow-up to Outlier (Whirlwind Records, 2016) and features a powerful frontline with saxophonists John O’Gallagher (alto) and Josh Arcoleo (tenor) plus guest Portuguese trumpeter Gonçalo Marques, and a skilled rhythm section composed of pianist Kit Downes, bassist Sam Lasserson, and himself on the drum set. Enlighten with freedom, the artists approach the tunes on their own terms within well-defined structures and song forms, proving that, in their case, merging post-bop and avant-garde jazz feels as natural breathing.

Their fresh story starts with the stimulating “Under The Radar”, a six-bar blues with a curious percussive treatment. Autonomous bass lines join the African pulse, bringing the necessary amount of groove while making a comfortable bed for the horn kicks and smooth piano maneuvers. The mood, evocative of the Andrew Hill quintet, stimulates Marques for a wonderful improvisation, which starts reflectively motivic and ends tempestuous. Downes responds to the trumpeter's attacks with discernment before embarking himself on a personal journey of creativity.

Also rhythmically rich and displaying a go-ahead melodic statement, “The Interloper” emanates the same type of energy, but more in the line of Old And New Dreams’ “Dewey’s Tune”. While Arcoleo opens the soloing section with a rollicking phrase that brings “Round Midnight” to mind, Williams, operating the drumsticks with precision, carefully tailors his actions to hold with O’Gallagher’s busy squalling alto, whose fluidity is disarming.

A bass pedal point locks the groove on the initially static “Dream Visitor”. After fire-breathing improvisations from trumpet, tenor and alto, the mood changes to colorful through a funky bass-drums flow that is a perfect vehicle for the horn interplay. 

Lament” is a beautiful composition from the 90's that cools down the impetuosity of the previous tunes in its earliest section. Introduced by a sensitive bass solo, charmingly brushed drums, and lyric pianism, the tune falls into a modal jazz that thrives with the dynamic vitality of the reedists. They invite us to a fervent finale that galvanizes the spirit and liberates. 

Borderline” displays a nearly three-minute tenor-over-drums flare-up in a fierce tonal exploration of sound and language. The elated melody has a strong African flavor, and the improvisations belong to Lasserson and Downes.

Following Marques’ “Cançao do Amolador”, a poetic declamation in the style of saxophonist Joe Farrell, the session ends with freebop license through “Double Life”, a swinging altercation fueled by racy phrases and exhilarating rhythmic impressions.

Tart yet never coarse, Lifelike is meant to be one of the hippest avant-garde jazz records of 2018; a coherent whole of tension-release, vitality, and drive. 

         Grade  A

        Grade A

Favorite Tunes: 
01 - Under the Radar ► 03 - Dream Visitor ►04 – Lament


Andreas Varady - The Quest

Label: Resonance Records, 2018

Personnel – Andreas Varady: guitar; Radovan Tariska: alto saxophone; Benito Gonzalez: piano; Bandi Varady: bass; Adrian Varady: drums.

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At the age of twenty, Slovakian-born, Ireland-based Andreas Varady is already regarded as a jazz guitar phenomenon. After catching the ear of Quincy Jones, who would become his mentor, producer, and manager, Varady signed with Verve, releasing his sophomore album with guest appearances of Gregory Porter and Roy Hargrove. On The Quest, his debut on the Californian label Resonance Records, the guitarist flies even higher in a comfortable, familiar setting with his father, bassist Bandi Varady, and younger brother, drummer Adrian Varady. Joining the family in this electrifying journey are proficient Slovakian saxophonist Radovan Tariska and Venezuelan-born pianist Benito Gonzalez.

The short exercise “Lost Memories” takes the plunge in the guise of a preamble, displaying amenable vocalized synths to better compose its verve. However, it is the following piece, “Radio Joint”, that really brings a nervy, disorienting post-bop kick, especially due to the rhythmically daring groove and vertiginous solos. Andreas gives the example, employing his fiery technique and unfolding glossy single-note patterns along with momentary yet stunning two-note dissonances in a style that mixes the soulful exuberance of George Benson, the resolved expressiveness of Wes Montgomery, and the rhythmic force of Kurt Rosenwinkel. The remaining soloists are Tariska, who steps on atonal zones with an in-and-out approach, and Gonzalez, who chooses different registers to create a private dialogue that encompasses swift lines, inviting intervals, and bouncing chords.

The group doesn’t lower their guard on tunes such as “The Time Is Now” and “The Quest”, complying with the energetic direction they have established while mounting challenging grooves and complementing them with busy improvisations. The former tune alternates between a 5/4 groove and a slower 4/4 passage. The initial meter prevails throughout the improvisational section and, following a solo piano moment, it falls into a vamp that showcases the drummer's nimble movements. In turn, and before catching fire with another groove in five, the title track exhibits an avant-garde-ish intro with the pianist in evidence.

Her Dream” is a colorful 6/8 piece with a nice flow, chromatic gusto, and rhythmic punch, while the effusive “Radiska” steps on modal jazz, without eschewing a striking swinging passage adorned with unbending riffs. An infectious guitar solo inspires not only the saxophonist, who starts 'praying' à-la Kenny Garrett, but also the pianist, who works on both extremities of the keyboard with a McCoy Tyner’s feel.

Although totally pending toward the hard-hitting, the album includes “Follow Me”, whose initial laid-back piano evolves to a medium-tempo without losing that balladic quality in its melody. After fading out, the tune resuscitates for a minute or so through relaxed piano, funky bass (played by Andreas), and hip-hop beat.

This is a powerful achievement for the up-and-coming Varady, a resourceful guitarist whose work evinces the maturity of a true champion.

        Grade  A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks: 
02 - Radio Joint ►  06 – The Quest ► 09 – Radiska


Aruan Ortiz Trio - Live in Zurich

Label: Intakt Records, 2018

Personnel – Aruan Ortiz: piano; Brad Jones: bass; Chad Taylor: drums.

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On November 26th, 2016, Cuban-born pianist Aruan Ortiz showed up at unerhort!-festival in Zurich, Switzerland, for a versatile trio performance that included a mash-up of two originals, a curious interpretation of Bach's classical piece, Ornette Coleman’s music, and a jazz standard. That work is now available through Live in Zurich, a record put out by the Zurich-based label Intakt Records, which had previously released Hidden Voices (2016), with Eric Revis and Gerald Cleaver on bass and drums, respectively, and Cubanism (2017), in which he digs his Cuban roots through solo piano.

