Floris Kappeyne Trio - Synesthesia

Label: Timezone Records, 2019

Personnel – Floris Kappeyne: piano, synthesizer; Tijs Klaassen: bass; Wouter Kuhne: drums + Janneke Stoute: vocals.

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Reverberating synthesizer drones and waves invite us to a mysterious trip in the outer space. That’s how the 23-year-old Dutch pianist Floris Kappeyne starts out his new trio album, Synesthesia, a title that has everything to do with sensorial stimulation and reaction. His bandmates, bassist Tijs Klaassen and drummer Wouter Kuhne, stick to that idea, working diligently to provide a skeletal structure that serves, reacts to, and interacts with the pianist’s harmonic ideas and lyrical terminology.

Throughout the 15 short original movements that compose the album, you will experience music that may be volatile or lingering, abstract or clear, vouching for unity or opting for disintegration. The course of things is unpredictable, often non-linear, and that’s where the mystery and magic of Kappeyne’s music come from.

Prelude: I” offers occasional bass pedals and subtly rattling snare, yet, its ever-shifting textures and time feel make us constantly alert. The piano sometimes calls for the unobvious universe of Paul Bley while the vertiginous, dramatic nosedives into the lower register give it a punch that is jazzier than classical. In turn, “Prelude: II” flows with a modern, brushed, syncopated fat beat in a relaxed synth-cloud environment. Its uncompromising trajectories made me imagine Sun Ra exploring downtempo.

Communication is well patented in the three-way conversation offered on “Prelude: Va”, where the piano responds to the introductory drums and, subsequently, the bass responds to the piano. A conspicuous motif serves them as the topic and the bassist even dares to swing for a bit, pushing more and more the threshold, as he seems to exhort expansiveness. Another example of communicative effort is “Prelude Vc”. On top of the deep-seated bass, we find abstract, free-flowing piano flurries and rhythmic figures on the verge of tonality that definitely foment the boldness of jazz.

The trio shows an optimum control of suspended ambiances on “Prelude III” by incorporating deep bowed bass, hushed brushes, and single-note textural pianism. Silences don’t scare them. They play with it, in a way that is soothing and disquieting alike. On the shape-shifting “Prelude VII”, we have that weird feeling that something is about to happen on the grounds of somewhat eerie vibes. Even so, the sparkling snare and the confident piano strut, in conjunction with the bass, deviate unexpectedly into a modern classical passage whose movements are dreamy, sweeping, and splendorous.

Variety and imagination are nothing to worry about here, and the well-structured recording also incorporates two vocal tunes - “Prelude IX” features a Dutch poem meant to be turned into music by classical singer Janneke Stoute and is momentarily agitated by polyrhythmic percussion; “Prelude: X” features a 4-piece choir with synth.

While en listening route, you’ll also detect a couple of solo piano pieces and a drums-only speech, before it all ends in the playful electro vibes of “Prelude IV”, which finishes off the album with odd-metered passages and a futuristic attitude.

Incorporating tradition and novelty, Kappeyne and his trio hardly approach the music in a conventional manner. They align energies while searching for new directions and manage to get some fresh results.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Prelude I ► 08 - Prelude VII ► 11 - Prelude Vc


Chris Potter - Circuits

Label: Edition Records, 2019

Personnel – Chris Potter: tenor and soprano saxophones, clarinets, flutes, sampler, guitars, keyboards, percussion; James Francies: keyboards; Eric Harland: drums; Linley Marthe: electric bass.

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Chris Potter is one of the most influential saxophone players and composers on the scene and his new vibrant outing, Circuits, has enough energy and ample sense of adventure to blow you away. It’s a 21st-century musical journey infused with mordant M-base vibes, offering a cultivated sonic perspective based on an innovative intersection of the post-bop, funk, and electronic worlds.

Five of the nine tracks on the album are bass-less, performed by a core trio composed of Potter, who plays an array of instruments here (including guitar), prodigious keyboardist James Francies, and super drummer Eric Harland, who is better than never in this extra syncopated context. Bassist Linley Marthe joins them in the remaining tunes.

The two-minute horn-driven “Invocation” highlights the bass clarinet amidst the conductive lines that surround it. It serves as an introductory section for “Hold It”, an uplifting piece filled with a gospel-like tenor melody and impeccable accompaniment by the rhythm team. The resourceful trio not only demonstrates how far-reaching their rhythmic attacks can go but also how thoroughly they handle atmospheric passages imbued in electronics. Moreover, you can enjoy Harland’s unrestrained drumming, so rich in color and groove, and Potter’s out-of-this-world language and flawless control of the tenor saxophone.

Splendidly structured and arranged, “The Nerve” boasts spiritual Eastern sounds in its balmy embryonic phase before anchoring in a cool 5/4 groove set with Marthe’s fat bass lines, funk-rock-oriented drumming, and wonderful sweeps and voicings invented by Francies, who later shines on a solo piano passage.

Spirited vibes define both “Exclamation” - an eloquent, fast-paced, funky-oriented exercise with punchy solos from sax and keyboards - and the title track, an odd-metered delight of unmatchable fluidity, hooked in pumping basslines and featuring Francies’ expressionistic zigzags, horns, and Harland’s bursts of assertive drumming.

The dominant explosive dynamics are dropped down a bit on tunes like “Koutoume”, an urbane African dance with first-class percussive accompaniment; “Green Pastures”, which carries post-bop and R&B familiarity; and “Queen of Brooklyn”, a ballad melodically guided by soprano saxophone with backing flute and bass clarinet.

Pressed for Time” closes out the album, placing relaxing melody over gorgeous, hip-hop-ish broken beats and quick-shifting chordal patterns prior to another explosive, incredibly bouncing affirmation by Potter.

The creative possibilities seem endless, and Circuits, providing unanticipated rhythmic tapestries, hip grooves, and blistering solos, is nothing short of a masterwork.

Grade  A+

Grade A+

Favorite Track:
02 - Hold It ► 03 - The Nerve ► 09 - Pressed For Time


David Berkman Sextet - Six Of One

Label: Palmetto Records, 2019

Personnel – David Berkman: piano; Dayna Stephens: tenor saxophone, EWI; Adam Kolker: bass clarinet, soprano saxophone; Billy Drewes: alto saxophone, clarinet; Chris Lightcap: bass; Kenneth Salters: drums + guests Tim Armacost: tenor saxophone; Rogerio Boccato: percussion.

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With Six of One, pianist David Berkman presents a set of ten original compositions developed over the course of five years, inviting some influential guests to join his flexible sextet. He probes two-horn and three-horn configurations in which each individual contributes fluent and very much their own ideas to the written material.

