Brad Mehldau - Finding Gabriel

Label: Nonesuch, 2019

Personnel includes Brad Mehldau: piano, synthesizers, Fender Rhodes, Hammond B-3 organ, Musser Ampli-Celeste, Morfbeats gamelan strips, xylophone, mellotron, drums, percussion, vocals; Ambrose Akinmusire: trumpet; Joel Frahm: tenor saxophone; Chris Cheek: baritone sax, tenor sax; Charles Pillow: baritone sax, alto sax, soprano sax, bass clarinet; Michael Thomas: alto sax, flute; Sara Caswell: violin; Mark Guiliana: drums; Kurt Elling: vocals; Becca Stevens: vocals; Gabriel Kahane: vocals; and more.

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One of the most popular stylists in contemporary jazz, pianist Brad Mehldau, releases a challenging record, stepping away from conventional jazz paths as he explores new directions, deliberately looking for something new. Expanding vistas into multiple musical arenas that not merely jazz and classical, Mehldau creates a hypnotic concoction where he explores alternative textures and sounds with sometimes-crawling, sometimes-kinetic modernistic beats, multi-layered vocalizations, and an artsy fusion of electronica-induced vibes and modern creative fervor. Motivated by the Holy Scriptures and today’s political destabilization, the pianist brings to light 10 new compositions recorded over an 18-month period, some of them featuring illustrious guests such as drummer Mark Guiliana, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, saxophonist Joel Frahm, violinist Sara Caswell, and vocalists Kurt Elling and Becca Stevens, among others.

Regardless the fantastic crew of musicians, Mehldau tackles three accompanying himself: “Born To Trouble”, a romantic, slightly gospelized pop-ish track showing deep love for melody and incorporating a minimalistic beat later turned into a regular 4/4 backbeat; “O Ephraim”, during which he poses poetic classical expressions on the Musser Ampli-Celeste and complements it with jazz improvisation on Fender Rhodes; and the title track, which closes out the album with piano, synth, mellotron, Hammond-B3, drums, percussion, and vocals.

Among the highlights is the opening tune, “The Garden”, which initially foregrounds an atmospheric gospelized synth wave tied to a minimalistic beat that creates urgency. Beautifully layered, the three-piece vocal explorations immerse us in a sonic cloud that is simultaneously ethereal and petrifying, just as Philip Glass’s “Koyaanisqatsi”. This all happens before Guiliana’s drums go berserk, the inky throb of the bass notes make their way, and an amazing solo by Akinmusire reaches the skies. The trumpeter also blows on the politically charged “The Prophet Is a Fool”, another peak, but the star here is Frahm, whose seismic tenor outpour is filled with in-and-out movements. If prior to his intervention we could ride the vigorous rocking rhythm, the dirty funky bass a-la Beastie Boys, and the chilled-out hip-hop piano moves reminiscent of Robert Glasper, then, after that, we hear a tragicomic vocal sample saying: 'build that wall!', followed by a breakbeat avalanche.

Although both immersed in ambient waters, “Striving After Wind” and “Deep Water” reveal fine singularities. The former is a synth-infused, electronica-inspired piece with breakbeats, while the latter sinks in downtempo, featuring a string trio led by Caswell’s violin as well as Stevens’ rigorous voice. The latter’s vocal presence also captures the listeners’ attention on “Make It All Go Away”, a spacious combination of new age, funk/soul, and trip-hop, but it’s Kurt Elling who shines by the end, pulling the song into a crescendo. These moods contrast with the progressive trance projected by “St. Mark is Howling in the City of Night”, where chamber-esque sketches are drawn atop the syncopated groove in seven. Rock-inflected movements on the lower register bolster the scenario.

Roll up your sleeves and strap in for this unprecedented work by Mehldau, likely his most conceptually knotty and meticulously composed yet.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - The Garden ► 06 - The Prophet Is a Fool ► 07 - Make It All Go Away


Joshua Redman - Come What May

Label: Nonesuch, 2019

Personnel - Joshua Redman: tenor saxophone; Aaron Goldberg: piano; Reuben Rogers: bass; Gregory Hutchinson: drums.

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Renowned American saxophonist Joshua Redman certainly knows how to make a quartet sound great. And he currently leads more than one. The recently formed Still Dreaming group - with cornetist Ron Miles, bassist Scott Colley, and drummer Brian Blade - made its debut last year with satisfying results, but what we have in hands now is the third outing (the first in nearly two decades) from his older quartet. Besides Redman, Come What May features Aaron Goldberg on piano, Reuben Rogers on bass, and Gregory Hutchinson on drums. It’s hard to say which of the quartets sounds better, but it’s not so difficult to conclude that none of them is a redundant entry in the saxophonist’s impressive discography.

The cleverly-written “Circle of Life” opens the record exhibiting meticulous bass-piano unisons before settling into a propulsive, spirited, and mesmerizing 3/4 groove. Redman’s compositional inspiration strikes in the form of colorful layers and ostinato-fueled interactions, and his vibrant solo benefits from the impeccable support of the tight-knit rhythm team.

Goldberg, in particular, approaches the music with a lot of heart, which seems to give extra motivation to his colleagues in the rhythm section. That’s perceivable on the gently funkified “I’ll Go Mine”, where his marvelously dissonant chords band together with Hutchinson’s cool backbeat. Expertise and enlightenment are important aspects in the improvisations from piano and sax, with the soloists putting extra effort into a thrilling vamp accentuated by Redman's bracing phrases and Goldberg’s wide capacity to counterpoint.

Also incorporating a vamp, yet not at its tail end, “DGAF” boasts an argumentative folk melody that manages to clear some space for the drummer’s conversational fills. Ambling with a similar energy, the rhythmically elaborated “What We Do” is melodically dependent on a candid bluesy riff subjected to parallel movements. This is pure post-bop elasticity with shifts in key and swinging demand.

By allying sheer muscle and elegance within a refined eclectic posture, “Stagger Bear” provides one of the most exciting moments on the album. It upholds punctilious bass movements hand-in-hand with the pianist’s fairly active left hand, variable drumming intensities with segmented rock muscle, a soulful hip-hop piano vibe, and sax-piano staccatos. Saxophonist and pianist alternate bars throughout, showing that they speak the same language.

Both the title track and the closing number, “Vast”, are ballads of different nature. Whereas the former is a typical brushed waltz, the latter uses the curved shape of its melody and arpeggiated piano texture to immerse us in a sublime spiritual mood. Redman’s piercing notes yields a musical epiphany to be revisited.

This formidable body of work not only shows how mature this quartet grew throughout the years, but also how Redman strengthened and deepened his sound and style.

Grade  A

Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
02 - I’ll Go Mine ► 06 - Stagger Bear ► 07 - Vast


Miguel Zenón - Sonero: The Music of Ismael Rivera

Label: Miel Music, 2019

Personnel - Miguel Zenón: alto saxophone; Luis Perdomo: piano; Hans Glawischnig: bass; Henry Cole: drums.

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Phenomenal saxophonist Miguel Zenón has proved to be a master in synthesizing his Puerto Rican musical heritage - mainly represented by currents like Plena, Bomba, and Jibaro music - into an organic, personal sound grounded in contemporary jazz. For his new outing, Sonero, he gathered the long-standing international quartet that gives shape to his music - Luis Perdomo on piano, Hans Glawischnig on bass, and Henry Cole on drums. Collectively, they apply their potent chemistry to explore 11 salsa songs made popular by Afro-Puerto Rican singer Ismael Rivera. Zenón pushes the envelope through bold arrangements, creating an unrivaled hybrid sonority that makes his musical personality shine through. And guess what? The result is fresher than ever.