For this concert, the pianist swapped in bassist Brad Jones and drummer Chad Taylor, initiating his trance-like pulsations with a 37-minute medley that comprises “Analytical Symmetry” and “Fractal Sketches”, two coiling originals from Hidden Voices. Having toured for two weeks in Europe, the members of this trio enjoy a special hookup, wielding communication and alertness as key ingredients for their adventurous journey. This first part comes unhurriedly into being, mixing the Afro sounds of Taylor’s mbira and the muted percussive pianism of Ortiz. Whimsical bass plucks are added later, and the bassist opts for the bow before spectacular movements imbued with Cuban tradition, contemporary jazz, and modern classical take place. The passages are sometimes thoughtful and temperate, becoming tension-filled with unmistakable traces of Muhal Richard Abrams (Ortiz dedicated the record to the late free jazz pianist) from the middle point on, bursting up with creative freedom, melodic entanglement, and dazzling rhythms.

Delivering a few more thrills, the three-movement Part 2 lasts less than 18 minutes and includes a three-minute bass improvisation that is simultaneously knotty and spontaneous; an urban reimagining of Chopin’s “Etude #6 Op 10”, here subjected to a modern groovy treatment; and a collage of two compositions by Ornette Coleman: “Open or Close/The Sphinx”, an exercise in rhythmic endurance and density with a remarkable two-hand pianistic control.

The album comes to a close with “Alone Together”, tackled with an impassive caravan-like pace and tweaking harmony, and blossoming as a balladic contemplation while eschewing any swinging surge.
At the piano, and in excellent company, Ortiz skillfully blends poetic gravitas with a fearless, intense sense of rhythm.

        Grade  B+

       Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 – Part 1 ► 02 – Part 2


Dafnis Prieto Big Band - Back To The Sunset

Label: Dafnison Music, 2018

Personnel – Mike Rodriguez, Nathan Eklund, Alex Sipiagin, Josh Deutsch: trumpet/flugelhorn; Roman Filiu, Michael Thomas, Peter Apfelbaum, Joel Fraham, Chris Cheek: reeds; Tim Albright, Alan Ferber, Jacob Garchik: trombone; Jeff Nelson: bass trombone; Manuel Valera: paino; Ricky Rodriguez: bass; Roberto Quintero: percussion; Dafnis Prieto: drums + Guests – Brian Lynch: trumpet; Henry Threadgill: alto sax; Steve Coleman: alto sax.

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Although I’m not a staunch fan of Latin jazz, there are a few records that stand out, whether due to its bold arrangements, vivid harmonic colors, or distinctive contagious rhythms and energy. This is the case of Back To The Sunset, a kaleidoscopic big band record by Cuban-born drummer Dafnis Prieto, who employs a roster of reed titans and rhythm experts to shape up nine original compositions, each of them dedicated to influential mentors/musicians. 

Una Vez Mas” punches up the verve with strong horn figures and a rousing rhythm. A pure Latin allure comes from typical piano movements, while the soloists - pianist Manuel Valera and guest trumpeter Brian Lynch - offer up much of their instinct musicality, both melodically and rhythmically. After their discourses, Prieto and percussionist Roberto Quintero make the temperature rise with a conjoint percussive feast. 

The Sooner The Better”, dedicated to Egberto Gismonti and Jerry Gonzalez, boasts a piano pedal while Ricky Rodriguez expresses thoughts on the double bass. After that, the bassist ensures the pedal, and discernible rhythmic shifts precede wholehearted improvisations by Peter Apfelbaum on tenor, Alex Sipiagin on flugelhorn, and Roman Filiu on alto. The soloists’ atonal diversions reflect the brilliance of their language.

Saxophonist Chris Cheek, groovin' on the baritone here, introduces “Out of the Bone”, a piece whose improvisational section is inclined to the low tonal range due to acts from Jeff Nelson on bass trombone, as well as trombonists Alan Ferber and Jacob Garchik, who duel with pertinacity.

The most grandiose moment of the record comes with the title track, coinciding with the second guest appearance. Acclaimed alto saxophonist Henry Threadgill kills it with a sensitive, sharp solo, beautifully developed outside the standard patterns while driving this ballad into his own musical realms. The tune was dedicated to him and genial pianist Andrew Hill.

The third and last guest musician is M-base pioneer Steve Coleman, who, not as edgy as in his musical odysseys, plays his alto with competence on “Song For Chico”, a tribute to Chico O’Farrill, Arturo O’Farrill, and Maria Bauzá. 

Danzomish Potpourri” kicks in with Prieto’s distinctive drumming. A pleasurable melodicism drives us to a rampant, feverish pulse that only lasts throughout Michael Thomas’ busy improvisation on soprano. The primary pace, far more relaxed, is re-established to expose Valera’s dreamy ideas and Apfelbaum’s tearful melodica sounds, which bring the song to a conclusion in a 3/4 meter signature.

Authoritative individualities emerge from “The Triumphant Journey”, where juxtaposed horn layers dance under the spell of a 6/8 time signature that suddenly mutates to a slower 4/4 to serve as a receptacle for the improvisations. The vernacular elasticity of saxist Joel Frahm stands out, together with Filiu, who finalizes with magnetic appeal.

Encompassing the worlds of Latin and jazz music, this 75-minute fusion tour is full-blooded and predominantly spirited.

        Grade  B+

       Grade B+

Favorite Tracks: 
02 - The Sooner The Better ► 04 - Back To The Sunset ► 09 - The Triumphant Journey


Edward Simon - Sorrows & Triumphs

Label: Sunnyside Records, 2018

Personnel – Edward Simon: piano, keyboards; David Binney: alto saxophone; Scott Colley: acoustic bass; Brian Blade: drums + guests Adam Rogers: guitar; Gretchen Parlato: vocals; Rogerio Boccato: percussion; Luis Quintero: percussion + Imani Winds

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Venezuelan-born pianist Edward Simon recorded for the third time with his group Afinidad, a quartet co-founded in 2000 with altoist David Binney, which also includes bassist Scott Colley and drummer Brian Blade. Simon wrote the two bodies of work that comprises Sorrows & Triumphs with the musical qualities of his peers in mind, and also invited special guests to further underscore his sophisticated arrangements. You’ll hear guitarist Adam Rogers, vocalist Gretchen Parlato, percussionists Rogerio Boccato and Luis Quintero, as well as the chamber quintet Imani Winds.

Conveying a blissful relaxation, “Incessant Desires” adopts fruitful unison strategies, whether we have Parlato’s voice matching Binney’s lines, or guitar and sax designing adjacent phrases. Everything sounds beautifully harmonious. Rogers cooks up a nice improvisational recipe having Simon’s keys paving a ground already compacted by bass and drums, while Binney, as a precipitous improviser, finalizes with fervorous intricate lines in an adrenaline-inducing moment colored by top-quality instrumental fills.