A swinging vibrancy comes attached to both the opening tune, “Blowing Smoke”, which alludes to the Smoke Jazz Club and the NY jazz scene, and the lively “Kickstopper”. If the former is luxuriously orchestrated, finishing with a bouncy solo by saxist Dayna Stephens, the latter piece enchanted me with the positive energy that kept sprouting from the interaction and casual abandon of the soloists. The saxophone players (Adam Kolker on soprano, Billy Drewes on alto, and guest tenorist Tim Armacost) alternate and ultimately share bars with splendorous enthusiasm, while Berkman’s piano work draws tension through stride-like interjections and salient left-hand chordal fluxes.

Written as a response to the current political instability, “Cynical Episodes” has Kolker traveling a safe melodic path on the bass clarinet in the company of bassist Chris Lightcap, while the remaining horns dance around them in perfect counterpoint. Several soloists make their way through the harmonic progressions, but our attention goes to Stephens, who handles the EWI with know-how, and Brazilian percussionist Rogerio Bocatto, who concludes alone with rhythmic resolve.

Most of the engagement on “Three And a Half Minutes” stems from Berkman’s free activity and complemented with the extemporaneous alliance established between Kolker and Stephens. This same trio of soloists is featured on “Restoration”, whose smoothness and folk innuendo brings it closer to the crossover jazz genre. This tune has strong connotations with Tokyo, where Berkman lived for some time, but it's not the only one since “Shitamashi” was devised with the old part of that city in mind. Exuberance and freedom abound and the feel-good kind of vibe suggests a sophisticated harmonic/rhythmic palette. There’s something epic here and Kenneth Salters’ drumming skills are called into action to amplify that feeling.

Drewes reciprocates with a fine solo on the rhythmically daring “Billy”, a song written for and dedicated to him. He does it again on “Blue Poles”, the only previously recorded tune (it appears on the album Communication Theory) where he, Kolker, and the bandleader embark on a momentary crosstalk conversation, and “Rain Rain”, a waltz spiced by the clarinets, piano, and Chris Lightcap’s bass solo.

Without discontinuing the vitality of tradition, Berkman provides well-drafted music with honesty and touches of modernity. The musical qualities of his associates, for whom the music was specifically written, make everything a lot simpler.

Grade  B

Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Bowing Smoke ► 07 - Kickstopper ► 08 – Shitamashi


Philipp Schiepek - Golem Dance

Label: Enja, 2019

Personnel – Philipp Schiepek: guitar; Seamus Blake: saxophone; Henning Sieverts: bass; Bastian Jutte: drums.

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On his debut album, Munich-based guitarist Philipp Schiepek reveals self-confidence, displaying a full grasp of his guitaristry as he leads a tight quartet. As a composer, he seeks inspiration in everyday encounters as well as characters from literature and art. However, the 10-track Golem Dance also features compositions by fellow countrymen bandmates, bassist Henning Sieverts and drummer Bastian Jutte. Rounding out the group is New York-based tenor saxophonist Seamus Blake, an invaluable first-call musician who unleashes his zealous, big-toned playing on several tunes. The most outstanding are Sieverts’ “All and More”, whose catchy passages recall the association between Chris Cheek and Rosenwinkel on the former’s album I Wish I Knew, and Schiepek’s “Flou”, where he employs multiphonics and trills and get the guitar responding appropriately in order to establish a heated dialogue. This latter piece feels open-ended, carrying some vagueness in its melodic contours and some fragmentation in the rhythmic flux that, feeling great, incites exploration.

Two other Schiepek originals elicit interest: “Ian”, whose initial bass pedal and rim activity evolve into a groove in seven that bounces with shinning post-bop coloring, and “12 Raindrops”, a Joe Henderson-type of 'blue bossa' that brings the fearlessly tractable rhythm section to the front. Expect to stumble upon playful guitar lines, an emphatic bass talk, a dazzling bop-inflected saxophone, and a somewhat timid drum talk from Jutte, who is considerably more outgoing on the uptempo “Up”, a more traditional swinging exercise.

Two of the ten pieces were recorded live at Unterfahrt in Munich, Schiepek’s “Golem Dance”, which has Blake pushing hard against the odd-metered flow granted by the rhythm team, and the jazz standard “Out of Nowhere”, which feels unessential, despite having the soloists expertly navigating the familiar chord progressions. Coincidently, these are the longest tracks on the record, clocking at 7:37 and 11:04, respectively.

With an irregular blues emerging from the center of its gravity, “Even Harder”, another Sieverts’ compositional effort, is dispatched with a warm feeling.

Schiepek’s compositions contain jolting infusions of jazz and his solid first appearance as a leader is demonstrative of the persuasive guitaristic resources he possesses.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - All and More ► 02 - Ian ► 03 - Flou


Amina Figarova - Road to the Sun

Label: AmFi Records, 2019

Personnel – Amina Figarova: piano; Wayne Escoffery: tenor and soprano saxophones; Marc Mommaas: tenor and soprano saxophones; Alex Pope Norris: trumpet; Bart Platteau: flute; Lucques Curtis: bass; Brian Richburg Jr.: drums; Jason Brown: drums; Hasan Bakr: percussion; Sara Caswell: violin; Lois Martin: viola; Jody Redhage Ferber: cello.

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Classically trained pianist/composer Amina Figarova, a native of Azerbaijan who pursued her jazz ambitions in the Rotterdam Conservatory and Berklee College of Music, releases Road To The Sun, an 11-track album that celebrates the 20th anniversary of her band. Since 1998, it has been her intention to gather a smaller group that would have the same power as a big band, a wish guaranteed by the great musicians enlisted in this musical adventure.

Her compositional qualities translate in a few inviting pieces, from which I particularly highlight the title track. An immediate emotional impact emanates from the layered rhythmic figures that incorporate the lush arrangement. Combining melodic focus and speed, saxophonist Marc Mommaas creates some frisson by setting soprano maneuvers against the ritualistic 5/4 groove that cleaves with Hasan Bakr’s African drumming. Highly articulated, Figarova comfortably explores inside and outside the limits, and if her improv is short-lived here, her thoughts are extended on “All We Dance”, an unhurried piece that puts gentle snare drum rolls in evidence while blending relaxation and sensuality.

Both compositions referred above are tinted by a competent trio of strings that also actively inaugurates “Tumbling Prisms”, which transmits a sense of bliss on account of Figarova’s husband, flutist Bart Platteau.

Relying on a 4/4 swing, “On My Way” employs unison hard-bop lines with a double function: coloring the theme’s statement and serving as markers for the trio of soloists, in the case: trumpeter Alex Pope Norris, who reveals tradition insight; Platteau, whose fluid lines follow more the melodicism of Frank Wess than the leaps of Eric Dolphy; and an outgoing Wayne Escoffery, whose thrilling soprano rides are super adventurous. The latter is in the spotlight again on “Snow Mess”, blowing the tenor sax to inject shades of Joe Henderson into a cool walking groove that had decelerated the exuberant swing propulsion formerly offered to Norris.

