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


Christian McBride Big Band - Bringin It

Label/Year: Mack Avenue Records, 2017

Lineup includes – Christian McBride: bass; Ron Blake: tenor sax, flute; Steve Wilson: alto and soprano sax, flute; Todd Bashore: alto sax, flute, piccolo; Carl Maraghi: bari sax, bass clarinet; Dan Pratt: tenor sax, flute; Freddie Hendrix: trumpet; David Lee: trumpet; Frank Greene: trumpet; Nabate Isles: trumpet; Steve Davis: trombone; Michael Dease: trombone; James Burton: trombone; Joe McDonough: trombone; Douglas Purviance: bass trombone; Rodney Jones: guitar; Xavier Davis: piano; Melissa Walker: vocals; Quincy Phillips: drums.

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Every record put out by the world-class jazz bassist Christian McBride is well worth checking out. After digging Live at the Village Vanguard with his trio, the bassist returns to the big band format with Bringin’ It, an honorable follow-up to the 2011 Grammy Award winner The Good Feeling.

What does McBride bring us this time? Originals? Jazz standards? Elated post-bop classics? Well, the answer is yes to all of that, and he does it with an impressive cohort of artists and outstanding soloists, many of them retrieved from the first experience, including saxophonists Ron Blake and Steve Wilson, trumpeter Freddie Hendrix, trombonists Steve Davis and Michael Dease, as well as pianist Xavier Davis and vocalist Melissa Walker.

Gettin’ To It”, the first of three reshaped old originals by the bassist, flows with soulful energy, colored with Rodney Jones’ funk-oriented guitar chops and filled with lots of jabs and hooks thrown in by the improvisers. Hendrix sounds magisterial in his brave trumpet ululations and then Jones applies all his bluesiness to an individual statement, well backed by a trombone/baritone ostinato.

Freddie Hubbard’s “Thermo” is a triumphant, engaging post-bop vehicle for the soloists, who take us to the golden era of jazz without leaving aside the buoyant twists of modernity.

McBride’s remaining compositions, “Youthful Bliss” and “Used ‘Ta Could”, are both colorful but inhabit different worlds. The former, including a bass discourse with bright melody and groove, cultivates a post-bop idolization with occasional delicate ripples of soul and Latin for extra color, while the latter is a celebratory waltz with plenty of Mingus’ moods.

Another punch in the stomach arrives with McCoy Tyner’s “Sahara”, exuberantly set in motion by Quincy Phillips’ mallet drumming together with free-floating woodwinds, and then leaning on a 6/8 groove with vibrant horn unisons atop. Striking improvisations from piano and alto saxophone occur over modal harmonic progressions while Phillips finishes off what he had started, resorting to his classy rhythmic deftness.

Wes Montgomery’s groovy “Full House” starts with packaging all the original guitaristic steam in Jones’ well-measured solo, passing by Carl Maraghi’s magnetic baritone before the epic finale. The vivacity felt here opposes to the more tranquil vibes of the jazz standards “I Thought About You” and “ In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning”.

The vocal warmness of Ms. Melissa Walker is quite something on Djavan’s Brazilian hit “Upside Down” (the original version is called “Flor de Lis”), and also polishes up “Mr. Bojangles”, a tune by the American country artist Jerry Jeff Walker, here brought up with interesting rhythmic details and a leisurely swing.

Suffused with striking arrangements and turning the ensemble's grandiose sense of unity to its advantage, Bringin’ It is a tour-de-force album that substantiates how a modern big band can sound so stalwart and effulgent at the same time.

        Grade  A

        Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Thermo ► 03 - Youthful Bliss ► 05 – Sahara


Alan Ferber Big Band - Jigsaw

Label/Year: Sunnyside Records, 2017

Lineup – Alan Ferber, John Fedchock, Jacob Garchik, Jennifer Wharton: trombone; John O'Gallagher, Rob Wilkerson, John Ellis, Jason Rigby, Chris Cheek: saxophones; Tony Kadleck, Scott Wendholt, Alex Norris, Clay Jenkins: trumpet; Anthony Wilson: guitar; David Cook: piano, keyboards; Matt Pavolka: bass; Mark Ferber: drums; Rogerio Boccato: percussion.

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Besides being a skillful trombonist, the Grammy award nominee Alan Ferber is a magical arranger and a focused bandleader. These true gifts make him an inevitable figure in the contemporary jazz universe. As a leader, he got notoriety for conducting a vibrant nonet whose album Roots & Transitions was definitely one of the most irresistible I had the chance to tackle last year.
The same sense of fulfillment applies to Jigsaw, his seventh album of originals, recorded with a 17-piece big band that includes some of the most enlivening jazz artists on the scene.

The superior quality that results from this compositional vision-meets-ravishing arrangements is fully felt on the first track, “Impulso”, an absolutely impulsive, gritty scorch established within a sumptuous, contemporary setting. Flowing at a moderate pace with a Latinized cool spirit, the tune finds the band wading into striking interplay before each soloist begins to express what's going on in their minds, starting with the bandleader, then saxophonist John O’Gallagher, and finishing with trumpeter Alex Norris, who finishes the story.