The saxophonist positively assaults our ears again on “Uninvited Thoughts”, a composition that kicks in with Arab-like scales, groovy bass leisure, a driving pulse mostly oriented for hi-hat and snare drum, and a poised piano dissertation. Dynamics of distinct rhythmic quality await Binney’s solo toward a broad range of emotion.

If Ms. Parlato goes wordless on “Equanimity”, a 6/4 stream that flows serenely with a dreamlike tone, her own lyrics permeate “Chant”, a smooth exercise in ambient soul jazz, and “Rebirth”, the brittle close. 

Venezuela Unida” attempts to call the world's attention for the deplorable socio-political state of Simon’s country, but in an optimistic manner. The band doesn’t waste much time in the chamber texture of the introductory section, incurring in a pulsating Latin rhythm enhanced by Quintero’s culo'e puya, a set of three long and narrow drums with a Kongo lineage. The piece, melodically activated by the horn section, offers up another peppery improvisation by Binney on top of highly-syncopated rhythmic left turns. Before that, Simon had resolutely expressed his thoughts with unflappable assuredness.

A sagacious funk is devised on “Triangle” through a forceful bass groove, bassoon elocution, and a reputable backbeat reinforced by Boccato's Latin percussion. It feels great hearing the bandleader creating fluid descendent motions that land on the lowest register with absolute precision. The busy finale, elevated by the wind quintet, comes in the sequence of an irresistible 7/4 circular movement. 

Taking a singular direction, “Triumphs” melds Brazilian rhythms with a lyrical resilience influenced by electronic music.

Simon’s persuasions, ranging from jazz to classical to African and South American music, only expedite his statute of a versatile modern musician. This is a pleasurable, integral work in which the collective’s musicianship is valiant and palpable.

        Grade  A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Incessant Desires ► 04 - Triangles ► 06 - Venezuela Unida


Bill Frisell - Music Is

Label: Okeh, 2018

Personnel – Bill Frisell: electric and acoustic guitars, loops, ukulele, bass, music boxes.

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Venerated guitarist Bill Frisell, one of the most emblematic figures of Americana and folk-jazz, releases his long-awaited solo album, Music Is. The 16-track recording includes brand new compositions and old material irresistibly dressed with the sonic possibilities of our times. In addition to the electric and acoustic guitars, Frisell plays ukulele, electronic loops, bass, and music boxes, in a lush fusion of jazz, country, blues, and rock.

His genuine musicality is immediately foreboded on the Westerner “Pretty Stars”, a perspicacious country-folk examination cooked up with a descendent whole-step melodic interval that rings in most of the harmonic passages.

Far more adventurous is “Winslow Homer”, whose progressive posture bears audacious tones while the rhythm suggests a swinging flow that is never explicitly established. Frisell’s remarkable command of the guitar is extensible to every register and the tasteful effects aptly modernize this tune, which first appeared on the album Beautiful Dreams (Savoy Jazz) in 2010. 

Other classic pieces were added such as the relaxing “Ron Carter”, the neatly layered “Monica Jane”, the entrancingly acoustic “The Pioneers”, and two compositions from his early ECM records: “In Line”, designed with a durable ostinato, ruminative electronics, and assertive attacks within an electric setting; and a chiming rendition of “Rambler”, here suffused with loops and adaptable fresh melodies, and incorporating the ukulele into the final section. An alternate version of this tune, discarded of effects, closes out the record, with the guitarist showing an incredible capacity to articulate single-notes and chords in a polished incantation. 

The vulnerability and graciousness that dominate the record are shaken with a pair of short pieces: “Kentucky Derby”, a succinct statement whose stalwart rock chords feel ZZ Top-ish, and “Think About It”, where the guitarist combines strident bluesy chops with prolonged strapping chords.

Among the new songs, I would highlight “What Do You Want”, a nice, reflective exercise with drones underneath, and the darkly toned “Miss You”, a vehicle of uncertainty and a little sorrow.

Frisell is an inveterate drifter whose musicality leans toward introspection rather than spectacle. He knows how to sculpt a candid melody and make it the pounding heart of a song. Very personal, this is a novelty act of pure Frisellian atmospheres.

         Grade  A

        Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Winslow Homer ► 04 - What Do You Want ► 16 – Rambler (alternate version)


Peter Erskine & The Dr. Um Band - On Call

Label: Fuzzy Music, 2018

Personnel - Bob Sheppard: saxophone; John Beasley: keyboards; Benjamin Shepherd: electric bass; Peter Erskine: drums.

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Consummate drummer Peter Erskine, a former Weather Report member, has always shown an inclination for electric jazz fusion. Commanding The Dr. Um Band with metrical depth and angular vision, he releases On Call, a new double album on his own music label, Fuzzy Music.

The disc one includes brand new material recorded in the studio whereas disc two encapsulates previously recorded tunes performed live in Occhiobello, Italy. All the members of the quartet - saxophonist Bob Sheppard, keyboardist John Beasley, and electric bassist Benjamin Shepherd - penned compositions for the studio session, which opens with Erskine’s “For The Time Being”. Initially enigmatic, the piece veers to a daring, dark-toned jazz funk, with the band keeping the groovy pose on Sheppard’s “Might As Well Be”, a crossover fantasy that salutes saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi. The versatility of Beasley is perceptible through attractive attacks and strange sounds. The keyboardist contributes to the song lineup with a pair of compositions - “If So Then”, inspired by the Miles Davis Quintet, is boosted by an adventurous piano solo and exceptional collective interplay; “Silver Linings” is a respectful homage to Horace Silver whose borrowed moods adapt to the band’s style.

Penned by the bandleader, “Uncle Don” displays a ceremonious organ as the introduction and a scratching backbeat in an early stage. Afterward, the band places cool harmonic progressions on top of rock-steeped rhythms, having funky bass lines running along.

The live session, filled with enthusiasm and excitement, opens with a couple of tunes by Erskine: the cerebral, blues-based “Hipnotherapy” and the funk-inflected “Hawaii Bathing Suit”. The former thrives with woody bass grooves decorated with wha-wha effects and concordant drumming, while the latter is a playful avant fusion that captivates through gorgeous unisons, apt improvisations, and an effusive drumming with strong Latin accents. 