The warm breeze of “Circles” begins in the piano ostinato that references the groove. There are Latin gestures impregnating not merely the rhythm but also the melodic outbursts of Escoffery, who delivers again on “No Time For”, a cerebral post-bop number with a fragmented melody that takes the album to an end right after inviting drummer Jason Brown to stretch out.

Figarova’s working band fairly deserves this celebration and its members give back, irrigating the bandleader’s inspired frameworks with their dedication, collective chemistry, and individuality.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Road To The Sun ► 02 - All We Dance ► 03 - Snow Mess


Yotam Silberstein - Future Memories

Label: Jazz&People, 2019

Personnel – Yotam Silberstein: guitar, vocals; Glenn Zaleski: piano, Fender Rhodes; Vitor Gonçalves: accordion, piano, keys, percussion; John Patitucci: acoustic and electric bass; Daniel Dor: drums; Andre Mehmari: synthesizers.

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Few artists are capable to blend post-bop and Latin jazz with such a class as the Tel Aviv-born guitarist Yotam Silberstein. He possesses the indispensable technique, rhythm, and lyricism to succeed in the challenging fusion genre, and Future Memories, his sixth album as a leader, is a multi-cultural voyage into his forthright musical universe. The influences come from many directions, yet there’s an emphasis on Brazilian music here, displayed in a couple of tunes by mandolin master Hamilton de Holanda and an erudite rendition of “Choro Negro” by samba/choro icon Paulinho da Viola.

Holanda’s “Capricho de Donga” is filled with rhythmic nuances, featuring extraordinary bassist John Patitucci in a pulsating solo with tons of melody, whereas the flamenco-ish vibe of “Capricho de Espanha” let us indulge not only in the brisk melodicism of the guitarist, but also in the kaleidoscopic exuberance of pianist Glenn Zaleski, an assiduous presence in the New York scene. There is also this Ravel-like sumptuosity marking the improvisational section, which is pleasantly relaxing.

Another Brazilian-influenced piece is Silberstein’s “Impedimento”, where the rapturous atmosphere of choro gains amazing propulsion with the electric bass flow and the rippling percussive groove of drummer Daniel Dor. The Brazilian accordionist Vitor Gonçalves, who doubles on piano on some other tunes, is seen in perfect union with the bandleader and both improvise on this tune. The engaging phrasing of the guitarist shows both the strong affinity with the jazz tradition and his close relationship with South American music. The fusion feast ends in rock-ish mode, though.

Matcha” is definitely a highlight, showing how strong is the writing of Silberstein. The group, aside from intensifying the rhythm with manifest accentuations, keeps grooving under an odd tempo. There are undercurrents in the music that meet conveniently at a certain point, comparable to a big river that collects the water flow from smaller streams. Both the guitar and piano solos are worthy of attention, with Zaleski following the bandleader in his improvisational spirit, but interpolating his single-note phrases with pungent chords in the lower register. The ambiance nearly touches a dreamy state before Dor’s snare and tom-tom work come to prominence. Although revealing a complex execution, this piece sounds good to the ear.

Future Memories” and “Wind on the Lake” are musing songs in six and three, respectively. Whereas the latter takes the form of a folk song at an early stage through the usage of acoustic guitar, the former boasts an ethereal air brought either by Silberstein’s modulated vocalizations or the silky harmonic tapestry weaved by Gonçalves’ accordion and Andre Mehmari’s synth waves.

The imaginative arrangements always find space for personal points of view, and Future Memories reinforces music as a culturally boundless celebration.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Future Memories ► 02 - Matcha ► 04 - Impedimento


Ben Monder - Day After Day

Label: Sunnyside Records, 2019

Personnel - Ben Monder: electric and acoustic guitars; Matt Brewer: bass; Ted Poor: drums.

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Guitarist Ben Monder is equally comfortable in straightforward and subversive settings. His playing is sparkling and his efficiency, remarkable. The double-album Day After Day offers a wide-ranging collection of esteemed non-original songs interpreted in solo and trio formats. Joining him in the latter context are bassist Matt Brewer and drummer Ted Poor.

Disc one features a solitary Monder in absolute control of the instrument and exhibiting unparalleled sounds fertile in bright introspective textures. The sonic propagations of “Dreamsville” are rich, relaxed, and full in color. Effortlessly operating in several octaves, the guitarist embraces fluidity, combining wise harmonic concepts with carefully built melodies.

The concurrent movements on “Emily”, a tune popularized by Bill Evans, are mesmerizing. Bringing out his classical influences, Monder integrates melody and bass lines with perspicacity, demonstrating advanced performing expertise. In this particular case, he proves that complexity is not incompatible with beauty, stressing a suggestive metronomic line with a subtle percussive touch in the last minute of the song.

The transparency and enlightenment of “O Sacrum Convivium”, a choral wonder by the 20th-century composer Olivier Messiaen, obfuscate us with warm beams of light. Yet, it’s the standard “My One And Only Love” that most clearly shows that miraculous voice-leading control, replete of surprising note choices. Monder also luxuriates in dashing sonorities on another balladic standard, “Never Let Me Go” as well as on the ever-evolving version of Burt Bacharach’s “The Windows of the World”.

Over the course of the second disc, the guitar is center-place, leading the bass and drums into adventurous paths characterized by different moods and genres. Still, two songs are bass-less: The Beatles’ “Long Long Long”, a 3/4 song that draws some ambiguity from the virtuosic fingerpicking, and the opaque experimentation on the title cut, a song from the early ’70s, whose dark waves cause a dystopian sensation. The bandleader’s relationship with hard rock music is not a novelty, and the 007 theme “Goldfinger” is a showcase for his prodigious metal technique.

The casual country pop of Jimmy Webb’s “Galveston” opens the record with a convivial posture, culminating in a speedy guitar solo pronounced with distortion. However, it’s the emotionally charged “Dust”, a great contemporary rock song by The Fleetwood Mac that strikes with awe, featuring Monder on acoustic guitar and Brewer in an inspired bass solo.

Bread’s “The Guitar Man” is a soft-rock song designed with bluesy dotted notes and carrying something of Bob Dylan, who is also paid tribute here with a suave rendition of “Just Like a Woman”.

Regardless of the nature of the songs, Monder has a personal and tasteful approach to the music. His versatility and dedication are impressive and this accessible double album invites you to experience a fraction of his immensely creative mind.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 (disc1) - Emily ► 03 (disc1) - O Sacrum Convivium ► 02 (disc2) - Dust


Bill Frisell / Thomas Morgan - Epistrophy

Label: ECM Records

Personnel – Bill Frisell: guitar; Thomas Morgan: acoustic bass.

