Zack Clarke - Mesophase

Label: Clean Feed, 2018

Personnel: Zack Clarke: piano, electronics; Charlotte Greve: saxophone, clarinet, flute; Chris Irvine: cello; Nick Dunston: double bass; Leonid Galaganov: percussion, waterphone, shakuhachi.

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Pianist Zack Clarke, an inveterate explorer who likes to push musical boundaries by distilling his creative ideas into new music, has a new album where electronic and acoustic elements converge in an attempt to sonically portray daily life in New York City. Mesophase, the follow up to Random Acts of Order (Clean Feed, 2017) is another challenging recital given in the company of other artisans of the textural invention: Chris Irvine on cello; Charlotte Greve on saxophone, clarinet, and flute; Nick Dunston on double bass; and Leonid Galaganov on percussion, waterphone, and shakuhachi.

The majestic opener, “Curtains”, shows the group immersed in thematic abstraction with entangling segments that meld contemporary chamber jazz, modern classical, and traces of world music with decorative electronic sounds. The initial fluctuations between flute and cello generate some forlornness that vanishes when the pianist incurs in a faster, bolder and continuous countermove that can be described as a blizzard of patterned replications.

Generative” ruminates till the end, swimming in contemporary classical waters whose reoccurring streams have the sonic oceans of Messiaen and Reich as sources. Here, the drummer’s sketchy drawings are palely colored by the clarinet.

A rich cello sound resonates in consonance with Clarke’s pastoral pianism on “Beggar”, where the procedures feel a bit more grounded and less uncertain.

Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee” came to my mind as soon as “Tilted” began. Lots of tension was put in the harmonic progression, taking us to an avant-garde realm that we recognize. Still, the exploration continues with other creative aesthetics.

Reticence” carries a jazzy vibe that comes specifically from the often-motivic piano, ably supported by the responsive bass/drums accompaniment. This frenzied clarity mutates gradually as Greve takes over on flute.

Frontier” sounds like a cogitative chamber crusade enlivened by a pulsating bass pedal, entering in a dulcet pianistic suspension in its concluding section. A similar unbind sentiment can be extracted from “Bridge”, an Arvo Part-ish exercise that glows with saxophone lines over the ebbs and flows created by the pianist.

Density and space permeate the conceptual Mesophase, which is not for every casual listener. Still, you might be able to find profundity in its complex passages, which will lead to further discoveries.

 Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Curtains ► 06 - Reticence ► 07 - Frontier


Florian Ross Quintet - Swallows & Swans

Label: Toy Piano Records, 2018

Personnel – Florian Ross: piano; Kristin Berardi: vocals; Matthew Halpin: saxophones; Dietmar Fuhr: bass; Hans Dekker: drums.

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Florian Ross is a German pianist, composer, and arranger whose debut as a leader goes back to 1998. Since then, he has dedicated much effort and attention to small and large ensembles, but you could still find him arranging pieces for Martial Solal with WDR Big Band and Craig Brenan, orchestrating for the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, or playing Hammond in Nils Wogram’s Nostalgia project.

Presently, he put together a cross-country, inter-generational quintet, featuring Australian singer Kristin Berardi, Irish saxophonist Matthew Halpin, and Dutch drummer Hans Dekker. Rounding out the group is German bassist Dietmar Fuhr, a longtime co-worker. The resultant output is a 12-track record entitled Swallows & Swans.

Deliciously nuanced in tempo and rhythm, “Midway” is first introduced by Dekker’s brushes, to which piano cascades and voice/saxophone unisons are gradually added. Not being a ballad, the tune, nonetheless, surrounds itself by a velvety smoothness that is maintained even after the flow is rearranged.

In opposition to the lamenting tones of “Horologue of Eternity”, which features the words of American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow by the voice of Ms. Berardi, “Recurring Dream” lives in a weightless state of bliss, carrying a patiently built piano solo and reaching a climax with Halpin’s impressionistic soprano narrative.

The catchy riff at the center of “Solid Air” is firstly echoed and then occasionally revisited. The drummer’s rich pulsation becomes more salient here than in the previous tunes, especially during the strong solo contributions from saxophone and piano.

Sometimes lyrics can be a limiting factor for me and maybe that’s why the melancholic “Looking Inward” and “The Silver Swan” didn’t impress me all that much. Their musical nature is worthy of a Disney movie soundtrack, though. Conversely, “Cold Smoke”, a showcase for nimble piano movements in counterpoint with the bass, radiates light through the charming vocalization of Berardi, who is all the more convincing on “Albatros”, a piece airing a familiar Latin vibe, and “Trip To The Watercooler”, a dashing post-bop ride.

Taking simple and direct routes for most of its duration, the album comes to an end with a glossy voice-piano duo version of the traditional Irish song “The Lark In The Clear Sky”.

 Grade  B-

Grade B-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Midway ► 05 - Solid Air ► 08 - Albatros


Andrew Rathbun - Character Study

Label: SteepleChase, 2018

Personnel – Andrew Rathbun – tenor saxophone; Tim Hagans: trumpet; Gary Versace: piano; Jay Anderson: acoustic bass; Bill Stewart: drums.

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Unquestionably, 2018 was a positive, busy year to Canadian saxophone stylist Andrew Rathbun, who, in the aftermath of his Atwood Suites, a jazz-orchestra project released on the Sunnyside label, collaborates once more with trumpeter Tim Hagans on his latest SteepleChase outing, Character Study. The quintet album, inspired by the idea of character and the political situation in America, is entirely composed of originals with the exception of “EtCetera”, in which Rathbun takes Wayne Shorter’s sound palette to something of his own. Starting in a trio setting with helical saxophone flames flying above the restless rhythm laid down by bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Bill Stewart, this classic piece also exhibits Rathbun’s motifs being replicated by the bassist. The swinging flux that persists while Hagan improvises is discontinued in favor of a looser texture, urging pianist Gary Versace to express his ideas against a funk-inclined background.

The Golden Fool” prescribes a neo-bop steadfastness presented in the form of crisp unisons before a strong swinging foundation is installed. Hagans employs his often-spirited terminology with no harmony underneath, whereas Versace sneaks up on the scene, employing a docile, feel-good lyricism that breaks the flux. The reappearance of the theme separates his short intervention from Rathbun, who shuffles modernity and tradition in his discourse.

Versace is in evidence once again with a clean, measured piano work on “Team of Rivals”, which, together with the subsequent piece “Alphabet Deaf and Forever Blind”, consents to an uncomplicated behavior; and also on the Shorter-esque “The Long Awakening”, where the preliminary classical pianism doesn’t give away the sparkish musical surface that comes afterward. Here, one can acknowledge an ampler sense of orientation by Hagans and the bandleader when they’re on the fly.