After the soaringly atmospheric first section, Henry Mancini’s “Dreamville” combines bossa nova rhythms with balladic tones, whose silky textures result from mixing light funk, smooth jazz, and malleable R&B elements. The tune was retrieved from the album Second Opinion (Fuzzy Music, 2016), just like “Eleven Eleven”, a frenetic steeplechase with rock-solid rhythmic passages and powerful wha-wha bass lines. Although not too temperamental, the soloists opt for dazzling, straightforward approaches to express their lines of thought. 

Erskine’s mutable “Northern Cross” is not a softer either, displaying influences of American music while bridging the worlds of funk, jazz, and rock. This could be a possible outcome of having Joshua Redman playing with Return To Forever. 

With the live recording surpassing the studio session, On Call sparks with tremendous rhythmic engagement as it shows Erskine’s productive modus operandi.

        Grade  B+

       Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
03 (CD1) - If So Then ► 02 (CD2) - Hawaii Bathing Suit ► 04 (CD2) - Eleven Eleven


Patrick Zimmerli Quartet - Clockworks

Label: Songlines Recordings, 2018

Personnel – Patrick Zimmerli: tenor saxophone; Ethan Iverson: bass; Chris Tordini: bass; John Hollenbeck: drums.

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Saxophonist Patrick Zimmerli penned an hour-length suite of new music to be played by the members of his quartet: former Bad Plus pianist Ethan Iverson, vigorous bassist Chris Tordini, and spectacular drummer John Hollenbeck.

The album, Clockworks, is a breathtaking foray into metrics, temporal expressions and variations, cadenced movements, percolating polyrhythms, and mind-boggling patterns that make Zimmerli’s music highly contemporary, memorable, and unique.

A Scattering of Stars” opens and closes out the album with two different readings. The nearly 5-minute ‘Theme’ version concludes the session as a rubato lament with timbral explorations and noticeable percussive reinforcement, whereas the opening 'Distention Variation', lasting 41 seconds, prepares our ears to receive the inventive “Pendulum”. This latter composition brings out unison melodies that swim against a crawling rhythmic counter-current with superimposed patterns of 5 and 4. Iversen’s ostinato, centered on a precise idea and bolstered by epic reverberating notes on the lower register, develops into a lyric solo moment and then into an open, iconoclastic improvisation with Tordini’s crisp groove supporting it. It’s an odd dance whose kinetic energy guides us to a grandiose finale.

A bass soliloquy introduces “Metric Variation” before an uptempo swinging romp occurs. Iversen, teaming up with his rhythm section mates, melodically drives it in a classic piano-bass-drums trio setting. There are two other variations, in which Iversen occupies a central spot: “Linear Variation” sounds like a modern classical fugue regulated for swift speed, while “Harmonic Variation” is mostly solo piano, except for the last 30 seconds, where the surefooted coalition of bass and drums tags along.

In addition to the virtues of the dynamics, Zimmerli explores timbres on “The Center of the Clock”, a static piece whose crepuscular tranquility is undisturbed by the nuanced piano harmonization and percussive details in the background. You’ll experience pure peace of mind.

Both stylishly temporized with agile motions, “Waltz of the Polyrhythmic Palindrome” and “Boogaloo of the Polyrhythmic Palindrome” are completely distinct compositions that use simple polyrhythms and their reciprocals. The former is a delightful, intimate affair with two separate sections, one searching and other more traditional and rushing for resolution, while 'Boogaloo' boasts an Afro-Latin rhythm, conveniently spiked up by sultry saxophone lines, convulsive bass groove, piano statements that are as much liberating as uncomplicated, and Hollenbeck’s intelligent thumps, which precede the theme’s reinstatement. 

Windup”, one of my favorites, navigates a shifting terrain of emotional and rhythmic bravado, presenting edgy yet never-dissonant speeches. The bandleader limns stirring melodic patterns that, blending classical and jazz elements, made me think of an incorruptible integration of medieval dances and modern currents.

This quartet of modernists allows us to discover new ways of looking at jazz through oblique angles and groundbreaking perspectives. The inviolable authenticity of the group is remarkable, and Clockworks is a preciousness that simply shines with a levitational synergy.

        Grade  A+

       Grade A+

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Pendulum ► 08 - Boogaloo of the Polyrhythmic Palindrome ► 10 - Windup


Kristjan Randalu - Absence

Label: ECM, 2018

Personnel – Kristjan Randalu: piano; Ben Monder: guitar; Markku Ounaskari: drums.

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With a knack for texture and improvisation, as well as a huge capacity to understand form and structure, Estonian pianist Kristjan Randalu, a former student of John Taylor and Django Bates, establishes his own depth-charged dramatic stance on his ECM debut record, Absence. The work comprises nine rigorously structured originals for trio, combining jazz, avant-garde, classical, and modern composition with a carefully cultivated touch. Filling out the band are American guitarist Ben Monder, a mainstay in the New York scene, and Finnish drummer Markku Ounaskari, whose temperate chops qualify in perfection to tone up the bottom layer. 

Forecast” is initiated as a rubato pianistic reflection, developing into a galloping continuousness. The rhythmic impetuosity, gaining a different dimension with Monder’s spacious guitar, is later interrupted so the guitarist can express his beautiful lyricism over understated drums. Randalu also delivers a colorful moment, conveying an impressive lightness, even when using swift sequences of notes to delineate his logic phrasing. 

Lumi” has two variations. On the first one, Ounaskari’s cymbal murmurs have the company of sparse piano, later joined by enigmatic, flickering guitar chords. Monder embarks on a stunning guitar fingerpicking while sliding harmonies, contrasting with the bandleader, who, moments after, chimes in with melodic sweeps and fugue-like movements to attain a close-knit texture. 

Sisu” brings the well-defined harmonic progressions of a pop song, yet, shaped with erudite refinement. The flow obeys a simple triple meter and the dreamlike tones rival with the amiable “Adaption II”, where piano and guitar work shoulder to shoulder over a low-key cymbal articulation.

The initial ambiguity and mystery of “Escapism”, whose tension is created by Randalu’s high-pitched notes in opposition to instant deep-toned swirls, is completely put on a halt to launch a relaxed melodic final section adorned with brushed drumming. If this piece makes you slightly uneasy at first, “Adaption I” is sinister, with its dark mix of eerie guitar vibes and floating piano spirals. Before the title track closes the record in peaceful contemplation, the 3/4-metered “Partly Clouded” advances with a perpetual piano riff that moves between registers with nimble acuity. The ruminative guitar is pretty descriptive and its rapid runs inflict lustiness. In turn, the pianist unearths searing lines with an authentic feeling, drawn from the classical and jazz vocabularies.

This trio, whose members are no imitators but builders of their own language, embraces discipline and finds coherence in the assemblage of their musical aesthetics.