The 1961 hit “Quitate De La Via, Perico”, written by Juan Hernandez, is definitely one of the highlights. The saxophonist owns the moment, delivering a superlative solo fueled by the dazzling rhythm and making emotions flow in abundance as he reaches an extensive range on the instrument. With the rhythmic accents and variations preventing any possible monotony, Perdomo conducts a motif-oriented improvisation on top of a danceable Latin extravagance, and then is Cole who, behind the drum kit, energizes the setting with his vitality. The ostinatos spotted here and in several other tunes result from Zenón’s remakes of sonic cells drawn from the original songs, including Rivera’s vocalizations as well as fragments of bass lines and brass sections.

El Negro Bembón” was another mega hit within the genre, here configured with enough expansions-contractions and tempo variations in a world-class arrangement that, once more, brings Cole’s drumming to the forefront in the last section. This is one of the two Bobby Capó-penned compositions on the album. The other one is the engaging “Las Tumbas”, which, re-ordered as a triplet like the original, gets a soothing nature in the hands of Perdomo before acquiring a spiritual vibrancy when Zenón takes the helm. The latter’s improvisation occurs already with a luxurious bass groove running underneath.

Filled with expeditious sax-piano unisons and impeccable rhythmic emphasis expressed with a deliberate push-pull traction, “La Gata Montesa” features solos from saxophone and bass. The passionate dissertation by Glawischnig is professed with such an empathic and clear melodicism that I found myself wishing it wouldn't come to an end. As a matter of fact, the rhythm section reveals an incredible generosity in numbers like “Traigo Salsa”, “Colobó”, and the closing “El Nazareno”, a song of faith that ends the session on a high note. Adventurously propelled by magnetic rhythms and aligned with cross-cultural elements, these tunes preserve the spirit and essence of the originals, but also allow us to luxuriate in the richness of jazz improvisation, especially through Zenón, who points out his vision with an electrifying combination of freshness, eloquence, and ferocity. He can really keep the listener on his/her toes.

Even on the affecting “Hola”, which reveals extra sentiment and absorption, the energy is strongly felt, whether through the iterative moves of piano and bass or through the bandleader’s laments subjected to a posterior vulcanization.

Surpassing Yo Soy La Tradición, its preceding album, Sonero is enlivened by the group’s immense sound and top quality. The rhythmic and textural diversity presented throughout never put the album’s wholeness in question, with each member contributing a little of themselves to create something meaningful and special.

Grade  A

Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Quitate De La Via, Perico ► 03 - Las Tumbas ► 08 - Hola


Saul Cosme Quintet - Live in New York

Label: Self produced, 2019

Personnel - Saul Cosme: guitar; Dongguk Pak: tenor saxophone; Haeun Joo: piano; Mikey Migliore: bass; Jason Wastor: drums.

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Mexican-born Saul Cosme is an up-and-coming jazz guitarist and composer based in New York since 2014. Leading his quintet and getting adequate support from his peers, the guitarist makes his debut as a leader with Live in New York, a musical reflex of what is living in two busy cities such as New York and Mexico City. The program incorporates four clever originals and two classic standards, showing that he’s able to move fluidly across genres.

The opener, “La Martiniana”, is a traditional song from Oaxaca that, here, exudes a special eclectic vibe that refers to Charles Lloyd and Gato Barbieri, cross-pollinating folk and post-bop to achieve an elegant aesthetic. In addition to the melodic gift of the theme, harmonic acuteness, and a vibrant pulse in five (3+2), we are offered strong emotions during the competent improvisations from saxophonist Dongguk Pak and Cosme. Any resemblance between the bandleader and the late John Abercrombie might not be much of a surprise, since the latter was his former teacher in the Big Apple.

Another genuinely riveting moment comes from “Cancion Para Sanar”, a crossover piece with a stirring Latin feel and active groove, responsibilities of drummer Jason Wastor and bassist Mikey Migliore, respectively. The combustible energy of this tune contrasts with the reflective tones of “Pensamientos”, a seductively propelled waltz peppered with soft touches of romanticism. However, I found the improvisations way too long here, with pianist Haeun Joo concluding the piece by delivering an unaccompanied ad-lib coda.

Despite suitable to be included in the lineup, the standard “How Deep Is The Ocean” is a misfire. The familiarity of the swinging current underpinning the chord changes and the nature of the improvisations itself don’t really makes it something new or something I would want to revisit. Things improve considerably with Cosme’s “Para Haeun”, a lengthened piece whose theme boasts a soulful air with a Latin undercurrent. Nevertheless, it is with “The Cat Walk”, an exciting hard-bop tune penned by trumpeter Donald Byrd, that the quintet returns to full form. The alternation between accented comping and swinging verve enhance the soloists’ bluesy expressiveness and catchy rhythmic ideas.

Not everything is perfect here, but there’s passion and the desire of looking forward. Live in New York marks an important step in Cosme’s evolutionary path and musical exposition. His unquestionable qualities both as performer and composer should attract straight-ahead audiences.

Grade  B

Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
01 - La Martiniana ► 02 - Cancion Para Sanar ► 06 - The Cat Walk


Jesse Byrom-Carter - The Next Tomorrow is Yesterday

Label: Self produced, 2019

Personnel - Alex Quinn: trumpet; Michael Bliss: alto saxophone; Alan Ferber: trombone; Eric Quinn: trombone; Alina Engibaryan: vocals; Adam Rogers: guitar; Ryan Slatko: piano; Santiago Leibson: piano; Jesse Byrom-Carter: upright and electric basses; Ken Ychicawa: drums.

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Boasting a compositional vein in the line of trumpeter Alex Sipiagin, Australian bassist Jesse Byrom-Carter enlisted a group of both consecrated players and new seekers for his no-frills post-bop debut album, The Next Tomorrow is Yesterday. In the sequence of a few significant gigs at important New York venues and some rewarding collaborations with acclaimed musicians, Byrom-Carter decided that it was time for leadership, a task he handled with distinction.

The title track opens the album with a refined taste in the orchestration. The experienced guitarist Adam Rogers stands out for a brief moment, but remains linked to the rest of the crew by subsequent unisons. Before his anticipated solo takes place, Grammy-nominee trombonist Alan Ferber, a weighty guest, shows how to build a fine, unhurried speech with enjoyment and focused narrative sense. During the vamp that precedes the finale, the band makes sure to stimulate Ken Ychikawa to intensify his crisp drum chops.

Odd-meter is not an unusual practice here, but “As Is”, with a groovy A section in nine, captures our ears in that sense. The tempo shifts in the B section, though. Rogers stretches out with elasticity and is immediately followed by the bandleader, whose unambiguous statements, besides groovy and spacious, possess a personal charisma. He embarks on another impromptu discourse on “Metamorphosis”, a swinging post-bop fantasy, which, starting at 4/4 and ending at 3/4, indicates a proper pulse control. Pianist Ryan Slatko speaks according to the former time signature, while Rogers and alto saxophonist Michael Bliss trade bars after the tempo variation.

Vocalist Alina Engibaryan displays the scope of her warmhearted voice on “Dreams Untethered”, a gently brushed waltz that unfolds with serenity, as well as on “Edge of Space”, which evolves with a rich R&B feel reminiscent of Stevie Wonder. Both pieces have lyrics written by Byrom-Carter, yet, on the former, she ventures into improvisation with impressive harmonic insight. “Hy Brasil” is another selection where we can hear her voice projected in unison with the horn section. There are no words this time and, despite the title, no major bossa or samba feel is detected, but rather an adult contemporary jazz outlined with popping electric bass lines. Following Alex Quinn’s trumpet solo, the tune shifts in tempo, incorporating another measure of Rogers’ talents as a soloist.