Descriptive melodic statements flow from the title track, foiled against Stewart’s fizzing snare drum and Anderson’s punctual bass kicks. The final vamp allows the dexterous drummer to slightly expand his course of actions. He does it again, yet this time profusely on “Turmoil”, whose vividness comes not only from the driving virtuosity of the rhythm section but also from the soloists.

Rathbun’s challenging writing requires an attentive execution from his cohorts. All the same, the theoretical complexities turned spontaneous moves keep sounding natural, also due to the musicians’ ability to create a bond with the listener.

 Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 – The Golden Fool ► 05 - EtCetera ► 06 – The Long Awakening


Ingrid Laubrock - Contemporary Chaos Practices

Label: Intakt Records, 2018

Personnel includes Ingrid Laubrock: saxophone, composer; Eric Wubbels: conductor; Taylor Ho Bynum: conductor; Mary Halvorson: guitar; Nate Wooley: trumpet; Kris Davis: piano; and many more.

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Not everything is chaotic in Contemporary Chaos Practices, the new visionary work from immensely talented saxophonist/composer Ingrid Laubrock, an indispensable name whenever creative jazz is the topic. Ms. Laubrock, who is German but Brooklyn-based, ventures into the large ensemble format (42 musicians), conceiving two works for orchestra with two conductors - Eric Wubbels and Taylor Ho Bynum - and first-line soloists such as guitarist Mary Halvorson, pianist Kris Davis, trumpeter Nate Wooley, and herself.

The first work gave the album its title and is divided into three tracks that decrease in time but not in motivation or vitality. The opening piece “Part 1 & Part 2” is affected by a magical gravity that will take you to a different dimension where eerie vibrations are commingled with punchy frisson. After Halvorson’s introduction, the bandleader sounds as expressive as ever on tenor, filling the air with excited exclamations uttered with a solid tonal control and spiced by an effective usage of extended techniques. Each distinct segment is shaped by a careful selection of instruments, which ably move through different stages, leading to moments of whether composed candor or organized orchestral convolution.

We find deep sounds on “Part 3”, which contrast with Davis’ shrill punctuations. This happens before a rushed collective passage breaks out, carrying a wide sense of urgency and urbanity that may be associated with the city of New York.

Lasting approximately three minutes, “Part 4” completes the so-called practices, having vibraphone, strings, and woodwinds bestowing a dreamy intonation apart from the sensation of danger and restlessness that substantiates its cliché-free orchestration.

The nearly 18-minute “Volgelfrei”, meaning outlaw, is an independent composition on the album, a cinematic narration with two distinct sides: one ethereal, here reinforced by the vocal choir, and one earthly, whose matrixes of sound fall somewhere between the clean and the dirty. In this odd framework of splendor and drama, be ready to come across with unheralded rhythmic manifestations, unrelenting circular movements, and glorious crescendos subjected to abrupt fractures. The final section decelerates like a locomotive when is almost reaching its destination.

Continually oozing energy and following an impressive narrative arc, this progressive big band recording is a one-of-a-kind experience.

 Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Part 1 & Part 2 ► 02 - Part 3 ► 04 - Volgelfrei


Adam Hopkins - Crickets

Label: Out Of Your Head Records, 2018

Personnel - Anna Webber: tenor saxophone; Ed Rosenberg: tenor and bass saxophones; Josh Sinton: baritone saxophone and bass clarinet; Jonathan Goldberger: guitar; Adam Hopkins: bass; Devin Grey: drums.

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The evidence that Baltimore-born, Brooklyn-based bassist Adam Hopkins is a true rocker is in the nature of his compositions. Moreover, he assures that his sextet rocks as one. The band members - saxophonists Anna Webber, Ed Rosenberg, and Josh Sinton; guitarist Jonathan Goldberger; and drummer Devin Grey - infuse their searing energy in the eight tracks that compose Crickets, the bassist's auspicious debut record.

The first track, gorgeously entitled “They Can Swim Backwards But Sometimes Choose Not To”, lasts less than two minutes, but stirs your soul with a shifting ostinato uttered by an active horn section operating on top of a tenacious, sturdy and asymmetric groove. Even standing firm on its own, the concise piece can also function as an introduction to “Crickets/Crime Of The Year”, which starts off as a noisy chamber continuum before a dazzling, additive groove declared by guitar/bass unisons takes over. This is part of an atmosphere that deftly integrates melodic jazz tact and pulsing rock muscle. There’s a succinct, unorthodox dialogue between saxophone and bass clarinet that I wished it was kept going, and a blazing rock-infused guitar solo with enough spiky edges to keep us on the lookout for further finds. To simplify: it packs a punch first and then makes you want to dance at the end.

The same spunky grit and insatiable urgency are displayed on “Mudball”, an alternative rock number professed with a punkish attitude. The textural foundation is securely established by guitar, bass, and drums, before an extravagant tenor solo appears, well supported by blatant guitar strokes and skittish drumming. Guitar and bowed bass work together, promoting a crescendo that rises to a spectacular cacophony, a victorious conclusion.

Shrouded in a lucid, slowcore instrumentation, “Heaven of Bliss” is dug with a casual posture, furnishing its passages either with indie pop riffery or free-form avant-jazz intent. A contrary mood is devised on “I Think The Duck Was Fine”, which finds the band indulging in exuberant horn spirals and fluid rhythms. The piece is invigorated by Rosenberg’s stout improvisation on bass saxophone.

Scissorhands” is tweaked with the pungent volleys and angular hyperactivity of the frontline, placed over a virulent noise-rock tapestry. In anticipation of this tune, a solitary Hopkins creates “The Minnow”, a personal statement.

Hopkins employs adroit compositional strategies throughout the recording, aiming at an inviting hybridity, which he has all the reasons to be proud of. This is a wonderful start for him as a leader.

 Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Crickets/Crime Of The Year ► 04 - Mudball ► 08 - Scissorhands


Don Byron / Aruán Ortiz - Random Dances And (A)tonalities

Label: Intakt Records, 2018

Personnel - Don Byron: clarinet, tenor saxophone; Aruán Ortiz: piano.

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Random Dances and (A)tonalities, the synergetic duo effort from American clarinetist/saxophonist Don Byron and Cuban pianist Aruán Ortiz, seduces us with an inviting and diversified repertoire that, besides a few originals, includes very personal renditions of tunes by Duke Ellington, Federico Mompou, Geri Allen, and J.S. Bach.