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Epistrophy marks another beautiful encounter between guitarist Bill Frisell and bassist Thomas Morgan. The follow up to Small Town boasts a formidable repertoire captured live at The Village Vanguard in March 2016, having Jerome Kern’s “All is Fun” opening it in a marvelously relaxed atmosphere. Frisell’s fascinating melodicism is knee-deep in rhythmic ideas, and Morgan, who lightly swings for a while, assures not only a superior foundation but also constructs it in an interactive way.

In addition to the aforementioned opener, it was the bassist who suggested The Drifters’ “Save The Last Dance For Me”, an R&B hit from the early 60s that comes affiliated to “Wildwood Flower”, the folk song that serves it as an intro. On many occasions, Morgan communicates with Frisell by responding to his thoughtful guitar work. It’s not uncommon to hear exquisite guitar harmonics adorning the tunes and Billy Strayhorn’s sweet ballad “Lush Life” doesn’t let me lie. Another example is Monk’s “Pannonica”, which also does a great job in highlighting the instrumentalists’ soulful lyricism and sharp tonalities. It’s a joy to experience all these magnetic chords brimming with delicious extensions.

Since only top-notch musicians have the ability to make knotty passages sound simple, don’t be surprised if the rendition of Paul Motian’s whimsical “Mumbo Jumbo” surfaces natural and uncomplicated. The rubato approach invites us to freer, non-linear flights and the song is given a totally different perspective after the infusion of tasteful machinelike effects inflicted by Frisell’s sound-altering pedal.

If the duo performed “Goldfinger” in their previous outing, then they picked another James Bond theme to be part of this new work - “You Only Live Twice” is jazzified with an impressive atmospheric radiance, engrossing textures, and a dreamy sound that lingers. It’s one of the most beautiful moments on the album, which gains a tantalizing dimension with the confident gestures in the bass accompaniment.

The title track is another Monk classic whose telepathic and freewheeling interpretation includes melodic fragmentation, blues sparkle, and swinging flair. Frisell’s comping is smart and fun, and the original melody only shows up at the end in all its clarity.

In the aftermath of the traditional “Red River Valley”, an obvious folk ride, the album comes to an end in balladic gorgeousness with “In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning”.

Owners of an immeasurable musicality, Frisell and Morgan embark on impeccable narrations of well-known gems, in a clear demonstration of their interactive dexterity. It’s mind-boggling how they put such a fresh spin in so many familiar songs, and all we want to do is play them over and over.

Grade  A

Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
03 - Mumbo Jumbo ► 04 - You Only Live Twice ► 06 - Epistrophy


Mike Baggetta / Mike Watt / Jim Keltner - Wall of Flowers

Label: Big Ego Records, 2019

Personnel - Mike Baggetta: electric and acoustic guitars, live processing; Mike Watt: electric bass; Jim Keltner: drums, percussion.

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Mike Baggetta may not be as well known as his fellow guitarists Kurt Rosenwinkel and Ben Monder, but his creative playing is definitely a valuable discovery for everyone who bumps into his music. An adept of unconventional sounds and electronic effects, Baggetta was previously featured in solo, quartet, and trio sessions, and it’s precisely to the latter configuration that he returns on the album Wall of Flowers. This time, he is joined by unlikely bandmates such as veterans Mike Watt and Jim Keltner, bassist and drummer, respectively. The former co-founded the punk-rock group Minutemen and was a member of Iggy Pop’s The Stooges in the early 2000s; the latter played with the members of The Beatles plus Bob Dylan and Ry Cooder. The two had never met before, but the outcome of this one-day-only session mirrors the quality of these musicians.

Hospital Song” has a beautiful, if dismal, acoustic guitar intro. However, the trio kicks things into high gear by channelling their energy into a livelier indie rock marked by sturdy bass lines, an unflinching straight-up 4/4 rhythm, and guitar melodies punctuated by occasional atonal detours.

Blue Velvet”, the main theme of David Lynch’s cult film of the same name, is subjected to solo and duo treatments. Both have the rustic tones of the acoustic guitar coloring them, yet the former picks up on an undeniable ambiguity in contrast with the latter, soberly introduced by Keltner's soft brushwork.

A couple of collective improvisations reflect some of the best moments on the album. “I Am Not A Data Point” feels very experimental, relying on an intransigent, languid bass ostinato a-la Rage Against The Machine, percussive adaptability, and distorted guitar outcries that affect positively our ears with washes of capricious effects in often discordant audacity. The other impromptu experience is “Dirty Smell of Dying”, a dark, neo-psychedelic exercise carried in Sonny Sharrock-mode, and where the massive waves of sound coming toward you acquire both exciting and foreboding perspectives.

Fruit of Baggetta’s mind, the title track closes out the album as a shimmering art rock song. Musical moments like these demonstrate the trio’s rock affinity and the album is the expression of a fortunate collaboration.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
04 - I Am Not A Data Point ► 06 - Dirty Smell of Dying ► 08 - Wall of Flowers


Assif Tsahar / William Parker / Hamid Drake - In Between The Tumbling A Stillness

Label: Hopscotch Records, 2018

Personnel - Assif Tsahar: saxophone; William Parker: double bass; Hamid Drake: drums.

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Cohesive sounds and textures emerge from the transfiguring interplay of the intrepid trio composed of saxophonist Assif Tsahar, bassist William Parker, and drummer Hamid Drake. All three musicians, known for their urgency to create spontaneously, collaborated in many live sessions and festivals. However, In Between The Tumbling A Stillness marks their first recording as a trio. These intense, tight/loose musical moments were captured live in Tel Aviv at Levontin 7, a music venue opened by the saxophonist when he moved back to his native Israel in 2006.

In Between”, the 35-minute expedition that opens up the album, sparkles in many rhythmic contexts. The group takes the plunge in a straightforward way, with Tsahar concentrating efforts in sturdy phrases limned with a brooding, casually raucous tone on the lower registers, but still with enough range to stay out of the shadow. His language comprises simple melodic ideas with explosive fast-note attacks that always find a reliable supporting net in the work of Parker, a monumental pillar in the foundation, and Drake, an independent creator who keeps his ears wide open to whatever happens around him. After rambling, they accelerate to a swinging pace, posteriorly grooving in several inventive ways. The rhythm team assures smooth yet conspicuous transitions, erecting lyrical structures with both familiar atmospheres and inspired inventions alike. It's common to see the saxophonist responding to their deliberately abstract sense of tempo with raw emotions.

Bowed bass and percussion announce tense winds for “The Tumbling”, which features Tsahar emitting waves of energy, whether through bop-ish lines or any other audacious terminology. The tune becomes infectiously hectic but terminates in a slower yet fun ragtime-derived cadence.

This is the joy of listening to imaginative creators. One minute they are galloping freely toward no particular destination, in the next minute they are running at high speed in a precise direction, and when you don’t expect them to, you’ll stumble upon them dancing the blues in a fixed position.

