Allison Miller's Boom Tic Boom - Glitter Wolf

Label: Royal Potato Family, 2019

Personnel – Ben Goldberg: bass clarinets; Kirk Knuffke: cornet; Jenny Scheinman: violin; Myra Melford: piano; Todd Sickafoose: bass; Allison Miller: drums.

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Drummer/composer Allison Miller has always shown a penchant to jazz and rock with grooves that tick with elegance and pulse with abundant energy. Her compositions radiate swagger and soul, shinning with lively rhythmic colors and impressive melodic sensibilities. This was pretty evident on Science Fair, definitely, a career-high album co-led with pianist Carmen Staaf, and that’s what you’ll also find on Glitter Wolf, the fifth outing with her long-standing band Boom Tic Boom. The group was launched in 2010 as a quartet with Jenny Scheinman on violin, Myra Melford on piano, and Todd Sickafoose on bass, but was augmented to a sextet for the time being with the addition of virtuosic clarinetist Ben Goldberg and cornetist Kirk Knuffke.

Scheinman’s prolonged drone initiates “Congratulations, Condolences”, a consistently impressive piece that rocks at the substrate layer but leans on avant-garde empathy at the surface, notably due to the brisk, finely stated solos from Goldberg and Knuffke, who juxtapose thoughts like a conversation. However, it’s Melford who deserves all our attention, with wide-ranging leaping notes forming state-of-the-art phrases that bewilder and confound.

The Ride" is another highlight. It takes off with explosive drums and shifts from a bruising funk eloquence (with horn counterpoint atop) to chamber classical ease to New Orleans-style jazz/blues intrepidity. Right after Knuffke and Scheinman’s confident discourses, Goldberg jumps out, taking his bass clarinet to an abysmal low-toned crusade that pumps up the groove deeply. The exciting ride ends in poised suspension.

The modernistic electro-pop touches of “Malaga” are anchored in the danceable rhythm underneath, but the sway of strummed violin, melody-driven piano groove, and the rampant clarinet fierceness, also contribute to the virtuous vibe.

The album draws inspiration from many different genres, and “Daughter And Sun” brings forth expressive folkish melodies in the head, cooking up a cordial crossover jazz. Married to a rhythm that shows optimism, Miller delivers a crisp solo peppered with incisive snare wallops, grooving tom-toms, and cymbal color. “Welcome Hotel” is another eclectic selection that invites us to exotic places with a playful and voluptuous compound of reggae catchiness along with folk and Latin elements. It ends in tango mode with the violin in evidence amidst the horns.

Not contradictory with the stylish genre-bending solution adopted on other pieces, the title track has the unpredictable Melford showing off her vast musical qualities. She slightly latinizes with zest a tune whose foundation rocks and funks with a pinch of electronica innuendo through Sickafoose’s bass lines. It becomes heavily Latin by the end with the horn section bringing on rousing activity.

Under Miller’s direction, the group keeps the music lean, sharp, and on point for a consistent musical confection with plenty of simpatico connections.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Congratulations, Condolences ► 02 - The Ride ► 09 - Glitter Wolf


Sylvie Courvoisier / Mark Feldman - Time Gone Out

Label: Intakt Records, 2019

Personnel - Sylvie Courvoisier: piano; Mark Feldman: violin.

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Pianist Sylvie Courvoisier and violinist Mark Feldman, two of the finest and consummate stylists of the New York avant scene, release a new set of bold music on Time Gone Out, twenty years after their first duo recording, Music for Violin and Piano. By turns literate and kinetic, the duo’s direction is never obvious and every little step feels like a secret unraveled.

Homesick For Another World” highlights the enigmatic tones of Feldman’s violin. The bright melodies become sumptuously contoured but the mood never completely leaves the abstraction, which is reinforced when Courvoisier combs the piano strings and issues smothered staccato sounds. This atmosphere differs from “Eclats For Ornette”, a texturally exuberant piece written by the pianist and whose memorable main statement stays in the head. Clever intersections, whether presented in counterpoint or floating whimsically free, add an extra jolt of energy to an interactive scenario that bridges the classical and the avant-garde genres with erudition.