The album starts off with the magnetic incantation of “Tete’s Blues”, an Ortiz piece baptized in honor to Spanish pianist Tete Montoliu. Patterns with different coloration are part of a taut pianism that is slightly blurred by atonal strokes. The mystique comes from Ortiz’s left-hand with which he creates awe bass movements, while the disquieted dreamy tones are drawn from a series of tone clusters played in the middle register. Byron’s clarinet phrases are set against this background, expressing a luscious spontaneity.

Ellington’s “Black and Tan Fantasy” peeks into a different era, striding throughout with a bluesy feel and ending in Chopin’s mode with a citation of his funeral march. Byron plays tenor on this one, opting for a more diatonic approach in comparison with his duo mate. He also plays this instrument on his playful “Joe Btfsplk”, an invitation to free exploration where he establishes a magnificent, nonstop communication with Ortiz, and on the following “Numbers”, an obscure essay influenced by pianist Muhal Richard Abrams’s musical concepts.

Their love of classical music bifurcates into the baroque and the contemporary. The former current is represented through a sublime solo clarinet interpretation of J.S. Bach’s “Violin Partita No.1 in B Minor”, and the latter with the formal rigor of a somewhat balletic variant of Federico Mompou’s “Musica Callada”, in which a methodical bass pedal underpins Byron’s unhurried phrases.

All those complex intervallic leaps in the melody of Geri Allen’s “Dolphy’s Dance” are enunciated in unison. Freewheeling improvised lines with motivic flair are also part of this tribute to the late pianist.

Byron’s “Delphian Nuptials” has much to do with pure lyricism and elegant simplicity. The piece was composed for a documentary about African-American playwright Lorraine Hansberry and both the motif-based melody and the chord progression are illuminating.

Before “Impressions on a Golden Dream”, an unrecognizable, amorphous take on Benny Golson’s “Along Came Betty” that closes out the album, we have Ortiz’s “Arabesques of a Geometrical Rose (Spring)” from his Hidden Voices album, which the duo excavates in search of avant-garde treasures.

Nurturing an uncanny affinity for eccentric texture and dissonance, Ortiz found an excellent accomplice in Byron, whose unpredictable trajectories contribute for a musicality that radiates freedom.

 Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Tete’s Blues ► 06 - Dolphy’s Dance ► 08 - Delphian Nuptials


Dan Arcamone - X

Label: Artists Recording Collective, 2018

Personnel: Dan Arcamone: guitar; Tony Grey: bass; Steve Pruitt: drums.

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Hailing from Norwalk, Connecticut, guitarist Dan Arcamone leads a new trio, with bassist Tony Grey and drummer Steve Pruitt, into an electric fusion foray. On the new album, X, he sets his mind into a combination of powerhouse rock, improvised jazz, and virtuosic folk ideas, sometimes evoking the work of exceptional guitarists such as Mick Goodrick, Ralph Towner, John Abercrombie, and Pat Metheny.

Nediam” starts out with thick round bass lines, rattle-instilled drumming, and an expeditious guitar work agglomerating scales, patterns, and nimble rhythmic figures. “Slings” maintain this predisposition, combining alternative rock and folk jazz elements in well discernible passages that sometimes slide into funk.

Rays of light penetrate the sonic grey cloud hovering above “Gamma”, a compound of styles marked by a lively rhythm. Pruitt drives a few tunes with a powerful beat, forming a potent understructure with Grey to better serve the bandleader’s improvisatory zest. The better examples are “Loop”, whose easygoing guitar ostinato soon evolves into a restless improv, and “Luster”, which ends in an invigorating rock excursion.

The thing with this album is that the natures of the songs are practically equivalent, which narrows variety, while the soloing relies on unvarying mercurial procedures that often limit the space to breathe. “Phases” is an exception since it was given a wonderful harmonic treatment, encouraging group dynamics and stirring further emotion.

Although outlined with simple melodic ideas, “Luge” and “Lag” exhibit plucky rhythms, persisting in constant stretches where the tense and the lyrical meet.

Enclosing crafted compositions in its alignment, the cerebral X will certainly attract followers of guitar-driven fusion.

 Grade  B-

Grade B-

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Slings ► 06 - Phases ► 10 - Lag


Russ Johnson - Headlands

Label: Woolgathering Records, 2018

Personnel - Russ Johnson: trumpet; Rob Clearfield: piano, keyboards; Matt Ulery: bass; Jon Deitemyer: drums.

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Russ Johnson is a cutting-edge trumpeter whose thoughtful approach to music makes him a distinguished composer and instrumentalist. After spending 23 years in New York, Johnson relocated to Chicago, the city that also shelters the remaining members of the Headlands Quartet: pianist/keyboardist Rob Clearfield, bassist Matt Ulery, and drummer Jon Deitemyer.

Johnson had distanced himself from the mainstream long since, and his two previous releases, Meeting Point (build with a different Chicagoan quartet) and Still Out To Lunch (mostly composed of exciting takes on Eric Dolphy’s tunes) drew effusive reactions from the media. His fourth CD as a leader, Headlands, consists of a 12-movement suite and is predestined to attain the same success as it reflects the improvisational tendencies of the performers allied to a tight interplay. The music was captured live at the Hungry Brain in Chicago.

The title track initiates and also wraps up the program, carrying a cool groove with a methodical posture. The shorter opener leads directly to “Serpent Kane”, which, brimming with sinuous trumpet melody and clever rhythmic accentuations, has its flow disrupted with keyboard interjections. Clearfield sets off for his own world of improvised inspiration, having a bass pedal as support. Johnson follows him, boasting a facile articulation that many trumpet players would like to have.

Four solo transitions, one for each musician, serve as introductions for longer numbers. Johnson blows his horn with authenticity as he takes us to a special place: “Fjord”, whose idyllic nature easily brings tranquil landscapes to mind. The melody is simply beautiful and the comping, expressed with reserve and resolution, does it justice. Before the theme is reinstalled, Deitemyer shines, filling a vamp with brushed chops and cross-rhythms. With a similar inclination to serenity, “Kapoj” feels a bit more static due to the imposed circular harmonization and tenuous melodic observations. The intensity is heightened in a bubbling reaction that occurs in the last minutes.

The antithesis of the above may be observed on pieces like “Mons Calpe” and “Wallenpeitshen”. The latter is based on a vainglorious vamp that shoulders a Spanish-like melodicism, while the former carries a funky routine with playful melodic manifestations that are reminiscent of works by Dave Douglas and Andrew Hill.

The drummer clearly brings up the odd-metered “Isthmus” in his introductory solo effort. The confined energy of the piece is gradually liberated with intention and sleek tempo variations.