Pianist Santiago Leibson, who had shone on “As Is”, also steps forward on “Hand of Fate”, doing it with chromatic shifts and other legitimate ideas.

Garnished with dynamic shifts and some interesting solos, this cerebrally structured first recording will certainly serve to raise Byrom-Carter’s profile.

Grade  B

Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
01 - The Next Tomorrow is Yesterday ► 02 - As Is ► 03 - Dreams Untethered


Lafayette Gilchrist - Dark Matter

Label: Lafayette Music, 2019

Personnel - Lafayette Gilchrist: piano.

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Baltimore-based pianist Lafayette Gilchrist, a member of David Murray Black Saint Quartet, has not been documented that thoroughly throughout his career. His newest CD, Dark Matter, marks his second solo effort and was inspired by the invisible force that holds the universe together. Played with freedom and recorded live, the 11 original compositions that compose the album come to life as a hub of styles, embracing jazz in a variety of currents - funk, blues, and almost indistinct hints of hip hop.

Regardless the amount of variations and contrasts that his music has to offer, Gilchrist coaxes the blues out of almost every note he plays. The genre irrigates tunes such as the chunky “For The Go Go”, a homage to the Baltimore-Washington D.C. funk subgenre go-go music (a unique regional style with which the pianist is very familiar); “And You Know This”, whose faintly spiritual aura is swallowed by a rock n’ roll-ish cadence that is also vividly felt on “Happy Birthday Sucka”; and “Blues For Our Marches To End”, a strutter written in 2014 as a reaction to the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

The pianist stirs “The Love Bind” with his disciplined stride piano technique, placing the bass notes in constant counterpoint with the ideas and flourishes delivered by an agile right hand. In turn, “Spontaneous Combustion”, whose title may suggest some sort of avant-garde spontaneity, starts with classical-like movements that, little by little, are overcome by a resolutely paced rockish cadenza. However, its flow keeps being interrupted by quieter lyrical segments. This sort of rhythmic variations are also a constant on “Child’s Play”, whose mutable parts beautifully integrate heartfelt melodies, bluesy figures, and soulful chords. There’s some sort of playfulness amidst the predominant affectionate tones.

Gilchrist’s sense of phrasing is fluent yet veers to pondering whenever the narrative demands it. To my ears, the darker and more reflective tunes are by far the most interesting. The haunting title cut, for example, bears this dark-hued, Horace Tapscott-fueled post-bop feel populated by subversive notes that simultaneously shock and astound. While implying a strolling tempo and negotiating lower regions, the pianist brandishes a marvel of a tune.

In the same line of the latter, the poignant “Old Whale Bones”, inspired by archeological digs, drifts with no apparent destination until vehement, boisterous chords finalize its journey, while on “Black Flight”, a melancholic tribute to the African-American WWII fighter pilots Tuskegee Airmen, Gilchrist covers the range of the keyboard in order to fuse dramatic, mournful, and enigmatic sounds with logic and precision.

Balancing elated and ruminative moods and ideas, Dark Matter is a valid, yet unexceptional offering from a mature pianist who doesn't give up searching for exposure.

Grade  B-

Grade B-

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Child’s Play ► 03 - Dark Matter ► 08 - Old Whale Bones


Avishai Cohen / Yonathan Avishai - Playing The Room

Label: ECM Records, 2019

Personnel - Avishai Cohen: trumpet; Yonathan Avishai: piano.

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Trumpeter Avishai Cohen and pianist Yonathan Avishai, two kindred spirits prone to appealing nuanced interaction, celebrate their old friendship and fruitful musical partnership (started at a young age when they were still living in Tel Aviv) on Playing The Room, their debut duo recording. The album includes two originals, one from each musician, and many nods to prominent artists in a variety of styles.

The first two pieces on the album are the original compositions. The first is “The Opening” by Cohen, which spills sentiment all over with rubato lyricism and a melody that recalls the standard “My One And Only Love”. The second track is Yonathan’s “Two Lines”, a ravishingly textured enterprise whose magnetic suspensions are composed of anchored piano pedals and precise unisons. Later on, it airs further gracefulness and expands horizons when Cohen’s trumpet lines dance all over Yonathan’s lush chords and temperate activities.

Among the eight chosen covers, there is one that immediately stands out: John Coltrane’s “Crescent” is simply astonishing. The tune is subjected to a reverent, personal treatment of dark and bright shades, and without losing a bit of spirituality, feels like a lament. It starts off with trumpet, whose fully-formed melodies come filled with emotion and transparency. On its side, the wide-ranging piano work is sculpted with dramatic heft and a multitude of colors. It’s a fulfilling experience.

Abdullah Ibrahim’s “Kofifi Blue”, which still holds that lovable African feel, and Duke Ellington’s dulcet “Azalea”, are consciously melodic pieces, following a more typical structure and form. On the latter, the musicians’ highly contrasting pitches create a positive effect, and you’ll find penetrating trumpet notes being set against the unostentatious, occasionally crawling pianism.

Ornette Coleman’s blithesome “Dee Dee” comes equipped with that inherent free bop urgency and lively folkish melody, which tours in unison for a while before split into both shimmering counterpoint and free ramble. The rhythmic work of both players is fundamental and their coordination noteworthy.

If, at this point, you still doubt about the versatility of this expressive duo, then listen to the album’s two last pieces. They are “Sir Duke”, Stevie Wonder’s funk/R&B tribute to Duke Ellington, which in this piano-driven rendition gains a slight Afro pulse while keeping the original melody distinguishable; and “Shir Eres”, a lullaby by Israeli composer Sasha Argov, whose classical intonation recalls Erik Satie in the mood.

Boundless in the elements from which they draw inspiration, Cohen and Yonathan prove to have a solid rapport and cook up an accessible offering stuffed with adventurous moments.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Two Lines ► 03 - Crescent ► 04 - Azalea


The Curtis Brothers - Algorithm

Label: Truth Revolution Records, 2019

Personnel - Donald Harrison: alto saxophone; Brian Lynch: trumpet; Zaccai Curtis: piano; Luques Curtis: bass; Ralph Peterson: drums.

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Brothers Zaccai and Luques Curtis, pianist and bassist, respectively, have been strong and stable presences on the top jazz scene with participations in widely recognized projects by pianist Eddie Palmieri, trumpeter Brian Lynch, drummer Ralph Peterson, and saxophonist Donald Harrison. The latter three heavyweights and former jazz mentors join them again (seven years after Completion of Proof) on Algorithm, a stirring post-bop album recorded live and released on the brothers’ record label, Truth Revolution Records.

Six out of the nine chapters of the new album were titled according to mathematical terminology, while the remaining three allude to their mentors with designations such as “Chief”, “The Professor”, and “Sensei”. The first noted tune was written for Harrison, who, communicating joy in his articulated spontaneity, takes his stretch to a peak. Sliding effortlessly with a three time feel, “The Professor” pays tribute to Lynch, whose potent attacks and comprehensive range on the trumpet are something. He goes insanely bluesy in his genuine statement, producing a hair-raising effect by meaning every note he plays. Although Peterson is also impressive on this one, showing off his irresistible drive and complementing it with wise displacements and transitions, it was on “Sensei”, where the band was reduced to a trio format, that he had the chance to explore polyrhythm. The latter tune, a stalwart teamwork effort, is cooked up with piquant Afro-Cuban flavors analogous to the ones found on “Parametrics”, another vehicle for Lynch’s hot blows and Zaccai’s consistently melodic crests and troughs.