Limits of the Useful” has an eccentric percussive start with the prepared piano and the erratic violin combining with spectral amplitude and odd timbres to create mystery. The percussive approach continues on “Crytoporticus”, a suitable occasion for Courvoisier to explore the depth and range offered by the piano. More refrained, this number goes from murmurous to dreamy to beautifully lyric in its final part, although with punctual impactful blasts arriving from the lower registers of the keyboard. The way these two musicians speak and breathe the music without ever curbing each other’s actions is phenomenal. Thus, freedom and space are always associated with their bilateral conversations, true sources of emotion.

The dramatic piano comping on the tonally interesting “Blindspot” is brilliant, setting the perfect backdrop for Feldman’s piercing shrills, ascending melodic inflations and glissandos, and ultimately soaring phrasing. Despite the vague reverie, the violin sounds more effulgent than dark, even when distributing waves of austerity here and there.

The central piece on the album is the title track, “Time Gone Out”, a nearly 20-minute chamber creation that you may think of as an offbeat chorale with a streamlined approach and celestial bursts. You’ll find an immersive solo piano passage as well as blossoming violin messages appearing as cerebral modern classical incursions dramatized with interactive commitment. Moreover, there’s a poised compromise between hushed, ruminative moments and dynamic activity.

Offering different dividends with each listening, this album encloses too many treasures to be discovered. The long-standing creative partnership between Courvoisier and Feldman is stronger than ever, taking us to a lot of unexpected places.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Eclats For Ornette ► 04 - Blindspot ► 06 - Crytoporticus


Eric Hofbauer's Five Agents - Book of Water

Label: Creative Nation Music, 2019

Personnel - Seth Meicht: saxophone; Jerry Sabatini: trumpet; Jeb Bishop: trombone; Eric Hofbauer: guitar; Nate McBride: bass; Curt Newton: drums.

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Guitarist Eric Hofbauer, a mainstay of the Boston scene, assembles a supple jazz sextet where he teams up with bassist Nate McBride and drummer Curt Newton in the rhythm section, providing footing for a pretty active three-horn frontline composed of saxophonist Seth Meitch, trumpeter Jerry Sabatini and trombonist Jeb Bishop.

The five-part suite Book of Water is the first of five books addressing the following elements: fire, wood, earth, metal, and water. The parts last between 10 and 17 minutes, approximately, and were given titles drawn from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poem Water. Hofbauer's influences include John Tchicai and Roy Campbell, but there is also subtle touches of Messiaen and Ives, as well as the subversive orchestral worlds of Anthony Braxton and Sun Ra (without the synth).

By way of illustration, “Water Understands Civilization Well” favors an avant-garde jazz that still swings. The luxurious orchestration challenges any possible preconception, leading to sections where the interplay commands. After conversational maneuvers with plenty of rhythmic figures and oblique movements between trumpet and trombone, it’s time for the saxophonist and the bandleader step forward. The former instigates rapid phrases, some of them reiterated through circular breathing, while the latter combines quirky notes in order to bring certain atonality to the textures. Finally, bassist and drummer shake the foundation a bit, with the horns stepping in with timely pinpoint accuracy.

A nearly three-minute hushed guitar intro brings “It Wells, It Chills” to life. For his sonic exploration of the water's ice states and vapor, Hofbauer employs a dry, peculiar tone suffused with bright harmonics and delicate percussive techniques. Entering quietly but totally dominating the melody, Sabatini shows an impressive attack and pitch control of the trumpet and contributes gracious melodic lines. Effective chills occur in the darker final stage, where an unaccompanied McBride applies the arco to keep the gravity low.

The whimsical and resilient “It Is Not Disconcerted” takes advantage of penetrating saxophone lines, comfortably psychedelic guitar comping, resolute bass with a well-defined tonal center, and restless drums, proving that water is uncontrollable and unpredictable. Later on, is Bishop who experiences a similar type of freedom.

Well Used, Adorning Joy” is marked by an unflagging 5/4 bass ostinato, which, along with the percussive stream and the projection of the horns, vouches for stoutness. The bandleader strikes with an unorthodox if swinging guitar improvisation filled with magic glamor.

The last and longest piece on the album, “Ill Used, Will Elegantly Destroy”, is also the strongest. It starts off with trombone and a timidly meddling arco bass, advancing for an uptempo orchestral foray in 3/4, which shifts afterward so that the trumpet can speak square. Meicht is the man here, delivering a nice saxophone solo but Newton also stands out behind the drum kit after the horn players’ infiltrations.