Ceaselessly seeking the lyrical in his advanced musical conception, Johnson carefully structured the suite to interpolate personal statements in the cohesive ensemble practices. Headlands is a winning work.

 Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Serpent Kane ► 04 - Fjord ► 11 - Isthmus


Gabriel Zucker - Weighting

Label: ESP Disk, 2018

Personnel – Gabriel Zucker: piano; Eric Trudel: tenor saxophone; Adam O’Farrill: trumpet; Tyshawn Sorey: drums.

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Weighting, the fourth studio album by pianist Gabriel Zucker consists in an extended composition divided into eight movements. The music, inspired by excerpts of Rachel Kushner’s novel The Flamethrowers, is performed by a bass-less new quartet whose frontline is composed of Eric Trudel on tenor saxophone and Adam O’Farrill on trumpet, two members of Zucker’s big band Delegation. Rounding out the group is the excellent drummer Tyshawn Sorey, who has no problem in adding creativity while adjusting his playing to the composer’s intentions.

The album kicks in with “Would It Come Back To You”, where the consummate polyphony generated by O’Farrill and Trudel soon turns into a parallel movement. It is untied after a while, favoring a motivic call-response activity with variations in timbre. Percussive elements are inserted in a lower voice on the eve of a rampant entry point that bursts with harmony and percussion. Zucker and Sorey contribute considerably from then on with sensational piano textures and exuberant rhythmic drive, respectively. It’s a triumphant opening.

The Uselessness of Truth / Not To Be Anything More” offers hymnal piano, complemented with spiraling moves and a wide range of percussive sounds. Yet, the spotlight is on Trudel, who combines air notes, coiled cries, and pithy popping sounds. For the following movement, “The Stream of New York / And Art, Of Course”, Zucker initially holds a one-note pedal on a higher register while designing nebulous chords with the left hand. The tune advances with a bracing fervency, ending up in a strapping vamp, provocatively stirred by Sorey and serving Trudel’s explorative voice.

From the moment that O’Farrill launches “Missing Our Appointment With Each Other”, one is touched by contemplation. Saxophone adds further melody into a classical chamber piece that cools off the listener with its lyricism. The last half minute, already with the virtuosic pianist on board, prepares the way to the alluring “What’s Left / The Future Was a Place”, a subtle, organic blend of modern classical and dreamy jazz, where the line between written score and improvisation is blurred by the quartet’s exhilarating sense of freedom. There’s a ragged sort of elegance in this outstanding movement that translates into trancing sounds of touching beauty.

The luminous “A Movie, A Lover” goes through different phases. It starts off with push-pulls of rhythmic irreverence, passes by a zone of serenading balladic intimacy, and climaxes in a taut rock irruption replete of fierce avant-garde jabs.

Zucker's advanced compositional work is knotty, unpredictable, and utterly satisfying. Spinning with freshness and maturity, Weighting is put forward with a sterling avant-garde posture that reflects the artistry and commitment of the musicians involved.

 Grade  A

Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 – It Would Come Back To You ► 03 - The Stream of New York / And Art, Of Course ► 05 - What’s Left / The Future Was a Place


Steve Kuhn Trio - To And From The Heart

Label: Sunnyside Records, 2018

Personnel - Steve Kuhn: piano; Steve Swallow: electric bass; Joey Baron: drums.

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80-year-old pianist Steve Kuhn leads his mature trio with the unvarying carefree relaxation that marked the two decades they have been playing together. The follow up to Wisteria (ECM, 2012) is called To And From The Heart, a post-bop bag of mostly medium-tempo swing numbers, where the pianist, once again, counts on the rhythmic consistency of Steve Swallow, a legendary electric bassist with a strong presence, and Joey Baron, a tour de force drummer with sensitivity to nuance.

The album comprises six tracks only, including originals (two by Kuhn and one by Swallow), one standard, and two covers. It opens and closes precisely with Kuhn compositions. The welcome greeting is given with “Thinking Out Loud”, which sounds like a new standard due to its pleasant melody, rich and logic harmonization, and a transparent structure that defines theme and solo sections with clarity. However, it was with “Trance/Oceans In The Sky”, the closing collage of two old tunes, that the band captivated me the most. During this celestial 16-minute journey we traverse the peaks and valleys of clouds shaped through passages that alternate between rubato and the 3/4-signature meter. All the three instrumentalists improvise, starting with Swallow in a bass monologue, then Kuhn over a brisk waltzing cadence, and ending with Baron, who, alone, takes his time to articulate intelligibly with plenty of colors.

Both “Pure Imagination”, retrieved from Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, and Swallow’s “Away” bounce around, having Baron’s soft brushwork supplying the perfect backdrop. While the former piece waltzes delicately with joy, the latter exposes a harmonic sequence that, although scintillating, sometimes hits the nostalgic.

Taken from the Great American Songbook, “Never Let Me Go” is a ballad with a pronounced emotional force, perhaps best remembered through the interpretations from Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett. Even if Kuhn’s version is adept and valid, it doesn’t surpass the hope, grace, diligence, and bliss of Michika Fukumori’s “Into The New World”. Here, bassist and drummer lock in a sophisticated, swinging pulsation that takes the narrative efforts of the bandleader to a peak of emotion.

Steve Kuhn assures a cohesive, glove-tight interplay from his longtime trio. This is a disc to be enjoyed in the comfort of a relaxed environment.

 Grade  B

Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Pure Imagination ► 05 - Into The New World ► 06 - Trance/Oceans In The Sky


Paul Austerlitz - Water Prayers For Bass Clarinet

Label: Round Whirled Records, 2018

Personnel - Paul Austerlitz: bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet, tenor sax; Benito Gonzalez: piano; Santi Debriano: bass; Royal Hartigan: drums + guests Isaiah Richardson: clarinet; Rozna Zila: vocals.

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Under-the-radar multi-reedist Paul Austerlitz, a studious of world music cultures, mixes the effervescence of post-bop with the folk-infused expression of traditional songs from different parts of the world, with a wider focus on Haiti and Dominican Republic. His new album, Water Prayers for Bass Clarinet, is the first installment of a trilogy called Marasa Twa, meaning vodou-jazz-merengue.

He brings traditional songs from Haiti, like the joyful, uptempo “Legba Nan Baye-a”, where he throws in merengue-inspired riffs with the similar urgency that define David Murray’s playing; the spiritually evocative “Prayer For the Primal Wind”, in which he plays the contrabass clarinet with bluesy, swinging feel; and “Lapriye Djo”, an elongated version of the latter tune’s beginning. All three songs feature Haitian singer Rozna Zila.