Closing out the album, “A Stillness” is a quiet, inner-oriented improv, effulgently propelled with the help of Drake’s cross stick beats. Grab this record, if you like your avant-jazz simultaneously raw and sophisticated.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - In Between ► 02 - The Tumbling


Michael Attias - Échos la Nuit

Label: Out of Your Head Records, 2019

Personnel – Michael Attias: alto saxophone, piano.

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Saxophonist Michael Attias, a paragon of perspicacious playing and exceptional leadership, releases his first solo album, in which he plays two instruments, sometimes simultaneously. While his left hand holds the alto sax, a carrier of awe-inspiring tone colors, the right hand plays the piano, whose individual notes and chords work as melodic/harmonic pivots, promoting contextualization and, consequently, facilitating our reading of the music. Turning down overdubs, this recording takes you to a few singular places in Attias’ active musical mind. By tailoring a stripped-down aesthetic with distinctive approaches to each instrument, he proposes a sleek, sometimes undemonstrative distillation of timbres that can be more or less complicated to apprehend.

Two distinct versions of “Echoes” bookend the eleven tracks on the album. The first part, “Mauve”, enhances the beautifully contrasting colors between saxophone and piano, bright and poignant, respectively, within a cerebral mood. The second part, “Night”, offers a melodic reflection that often lands on a resolution. Still, the ambiguity of the piano and some spellbinding unison passages make us alert. The approach is low-key, unfussy and intriguing. Experimental, in a way.

Trinité” insists in unison ideas occasionally interpolated with intervallic surprises. The piano work is not as tantalizing or emotionally charged as in the introductory section of “Fenix III”, a snappy creation whose quirky chord has a strong connotation with Attias' former collaborator, the late Japanese pianist Masabumi Kikuchi. Domineering cyclic phrases driven by pitch allure are balanced through prolonged notes replicated on the piano. Something like knotty explorations whose elements are in a permanent state of affairs.

The piano-less “Rue Oberkampf” feels like an incantatory chant brimming with slightly popping patterns inspired by saxophonist's early studies of the Schillinger technique. Great note choices are brought effortlessly with grandiose, mesmerizing shifts in timbre before three consecutive woodwind cascades bring it to an end. The reverberation is from the room and is even more noticeable over the course of “Circles”, where the intensity keeps fluctuating.

The nocturnal mood and fascination of “Sea In The Dark” are impressive, combining dark bass notes and delicate phrases for an illustrative intonation that coaxed me to search for more. Some other pieces, like the slow-moving diptych “Autumn”, justifies lethargic reactions through its vagueness and pallor.

Listening to this album was such an oddity. Each track feels like looking at perplexing pictures whose thin focus is on the closest object while the background keeps immersed in obscurity. Indistinctness means forever open and this very personal album is beyond style.

Grade  B

Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Echoes I: Mauve ► 08 - Rue Oberkampf ► 11 - Sea In The Dark


James Brandon Lewis - An Unruly Manifesto

Label: Relative Pitch Records, 2019

Personnel – James Brandon Lewis: tenor saxophone; Jamie Branch: trumpet; Anthony Pirog: guitar; Luke Stewart: electric bass; Warren Trae Crudup III: drums.

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An UnRuly Manifesto, the new album by well-versed saxophonist James Brandon Lewis, is a call into action dedicated to Charlie Haden, Ornette Coleman and Surrealism. With a quintet configuration in mind, he convened electrifying musicians to be part of the project, namely, trumpeter Jamie Branch, guitarist Anthony Pirog, and the members of his soulful trio, bassist Luke Stewart and drummer Warren Trae Crudup III.

After the amiable unison melody of “Year 59: Insurgent Imagination”, the opening one-minute prelude, the title track erupts confidently with a continual static groove in six underpinning short meet-and-greet sentences from trumpet and tenor. Smeary unison lines precede an infectious solo by Lewis, who, blowing with the force of a tornado, conveys a mix of vehement protest, inspirational spirituality, and fervid urbanity. His remarkably fiery tone calls up Pharaoh Sanders and Archie Shepp, while his language is cathartic and sharp-edged as John Coltrane and Marion Brown. Branch follows him, throwing in ideas that perfectly match the context, and the tune doesn’t finalize without the horns merging together in pure ecstasy.

Pillar 1: A Joyful Acceptance” is a short-lived breezy interlude that announces “Sir Real Denard”, a tune enlivened by a funky rhythm, chunky riffs, and an overall sense of explosiveness. Much of the energy comes from the confrontational posture of the soloists - Stewart likes and infuses his groove with entanglement; Pirog shows that his stinging, effect-drenched guitar chops can go wild; Branch is more playful than ever, applying inventive pitches to terse remarks; and Lewis boasts a lot of muscle and perseverance in clearly accented phrases.

The musicians dig into these well-defined grooves with gusto, yet “Escape Nostalgic Prisons” is fist-pumping avant-jazz abrasiveness. Polluted guitar jolts with noise, chaotic rhythmic textures, and nervous horns in frantic activity, are constituents of a cacophonous strife that is as dense as it is rewarding. Quite the reverse is seen on “The Eleventh Hour”, where a sunny melody soars on top of the smooth groove composed of a linear guitar texture in consonance with the bass/drums articulation.

Wrapping up the session is “Haden is Beauty” (for the late bassist Charlie Haden), which allows you to sail in tranquil folk waters, gaining collateral jazz and rock intensity as it progresses.

This thoroughly engaging album integrates horn-driven articulations and timbres with a supple rhythmic section. You will feel the groove!

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 - An Unruly Manifesto ► 05 - The Eleventh Hour ► 07 - Escape Nostalgic Prisons


Kaja Draksler / Petter Eldh / Christian Lillinger - Punkt.Vrt.Plastik

Label: Intakt Records, 2019

Personnel - Kaja Draksler: piano; Petter Eldh: bass; Christian Lillinger: drums.

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The European trio composed of Slovenian pianist Kaja Draksler, Swedish bassist Petter Eldh, and German drummer Christian Lillinger definitely deserves several listenings and wider recognition due to an urgent, empathetically modern sound that transpires focus, freedom, and craft. Their album Punkt.Vrt.Plastik is vividly recommended for the ones who love elaborate textures, rhythmic disjunctions, patterned lyricism, and maturely conspired ambiances with intelligent crosscurrents in the instrumentation.

Lillinger’s “Nuremberg Amok” opens the album as a beautiful deconstruction with a strong polyrhythmic feel and swift fragmented phases that often repeat. A nuanced sense of tempo and engrossing fluidity are constant presences.

Evicted” is the only composition penned by Draksler, evolving in a spectacular way and conveying the uncertainty and distress that an eviction may suggest. Ambiguity and some sadness are mixed in Draksler's lines, which causes an impressive effect whenever the hair-raising low notes are blended with shrilling pointillism to form strange musical mosaics. She has this very special way to deal with space. Is the following intervallic melodicism a synonym of resignation? Ponderation, for sure! Apart from her choices, Eldh concludes with a resonant bass foray replete of pizzicato technique.