Hofbauer reveals himself as a creative composer capable of integrating exacting composition and tactical flexibility with dogged determination.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Water Understands Civilization Well ► 04 - Well Used, Adorning Joy ► 05 - Ill Used, Will Elegantly Destroy


Fabian Almazan Trio - The Land Abounds With Life

Label: Biophilia Records, 2019

Personnel - Fabian Almazan: piano, percussion, electronics; Linda May Han Oh: acoustic and electric bass; Henry Cole: drums.

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The Cuban-born, Miami-raised, and now Harlem-based pianist Fabian Almazan releases his fourth album as a leader, manipulating his music not only as a way to express political views and concerns about the welfare of our planet, but also as a reflection about his life and the emotional visit to his native Cuba, 23 years after leaving the country. The Land Abounds With Life reiterates him as a skilled storyteller and, as habitual, features a tight jazz triangle with bassist Linda May Han Oh and drummer Henry Cole occupying the lower vertices.

Benjamin” is an acrobatic romp showcasing the bandleader’s articulatory agility on the keyboard and the response capacity of his trio mates. This richly textured, rhythmic-oriented churner overflows with fast, complex, and precise lines and its variations are implemented with elegance. The inspiration came from George Orwell’s political satire Animal Farm and the message is manifestly political.

Folk elements abound, unfolding naturally within a broad-minded jazz context. Hence, the Cuban heritage is revealed without a hitch on “The Poets”, a piece that honors the music campesina and features a sample of Cuban poet El Macaguero de Pinar improvising on Pie Forzado. It pretty much waltzes before shifting to a straightforward 4/4 passage marked by a salient odd beat. There are other hybrid tunes like “Folklorism”, an exaltation of the Afrocubanismo movement of the 20s and 30s and carried out with a thematic pulse, unison melodies, and bowed bass; and “The Nomads”, whose key and tempo shifts don’t meddle in a staggering embodiment of M-Base, rock, jazz, modern classical, and Afro-Cuban elements. Even well informed of the hardships of growing up in Cuba at that time, Almazan's intention is to celebrate life and music on this piece.

Going from one mood to another, “The Everglades” portrays the Miami wetlands in two different scenarios. A reflective first section, containing an adept bass solo with dramatic piano comping and imperturbable drumming, conjures up peaceful sunrises on a calm winter day; a more exuberant middle part in six pictures a lightning storm in the heat of July; subsequently, a complete tranquility is restored for closure.

A pair of non-originals had their place on the album: Cuban rocker Carlos Varela’s “Bola De Nieve” is a beautiful song written for the iconic entertainer Ignacio Jacinto Villa Hernandez, and was elevated by the presence of a string quartet, whereas the solo piano “Music On My Mind”, composed by the stride piano virtuoso Willie ‘The Lion’ Smith’s, resonates emotionally with intimacy as one of Almazan’s favorite pieces.

Lugubrious, lyrical, and tense, “Jaula” is another solo piano effort ingrained by sensitive modern classical gestures that attempt to sonically portray Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment during the apartheid.

These ambitious narratives speak for themselves, touting Almazan as a socially conscious voice and one of the most outstanding proponents on his instrument.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Benjamin ► 02 - The Everglades ► 06 - The Nomads


Walt Weiskopf - European Quartet Worldwide

Label: Orenda Records, 2019

Personnel - Walt Weiskopf: tenor saxophone; Carl Winther: piano; Andreas Lang: bass; Anders Mogensen: drums.

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American tenor saxophonist and composer Walt Weiskopf has been around since the ’80s, the time he started to be noticed after integrating the big band of Buddy Rich and stinting with the pair Toshiko Akiyoshi/Lew Tabackin. Soon, he forged his own path as a leader, recording more than 20 albums alongside distinctive musical personalities that include bassists Jay Anderson and Peter Washington, drummers Jeff Hirshfield and Billy Drummond, and, in occasion, guitarist Peter Bernstein and pianists Renee Rosnes and Brad Mehldau. Since 2003, he has been a constant presence in the rock band Steely Dan.

His second album on the Orenda imprint is called European Quartet Worldwide, the follow up to last year’s European Quartet. The group signals one alteration, with Daniel Franck being replaced by Andreas Lang on the bass, while pianist Carl Winther and drummer Anders Mogensen remain in their positions.