Rara Indivisible” is a portentous musical fusion with a raucous, Mingus-like groove and bass clarinet overlaps, blending rock wah sounds with fervent jazz resolve. This tune is revisited in “Rara Remix”, specially arranged for clarinet choir and where clarinetist Isaiah Richardson has the opportunity to demonstrate his improvisational skills, embarking on a curious dialogue with Austerlitz. He can be heard again on “Bara Suwa Yo”, a traditional Afro-Cuban piece that nods to JD Parran and whose arrangement was inspired by Bobby Sanabria.

The bandleader dedicates the hard-swinging “Padre”, a twin of Coltrane’s “Impressions” in the form, to his paternal lineage. The song features pianist Benito Gonzalez, who consolidates cascading notes and harmonic tension in his improvisation. If Austerlitz’s Coltranean side is visible here, he pays unreserved homage to his idol on “En-Art”, which reads Trane backward. It’s actually a contrafact on “Giant Steps”, whose melody is repetitively evoked.

Veteran bassist Santi Debriano, who played with a bunch of avant-jazz luminaries - from Oliver Lake to Sonny Fortune to David Murray - gives everything he has on “Oriki”, a traditional Yoruba praise song. His partner in rhythm, drummer Royal Hartigan plays exuberantly here, but refrains the pressure on “Finnish Waltz”, a traditional folk song from Finland with nimble inside/outside moves from baritone and piano. Even not rock n’ roll-inclined, this song would be a great fit for some of Aki Kaurismaki’s flicks.

Drawing from a range of influences, the clarinetist still explores “Funkay-Be-Sea”, a funk rock effort layered with synth and inspired by Jimi Hendrix’s guitar strokes. It doesn’t sound like Hendrix, though.

Highly influenced by world music, Austerlitz gives a new purpose to the bass clarinet, mounting an album that is simultaneously adventurous, evocative, and accessible.

        Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Rara Indivisible ► 04 - Padre ► 08 - Prayer For the Primal Wind


John Escreet - Learn To Live

Label: BRM Records, 2018

Personnel – John Escreet: piano, Prophet 6 synth, Fender Rhodes; Greg Osby: alto saxophone; Nicholas Payton: trumpet; Matt Brewer: bass; Eric Harland: drums; Justin Brown: drums.

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Innovative keyboardist/composer John Escreet deserves accolade for his new outing, Learn To Live, a set of ten magnificent originals shaped with eclectic gusto, electronic/acoustic genius, and an in-your-face contemporary vibe. His supergroup includes bassist Matt Brewer and drummers Eric Harland and Justin Brown (playing together on four tracks), with whom he forms a highly responsive rhythm section, and a colossal frontline with Greg Osby on alto saxophone and Nicholas Payton on trumpet.

The first track, precisely entitled “Opening”, is a horn-free synth-based art-rock piece that made me think of progressive bands like Yes, Genesis and Soft Machine. With the soulful keyboardist rocking hard like a guitarist, the tune has a meteoric rise in intensity, culminating in an energetic vamp.

Atmospheric dissonances soar on “Broken Justice (Kalief)” at the same time that Harland and Brown push the envelope of stark polyrhythm. The song’s ebbs and flows originate different passages, each one with its specific mood. Hence, there’s Osby’s meditative phrases over the bandleader’s surprising, effect-drenched comping; and by the end, you’ll find Brewer’s firm bass drones immersing the tune in a darker atmosphere. The transition from this piece (written for the late Kalief Browder) to the following, “Lady T’s Vibe”, is simply remarkable. This grooving, chill-out funk manifesto features Payton’s rich melodies and Teresa Lee’s backing vocals. This is no mere nostalgia kick, it’s pure funk-soul pleasure.

Both “Test Run” and “Smokescreen” dive deep in avant-jazz currents. The former, with the two drummers side by side, ends up infiltrating into funk rock territory after Osby's fragmented rapid runs stuffed with angular piquancy. In turn, “Smokescreen” is colorfully introduced by Payton, who rejoices with freedom while conducting ambitious and powerful statements. Escreet keeps him good company, bringing together the ambiguity of modern jazz and the innocuous pleasures of tradition. This blistering frame of mind can be also found in “Contradictions”, a stout, motivic excursion into the modern creative domain. In contrast, there are two balladic numbers, “A World Without Guns” and “Humanity Please”, which reveal a deep consciousness for the problems of our world.

Evolving impressively from beginning to end, the title cut is a mutable, underground electronic romp that starts as an acid jazz work out. Improvising upfront, Escreet is spiky and lively in his sayings, whereas Payton opts for a more cerebral approach over the chord changes. Complementing this long journey of unreserved communication, there is a pressurized passage with ominous vibes and unstoppable, ebullient drumming; a playful vamp with futuristic keyboard psychedelia; and a sort of rock-meets-drum n’ bass section in which the bandleader solos with tasteful intervallic choices.

The album, the first of composed material in five years, mirrors its author’s love of the unexpected, constant search for the new, and a broad stylistic vision. Escreet is indeed a forward-thinking musician and savvy songwriter whose music will delight creative music listeners.

 Grade  A

Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Broken Justice (Kalief) ► 03 - Lady T’s Vibe ► 05 - Learn To Live


Chris Pasin - Ornettiquette

Label: Planet Arts Recordings, 2018

Personnel - Chris Pasin: trumpet; Adam Siegel: saxophone; Karl Berger: piano, vibraphone; Ingrid Sertso: vocals; Michael Bisio: acoustic bass; Harvey Sorgen: drums.

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Chris Pasin is a proficient trumpeter that feels equally comfortable in the avant-garde and straight-ahead jazz currents. When listening to the ecstatic Ornettiquette, his fourth album as a leader and a gorgeous tribute to Ornette Coleman/Don Cherry conjoint work, it’s hard to remember that his versatility made him collaborate with celebrated singers such as Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Nancy Wilson, and Sarah Vaughan.

To achieve the adventuresome fluidity required for a tribute of this kind, Pasin hired competent musicians, two of which had worked together with Coleman and Cherry in the past, namely, vocalist Ingrid Sertso and pianist/vibraphonist Karl Berger. While the bandleader teams up with alto saxophonist Adam Siegel in the frontline, the foundation is entrusted to bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Harvey Sorgen, who effortlessly disseminate swing and shuffle rhythms throughout the recording.