Happy and carefree, “Punkt Torso” is marked by a classical lyricism that takes a bit more reflective intonation on “Life is Transient” and an exquisite modernization on “Momentan”, achieved through additional patterned elements that seem taken from electronica.

Both “Azan” and “Plastic” appear with fidgeting, broken beats expressed with dry and wet tones. However, while the former circulates angular melody, the latter advocates lullaby-ish lines and crawling dark drones, after a nearly two-minute drum solo.

Eldh and Lillinger are members of Amok Amor, a quartet with saxophonist Wanja Slavin and trumpeter Peter Evans, and their well-established rapport is valued by the independent Draksler, who knows how to merge into their rhythmic entanglement with finesse. The shape shifting “Body Decline” is another wonderful example of brilliance, put together with assertive noir brushstrokes and that beautiful tension/resolution dichotomy. Eldh penned it.

Reinventing themselves to escape any sort of pre-determined norms, the trio crafts an aesthetically bold work that will make you dive into their music, and remain indefinitely.

Grade  A

Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Nuremberg Amok ► 02 - Evicted ► 06 - Body Decline


Atomic - Pet Variations

Label: Odin Records, 2019

Personnel - Fredrik Ljungkvist: saxophone, clarinet; Magnus Broo: trumpet; Havard Wiik: piano; Ingebrigt Haker Flaten: bass; Hans Hulbaekmo: drums.

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The jazz quintet Atomic is composed of some of the finest Swedish and Norwegian improvisers out there, namely, trumpeter Magnus Broo, saxophonist/clarinetist Fredrik Ljungkvist, pianist Havard Wiik, bassist Ingebrigt Haker Flaten, and drummer Hans Hulbaekmo. The comprehensive aesthetic range of Pet Variations, an enticing first album entirely made of covers, is one of its strongest points in addition to the cohesive interplay and competent musical conception.

The opening track, “Pet Variations/Pet Sounds”, was partly written by Wiik, patiently cooked up by the collective, and terminated with the vein-popping melody of The Beach Boys' instrumental song that lent its title to their 1966 album. Prior to a fluent solo by Broo, a flexible hornman, the ride cymbal sparkles continually and the bass draws some mystery from resolute plucks. This foundation sustains side-by-side melodic lines while marvelous piano voicings bring jazzy shades of grace to the mutating scenario. A transitory chamber passage soon slips into an agitated groove full of spirit, and the atmosphere compels Ljungkvist to explore rhythm and timbre.

A two-note piano ostinato prepares Steve Lacy’s “Art” to fall into step. Clarinet and trumpet unisons help weaving a docile texture where the arco bass infuses despondency. Marching steadily to the very end, the tune still highlights Wiik, who concentrates efforts in merging the baroque fragrances of Bach with atonal jazz currents.

Drifting and explorative, Carla Bley’s “Walking Woman” offers spontaneous dialogues from sax and piano, and then trumpet and bass. The collective becomes pretty active by the time that Hulbaekmo springs into action.

The cast of experienced musicians also breaks down a couple of contemporary classical pieces. If Varese’s “Un Grand Sommeil Noir” is a chiaroscuro musical canvas with a constant ritualistic pulse and arco bass solemnity opposing to the light-emitting clarity of the horns, Messiaen’s “Louange a L’Eternite de Jesus” is put together with devotional reverence and crescent dramatic tension.

Jimmy Giuffre’s classic “Cry Want” starts off with a trumpet monologue, later turned into a parallel dynamic with the presence of the clarinet. The piano harmonization, reminiscing Herbie Nichols, is rich and beautiful and the beseeching clarinet starts to expand horizons, initially backed by drums only, and then forming a strong improvisational alliance with the piano.

The exciting final part of the album unveils two favorites: “Inri” is an original composition by Alexander Von Schlippenbach whose fluidity and freedom are mirrored in its epic theme statement, electrifying solos, and itchy percussive angst; on its part, Jan Garbarek’s “Karin’s Mode” is an anthemic groovy tune in five, delivered with sophisticated cool.

Boasting an excellent repertoire, Atomic has great stuff to share and this borrowed material is as strong as their originals.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
05 - Cry Want ► 07 - Inri ► 08 - Karin’s Mode


Jason Palmer - Rhyme and Reason

Label: Giant Step Arts, 2019

Personnel - Jason Palmer: trumpet; Mark Turner: tenor saxophone; Matt Brewer: acoustic bass; Kendrick Scott: drums.

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On the double-disc Rhyme and Reason, trumpeter Jason Palmer is featured in a quartet with Mark Turner on tenor sax, Matt Brewer on acoustic bass, and Kendrick Scott on drums. The album consists of eight long original tunes (three of them exceed the 15 minutes whilst only one runs under 10 minutes) recorded live in 2018 at The Jazz Gallery, New York, and was released with the support of the artist-focused non-profit Giant Step Arts led by recording engineer and photographer Jimmy Katz.

Palmer, alone, sets in motion three of the four compositions that constitute the disc 1. Among them is “Herbs in a Glass”, a piece evenly inspired by the 4554 beat of August Greene’s “Aya” and the chord structure of Herbie Hancock’s “Tell Me a Bedtime Story”, has snaky unisons floating above the vivid chord-less texture brought in by the bass and drums. Actually, the rhythm section swings and rocks at once, inciting the bandleader to infuse disconcerting melodies on top of it. Turner follows him with a strong discourse, and the final section displays an outgoing Scott exploring possibilities behind the drum set.

Suggesting an odd way of walking - sort of lolloping and marching at the same time - the title cut is a mixed-metered tune whose solos traverse many peaks, valleys, and plains. It features Palmer, Turner and Brewer alternating bars by the end. Despite bracing, it doesn't match the energy, groove, and emotional vibrancy of “Sadhana”, a potent churner. Palmer wrote it in the mid-2000s with spiritual practices in mind, and that is reflected in the soulful atmospherics. Turner throws in a lot of ideas, with one particular riff conjuring up Art Blakey’s version of “Moanin”, while the trumpeter explores brisk, clear-pitched lines.

Composed in honor of the bassist Alan Hampton, “The Hampton Inn (For Alan)” inaugurates the disc 2 by making us guess the groove that is coming as a result of Scott’s solo drumming. Lines usually ending with surprising bright notes bring the humor.

On the heels of “Waltz for Diana”, a Rosenwinkel-inspired tune where Palmer evokes the melody of “My Favorite Things” at the same time that nods to Bill Evans’ “Waltz for Debby”, we have “Kalispel Bay”, which thrives at a 5/4 tempo with plenty of freedom for the horns. This tune was originally composed in the ukulele.