The word worldwide in the title is not misleading since the saxophonist makes reference to countries like Uganda, Brazil, Scotland, Russia and Japan on selected tunes of a 10-track album that includes eight originals along with personal interpretations of esteemed numbers such as Todd Dameron’s ballad “Soultrane” and Quincy Jones’ “The Pawnbrocker”, the main theme of Sidney Lumet’s classic film of the same name. On the latter piece, Weiskopf immerses himself in the melody, only stretching out in the final vamp.

Swinging with fortitude, “Russian Roulette” and “Coat of Arms” come loaded with Coltrane-style figures, whereas “Marcie by Moonlight”, with a groove inspired on the first chord change of “Stella by Starlight”, was conveniently retitled and dedicated to Weiskopf’s wife. During the piano solo, Mogensen insists on a cymbal continuum that feels a bit prosaic, yet the song aligns with softness in the melody and coolness in the harmonization.

With a sensitive and far-reaching approach, “Back in Brazil” exteriorizes a bit of that South American flavor without steeping too much in the bossa tradition, while the saddened “Scottish Folk Song” waltzes at a relaxed tempo, articulating beautiful bass-sax unisons and delivering solos from piano and bass.

The album’s most striking numbers are the leadoff track, “Entebbe”, and its follower, “Back in Japan”. The former embarks on a full-steamed, high-energy post-bop that imagines Uganda in a two-section structure (the A section grooves in seven and the B in five), while the latter, conjuring up evocative images from the Land of the Rising Sun, appears in the form of a post-bop thrill whose Eastern-infused melody connects to that specific culture. Both tunes feature the bandleader, who fuels his improvisations with outside boldness and vigorous timbre, keeping the listener engaged.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Entebbe ► 02 - Back in Japan ► 09 - Scottish Folk Song


Ayumi Ishito - Midnite Cinema

Label: Self Produced, 2019

Personnel – Ayumi Ishito: tenor sax, celesta; Hajime Yoshida: electric and acoustic guitar; Steve Brickman: keyboards, piano, organ, synthesizers; Yoshiki Yamada: electric bass; Carter Bales: drums; Alessandra Levy: vocals.

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Based in Brooklyn since 2010, Ayumi Ishito is a Japanese-born saxophonist/composer whose spunky style consists in a contemporary amalgamation of genres with a profusion of mood changes and predicated in demarcated structures that involve both group texture and individual improvisation. Her sophomore album is called Midnite Cinema and, contrary to her debut trio album, features a supple quintet with guitar, keyboards, bass, and drums.

The first two tracks, “Lost Sheep” and the adventurous “Caterpillars”, follow similar methodologies, shifting time signatures and sharing a common denominator: progressive rock. Still, their passages vary in style, and in the case of the former piece, propelled by a pumping bass, you even get a bit of R&B in the 4/4 section, sax ostinatos over a more commercial hard rock approach, and an openly groovy solo by keyboardist Steve Brickman, who takes us to a psychedelic electro-funk crescendo. He delivers again on the classic metal-tinged “Under the Raff”. The cinematic “Caterpillars” even brings other elements in, like when a brief soft popish moment blows in after an accented, in-your-face rhythmic passage that is no more than a breath away from prog-rock. There’s also a gritty sax solo dipped in effects running on top of a rock-solid vamping that veers into another vamp to feature guitarist Hajime Yoshida and his patterned metal licks. Guest vocalist Alessandra Levy makes an impact, fortifying the obscure choruses suitably arranged by Brickman.

Not Today” is an indie pop song that starts like a lullaby, but gets Ishito’s wah-wah-drenched saxophone speaking expressively in the guise of a guitar. If simplicity is the word that better fits here, then “Clown Ride” feels like a kitsch cocktail of genres where everything is taken to the extreme with soft pop/rock, slippery American marching extravagances, bolero sumptuosity, and avant-garde pompousness.

Even a bit too strained sometimes, compensation arrives from “Antler Velvet”, which boasts a jazzy atmosphere in tones of ballad along with a fancy crawling beat, and “Eight Steps”, a wider step into the free/avant jazz universe where enthusiastic galloping runs contrast with darker sounds. At this point, Ishito maximizes timbral work and evokes Coltrane, while a toxic guitar noise gradually infiltrates, shoving its way toward the final.