        Grade  B+

       Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
02 – Lumi I ► 03 – Sisu ► 08 - Partly Clouded


Dan Weiss - Starebaby

Label: Pi Recordings, 2018

Personnel - Craig Taborn: keyboards, piano; Matt Mitchell: keyboards, piano; Ben Monder: guitar; Trevor Dunn: bass; Dan Weiss: drums.

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Those who are familiar with the work of American drummer Dan Weiss, a praised bandleader and sought-after sideman, will agree that openness, big ears, and versatility are vital elements of his business.

His new album, Starebaby, it’s an unheard blend of heavy metal, electronic inspirations, Twin Peaks eerie moods, and a dash of jazz. The outcome is an unparalleled dark symphony filled with both mercurial meters and ethereal passages. The orchestration was made with ubiquitous presences in the New York jazz scene such as keyboardists Craig Taborn and Matt Mitchell, guitarist Ben Monder, and bassist Trevor Dunn, who, sharing the same taste of rugged sounds, captured Weiss’ compositional spirit with attitude, turning possible a project that was envisioned ten years ago.

The opening track, “A Puncher’s Chance”, starts off with electro-acoustic guitar sounds in a sheer classical moment, but soon bursts into a powerful alternative rock mode created by dirty keyboard sounds, well-fixed bass notes, and powerful drumming. After a middle passage designed for dreamlike piano and wrapped in a smoky effect, the band reinstates that monolithic riff over a gush of energetic rock.

Depredation” kicks off with a dragging pulse, sustained synth chords, agitated guitar, and sparse bass activity. It mutates to a vehement synth-metal intoxicated by trashy power chords, trance-like electronic vibes, and a scalding guitar solo that causes trepidation.

The quintet plunges into reflectiveness on “The Memory of My Memory”, but that initially gracious if mysterious state morphs into a snarling toil firmly planted in doom metal. Weiss’ dried spanks on snare and tom-toms grow in fierceness and the tenebrous atmosphere, somewhere between Anathema and Paradise Lost, also encapsulates Monder’s brief solo.

Both “Annica” and “Cry Box” expose piano in their introductory sections. Even non-aggressive, the former brings uneasiness and causes foreboding apprehension through the fatalism of its somber shadows, reminiscing the ways of My Dying Bride. On the latter, the band builds multiple textures with a forthright sense of tempo and attention to detail, passing through a grungy tunnel with electro melodies before achieving peace.

A tribute to the American composer of Twin Peaks, “Badalamenti” has a fluid bass-drums flow underpinning ethereal harmonic incursions and Monder’s heroic guitar mobilizations. Alone, the bandleader packs glorious chops, preparing a virile, odd-metered rock passage that would be an asset in any of David Lynch’s inscrutable thriller films. It all winds up in the contrapuntal electronic wizardry of Taborn and Mitchell.

The influence of contemporary electronic music is particularly strong on “Veiled”, a polyrhythmic epiphany with dramatic piano and shades of Karlheinz Stockhausen, and “Episode 8”, a shape-shifting phenomenon with vivid drumming, whose humoresque trance house melodies oppose to the austerity of a metal that wouldn't embarrass Black Sabbath.

Starebaby proves Weiss as a boundless drummer and unlimited composer. Whether a singular case or not, this 360-degree turn in his career will be a challenge for jazz fans. Love it or hate it, you'll find multiple transfusions of energy invading your body.

        Grade  B+

       Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - A Puncher’s Chance ► 03 – Annica ► 06 – The Memory of My Memory


Joshua Trinidad - In November

Label: RareNoise, 2018

Personnel - Joshua Trinidad: trumpet; Jacob Young: guitars; Stale Liavik Solberg: drums.

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Joshua Trinidad, a virtuosic trumpeter based in Denver, joins forces with a distinctive Norwegian rhythm section composed of guitarist Jacob Young and drummer Stale Liavik Solberg.

Boasting an entrancing sound, this bass-less trio gave the best treatment to Trinidad’s compositions, starting with “Bedside”, where the crisp intonations and language facility of the trumpeter meet the bluesy guitar phrasing and the disengaged rock drumming of his peers. Although showing different personalities, they all speak the same idioms. This particular piece embraces probing alternative sounds wrapped in sonic pollution.

The grief-stricken ballad “Bell (Hymn)” shimmers with an astounding beauty. The trumpet-led melodies are placed across Young’s ample, airy textures decorated with tasteful effects.

The guitarist is also extremely captivating when wielding an acoustic guitar. He does it on the immersive lullaby-version of “Bell”, the quiet “Kin”, and the folk-drenched “Morning Flight”.

With shifting harmonies unfolding on top of the collaborative drums, “Feathers” is a discernible pop song that thrives with a free and easy sonic flare. It leads to the minimalist “Giske”, a tune painted with the radiant hues of Trinidad’s long and sparse notes, guitar chimes, and subtly brushed drumming.

Modest and reverent, the bandleader shapes the title track as a dim-lighted ballad suffused with aching pensiveness. He and his trio partners envelop us in the type of harmonious atmosphere that dominates the record, and the sensation is that we are hearing Enrico Rava exchanging points of view with John Abercrombie or Robert Fripp.

Unexpected yet encouraging gestures are reserved for the last two compositions: “The Attic” summons the trumpet to loosen up high-pitched moans turned into multiphonics. They slide over sluggish chords and poised drumming, in a richly combined effort to set up a dramatic scenario, while “Torreon” closes the session with a disciplined backbeat, flexible lyric delineations, and a quest for hope that is reminiscent of Mathias Eick.

Brimming with endless enchantment, these are keen compositions we can easily relate to. Furthermore, the artists involved in this project have a special chemistry, delivering from the heart every time they are called to intervene. 

        Grade  A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Bedside ► 02 - Bell (Hymn) ► 11 - Torreon


Sonar with David Torn - Vortex

Label: RareNoise Records, 2018

Personnel - Stephen Thelen: guitar; Bernhard Wagner: guitar; David Torn: guitar, live looping, electronics; Christian Kuntner: electric bass; Manuel Pasquinelli: drums.

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The Swiss progressive quartet Sonar - guitarists Stephen Thelen and Bernhard Wagner, bassist Christian Kuntner, and drummer Manuel Pasquinelli - releases their fourth album, Vortex, in the good company of David Torn, an illustrious guest whose skills make the difference. Besides producing, the singular guitarist adds his shimmering electric spasms, live-looping, and electronic manipulation to reinforce the awesome blend of flavorful art-rock and minimal groove.