The opener, “Three Points and a Sphere” is a post-bop homage to saxophonist Jackie McLean and his wife Dollie, the founding executive director of the Artists Collective, Inc. of Hartford, Connecticut. The tune is front-loaded with acrobatic rhythm kicks and accents, which are transported to the solo section, often pervading the swinging flow and then disrupting it. This fact is not an obstruction to hot-blazing discourses delivered by all.

Phi” and “Torus” ooze serenity from their soothing harmonic progressions and breathable passages. A glorious Poinciana-inspired Cuban rhythm propels the former, while the latter, incorporating a polished rubato intro before diving into a waltz, is shaped through sparkling brushwork, obstinate bass pedals, refined improvisations by the brothers, and backing horn melodies. At odds with this relaxation, we have “Undefined”, which relies on a particular rhythmic concept by Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, and also “Staircase of Mount Meru”, a dazzling salute to the Indian mathematician Pingala. For each one of these, the ensemble works on tension and release with passion and logic.

The quintet defends a well-structured contemporary aesthetic without forgetting the essence of the past, mixing elements of present-day post-bop, mature hard bop, Latin, and soul jazz within a framework where the players can shine both individually and collectively.

Garde  A-

Garde A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Three Points and a Sphere ► 02 - Phi ► 06 - The Professor


Ben Wolfe - Fatherhood

Label: Self-released, 2019

Personnel - Immanuel Wilkins: alto saxophone; JD Allen: tenor saxophone; Giveton Gelin: trumpet; Luis Perdomo: piano; Orrin Evans: piano; Ben Wolfe: bass; Donald Edwards: drums.

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Ben Wolfe, a bassist from Baltimore with a deeply centered sound, pays tribute to his late father on Fatherhood, a collection of ten accessible tunes (nine Wolfe originals and one standard) offering old and new flavors. Wolfe worked with everybody, from Woody Shaw to Wynton Marsalis to a bunch of disparate pianists like Diana Krall, Harry Connick Jr., Eric Reed, and James Moody.

For this special recording, he convened longtime associates - pianists Luis Perdomo and Orrin Evans, tenor saxist JD Allen, and drummer Donald Edwards - but also intense players from the new generation, cases of vibraphonist Joel Ross and altoist Immanuel Wilkins, two young lions who start off their duties here by alternating bars on “Blind Seven”, a re-contextualized former hit. They do it under a sweltering swinging pressure and before the theme statement, following a completely different arrangement from what was presented in the original 1997 version. A competent quartet of strings produces a curious undercurrent here. Its presence might not be a novelty in Wolfe’s music - he had incorporated it on No Strangers Here (Maxjazz, 2008) - but gives a unique touch to seven of the ten pieces, where they bridge the worlds of jazz and classical music.

There are plenty of swinging moments along the way, with “Opener” and “The Enforcer” at the head of the list. The former features the relaxed phrasing from 19-year-old Bahamian trumpeter Giveton Gelin, in addition to JD Allen’s tenor blows, carried out with inside focus and strong hard-bop feel, and pianist Orrin Evans’ explorations with occasional horn fills decorating the scenario. In turn, the latter piece, dedicated to former NBA player Maurice Lucas, is a post-bop groover featuring Allen and Ross in parallel but also discoursing individually with astute rhythmic maneuvers.

Edged” does justice to its title, flowing restlessly with a 9/4 time prior to incurring in some wise rhythmic variations. Under the unfaltering guidance of Wolfe and Edwards, it’s very safe to expand ideas, and that’s what Ross and Perdomo bring about. Together, and in the good company of the string quartet put together by Grammy-nominated violinist Jesse Mills, they intonate a fleet of emotions.

The choices are varied when it comes to ballads, in their majority based off of tradition. “Gone Now”, for example, has the young British saxophonist Ruben Fox evoking Lester Young with a breathy, mellow tone; “It’s True” offers sympathetic melodies limned by vibraphone and violin; and Bob Haggart’s “What’s New”, the sole non-original on the record, doesn’t need an introduction but was re-arranged with a cultivated taste.

I couldn’t finish this review without raving about “The Kora La”, a half-meditative, half-expansive odyssey across the Himalayan region that picturesquely illustrates this linking point between China and Nepal. Swinging passages alternate with classical reflections, where the presence of the strings is deeply felt. While Perdomo decorates his movements with lavish rhythmic figures, Wilkins makes a hair-raising entrance, after which he rises with creative ideas.

Mature jazz is the result of this assemblage of well-rounded and versatile musicians interpreting compositions that will have no trouble to connect with the audiences.

Grade  B

Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Blind Seven ► 05 - The Enforcer ► 07 - The Kora La


Enrico Rava / Joe Lovano - Roma

Label: ECM Records, 2019

Personnel - Enrico Rava: trumpet; Joe Lovano: tenor saxophone, tarogato; Giovanni Guidi: piano; Dezron Douglas: double bass; Gerald Cleaver: drums.

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Italian trumpeter Enrico Rava and American saxophonist Joe Lovano, two formidable improvisatory forces and master impressionists, have been determinant in the evolution of jazz as a style. However, their connection with the German-based record label ECM occurred in different time periods. Whereas the trumpeter made his debut in 1975 with the masterpiece The Pilgrim and the Stars, the saxophonist only recently brought his ample musical charms to the cited imprint with the co-led project Trio Tapestry.

They now record together for the first time, forming an implacable bond and co-leading a corkscrewing Italian-American quintet whose remaining members belong to a younger generation and come from distinct backgrounds - Italian pianist Giovanni Guidi has been Rava’s faithful collaborator for many years, bringing his modern creative style to the table; American bassist Dezron Douglas has demonstrated a voracious appetite for hybrid styles where he typically bridges the worlds of jazz, funk, and soul; and the well-versed Brooklyn-based drummer Gerald Cleaver is frequently spotted in avant-jazz settings.

The five tracks on this album were recorded live at the Auditorium Parco Della Musica, Rome, with the group kicking things off with two beautiful Rava compositions. The opener, “Interiors” (retrieved from the 2009 album New York Days), starts as a sluggish waltz guided by sparse piano, earth-toned bass notes, and brushed snare drum. The melody is first introduced by Lovano and the music becomes wondrously polyphonous after Rava steps in. The trumpeter takes it to an emotional peak, driving us through peaks and valleys while boasting his enormous pitch range and dauntless rhythmic acrobatics. Though, he never eschews that incredibly melodic quality that defines his style. An exquisite bolero ambiance takes form as Guidi begins to talk, smooth and reserved at first, and then confident and fluid. The second piece is the old “Secrets” (included in the 1987 album of the same name), a breezy 4/4 cruise where the two frontmen cut loose with sharp statements. Rava's balance between tension and relaxation draws instinctive reactions from Cleaver, while Lovano shows off his dazzling post-bop language with a preference for the lower and middle registers.

The quintet swings hard and true on Lovano’s “Fort Worth” (a funky 24-bar blues originally included in the 1992 album From The Soul), which gets underway with an anxious bass pedal in tandem with a ride cymbal continuum. The saxophonist simply knocks us out in his tradeoffs with Rava. The lancinating propulsion of his phrasing is what drives this high-flying blowing jam into a heated climax.