The album opens and closes with Pasin compositions, “OCDC” and “PTU”, respectively. The former, titled with the initials of the avant-jazz pioneers who are honored here, thrives with typical exclamations of the genre and has Pasin exploring with evocative melodic ideas after catching the tail of Siegel’s solo. Showing his mastery of the lower registers, Bisio embarks on a fine pizzicato narration, yet he sounds even more attractive on Coleman’s celebrated “Lonely Woman”, where his rasping, legato arco bass claims the spotlight. The song is earnestly sung by Sertso, who also shines on Albert Ayler’s “Ghosts”, an all-favorite free jazz piece, here piqued by the direct communication established between Pasin and Berger. Sertso, who wrote the lyrics, finishes it with ‘we love you, Albert Ayler’.

The blues-based free bop of “Tomorrow Is The Question”, the balladic intonations of “Just For You”, and the linear bop curves of “When Will The Blues Leave” can be enjoyed in this recording, however, no Coleman composition sounds better than “Jayne”, which overflows with joy and emotion while carrying an inherent Latin touch. If Berger harmonizes it with heart and extemporizes with inspiration after responding to his colleagues’ provocations, then Siegel flies high with a swaggering, raucous tone adorned here and there with cheeky squeaks.

By blending freedom and lyrical intensity with panache, Pasin and his bandmates provide us with ear-catching moments that are colorful and jubilant at the same extent. Ornettiquette is a competent revival of classic avant-jazz from the late ‘50s and early ‘60s.

 Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Jayne ► 03 - Ghosts ► 07 - Lonely Woman


Michael Formanek Elusion Quartet - Time Like This

Label: Intakt Records, 2018

Personnel – Tony Malaby: tenor and soprano saxophones; Kris Davis: piano; Michael Formanek: double bass; Ches Smith: drums, vibraphone, Haitian tanbou.

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Michael Formanek surfs avant-garde waves with the freedom and astuteness that always characterized his playing, either statically open-toned or changeably groove-laden. The bassist/composer/bandleader built his new CD, Time Like This, with the help of respected figures in the New York’s modern creative current: saxophonist Tony Malaby, pianist Kris Davis (a member of his Ensemble Kolossus), and drummer Ches Smith, who doubles on the vibraphone. As excellent improvisers and adepts of acoustic elasticity, we find them concentrating efforts in texturizing with logic and maintaining the ears wide open to promptly react to one another’s moves.

Down 8 Up 5” bursts forth on the opening track, with the title disclosing Davis’ repetitive movement of thirteen notes, eight ascending and five descending. Malaby divagates independently, supported by timely bass plucks, cymbal colors, and piano voicings conjuring up intriguing dreams and mystery. The excellence of Smith on vibraphone increases this sense of sinking into a subliminal dream. It’s a tremendous composition indeed.

If bass and percussion initiate a strange dance together on “Culture of None”, a piece propelled by a consistent groove and marked by the strong, creative presences of Davis and Malaby, then bass and sax do the same as a point of departure on “The New Normal”, which has Malaby reeling off swinging lines adapted to his own style. Smith is also on focus here transitioning from vibraphone to drums with dexterity. The portentous young drummer creates whirlwinds of rhythm on “The Soul Goodbye”, joining forces with the bandleader to form a well-oiled rhythmic gear. Within a free jazz environment, Malaby’s extemporization evokes a beseeching Coltrane and a fervent David S.Ware through a spiritual parade of notes and rhythmic figures. Cathartic, this tune contrasts with the following number, “That Was Then”, whose lighter nature encompasses the rhythmic tenacity of rock and the sinuous harmonization of jazz.

A Fine Mess” is actually a very neat song uttered with passionate expression, while “This May Get Ugly” feels loose and vibrant, painting assorted landscapes that can range from compactly urban to spaciously idyllic.

Time Like This is a worthy effort from a gifted bassist who deserves all our respect and admiration, not just for this particular great outing but for all the work done so far.

 Grade  A

Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Down 8 Up 5 ► 05 - The Soul Goodbye ► 06 - That Was Then


Harriet Tubman - The Terror End of Beauty

Label: Sunnyside Records, 2018

Personnel - Brandon Ross: guitar; Melvin Gibbs: electric bass; JT Lewis: drums.

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Powerhouse trio Harriet Tubman (named after the African-American slave turned abolitionist and political activist) - Brandon Ross on guitar, Melvin Gibbs on bass, and JT Lewis on drums - continues to trail an audacious path in modern music without confining themselves to a particular genre. Notwithstanding, jazz, blues and rock, in its written and improvised forms, can be considered their strongest motivations, especially if we take a closer look to their newest album The Terror End of Beauty, a great addition to the Sunnyside Records’ catalog.

Gibbs penned the opening track, “Farther Unknown”, and shaped it as a danceable psychedelia, plotted with a steady, highly charged tribal African pulse and Hendrixian distorted guitar sounds. Call it acid Afro-rock if you like.

The bassist shows his compositional versatility by setting a completely different mood on the title track, a tribute to guitarist Sonny Sharrock and one of the hippest tracks on the record. There’s a balladic jazz vision here, but also the dirty texture associated with the alternative rock music genre, which is indisputably alluring. It evolves into something ampler, with Lewis’ kinetic drumming underpinning a massive noise-rock experience.

The remaining compositions are credited to the trio and their producer, Scotty Hard, except “Redemption Song”, a noir, free-form reading of Bob Marley’s song of freedom, here turned into a harmonically clear rock anthem. Although we can’t pronounce the latter tune as reggae, even coming from Marley, we can identify the genre disguised on the playful “Five Points”, which overlaps tempos and also melds funk and electronic music in an experimental crossing between Front Line Assembly and Parliament-Funkadelic.

3000 Worlds” also sprawls some funk through the work of Gibbs and Lewis, who stick to a rounded funky ostinato and a hi-hat-centered rhythm, respectively. In contrast, Ross dives in dark expressive melodies.

The Green Book Blues” is another danceable, hardcore, yet relentlessly groovy piece in the line of The Prodigy but with occasional percussive thumps instead of a highly syncopated rhythm. Regardless of the change in the groove, the arcane mood is maintained. Unlike this piece, “Unseen Advance of the Aquafarian” doesn’t have the word blues in the title but is heavily rooted in the genre. It also displays a strong electronic-like vibe.

Not conflicting with the rest, but definitely closer to a prog-metal à-la Nine Inch Nails, “Protoaxite” sort of suffocates in a raucous, rock-powered atmosphere.

By intelligently interspersing moments of opaque obscurity and sheer beauty, Harriet Tubman achieves a perfect balance in its incisive and concise writing. The record, not too dense but not too immediate, never refrains in emotion and rewards in abundance after multiple listenings.