Stratified sonic layers are astonishingly controlled and prone to work denseness and steadfastness throughout. Heavily stimulating, “Part 44” throttles with an unflagging rhythmic undertow while exhibiting interlocking guitar instrumentations whose vibes relentlessly oscillate between the ethereal and the free-floating. Despite a certain featheriness in the groove, this composition, originally penned by Don Li, arrives sturdily anchored to the alternative side of the rock genre, investing in haunting atmospheres through gritty guitar effects that encompass distortion, vibratos, string scratching, and sustained piercing howls.

The first track whetted my appetite, but “Red Shift”, a prog-rock hymn with three distinct sections, made me rejoice. Obeying an odd meter, the piece throws a groovy punch with a strong funky flavor into the rock, stimulating robotic movements in our bodies. A posterior atmospheric passage wields bass pedals, drilling guitars trills, and crystalline harmonics. This spectral illustration shapes into a rock-solid figure with the introduction of noncommittal noise and the steering force of bass and drums. After all, these guys are diligent carvers of contemporary aesthetic forms and speak according to their genuine worldview.
 
Bearing a folkish semblance in the recurrent melody, “Waves and Particles” are supported by soft textures and adorned with Torn’s soaring waves and vertiginous manifestos. 

Juxtaposed ostinatos delimit “Monolith”, forming a sophisticated relation between time and space. Flaunting a funk-rock feel, the unhurried bass works in tandem with the drum chops, having entangled guitar explorations atop. Highly- combustible, the reaction ratchets up into the big flames of tonal creativity.

While the title track, a tritone harmonics composition, advances with a relaxed yet remarkably syncopated pulse before veering to an industrial rock-inflected marriage of bass and drums, “Lookface!” is a completely improvised, rock-oriented piece, which, not eschewing those powerful bass lines that hooks us in the groove, comes buoyed by the guitarists' collective work and propulsive rhythm.

Torn’s blasts, arches, and suspensions decisively enrich the sound of the quartet. Their mutual fascination for sonic textures is contagious, and I found myself exploring every minute of this well-weaved tapestry of polyrhythmic rock lustiness and groovy backgrounds. Vortex is a masterstroke that treats sound with prestige.

         Grade  A

        Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 – Part 44 ► 02 – Red Shift ► 06 – Lookface!


Peripheral Vision - More Songs About Error And Shame

Label: Self produced, 2018

Personnel – Trevor Hogg: saxophone; Don Scott: guitar; Michael Herring: bass; Nick Fraser: drums.

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Canadian jazz quartet Peripheral Vision is known for breaking off into modern sound-shapes and bringing influences from a variety of genres, with a predominance of jazz and rock. The band is co-led by guitarist Don Scott and bassist Michael Herring, whose inspiration often falls into art, literature, and standup comedy, being rounded out with saxophonist Trevor Hogg and drummer Nick Fraser. Their fourth outing, More Songs About Error and Shame, comprises seven well-worked compositions (Herring penned four and Scott three) dressed in shimmering textural hues to attain a uniform balance between written score and improv.

Kicking off with resolute unisons, “The Blunder” builds a sturdy rock-based foundation after Fraser’s crisp diction of hi-hat and snare drum gets hooked to Herring’s insouciant bass drives. Without wasting time, Scott whips up playful phrases packed with hot patterns, having supportive sax-bass fills in the flank. All that jim-jam ends up in a bass soliloquy turned into an odd-metered groove, which serves as a lush pavement for Hogg’s explorations.

The groovy “Syntax Error” summons a well-oriented bass to work in tandem with the drums. The improvisers are Scott and Hogg, who build interesting crescendos over circular harmonic progressions.
On “And the Metaphysical Concept of Shame”, the quartet dives into a leisurely brushed pop jazz, whose freeing bass movements keep asking for a brawnier accompaniment. Instead, Scott remained immersed in glossy voicings, incurring a tri-line parallelism with Hogg and Herring for a finale that coincides with the song’s climax. 

Regardless the option not to harden his sound on the previous tune, the guitarist was blatantly adventurous on “Chubby Cello”, exhibiting a searing guitar style suffused by distorted melodic cries, controlled noise, and powerful chords and riffs. Fraser’s percussive streams, sounding high and dry, granted a light bounce to the more experimental tune on the record. 

Irresistible rhythmic accents can be found on “Mycelium Running”, an expeditious jazz-rock fantasy that oozes energy from all sides of the quadrilateral figure that this band represents. However, when you think this is where this band can take you in terms of rhythmic invention, you will be surprised with the danceable “Click Bait”, an exciting cooker for the closer. The initial chamber-like intonations taste like classical, and Fraser’s firm brushed drumming sets the pace moments later. After a hiatus for guitar annunciations, it veers to a profuse tropical rhythm that incites Hogg and Scott to exchange fluid ideas that are more collaborative than confrontational.

Multiple listenings provide an acquaintance with the quartet’s sound that you won’t find the first time it spins. To me, it was a slow yet enchanting absorption.

        Grade  A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
05 – Chubby Chello ► 06 - Mycelium Running ► 07 – Click Bait


Mary Halvorson - Code Girl

Label: Firehouse 12 Records, 2018

Personnel – Mary Halvorson: guitar; Ambrose Akinmusire: trumpet; Amirtha Kidambi: vocals; Michael Formanek: acoustic bass; Tomas Fujiwara: drums.

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Guitarist Mary Halvorson is known for her ability to create wayward yet rich soundscapes. She has been spreading sonic charms in fruitful collaborations, usually in duo and trio formats. However, it was leading her octet that she definitely caught the jazz world’s attention, in a rapturous record from 2016 entitled Away With You. Now she’s back with a brand new experience permeated with genre-bending ideas, having penned lyrics and music of the 14 appealing tracks that compose Code Girl, a vocalized album envisioned for the quintet of the same name. It features Amirtha Kidambi on vocals, Ambrose Akinmusire on trumpet, Michael Formanek on bass, and Tomas Fujiwara on drums.

My Mind I Find in Time”, the opening piece, is introduced by processed guitar replicas, giving a sensation that Halvorson is having an echoed conversation with herself. The powerful, incisive voice of Kidambi, a classical trained singer whose intonations sometimes bring Irene Aebi to mind, is placed over guitar melodies that take the form of rhythmic figures. Later on, while strumming, the guitarist designs pungent electro-acoustic chords, encouraging a striking pulse that sustains Akinmusire’s electrifying trumpet solo.