Guitarist Anthony Wilson handles the introductory section of a song he wrote, “She Won’t Look Back”. He employs slightly dissonant chords modeled by acerbic sound effects, a tactic that beautifully fits the languid air surrounding this half-dreamy, half-conscious pop fantasy. Here, the bass of Matt Pavolka is particularly highlighted.

Reveries of freedom arrive with the title track, whose more abstract, free-form overture obtains a bold avant-gardish tonality created by the kinky sounds flowing from David Cook’s keyboards. In addition to the enticing rhythmic contortions, one can indulge in O’Gallagher’s highly expressive saxophone improvisation filled with volcanic episodes, and there’s also time for a spontaneous percussive escapade by Mark Ferber, Alan’s twin brother.

Contradicting this last tune, we have the silkiness of “North Rampart”, a weeping ballad that besides intelligently harmonized and orchestrated, exhibits a catchy melody imprinted on the head. There’s also the Latin-tinged breezes of Paul McCandless’ “Lost in the Hours”, which acquires a pronounced Brazilian feel, considerably intensified through the action of percussionist Rogério Boccato, especially during the improvisations of trombonist John Fedchock and saxophonist Rob Wilkerson.

Muted trombones and trumpets prepare the ground for the soulfully groovy vibe that sustains “Get Sassy”, a brassy piece reminiscent of Mingus’ exultations, where the amazing teamwork eases the glorious blend of traditional and modern elements. A different concoction was achieved for Clay Jenkins’ “Late Bloomer”, artistically devised to contain unpretentious swinging jazz and brawny rock passages.

Jigsaw is a kaleidoscopic, up-to-the-minute jazz album that doesn’t need frivolous pyrotechnics or radical asymmetries or complicated meters to sound marvelous. It rather uses a genuine reciprocity between the highly committed musicians who, under the keen direction of Alan Ferber, provide another lovely and contagious big band record.

        Grade  A

        Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Impulso ► 03 - Jigsaw ► 05 - Get Sassy


Ken Schaphorst Big Band - How to Say Goodbye

Ken Schaphorst: composer, trumpet, Fender Rhodes; Donny McCaslin and Chris Cheek: tenor sax; Michael Thomas and Jeremy Udden: alto sax; Michael Landrus: baritone sax, bass clarinet; Ralph Alessi, John Carlson, Dave Ballou, and Tony Kadleck: trumpet; Luis Bonilla, Curtis Hasselbring, Jason Jackson: trombone; Jennifer Wharton: bass trombone; Brad Shepik: guitar; Uri Caine: piano; Jerry Leake: percussion; Jay Anderson: bass; Matt Wilson: drums.

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Ken Schaphorst, a composer, trumpeter, and educator with more than a decade of experience leading big bands, counts on a great lineup of musicians and friends, including a few former students from the New England Conservatory in Boston. Schaphorst’s modern big bands are typically packed with trendy and inventive jazz instrumentalists, and for this new album, entitled How To Say Goodbye, he maintains this feature. Donny McCaslin, Ralph Alessi, Chris Cheek, Uri Caine, Jay Anderson, and Matt Wilson are incredible performers that need none introduction.

Shifty and animated, the title track immediately lets us know about Schaphorst’s art of orchestration. The tune was written for the trumpeter John Carlson, who evinces an absolute confidence and takes the lead through thoughtful moves.
Blues for Herb”, dedicated to trumpeter Herb Pomeroy, borrows the fundamental elements of Duke Ellington, adds a touch of Mingus, and jolts with the striking, articulated verbalization of McCaslin on tenor. The engaging saxophonist shines once more in the first part of “Mbira”, an African celebration of exultant rhythms and joyful disposition. The guitarist Brad Shepik assumes a similar role in the second part of the tune, injecting scented folkish sounds and showing how comfortable he moves within the fusion genre.
While the city of Boston is recalled in “Green City”, a tune that evolves harmoniously with a 3/4 time signature, the music of Astor Piazzola was a strong inspiration for “Amnesia”, which is dedicated to Schaphorst’s late grandmother. The former features Chris Cheek on tenor sax, and the latter is dominated by the alto of Michael Thomas.

Take Back the Country” is another tribute to one of the bandleader’s mentors, the celebrated trombonist Bob Brookmeyer. His influences are blended with Gerry Mulligan’s way, and this combination is fueled by penetrating improvisations of Luis Bonilla on trombone and Brian Landrus on baritone sax.
Schaphorst also takes the opportunity to display his skills on trumpet in “Global Sweet”, a somewhat spiritual chant enveloped in glamour. 
The album couldn’t have had a better ending with “Descent”, an impulsively groovy (impeccable foundation by Jay Anderson and Matt Wilson) and vividly swinging piece that shakes us with its emotional robustness. The tune features the irresistible pianist Uri Caine, who becomes lyrical whenever accompanying and effusive when improvising, and also Ralph Alessi, whose melodic movements and rhythmic contortions are both impressive and opportune.

Schaphorst’s genius compositions come from the heart and the thankfulness toward the talents who have been sharing music with him is translated into honest tributes and magical reciprocation. Unabated, How To Say Goodbye was beautifully conceived, standing as one of the big band favorite albums of 2016.

          Grade  A

          Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
02 – Blues for Herb ► 05 – Take Back the Country ► 10 – Descent