Lovano lends another two compositions to the project: the more abstract and bemused “Divine Timing”, a new composition, and the innocuous “Drum Song”, which opens an 18-minute medley that also comprises John Coltrane’s “Spiritual” and Harold Arlen’s ballad standard “Over The Rainbow”. This three-song aggregation induces an initial rubato feel processed with a conscientious bass proem, prayerful Hungarian tárogató lines, and the skittering motion of Cleaver, who builds tension around the toms and cymbals. It then changes to that Coltranean 3/4 modal aura filled with spiritual chants, before ending with Guidi’s benevolent solo rendering of the above-mentioned and million-times-played standard.

Rava and Lovano not only vouch for thrills that give you a good shake, but also search for spirituality with pathos and fervor.

Grade  A

Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Interiors ► 03 - Fort Worth ► 05 - Drum Song / Spiritual / Over The Rainbow


Olli Hirvonen - Displace

Label: Ropeadope Records, 2019

Personnel - Olli Hirvonen: guitar; Luke Marantz: piano; Marty Kenney: bass; Nathan Ellman-Bell: drums.

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Up-and-coming Finnish guitarist Olli Hirvonen is conquering his own space in the modern fusion sphere. Based in Brooklyn, he has been a valuable sideman in Brian Krock’s successful projects, Big Heart Machine and Liddle. This year, he is releasing Displace, his third album as a leader and his debut on Ropeadope Records. With rich ideas sprouting from his unreserved musical mind, he brilliantly consolidates distinct genres into his original compositions, played with partners he knows well. Indeed, pianist Luke Marantz, bassist Marty Kenney, and drummer Nathan Ellman-Bell had all contributed to the guitarist’s previous recording, New Helsinki (Edition Records, 2017).

The assorted repertoire is attractive and “No Light”, the CD's opener, shows right away what the group is capable of. Thunderous piano convulsions announce a swaggering entrance in the post-rock and prog-rock realms. Hirvonen employs crystalline harmonics with the finest of tastes and then discourses with incontestable jazz authority, notwithstanding the fact of being pinched by an ingrained rock stimulus. The stellar comping offered by Marantz can be fully savored before he throws in tantalizing improvised lines with clarity and agility.

Following this big impression, the title cut is a prog-rock stunner in seven, exhibiting two different layers of chords for a polyrhythmic effect. Sagacity is found in Ellman-Bell’s beat displacements, and the intricate distorted melodicism makes you constantly immersed in the music. During his improvisation, Hirvonen brews metal licks with tension and drama, while Marantz starts in a prudent way, building up muscle as his speech develops. The final quarter brings an effusive drumming flux with gorgeous accents, patterns, and fills to center stage, with slabs of noise enshrouding them.

The immutable “Size Constancy” and “Tactile” make sympathetic observations. The former, an art rock-meets-bluesy jazz song ruled by a 6/8 tempo, is prone to unisons and ostinatos, whereas the latter, inspired by Dave Holland’s writing, delves into a perfectly danceable funk rock delivered with an electronic vibe and armed with a piping hot, Zappa-inspired guitar solo.

Faction” lodges complex unison melodies, which navigate jazzy harmonies before guitar and piano start a passionate dialogue. Individual statements are also of note.

On practically every tune, the band knows how to chill out through quieter passages, preventing the atmospheres from getting too dense. Yet, the closing piece, “Unravel”, offers something different, boasting an indie country-pop airiness from tip to toe and having the skilled acoustic fingerpicking disseminating luminous rays of hope.

Hirvonen conceives a gripping and somewhat intriguing record that it is just so fun to listen to. If you haven’t heard his name before, you certainly will soon.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - No Light ► 02 - Displace ► 07 - Unravel


Steve Lehman Trio with Craig Taborn - The People I Love

Label: Pi Recordings, 2019

Personnel - Steve Lehman: alto saxophone; Craig Taborn: piano; Matt Brewer: bass; Damion Reid: drum set.

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Alto saxophonist and composer Steve Lehman is considered one of the most authoritative figures and highest exponents of modern jazz. However, not willing to settle down in that designation, he keeps ceaselessly looking for new ways to expand creativity. For his latest recording, he has invited the tremendous pianist Craig Taborn to join his remarkable rhythm section composed of bassist Matt Brewer and drummer Damion Reid. Allowing you to experience more resplendence than darkness, The People I Love also serves to celebrate the 10-year existence of the original trio.

The jarring melodies and polyrhythmic feel of “Prelude”, a shortly improvised sax-piano duet, lead us to the febrile drama of “Ih Calam And Ynnus”, a sensory catharsis where Lehman’s cutting-edge language stridently hits the propulsive navigation of piano, bass, and drums. Besides guaranteeing a quirky chordal thrust, Taborn shows off unhesitant reflexes at the time he starts improvising. Right after his massive flights, the forward-thinking pianist dispenses clever accompaniment for Brewer, who, after deliberating with confidence, unites his voice to the saxophonist’s.

The disconcerting additive meter of “Curse Fraction”, a tune first recorded in 2007, may be disorienting for the listener, but the soloists - Lehman and Taborn - bring their A-games while feeling completely at home, curiously opting for distinct modes of expression in order to describe similar viewpoints. In this case, the solicitous posture and counterintuitive volubility of the saxophonist deviates from the gallant mannerisms of the pianist.

If Dialect Fluorescent, the trio's first studio album released six years ago, included fresh readings of interesting tunes coming from a variety of sources - from Coltrane to Jackie McLean to Duke Pearson, then The People I Love follows the same concept, collecting a broader variety of genres and moods. The offerings include Autechre’s “qPlay”, which preserves the dark/light intermittence as well as the breakbeat-infused vibes; Kurt Rosenwinkel’s “A Shifting Design”, a strenuous, piano-less exercise retrieved unedited from a rehearsal tape in which Lehman shouts parables over Reid’s responsive, hip-hop-flavored drum flow; Jeff Tain Watts’s “The Impaler”, which is coupled with Lehman’s “Echoes” (taken from the octet album Travail Transformation and Flow) and loaded with a fresh nu-bop energy; and the accessible “Chance”, a 3/4 piece by pianist Kenny Kirkland, whose startling beauty is the product of the combination of melodious sax contours, shimmering brushwork, and just the right number of rooted bass notes not to lose the desired ambiguity.

Beyond All Limits” is another Lehman composition included in a former octet album (Mise En Abime) and subjected to a sensational arrangement for the current format. Brewer cooks up a lovely preface before putting in motion an Afro-centric dance that later modulates in a breezier rhythmic flux. Already with the impeccable harmonic work from the pianist coloring the scene, Lehman exhibits some of the qualities that define him as a peerless improviser. Discoursing with fire, he resolves his phrases with caustic notes, leaving a sensation of both excitement and suspension in the air. Taborn’s phenomenal sweeps and punctual flurries are strictly cooperative in bringing the quartet to its best. Laughs are heard at the end.

This keen-witted jazz professed with ferocity and abandon is something you can’t afford to miss.

Grade  A

Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Ih Calam And Ynnus ► 03 - Curse Fraction ► 07 - Beyond All Limits


Sam Gill's Coursed Waters - Many Altered Returns

Label: Earshift Music, 2019

Personnel - Sam Gill: alto saxophone; Novak Manojlovic: piano; Jacques Emery: bass; James McLean: drums.