On “Possibility of Lightning”, guitarist and trumpeter utter parallel phrases with Kidambi’s voice flawlessly meddling to converge with their movements. While Formanek sticks to a pedal, distortion inflames Halvorson’s guitar, whose driving noisy bumps take us to alternative rock zones. Words and ‘ahs’ dance in counterpoint with guitar and trumpet, leading to a volatile crossing between the indie-rock bravery of Deerhoof and the innocuous modes of the new age.

Evoking King Crimson and Robert Wyatt, “Storm Cloud” unleashes melancholy through the guitar fingerpicking, a perfect vehicle for Kidambi’s forlorn and poetic declamation. Even with the bowed bass inflicting a deeper sense of gravitas, the robustness is only increased from the moment that Fujiwara takes action. The improvisations were assigned to the bandleader, who uses a slide-guitar effect for a quirky sound, and Akinmusire, who doesn’t rush his thoughts but builds them consistently.

Both “Pretty Mountain” and “Accurate Hit” are semi-obscure pop songs. The former is enlightened by Akinmusire’s fantastic improvisation and a few abrupt drum slaps, while the latter displays a simple harmonic progression painted blurred by Halvorson’s occasional dissonances.

The band interlocks pop/rock and cool swinging jazz with shape-shifting ease on “Off The Record”. After the guitarist’s idiosyncratic attacks and flashy effects, we have the gorgeous intervallic escalations emitted by the trumpeter.

The longest piece on the record and also one of the most beautiful, “The Unexpected Natural Phenomenon” is a dramatic avant-garde excursion with lugubrious arco bass work, impeccable vocal technique, expressive guitar phrases constantly falling ‘outside’ the expected, and poised drumming. Fujiwara remains in an understated position until the trumpeter starts a galvanizing statement filled with static electricity. At that time, one of those magic clamors is created.

If “Thunderhead”, a consolidated collective instrumental, marches resolutely with additive meters, “And” plays with tempo and time signature, toggling between a slow 4/4 and a faster 7/4.

With an enviable openness and a propensity to explore the unknown, the unrivaled Halvorson crafts a fantastic album that I urge you to enjoy out loud.

         Grade  A

        Grade A

Favorable Tracks:
01 - My Mind I Find in Time ► 09 - The Unexpected Natural Phenomenon ► 10 - Thunderhead


Mayu Saeki - Hope

Label: Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records, 2018

Personnel - Mayu Saeki: flute, piccolo, shinobue; Aaron Goldberg: piano; Nori Ochai: piano; Joe Sanders: bass; John Davis: drums.

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On her debut album, Hope, Japanese flutist Mayu Saeki sonically documents the adventurous journey that took her from her native Tokyo to New York City, where she is currently based. A former protégé of the celebrated drummer Chico Hamilton, who welcomed her into his group, Saeki reveals to have an independent voice both in the composition process and performance of her music. In addition to premiering three originals, she arranged two of the most emblematic tunes by Astor Piazzolla, where her classical training is most noticeable, and another one by Ryuichi Hattori. Joining her here are performers of undeniable quality like pianists Aaron Goldberg and Nori Ochai, who play three songs each, bassist Joe Sanders, and drummer John Davis.

Dilemma” unbolts the door with a killer bass groove that is simultaneously sturdy and courteous. Having Goldberg at the piano, the solos succeed one to another, encompassing every member of the band, while the sweet-natured melody translates into an efficacious storytelling. 

Goldberg also joins for the title track, a 3/4 tone poem gently propelled by a relaxed bass conduction and brushed drums, and Hattori’s “Soshu-Yakyoku”, an untied ballad lift up by a dreamlike aura and iridescent colors. While soloing, the pianist funnels his alluring ideas into the body of the songs with breathableness, preciseness, and focus. The malleability of Sanders, who accurately sings his magnetic improvisations, and the bandleader, whose roots are not neglected during the exploration of sensitive melodic lines, are also eminent.

If the shinobue, a high-pitched Japanese transverse flute, enlightened the latter piece, the piccolo, a half-size flute, was the right instrument to dig Piazzola’s Advancing through a triple-time cadence, “Oblivion” is a lovely tango introduced by Ochai’s piano and assembled with a tearful tonal decorum and unburdening chord changes. “Libertango”, another famous tune by the Argentine composer, was proudly arranged with an introductory section of flute and tambourine, having arco bass and flute operating in unison. Sanders and Saeki also aurify the improvisational section.

Descendant movements on the electric bass combine with cymbal accents and hi-hat marks to better guide the closing piece, “Do You Know..?”, which tilts toward a seductive Latin flux that holds Saeki’s candid solo.

Both the musical choices and the stainless nature of Saeki’s music-making, allow us to think of Toots Thielemans' line of work. Even leaning on an affectionate post-bop that mostly professes melodic and harmonic neatness, the music of Mayu Saeki still bears some adventure, brandishing the stamp of transparency.

         Grade  B

        Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Dilemma ► 02 - Hope ► 03 - Soshu-Yakyoku 


Caroline Davis - Heart Tonic

Label: Sunnyside Records, 2018

Personnel - Caroline Davis: alto saxophone; Marquis Hill: trumpet; Julian Shore: piano; Tamir Shmerling: bass; Jay Sawyer: drums + guests Rogerio Boccato (percussion); Benjamin Hoffmann: organ.

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Alto saxophonist Caroline Davis lived a great part of her musical life in Chicago, but was recently relocated to New York. The move served as an inspiration for her new album, Heart Tonic, as well as the woes related to her father’s heart arrhythmia. The quintet she gathered has Marquis Hill on trumpet, Julian Shore on piano, Tamier Shmerling on bass, and Jay Sawyer on drums.

Manifesting a permanently genteel touch throughout, “Footloose and Fancy Free”, the opening track, is all rhythmic sophistication. Convulsive electric bass notes work in consonance with the lithe drumming, having Shore’s Fender Rhodes supporting the compelling horn improvisations. Despite the complexity of the arrangement, which thrives with shifting tempos, noble rhythmic gesticulation, and melodic lines delivered both in unison and counterpoint, one can feel the grace in Davis’ music. This gives our ears an illusion of easiness and simplicity. Admirably, nothing sounds obvious, which forces you to stop, focus, and ultimately enjoy the sumptuous progressions followed by the group.

The same principle applies to “Constructs”, the longest piece at 10:30 minutes, whose introductory synchronism between bass and piano is unerring. A double horn epiphany emphasizes the flexibility of language, after which saxophone and piano corroborate ideas until an intriguing flow, carried by the drummer’s methodical attacks, takes a sudden swinging direction. Occasionally, it seems we are hearing a big band such is the power of music. The improvisations were assigned to Hill, Shore, and the bandleader, whose motifs and eloquence mirror the logic behind her music.