Often populating his playing with energy and spontaneity, Palmer also makes possible for his bandmates to share their musical expertise. The only inconvenience is the duration of the solos, overextended to the point of getting me tired here and there, a fact aggravated by the absence of harmonic color throughout. Having that said, this is respectable material with a lot to be absorbed.

Grade  B

Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
01 (disc 1) - Herbs in a Glass ► 04 (disc 1) - Sadhana ► 04 (disc 2) - Kalispel Bay


Paul Dietrich Jazz Ensemble - Forward

Label: Self produced, 2019

Personnel - Paul Dietrich: compositions, arrangements, conduction, trumpet; Tony Barba: tenor saxophone; Dustin Laurenzi: tenor saxophone; Greg Ward: alto saxophone; Corbin Andrick: alto and soprano saxophones, clarinet, flute; Mark Hiebert: baritone saxophone, bass clarinet; Andy Baker: trombone; Jamie Kember: trombone; Kurt Dietrich: trombone; Tom Matta: trombone; Russ Johnson: trumpet; Chuck Parrish: trumpet; Jessica Jensen: trumpet; David Cooper: trumpet; Megan Moran: vocals; Matt Gold: guitar; Carl Kennedy: piano; John Christensen: bass; Clarence Penn: drum set.

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Forward is the third official release of the up-and-coming composer, arranger, and trumpeter Paul Dietrich, a native of Wisconsin, who convenes awesome soloists and musicians in order to expand his longtime quintet into a larger jazz ensemble. While featured guest Clarence Penn is practically confined to the accompaniment, Dietrich improvises only once, in the fourth and last movement of his Forward suite, the album’s central piece and an ode to his home state.

The aforementioned movement, “Forward IV: Green Fields”, allows some languid folk to arise on the surface, while the remaining parts, being musically unrelated, explicitly connect through the sentiment. The first part, “Forward I: Perennial”, involves sharp counterpoint and flows with a gorgeous 4/4 beat, featuring improvisations by trumpeter Russ Johnson and tenorist Tony Barba, who deliver again on “Rush”, a poised, gracefully orchestrated piece that is the album’s welcoming embrace. Johnson emanates a beautiful sound from his trumpet in an excellent solo over a circular progression in nine, while Barba starts with thoughtful expressions that are gradually developed and expanded with assured authority.

Forward II: Snow” was written after a significant snowfall, which can be easily pictured as we listen to the music. The inherent tranquility that surrounds this piece gains further dimension with the altoist Greg Ward’s eloquent improvisation. His lyricism is detectable anew on “Settle”, which is included in the set of quiet compositions. This reflective loosening is predominant throughout the album, showing the bandleader’s temperate side.

The angelic vocal presence of Megan Moran enriches several tunes, acquiring a special significance on “Forward III: Roads”, whose rhythmic shifts allude to its topic: travels. Rich layers sculpt forms whose edges are rounder than sharp, but tenor man Dustin Laurenzi, one of the three faces of Twin Talk, inserts a handful of discordant yet alluring notes in his patient narrative elaboration, contributing melodically illuminating lines to the song. Pianist Carl Kennedy and guitarist Matt Gold reveal an effective integration while comping.

Disseminating good vibes through pleasant atmospheric arrangements, Dietrich is a skilled composer who narrates clearly and uniformly in a non-swinging environment.

Grade  B

Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Rush ► 05 - Forward I: Perennial ► 07 - Forward III: Roads


Dave Liebman, Adam Rudolph, Hamid Drake - Chi

Label: RareNoise, 2019

Personnel - Dave Liebman: tenor and soprano saxophones, piano, wooden recorder; Adam Rudolph: handrumset, piano, sinter, percussion, electronics; Hamid Drake: drumset, vocals, frame drum, percussion.

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Combining the mysticism of ancient traditions and the sonic aesthetics of today’s music, Chi is an album of spontaneous music, matching saxophonist Dave Liebman with two top-class percussionists and kindred spirits, Adam Rudolph and Hamid Drake. The latter collaborates with the saxophonist for the very first time, giving precious help in the rhythmic layout of a record that shares the same conception as The Unknowable, another RareNoise release that featured Liebman, Rudolph and Japanese percussionist Tatsuya Nakatani.

The short-lived opener, “Becoming”, shapes slowly, creating a whispery electronic settlement that gains further mystery with the addition of Rudolph’s jolting intervals on the piano. Liebman infuses some spirituality at the last minute, making us wanting more.

The simpatico rhythmic tide of “Flux” upholds the alacritous, coiled phrases from tenor saxophone. This turbo-charged firepower settles down into a calm passage that, nonetheless, comes loaded with Liebman’s virtuosic language, which echoes on soprano sax with delay effect. Behind the drum kit, Drake responds accordingly, while Rudolph creates a densely propulsive flux through expeditious hand-drum bombardments.

If “Continuum” generates tension by departing from long howling cries and landing into pungently accented phrases, “Formless Form” mixes sweet piano delineations with chirping sounds, attaining a delicate equilibrium between nature and spirit. Liebman plays the piano with dexterity and unchained abandon, and, for an instant, Drake uses his voice, before diffusing an exhilarating percussion tapestry alongside Rudolph.

After the shifting, energetic, and expertly rendered “Emergence”, the longest piece on the record, “Whirl” brings the recording to a conclusion, proliferating a sort of groovy mantra implanted by Rudolph’s sintir and featuring Drake’s frame drum and vocals, as well as Liebman’s penetrating soprano exclamations.

The trio immerses us into their creative sonic bubble where fearless sounds may whether anchor you to Earth’s foundations or make you travel well above the clouds.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Flux ► 04 - Formless Form ► 06 - Whirl


Jeremy Pelt - Jeremy Pelt The Artist

Label: HighNote Records, 2019

Personnel – Jeremy Pelt: trumpet; Victor Gould: piano; Frank LoCrasto: Fender Rhodes, effects; Chien Chien Lu: vibraphone, marimba; Vicente Archer: bass; Allan Mednard: drums; Ismel Wignall: percussion.

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Jeremy Pelt is a terrific trumpet player and bandleader whose records offer enough consistency to make us search for new material. He is also an extremely reliable sideman with important contributions in projects by Vincent Herring, Ralph Peterson Jr., Wayne Escoffery, and more recently, bassist Ben Allison.

His new outing, Jeremy Pelt The Artist, finds him fronting a dynamic group with Victor Gould on piano, Frank LoCrasto on Fender Rhodes and effects, Chien Chien Lu on vibraphone and marimba, Vicente Archer on bass, Allan Mednard on drums, and Ismel Wignall on percussion.