 Grade  A

Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Farther Unknown ► 07 - Redemption Song ► 09 - The Terror End of Beauty


Jacob Sacks - Fishes

Label: Clean Feed, 2018

Personnel – Jacob Sacks: piano; Ellery Eskelin: tenor saxophone; Tony Malaby: tenor and soprano saxophones; Michael Formanek: acoustic bass; Dan Weiss: drums.

Pianist/composer Jacob Sacks has been an important voice in the adventurous jazz with the stamp ‘made in New York’. Although revealing dynamic writing skills, he doesn't record as much as a leader, preferring to disseminate his irresistible sonic zest in projects of likes such as David Binney, Dan Weiss, and Eivind Opsvick or co-leading duos (with singer Yoon Sun Choi) and quartets (Spirals, 40Twenty, Two Miles a Day). The exceptions to this rule are his quintet albums Regions (1999) and No Man’s Land (2013).

Always leaning on the avant-garde without neglecting traditional forms and sounds, Sacks now convenes a pungent new quintet with provocative saxophonists Ellery Eskelin and Tony Malaby, bassist Michael Formanek, and drummer Dan Weiss, the only one who remained from the former group.

Released on Clean Feed label, Fishes features eleven tracks, five of which are sketchy, relatively short collective improvisations with Carnegie in the title. The ambiguity of these sonic canvases usually comes from two disparate melodic threads created by the reed players, fulminant single-note drives and disarming chords that sometimes lead to whimsical piano textures, and an unimposing bass-drums flux.

The stimulating “Saloon” kicks in with a mix of gabbles and cackles in the frontline after which a majestic, swinging groove installs to welcome Sacks’ atonal inflections, illustrated with a strong rhythmic feel. The saxophonists shine one at the time, juxtaposing their sounds for brief moments as the tune comes close to the final.

The highly motivic “This Is A Song” swings even faster, creating a flickering curtain of instrumental forces prior to setting the improvisers free. It’s curious how the pianist, with all his probative legato cascades and staccato attacks, has a sure sense of swing. It’s all modern in its construction.

Displaying tangible themes and perceptible structures, both “The Opener” and “III Blues” strive with unisons and spiky improvisations. Whereas tenor, soprano, and piano inflame the former piece, which also features Weiss with his expressive drumming style, the latter is navigated at a triple time with fragmented, Monk-like deconstructions.

Five Little Melodies” has the reedists’ circumnavigating a romantic classical axis with nonchalant melodies. In opposition, the more obscure “Chopped In” is introduced by Formanek’s quietly weeping arco bass, with Sacks’ non-invasive pianism gradually taking control of the scene. It’s a moody chamber exercise with a prevalence of timbre and cinematic quality.

The creative ideas either take seductively cerebral or emotionally spontaneous forms. Even though it carries some complexity, Fishes is still an approachable outing from an adventurous pianist in full bloom and at the helm of his own group.

 Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Saloon ► 03 – This Is a Song ► 11 – III Blues


Myra Melford's Snowy Egret - The Other Side of Air

Label: Firehouse12, 2018

Personnel – Myra Melford: piano; Ron Miles: cornet; Liberty Ellman: guitar; Stomu Takeishi: bass guitar; Tyshawn Sorey: drums.

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Myra Medford, a singular pianist, composer, and bandleader (Be Bread, Trio M, Snowy Egret), continues to depict new landscapes and narrate interesting stories with innovative sounds. On The Other Side of Air, the members of Snowy Egret - a quintet featuring Ron Miles on cornet, Liberty Ellman on guitar, Stomu Takeishi on bass guitar, and Tyshawn Sorey on drums - create unpredictable fusions within the legitimate compositional aesthetic of the pianist. The virtuosity and intuition of the group are immediately perceptible on the opening track, “Motion Stop Frame”. The attractive melody, either uttered in unison or counterpoint, is laid over a stealthy bass groove that anchors further sonic layers. Miles and Melford find the space they need for their respective impromptu discourses; the former enjoys a serene, more rudimentary backing, whereas the bandleader reacts particularly colorful by engaging in busy single-note trajectories, patent rhythmic figures, and harmonic chains filled with tension.

City of Illusion” is one of the most appealing songs on the record with its shifting, eclectic outlines. It is set in motion with a meditative, lyrical piano composure, adjusting its direction halfway as a result of danceable and uncompromising Latin jazz and funk insinuations. Miles' purity of sound and Ellman's idiosyncratic phrasing can be fully enjoyed before the placidity brought in the beginning is restored.

A common feature on “Chorale” and “Turn & Coda” is that they are more piano-oriented pieces with a notable integration of discordant guitar notes for a tangy seasoning. The latter tune, which closes out the recording, boasts this illuminating aura that is particularly beautiful.

The title track is divided into two parts; the first is like an abstract canvas denoting pale colors and sketchy lines, while the second, featuring Takeishi’s slides and harmonics, goes deeper in terms of group coloration while flowing within a temperate environment.

If “Attic” is melodically playful and propelled by a Brazilian-flavored rhythmic pulse, then “Living Music” plays in a similar way but with fun marching rhythms in its base. This pair of postmodern pieces is a showcase for Sorey’s inventive percussion articulations, with the group adding a startling array of instrumental voices on “Attic” to stimulate a denser avant-gardish passage. Typically Melford's, I would say.

The tight structures of this jazz-influenced new music encapsulate a fluid amalgam of composition and improvisation that strikes you with the force of a thunder. This is another elegant work from an accomplished pianist.

 Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 – Motion Stop Frame ► 02 - City of Illusion ► 10 - Turn & Coda


Jason Kao Hwang's Burning Bridge - Blood

Label: True Sound Recordings, 2018

Personnel - Jason Kao Hwang: violin; Taylor Ho Bynum: cornet, flugelhorn; Steve Swell: trombone; Joseph Daley: tuba; Sun Li: pipa; Wang Guowei: erhu; Ken Filiano: bass; Andrew Drury: drums.

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Violinist Jason Kao Hwang has been a continuous presence in the New York’s Lower East Side avant-garde scene. His last recording, Sing House, deserved the respect of the media, featuring a quintet whose members, with exception of pianist Chris Forbes, are also part of his newest work, Blood, a composite of creative jazz, free improvisation, and Chinese traditional music. Thus, in addition to trombonist Steve Swell, bassist Ken Filiano, and drummer Andrew Drury - the eight-piece Burning Bridge ensemble includes tuba player Joseph Daley, cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum, pipa player Sun Li, and erhu artist Wang Guowei.

Hwang meditated upon the emotional traumas of war, taking into consideration the tormenting experiences of fellow musicians Billy Bang and Butch Morris in Vietnam as well as his own mother’s in WWII. The album consists in a continuous track that was divided into five pieces and titled for convenience.