Featuring Brazilian percussionist Rogerio Boccato as a special guest, “Loss” is a feel-good 4/4 post-bop ride with a slinky pulse and a great improvised moment by Davis, whose in-and-out movements spark off instinctive reactions in the pianist. After interspersing chords and single-note phrases with devotion in his individual statements, the latter enhances a final vamp magnetized by the unbridled exchanges of Davis and Hill. This sort of conversational mode is adopted once more on “Dyonisian”, a contrapuntal post-bop adventure whose stimulating give-and-take by the end has Davis and Shore as protagonists.

There’s a short interlude mounted with effusive drumming and the woozy organ sounds by Benjamin Hoffmann, another guest appearance. It separates two pieces heavily influenced by Wayne Shorter. The first one, “Fortune”, is a ballad where the drummer employs brushes for softness and the bassist delivers a responsive solo. “Penelope” is, in fact, a Shorter composition, here re-ignited with no major syncopation but an enjoyable pair of improvised moments.

Caroline Davis penned her compositions with zeal and intelligence. Tackled by open-minded musicians, they translate into a warm, cliché-free contemporary jazz that transpires confidence all around. Highly recommended.

        Grade  A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Loss ► 03 - Constructs ► 07 - Dyonisian 


Arild Andersen - In House Science

Label: ECM, 2018

Personnel – Arild Andersen: acoustic bass; Tommy Smith: tenor saxophonist; Paolo Vinaccia: drums.

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A new trio album by the Norwegian bass virtuoso Arild Andersen is out on the ECM label, promising to stun whoever takes a mindful listen to the marvelous music that inhabits here. The bassist played in amazing trios in the past, teaming up with Sam Rivers and Barry Altschul (albums) as well as with Jan Garbarek and Edward Vesala (albums), but the musical quality was not taken down when he was joined by Scottish tenorist Tommy Smith and Italian-born, Norway-based drummer Paolo Vinaccia on In-House Science. Recorded live in Austria, the album includes six original compositions by the bassist, whose durations are comprehended between 8 and 11 minutes, approximately.

With a remarkable ability to play several idioms, the sharp-witted trio creates music that is honest, vast in dimension, and raw in tone. One has immediate access to Andersen’s colossal gutsiness and technique on the opening tune, “Mira”. The bassist starts alone, guaranteeing harmonic definition and rhythmic heft from below. The soothing triple-meter cadence is intensified when the saxophonist comes to the forefront, taking folk and jazz trajectories, or when the drummer adapts his whispering cymbal strokes to the mood.

On “Science”, the rhythm section explores with vision, pointing the direction with a push-forward attitude while having extended saxophone runs molded by a variety of timbres. At some point, the piece shifts to a rhythm where hi-hat and walking bass command, anticipating swinging epiphanies occasionally interrupted by bass pedals, puffed up funky blazes, and visceral free jazz blowouts. It’s great to hear Smith releasing fiery multiphonics and dazzling chromatisms that ring in the air.

This fiery posture, which leans on free jazz to a degree, is also what makes “In-House” burn and gaining ground with a nervy spin and full-steamed propulsion. If the rhythm section does the heavy lifting here, they considerably low the tone for “North of the Northwind”, a reflective if resolute adventure where bowed bass, samplers, and prolonged saxophone notes are layered to produce a static effect. 

If one can sense a folk tactility coming out of the saxophone on “Venice”, an empathetically groovy piece in six, it’s pretty clear that “Blussy” is a blues-based post-bop incursion saturated in jubilation and gracious manners. 

Andersen is a fabulous and inveterate soloist whose terrific language, full of groove and rhythmic contortions, will blow your mind. Both the musical resources and imagination of his simmering trio are limitless and can easily assault your senses. With no time for ironies or playful games, they work brilliantly together, coloring their captivating soundscapes with a cutting-edge vibrancy.

        Grade  A+

       Grade A+

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Science ► 03 - Venice ► 06 – In-House 


Jakob Bro - Returnings

Label: ECM, 2018

Personnel – Jakob Bro: guitar; Palle Mikkelborg: trumpet; Thomas Morgan: double bass; Jon Christensen: drums.

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Danish guitarist Jakob Bro might not be a heavyweight like Rosenwinkel, Frisell, or Metheny, but is a legitimate owner of a sui generis sound whose rich tones usually translates into intimate musical settings.

On Returnings, his third release on ECM, the guitarist plays alongside the sought-after American bassist Thomas Morgan, a regular in his bands, and a pair of veteran musicians: Danish trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg and Norwegian drummer Jon Christensen. The latter returns after a one-year hiatus, retrieving the drum chair that, two years ago, was occupied by Joey Baron on the previous recording, Streams. 

The album starts with “Oktober”, a compassionate, stagnant song previously recorded in the album Gefion, and rearranged at this point with a combination of idyllic, cordial, and intensely emotional manners. The balmy trumpet-led melodies tell a story, conveying a comforting tonality and reinforcing what Bro had delivered in the original version.

On the following tune” Strands”, the quartet presses on with the contagious languor that characterizes their routines. Sticking to light textures, Bro fingerpicks beautiful voicings while Morgan’s touches show how wide can the possibilities be when he’s around. The percussion, simultaneously unobtrusive and unflashy, really makes the difference in the creation of an ultrapolished fascination that gains further emphasis throughout the melodious routes of “Lyskaster”, another original from Gefion. The piece, strongly influenced by folk and pop idioms, have all the four instrumentalists taking part in a circular congruity.

Although composed for the Norwegian writer Knut Hamsun, we can picture icy landscapes while listening to “Hamsun”. This guitar/bass duet, partly inspired by Paul Motian, has the bassist nodding to the lyric suggestions of the bandleader.

Standing out from the remaining tunes due to a more experimental sonority, the title track features Bro’s curious electronic effects, Christensen’s unflappable drumming, Morgan's unremittingly spot-on bass notes, and the precise trumpet lines uttered by Mikkelborg, often mirroring or matching the guitarist’s melodic suggestions. Mikkelborg co-wrote this song with Bro, but also supplies a couple more compositions of his own: “View” and “Youth”. The former defies form as it operates outside the conventional, having drums and bass pairing down to create moments of orbital suspension. The latter, solely outlined by guitar and trumpet, sheds tears as it evokes nostalgia, wistfulness, and abandonment.

With mood transcending any language or tempo, Returnings draws emotional vulnerabilities from the prevailing, slow-moving instrumental streams. This is a great record to have at hand whenever you need to disconnect from the ‘outside’ world.

        Grade  A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Oktober ►05 - Lyskaster ►07 - Returnings