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Sydney-based alto saxophonist/composer Sam Gill boasts the typical nerve that characterizes adherents of avant-garde jazz and new music. His Coursed Waters quartet, a Sydney/Melbourne collaboration featuring Novak Manojlovic on piano, Jacques Emery on bass, and James McLean on drums, play six Gill’s original compositions structured in such a way that spontaneous creativity is encouraged. Many Altered Returns is the quartet’s first recording and its explorative homogeneity makes pretty hard for us to pick a favorite track.

However, I can point out two related pieces that quickly got my attention: “Fortean Nights” and “Fortean Days”. Any type of phenomena was found in them, but the ‘Nights’ version is a searching, darker exertion with piano in the foreground and uncanny mallet drumming conducive to a more serious and stern expression. After some leisure rambles punctuated with bursts of intensity, a puzzling silence pulls the band into a different direction. Concerning its concluding phase, you can imagine a more muscled version of an Esbjorn Svenson’s groove, climaxing in a fluid stream in nine with shifting piano chords and well-rooted bass notes. On the ‘Days’ version, Gill steps forward, freeing up unorthodox phrases packed with Dolphy-esque intervals. He explores outside conventional bounds, making his alto upsurges gain further impact in the presence of Manojlovic’s inventive piano tapestries.

Although containing identifiable composed parts, the music feels like totally invented on the spot. The opener, “Nodap”, hinges some complexity in its variations and brings to my mind the nonconformism of players like Tim Berne and Loren Stillman. The saxophone joins the resilient pianism eked out with arpeggiated delights and brisk patterns, and both paint a story over a rhythmic template set out by jittery drum attacks and renewed bass rounds. An engrossing enigmatic passage is then activated, emerging with sparse, ominous bowed bass, saxophone impulsive shouts delivered with timbral variety, snare drum eruptions, and controlled piano whirls with some loose fragmented ideas thrown in the mix. The interaction turns out conversational as the tune advances.

As you may have guessed by now, melody is not a priority on this recording, but there’s moments of less friction in favor of more cerebral textures such as offered on “Staring Straight” and “The Turn”. The subtly shaded tones of the latter can be classified as anticlimactic, yet, both McLean’s lyrical brushstrokes with occasional cymbal legato and Emery’s bass oscillations between groundedness and motion, make it tensile.

Not exceeding expectations but not disappointing either, these six dense narrations rely heavily on atmosphere, championing ambiguity as the quartet probes labyrinthine paths with a positive attitude.

Grade  B

Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
02 - The Turn ► 03 - Fortean Nights ► 05 - Fortean Days


Andrew Munsey - High Tide

Label: Birdwatcher Records, 2019

Personnel - Ochion Jewell: tenor saxophone, kalimba; Steph Richards: trumpet, flugelhorn; Amino Belyamani: piano, Fender Rhodes; Sam Minaie: double bass; Andrew Munsey: drums.

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Besides being an adherent of modern drumming and a skilled producer, Andrew Munsey emerges here as an interesting composer. The 10 cuts of his debut album, High Tide, denote both remarkable individuality and strong personality. To undertake this effort, Munsey surrounds himself with assertive peers who didn’t really have to test his mettle since he was in command all the time. Pairing up with bassist Sam Minaie and pianist Amino Belyamani, the drummer establishes a resilient, multi-dimensional substratum that can be compared to a canvas where the two-horn frontline, composed of trumpeter Steph Richards and saxophonist Ochion Jewell, probes fresh jazz idioms by drawing lines that agree and diverge.

The tonal vernacular of the horn section emerges distinctively on “Seedling” after a brief bass solo. Whereas Jewell’s disarming phrases arrive with an articulation and timbre that remind me of Ellery Eskelin's, Richards takes her explorations of sound to a stunning peak. This demonstration occurs on top of the dark-hued rock baseline that kept progressing with scintillating snare-drum rolls at the lower level.

The lucent instrumentation of “Requite” made me contemplate an imaginary crossing between Ralph Alessi and Manu Katché. The bandleader expands his language in a final vamp that swells to a crescendo. His knack for hiding the time through irregular or displaced beats confers an odd gravity to the music and that's particularly evident on the title track, whose erratic bass drum kicks eschew routine while preparing the terrain for the parallel movements and brief polyphony offered by the horn players as well as Belyamani’s solo. The pianist’s work is eminent on the contemporary rendition of “Les Cinq Doigts: Lento”, the sixth movement of Igor Stravinsky’s 1921 piano composition of the same name. It is the sole cover on the album.

This classical erudition is passed to the transitory “Prelude: Tree Fruit”, which goes directly into “Skyline”, a piece where the bowed bass fortifies the theme’s unison melody, and the mercurial lines thrown in by sax and trumpet swarm into the textural net. While listening to it closely, I glimpsed something of Dave Douglas quintet, both in sound aesthetics and structure.

Inventive and free-form shorter pieces are intercalated with the core compositions, and their surprise factor actually works! “Petite Feast” has Rhodes, muted trumpet, and protean saxophone immersed in surging exclamations and walloping interplay; “Driftwood” features Munsey's sophisticated mallet work, contrasting with the ethereal temperament of Jewell’s kalimba and Richards’ breath attacks and moans; “Undertow” incorporates buzzing and droning sounds, but ends up in an extravagant collective groove motivated by clattering, marching snare inflections; and “Schema”, a static, woody, percussive exercise with prepared piano.

Counterbalancing rigor and freedom, Munsey's music articulates and morphs through the fluid synergy created by the musicians involved. This is a valid first appearance as a leader, and its qualities make us look forward to more.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
03 - Seedling ► 05 - Requite ► 10 - Skyline


Yimba Rudo - Yimba Rudo

Label: Self released, 2019

Personnel - Kevin Norton: vibraphone, percussion; Steve LaSpina: double bass; Jim Pugliese: drums, percussion.

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Yimba Rudo, an avant-jazz trio influenced by African rhythms and world music is composed of vibraphonist Kevin Norton, bassist Steve LaSpina, and drummer Jim Pugliese. These shakeups create a rhythmic tapestry that folds and unfolds according to their own decree. Their debut self-titled album embraces uncharted interactions and show their aptitude for freewheeling improvisation while keeping it within logic structural boundaries. All three members brought compositions to the 13-track Yimba Rudo, which means ‘sing love’ in Zimbabwe’s Shona language.

Norton’s warm vibes scamper through the opener, “Reconcile the Classical View”, and land on top of a bass groove in six and an unentangled snare drum work activated by brushes. The flow then breaks off to grant LaSpina his individual space, with Norton picking up the groove that once belonged to the bassist. Finally, it's Pugliese who cautiously exposes his self-thoughts.

Toronto” insinuates a busy, free ride through frantic vibraphone deliberations, but that doesn’t really happen. Instead, passages exploring timbre and space interweave with the gorgeously accented lines of the theme, expressed in the elated vein of Bobby Hutcherson. This is where the collective becomes more significant than any personal signature.

Cymbal sizzles introduce “Moonstruck”, a twitchy exercise that, although rambling free, involves that sensation of swing along with unbridled intensity.

LaSpina is pretty active with the arco on pieces where the atmosphere requires a deeper, more reserved sound, cases of “Winter Retreat”, a melodious reflection populated with metallic rattles and vibraphone ostinatos; “The Faustian Bargain”, which is adorned by cymbal variety; and “Treace”, whose initially plaintive cogitations veer into the more enthusiastic interplay.

Pugliese’s nifty number called “Morph” commingles singable melodic ideas and rhythmic focus, whereas the conversational “I Dig Facts, Man”, a Norton original, is buoyed by sharp unisons and synced rhythmic details. The mutations and improvisational flair compel the listener to stay alert throughout.