The album’s first five tracks constitute The Rodin Suite, a compositional effort inspired by the work of French sculptor Auguste Rodin. Like the sculptor himself, Pelt doesn’t rebel against the past, but arrange everything in a clever way, introducing new elements that shape the music with a winsome modern feel. On “Pt 1: L’Appel Aux Armes”, Wintz’s scorching guitar licks emerge from the cumulative instrumental layers initiated by Gould’s piano. The rhythm mutates graciously, becoming a fine receptacle for a warm dialogue established between vibraphone and piano. Pelt’s buoyant trumpet, then becomes the center of attention when his wonderfully chosen notes populate the colorful harmonic tapestry.

Pt 2: Dignity and Despair” works like a languid transition to “Pt 3: I Sol Tace” where streams of percussion join trumpet lines affected by wah-wah and delay. Archer orders his contrabass to walk leisurely. Later on, he is doubled by Lu’s vibraphone and forms a smoothly groovy alliance with Mednard while psychedelic acid jazz shouts echo in the air.

Whereas “Pt 4: Camille Claudel” is a volatile ballad featuring the melodic conductions of Wintz and Pelt, the softly “Pt 5: Epilogue” is launched by solo bass and complemented with an initial primal thud (later extended to cymbal legato), muted trumpet, and the electric charm of LoCrasto’s Rhodes.

The rhythmic flux on “Ceramic” is suggestive of electronica, yet its essence is mainly post-bop like on “Feito”, which categorically swings with Pelt showing off lucid phrases that resonate with the style of Freddie Hubbard and Wynton Marsalis. He is followed by Lu and Gould, whose conviction doesn’t consent to energy interruptions.

You will find the rhythm section swinging in the pocket again on “As of Now”, which closes out the album full of supercharged jazz harmonies, right after the 3/4 musical sunshine that is “Watercolors”.

This is deftly composed material put in practice with taste by a sophisticated new group that works pretty well together.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - The Rodin Suite Pt. 1 ► 03 - The Rodin Suite Pt. 3 ► 06 - Ceramic


Tobias Meinhart - Berlin People

Label: Sunnyside Records, 2019

Personnel - Tobias Meinhart: saxophone; Kurt Rosenwinkel: guitar; Ludwig Hornung: piano; Tom Berkmann: bass; Mathias Ruppnig: drums.

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On his new outing, New York-based saxophonist Tobias Meinhart pays tribute to his German roots at the same time that shows an ardent passion for New York. In order to do that, he put together a group based in Berlin, whose lineup includes the illustrious American guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, now a mainstay of that European city’s music scene. With the guitarist functioning more like a featured soloist, the quintet presents a rhythm section composed of pianist Ludwig Hornung, bassist Tom Berkmann, and drummer Mathias Ruppnig.

The opener, “Mount Meru”, is highly expressive, promoting relaxation while progressing at a confident 6/8 tempo. Contributing an exciting solo, Rosenwinkel has a magnificent first intervention, showing full command of the guitar. His phrasing is bright and his sound dazzling. Meinhart succeeds him, drawing melodic paths that involve emotions, and a transitory chorus serves as a vehicle for percussive dilatations, anticipating the repositioning of the main theme.

The bandleader’s deep fondness of swing is shared on tunes like “It’s Not So Easy”, a current layout projected with the force of bop; “Berlin People”, a showcase for a hard-hitting saxophone; “Alfred”, which features a well-articulate piano solo and is dedicated to Meinhart’s late grandfather, a classically trained bassist; and “Serenity”, a Joe Henderson original, here suffused with blistering intensity and typically structured with theme / solos (sax, guitar, piano, bass) / four-bar trades with drummer / theme.

Hornung contributes “Fruher War Alles Besser”, a suave ballad where he echoes some of the melodies brought upfront by the bassist. However, it was another balladic effort that captivated me the most: Meinhart’s “Childhood”. Assembled with major triads and displaying a special affection for melody, the piece has Rosenwinkel finishing alone and in great style.

If “Malala” is an unhurried post-bop ride inspired by the Pakistani activist and Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, “Be Free” is nothing more than a short improvisation whose undercurrents I wished were further explored.

The tracks on Berlin People, despite compositionally strong, don’t reveal many shifts internally, living mostly from the power of the improvisations. However, the album marks a solid step in Meinhart’s evolution as a recording artist.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Mount Meru ► 07 - Childhood ► 08 - Berlin People


Bryan McAllister - Very Stable Genius

Label: Orenda Records, 2019

Personnel - Bryan McAllister: keyboards; Levi Saelua: alto sax, bass clarinet; Brandon Sherman: trumpet; Zack Teran: electric bass; Miguel Jimenez-Cruz: drums + guest Peter Epstein: alto sax.

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Keyboardist Bryan McAllister, a native of Reno, Nevada, reunites his local quintet for an electric jazz session marked by political observation (all titles target president Trump), in its satirical and reflective modes, and a rocking sense of groove. The album, Very Stable Genius, is an eight-song expedition into all sorts of fusion, and the opening tune, “My Fingers Are Long and Beautiful” is one of its highlights. Popping bass lines sustain the animated unison melodies that precede the improvisations. While the expressive altoist Levi Saelua denotes articulation within a conversational style, trumpeter Brandon Sherman exhibits strong rhythmic ideas throughout the swift, offbeat phrasing. The bandleader, besides attentive not to make his comping intrusive, improvises for a short period of time. By the end, both unisons and counterpoint lead to a rock vamp where drummer Miguel Jimenez-Cruz sweeps the drumset with energy.

Bringing the same soloists to the forefront, “My IQ is the One of the Highest” is another stream-of-consciousness allurement with a tuneful horn-driven intro, quick-witted bass slides, and a seductive riff defining its head. The efficiency of the drummer is noticeable here again and the tune ends with a mellow tone after his effervescent discourse.

If “Mueller” is a humorous fusion of rock and Latin jazz that grooves with a forward-looking attitude, “Plan a Parade” sucks you into its odd-metered, rock-oriented vortex. Guest saxophonist Peter Epstein shines while expressing his valuable opinions on alto sax. The group explores the fertile contemporary jazz landscape with a bunch of other influences and “Fake News” is peremptory in showing it. Repetitive lines echoed by sax and muted trumpet join the electronic vibe (with some fine glitch) generated by the rhythm section. The vibrant pulse acquires different shapes, evincing Latin connotations after the final statement, and we realize that irony is here to stay.

Softer in nature, “Executive Time” finds wider space to navigate, even when the relentless pendular keyboard punctuates Zack Teran’s bass extemporization. In turn, the beautiful ambient jazz of “State of the Uniom” showcases McAllister’s keyboards as its vital melodic force. It feels good to luxuriate in its irresistible, easy-listening sonorities.

With a firm grasp across genres, McAllister and his qualified bandmates focused on cooking an admirable set that brings the keyboardist’s eclectic compositions to life. Subsequent listenings will allow you to get more and more familiar with their sound aesthetics and make unexpected discoveries.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - My Fingers Are Long and Beautiful ► 06 - State of the Uniom ► 08 - Plan a Parade