Breath Within The Bomb” kicks off with warlike percussion, which mixed with the severe, serrated sounds of Filiano’s bowed bass and Swell’s deep notes, augments the claustrophobic sensations of being trapped in a devastating reality. As it moves forward, the tune acquires a passive Asian-flavored taste, only to become moderately cacophonous in a passage where Drury’s drum activity exhibits a ferocious, kinetic energy. Tranquility returns at the end with an Eastern-infused dialogue between violin and erhu.

Divided into two parts of approximately seven minutes each, “Surge” is initially designed through orchestral slides and rhythmic accents before granting fine improvisations by Hwang, Bynum, and Guowei over a Sun Ra-inspired rhythm. Daley’s deep tuba sounds populates the second part with an extemporaneous urge.

If, to this point, haunting pictures were created through chiaroscuro sonic treatments, then “Evolution” eases things up by rooting a groovy jazz bass in American soil. The blues-based structure becomes an excellent vehicle for Bynum’s explorative yet melodically charged solo, Sun Li’s dissertation, as well as for Hwang’s bluesy stretches with fair responses from the band. The concluding “Declarations” encompasses Filiano’s outstanding arco rumination and Daley’s extended tuba stretch, among other things.

By constantly alternating the density of the orchestrations, Hwang suggests different scenarios that correspond to transformative states of mind. The thrills of spontaneity come from individual statements but also from interspersed interlocutions with two or three musicians. After all, this is music of exploration and reflection.

 Grade  B

Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Breath Within The Bomb ► 02 – Surge Pt. 1 ► 04 - Evolution


Aaron Goldberg - At The Edge of The World

Label: Sunnyside Records

Personnel - Aaron Goldberg: piano; Matt Penman: acoustic bass; Leon Parker: drums, percussive vocals, EmbodiRhythm.

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American pianist/composer Aaron Goldberg justified the attention given by the jazz community in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s both as a leader and sideman of artists like Joshua Redman, Guillermo Klein, John Ellis, Jimmy Greene, and Omer Avital (a co-leading partner in the OAM Trio). Three years ago, The Now came out on the Sunnyside Records, in which he was featured in a trio with Reuben Rogers on bass and Eric Harland on drums. Now, for his sixth album as a leader At The Edge of the World, Goldberg remains faithful to the trio formation but changes the pieces, having bassist Matt Penman teaming up with drummer Leon Parker, two colorists assigned to renew the songs' undermost layers. The band takes on five covers drawn from multiple stylistic sources and a pair of Goldberg originals, while the pianist completes the song lineup with a pensive solo interpretation of “En La Orilla Del Mundo”, a composition by Cuban guitarist Martín Rojas, which here sounds like one of Michel Legrand’s laments.

Luaty” and “Tokyo Dream” are products of Goldberg’s compositional efforts. The former, a special dedication to Angolan political activist and rapper Luaty Beirão, waltzes with uncomplicated elegance, whereas the latter pumps in the fragrances of the blues.

Whatever the mood, style, or tempo, the trio sounds pretty solid. “Poinciana”, for instance, is a breezy, neat re-imagination of the Cuban folk-influenced tune popularized by pianist Ahmad Jamal. Goldberg’s delicacy of touch and clarity of speech obtain even more expression with Parker’s stunning percussive methods, which include voice and body techniques (EmbodiRhythm). The drummer’s rhythmic vocalization also comes to the forefront when the trio slides into smooth Brazilian territory with Luiz Bonfa’s “Manhã de Carnaval”, the main theme of Marcel Camus’ romantic tragedy Black Orpheus. Guillermo Klein’s arrangement for this song (from their conjoint album Bienestan) was transformed and adapted to fit the trio setting.

They incur in post-bop gems with supple textures, achieving the desired tri-directional reciprocity with McCoy Tyner’s “Effendi”, a steamer that, without losing its original vibrancy, spotlights the drummer trading eights with the band; and two Bobby Hutcherson numbers: “Isn’t This My Sound Around Me”, which ends up swinging aplomb with Penman and Parker in the pocket after proposing a modal approach, and the ballad “When You Are Near”, launched by Penman and displaying a melody that reminded me of Toquinho & Vinicius’ “Samba em Preludio”.

This is a likable recording from a cohesive piano trio whose irresistible sound will make you revisit the album over and over again.

 Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Poinciana ► 04 - When You Are Near ► 05 - Effendi


Jostein Gulbrandsen - Looking Ahead

Label: Curling Legs Records, 2018

Personnel - Jostein Gulbrandsen: guitar; Megumi Yonezawa: piano; Mike McGuirk: bass; Mark Ferber: drums.

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Rising Norwegian guitarist Jostein Gulbrandsen, a New York resident since 2001, releases “Looking Ahead”, its third album and first in quartet formation, with the help of mates he has been gigging with lately, namely: pianist Megumi Yonezawa, bassist Mike McGuirk, and drummer Mark Ferber.

The album, comprising eight Gulbrandsen originals, brims with the modern mainstream he advocates. The opening track, “Gee Wheez”, blends the energy of John Scofield and the soulful, bluesy feel of Grant Green. The bandleader opens the improvisational section with bopish fluidity, followed by Yonezawa and McGuirk. Each of them provides the listener with nice melodies and pronounced rhythmic insight.

Cold Times”, probably the most engaging tune on the record, also evinces a Scofield-esque bite, never eschewing that smell of immortal, country-ish blues that characterize most of his work. Enthusiastically, guitarist and pianist exchange ideas before the final theme is put back.

Other two compositions that include bar trades are the energetically swinging “Unbroken Circles” and the 12-bar blues “Monkey Biz”. Besides the expected solos, both songs highlight Ferber, whose versatile attacks and rhythmic agility are further adorned with subtle fills on the former piece. On the latter, he alternates entire choruses with McGuirk.

The guitarist has a penchant for medium-tempo waltzes - “Psalm”, “New Tune”, and the album’s closer “Another Waltz” are tunes controlled by a steady 3/4 signature meter. However, it was with the title track, a relaxing Metheny-influenced exercise, that the guitarist impressed me the most, composition-wise. Yonezawa, an emerging talent who moves into avant-garde territories in her own projects, solidly flanks him here, perfectly adapted to the more familiar post-bop atmosphere.

Gulbrandsen’s music is to the point, revealing tasteful moments where there’s no necessity of camouflaging his numerous influences. This is an unavoidable process that makes him search for his own identity and look ahead.

 Grade  B

Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Gee Wheez ► 02 - Looking Ahead ► 05 - Cold Times