The trio wraps the session with another Norton composition: “Walking The Dogma”, whose interactive jolt consists in a sturdy bass pedal, luminous ride cymbal guidance, and a lilting, slightly bluesy vibe that enchants.

The musicians are in permanent control of the surfaces they kept playing on, and if rhythm and pulse are central to their attractive fluidity, then melodic development it’s like the cherry on top.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Toronto ► 12 - I Dig Facts, Man ► 13 - Walking The Dogma


Jeff Williams - Bloom

Label: Whirlwind Recordings, 2019

Personnel - Carmen Staaf: piano; Michael Formanek: bass; Jeff Williams: drums.

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The empathic, racehorse-tempo swing displayed on “Scattershot”, the improvised opening track on Jeff Willaims’ new trio effort Bloom, reveals the unobtrusive cooperation between the drummer, the defiant bassist Michael Formanek, an old acquaintance, and the imaginative pianist Carmen Staaf. Free of restrictions, the latter channels bop-inflected melodies, rhythmic figures, and grooving chords into the consistent pulsating flow that stems from the bass-drums underpinning. Her vivacious expressions caught the ears of the drummer when, early last year, she joined Dan Blake & The Digging for a gig at Smalls in New York.

Williams wrote five of the album’s ten tracks, including “Scrunge/Search Me”, which reemerges as a highlight here despite having been featured in the 2013 album The Listener. The piece thrives with Staaf’s Monk-ish impressions over a lilting 7/8 groove before transitioning to a carefree peregrination, which, for some moments, seems ambivalent in regard to which direction to take. Also retrieved from the aforementioned album and dialoguing with a freer posture, “She Can’t Be a Spy” deserves attention as melodies and rhythms walk a delicate tightrope of paradoxes. This last piece also appeared on the album Another Time, whose title cut is reinterpreted here with average results. With that said, keep in mind that the trio approached this material as if it’s never been played before.

Formanek and Staaf contribute two and three compositions, respectively. The bassist brings his uncompromising lyricism and rubato drive to the mesmeric “Ballad of the Weak” as well as a focused swinging drive to “A Word Edgewise”, while Staaf, effortlessly creative in terms of rhythmic figures, relates to Ahmad Jamal's bluesy diction on pieces such as “Short Tune” and “New York Landing”. On the contrary, her featherweight “Chant” blossoms with Yusef Lateef’s spiritual touch, relying on bowed bass, cymbal radiance, and poised melodic meditation to exude peace and hope.

Also evincing a strong spiritual aura is Buster Williams’ “Air Dancing”, a medium-tempo waltz delineated to provide a revitalizing quietening.

With Bloom, Williams doesn’t match the uplifting narratives of his previous CD, Lifelike. However, and even not impressing me much, the album is brightened by balanced moments and communicative openness.

Grade  B-

Grade B-

Favorite Tracks:
04 - Scrunge/Search Me ► 07 - She Can’t Be a Spy ► 08 - Air Dancing


Avery Sharpe - 400: An African American Musical Portrait

Label: JKNM Records, 2019

Personnel - Don Braden: tenor and soprano saxophone, flute; Duane Eubanks: trumpet; Kevin Eubanks: electric and acoustic guitars; Zaccai Curtis: piano; Avery Sharpe: bass; Ronnie Burrage: drums, percussion; Tendai Muparutsa: djembe; Kevin Zhou: violin; Sophia Jeongyoon Han: violin + guest Davis Whitfield: piano + The Extended Family Choir.

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65-year-old bassist/composer Avery Sharpe is best known for his two-decade association with pianist McCoy Tyner and some fine recordings with saxophonist Yusef Lateef. However, he makes a bold personal statement with his new project, 400: An African American Musical Portrait, whose original compositions envision to chronicle the pain, hope, and triumph of the African American people. Filled with time-tested jazz moods and styles, the album is divided into four centuries, each of which containing groups of two or three tunes, in a total of 10 descriptive tracks that represent the African-American history - from the arrival of the first enslaved Africans to North America in 1619 to Obama's presidency and beyond.

For this project, Sharpe gathered several forward thinkers on the scene, cases of guitarist Kevin Eubanks and his younger brother, trumpeter Duane Eubanks, pianist Zaccai Curtis, saxophonist Don Braden, and his longtime collaborator, drummer Ronnie Burrage.

The black power manifested on “Arrival” is incredibly stimulating. The spiritual and the epic converge to form a trancing crossing between Billy Harper and Kamasi Washington’s musical universes. The propulsive djembe rhythms from Zimbabwean percussionist Tendai Muparutsa together with Kevin Eubanks' quirky acoustic guitar lines make it special. Moreover, the mighty presence of The Extended Family Choir foments the contagious power. This six-piece choir conducted by Avery’s brother, Kevin Sharpe, verbalizes four tracks, including the early gospel/Negro spiritual “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around”, which thrives with the soloists Wanda Rivera and Heshima Moja and then catches fire with Sofia Rivera’s inflamed spoken word.

Both “Colonial Way” and “Fiddler” are big waltzers, but shine with different lights. While the former has acoustic guitar and flute delineating melodies over the minor-key harmonic progression, the latter starts off dramatically with the violins' classical poise, and finishes like a happy traditional folk song.

Letting the good ragtime rolls, Curtis brings his stride piano abilities to “A New Music”, embarking on exciting unisons with the soprano sax and the trumpet. If the bluesy feel is pretty strong here and the playing conveniently kept inside the lines, then “500”, the closing track, takes a step further toward the next 100 years, grooving in seven with conviction and resolve.

On the typically swinging 12-bar blues “Blues and the World War II”, Kevin Eubanks switches to electric guitar and embraces earthy blues riffs with a touch of his own, while the young guest Davis Whitfield fills the piano chair with emphatic results. Here, we detect Braden quoting parts of “Fascinating Rhythm” and Sharpe suggesting “I Feel Pretty” on their respective improvisations. The saxophonist excels particularly on “Harlem and the War to End All Wars”, a catchy tune that is never swamped in overornamentation.

Sharpe possesses the knowledge to make us enjoy the pleasures of jazz in its many forms and expressions. This is a wonderful opportunity to rediscover tradition.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Arrival ► 03 - Colonial Life ► 07 - Harlem and the War to End All Wars


Chase Baird - A Life Between

Label: Soundsabound Records, 2019

Personnel - Chase Baird: tenor saxophone; Brad Mehldau: piano; Nir Felder: guitar; Dan Chmielinski: bass; Antonio Sanchez: drums.

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Rising saxophonist David ‘Chase’ Baird, a recent member of Antonio Sanchez’s Migration, surrounds himself with jazz heavyweights for his sophomore full-length release, A Life Between. Its tantalizing offerings won’t disappoint those who look for diversity in jazz, and in truth, the eight tunes that compose this album lean on post-bop, but incorporate several influences that range from athletic rock to lovely classical. Thus, expect a combination of rough edges and sophisticated roundness.

Ripcord” causes some positive disturbance through the Led Zeppelin-inspired hard rock power chords that resonates in the first place. Guitarist Nir Felder was the responsible for that, after which he puts his instrument on hold, returning in full force for the brawny final vamp. In the meantime, we have the bandleader and pianist Brad Mehldau speaking confidently on top of a smooth, polished atmosphere. Exhibiting an authoritative command of the saxophone, Baird puts on show a cavalcade of coherent notes assembled with the force of a tornado, finding an essential harmonic-melodic foil in the emotional pianism of Mehldau. The latter fundaments his thoughts with classy ideas, shaping and adapting his playing to the nature of each piece. He provides the perfect romantic atmosphere and palpable silkiness to Robert Schumann’s hymn “Im Wunderschonen Monat Mai”, whose original classical score Baird simply handed to the band.

Rave-up dynamics suffused with brisk melodies and hair-trigger solos can be found on “Reactor”, a 7/4 patchwork that weaves together post-bop, M-base, indie pop, and funk elements. Besides Baird, who grooves under the roiling funk imposed by the rhythm section, also Felder comes to the forefront. Eschewing any preconception related to style, the guitarist enriches his playing with gorgeous effects and favorable surprises, having the syncopated propulsion of Antonio Sanchez as a stimulating factor.

A different, yet still very valid penchant for groove is perceptible on “Wait and See”, an uptempo blues-based piece marked by a hard-boppish refrain. It starts off with Baird’s Coltrane-fueled instincts delivered with timbral variety and with just drums underpinning his agile moves. A steadfast swinging pulse calls for Felder, whose well-developed language congregates appealing rhythmic ideas and quirky chords. The improvisational partitions are extinguished after Dan Chmielinski’s sprightly bass solo.

The group steps into more introverted territory with “As You Are”, a gentle waltz soaked in sax-guitar unisons, and the title track, a soulful 4/4 narration drenched in vulnerability and fervor. “In The Wake (of Urban Overdrive)” acquires dreamy tones with the echoing reverb-drenched guitar melodies and gives the soloists - Baird and Felder - another opportunity to speak up with impressive eloquence.

This serious, exciting jazz deserves attention.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Ripcord ► 03 - Reactor ► 05 - Wait and See


Jonathon Crompton - Intuit

Label: New Lab Records, 2019

Personnel - Jonathon Crompton: alto saxophone; Ingrid Laubrock: tenor saxophone; Patrick Breiner: tenor saxophone, bass clarinet; Patrick Booth: tenor saxophone; Adam Hopkins: bass; Kate Gentile: drums

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The sound of the saxophone always hypnotized me. All the possible attacks and timbres can make it powerful and aggressive on one hand and sleek and sweet on the other. Australian-born saxophonist Jonathon Crompton knows all this and explores the particularities of the instrument, coordinating polyphonies and contrapuntal movements within defined frameworks for an attractive chamber storytelling.

The eight tunes that comprise Intuit, the first release on his own label New Lab Records, were subjected to glowing arrangements, providing an absorbing set of music that, according to its author, skims over style connotations. However, his approach naturally reflects some influences: from the colorful post-bop of Joe Lovano to the clever mainstream of Paul Desmond, as well as classical practices, with Philip Glass and John Harle coming to my head in the first instance, all contribute to an up-to-date sound and texture.

All the material was written before Crompton’s arrival in the US in 2013, except for the title track, a collective free improvisation where the bandleader, Ingrid Laubrock, and Patrick Breiner overlap percussive popping sounds, methodic throaty ostinatos, short rapid runs, and cacophonous squeaks and moans, with unfettered abandon. Initially functioning without accompaniment, the three saxes welcome bass and drums to develop an interesting synergy, even with the impetus declining toward the ending.

Radiating a strong classical glow, “Courage” is an ad-libbed troubadour-like song, nicely arranged to provide a smooth and velvety touch at the surface. This piece is not isolated as a reeds-only composition. In the same category, we have “Primacy of Gesture”, “Catherine”, in which the sax voices echo grandiosely in the vastness, and “December”. They all disclose sequences of notes that loom larger as they unfold through well-studied movements and curious passages defined by unisons and polyphonic settlement. After all, this is all about the rhythmic precision and timbral contrast of the horn section.

The introductory soft focus of “Apathy” has to do with the momentary silences and pauses that fragmentizes its course. However, and without completely abandoning the thoughtful, sluggish posture that characterizes it, the group puts on view a wonderful orchestration with the bass clarinet in evidence. There’s an uncompromising search for energy as well as an inclination for the adventure, which fully arrives on both “Dreaming” and “Suite in A”. Colored by a distinct atmosphere, the former veers from hushed classical empathy to confident, bright tempo swing to stimulate extemporaneous rides, while the latter blends the traditional and modern jazz canons as a successful encounter between post-bop and avant-jazz. Amidst the cohesive palette of textures there’s room for individual creativity. Thus, after bringing the intensity down, Adam Hopkins’ pounding bass pedal in complicity with Kate Gentile’s subdued yet luxurious drumming encourages the reedists to blow fanciful, exotic phrases.

Crompton is a prime example of a clever arranger who also knows how to engage the attentive listener by staying away from cliché-ridden schemes.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Intuit ► 03 - Apathy ► 07 - Suite in A


Kendrick Scott Oracle - A Wall Becomes a Bridge

Label: Blue Note Records, 2019

Personnel - John Ellis: saxophones, clarinets, flute; Mike Moreno: guitars; Taylor Eigsti: piano; Joe Sanders: bass; Kendrick Scott: drums; Jahi Sundance: turntables.

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A Wall Becomes a Bridge is the fourth offering from American drummer/composer Kendrick Scott and his working group Oracle. It's a positive sequel to his previous We Are the Drum (2015), also released on the Blue Note Records. Even haunted by fears and insecurities while in the process of writing music for this new effort, Scott was able to put a commendable record together with the help of his bandmates. The album’s title certainly refers to that complicated phase, but also has political connotations, alluding to the drummer's dissatisfaction regarding the presidency of his country.

The album was produced by bassist Derrick Hodge and features a core of extraordinary musicians, including the fascinating guitarist Mike Moreno, Scott’s longer-lasting collaborator, adaptable saxophonist/clarinetist John Ellis, flexible pianist Taylor Eigsti, and rock-solid bassist Joe Sanders. Scott also hired turntablist DJ Jahi Sundance on shorter interlude-like pieces, typically inclusive of syncopated hip-hop treatments, vocal samples, and atmospheric instrumentation as they explore a new genre hybridization. As a result of this particular selection, I picked the chamber-esque “Windows” as a highlight, one of the two pieces co-written with Hodge.

The bandleader’s hypnotic drumming also embodies hip-hop vibes on “The Catalyst”, where Moreno brings forth a sophisticated guitar sound and language that nod to Metheny and Rosenwinkel alike. His instrument also illuminates the soul-stirring “Voices”, which blends the gentle, measured aesthetics of Tomasz Stanko and Tord Gustavsen, but also brings something of Rosenwinkel’s “Zhivago” in the melody and ambiance. This composition was the promptest response to the drummer’s insecurities and, ironically, Scott is all confidence here, firing up formidable drum fills with magnitude and authenticity.

Whether it is the waltzing flow of the Hodge-penned “Don Blue”, the emotionally-charged environment of the Strayhorn-ish ballad “Becoming”, or the enigmatic sound waves caused by the bass clarinet on Aaron Parks’ 7/4 “Nemesis”, the musicians show they’re comfortable and digging every move. Moreover, even the slower tunes flirt with vibrancy.

Eigsti’s “Mocean” is another example of narrative devotion and strong communication as Scott’s pounding bass drum kicks lead the way. The rich solo section features the pianist’s fleet-fingered articulation and Ellis’ expressive fire on the clarinet. The group wraps up with the charming “Archangel”, lustrously portrayed in 3/4 and embraceable of Moreno’s acoustic sounds.

Inviting the listener to his sonic world, Scott deserves kudos for turning the difficulties into a positive outcome.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Mocean ► 04 - Voices ► 11 - Nemesis