Conceived with a mix of sly wit and calculated naivety, Midnite Cinema is rigorous fusion with uncountable transitions and some peremptory unexpected turns.

Grade  B-

Grade B-

Favorite Tracks:
03 - Not Today ► 04 - Eight Steps ► 06 - Antler Velvet


Melissa Aldana - Visions

Label: Motéma Music, 2019

Personnel - Melissa Aldana: tenor saxophone; Joel Ross: vibraphone; Sam Harris: piano; Pablo Menares: bass; Tommy Crane: drums.

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Exceeding one hour, the album Visions by Chilean reed player Melissa Aldana is presented as a musical exploration of self-identity and expression. The session, mostly composed of originals, was inspired by the life and work of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, and starts with the title track, one of the two pieces composed for The Jazz Gallery residency commission 2017-18. Embracing a firm, medium-fast tempo, the tune exposes an expeditious melody dancing over a predominating triple meter that continues for the solos. The bandleader, who also shows her improvisational qualities, pronounces coincidental lines with vibraphonist Joel Ross, while pianist Sam Harris opts for a somewhat fuzzy approach during his solo. However, he proclaims clarity of language on pieces like “Perdon”, a gentle waltzing ballad written by bassist Pablo Menares, and the heart-rending standard “Never Let Me Go”, where he beautifully deconstructs the original harmony at the same time that explores melodies outside the lines.

La Madrina” conveys a subtle classical feel in the chords’ movements and inherent voice-leading, preserving the sax/vibraphone coalition, aggrandizing emotions with the depth of bowed bass, and irrigating the foundation with a sultry Latin touch. This sprightly piece was also composed for the aforementioned commission.

Some songs came out gooier than fluid as if they were brought to a simmer without actually boiling over. These were the cases of “Acceptance” and “The Search”. I also missed memorable riffing in the music, here replaced by a strict post-bop posture flavored with colorful brushstrokes of Latin jazz. Even expecting more from this rising artist, there are moments where the intensity gets you. The rhythmically fervent “Elsewhere” and “Su Tragedia”, which waltzes with occasional tango expressiveness, are especially vivid examples of that. The saxophonist excels on the latter piece, exhibiting her searing tenor again on “El Castillo de Velanje”, the piece that concludes the album and redirects the spotlight in its final section to Ross’ vibrant mallet work.

Visions fails to make a very deep mark, but Aldana shows enough modernity in her language to keep us in.

Grade  B-

Grade B-

Favorite Tracks:
03 - La Madrina ► 06 - Elsewhere ► 08 - Never Let Me Go


Brandee Younger - Soul Awakening

Label: Self Produced, 2019

Personnel – Brandee Younger: harp; Ravi Coltrane: tenor saxophone; Chelsea Baratz: tenor saxophone; Stacy Dillard: soprano saxophone; Antoine Roney: tenor saxophone; Sean Jones: trumpet; Freddie Hendrix: trumpet; Corey Wilcox: trombone; Nicole Camacho: flute; Niia: vocals; Dezron Douglas: bass; E.J. Strickland: drums; Chris Beck: drums.

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Harpist Brandee Younger and her cohorts find a perfect balance in the repertoire that composes Soul Awakening, her fourth album as a leader, which was completed in 2013 but only now sees the light of the day. The lineup includes longtime collaborators such as saxophonists Stacy Dillard and Chelsea Baratz, drummer E.J. Strickland, and bassist Dezron Douglas, who produced the album. Additionally, there’s a bunch of special guests assisting the spiritual perspective of the bandleader’s music, always conducted with the intent to inspire.

The album astounds in its overture with Douglas-penned “Soulris”, a spiritual modal journey founded on a formidable bass/drums groove (the drummer here is Chris Beck) and suffused with those positive vibes associated with John and Alice Coltrane. Their son, Ravi Coltrane, is the tenorist here, blowing some well-timed outside notes that take us over the moon. His ardent post-bop influence is noticeable again on Younger’s “Loves Prayer”, a triple-metered exercise reflecting balladic tendencies and delivered at a medium tempo. Even in chilled out mode, the bandleader continues the excellent comping work, elongating the already sumptuous and sometimes wriggling sheets of sound.

Linda Lee”, whose title refers to Younger's mother, navigates in breezy modes, underlined by a smooth funk that seeks extra color in the interplay between Baratz and guest trumpeter Freddie Hendrix.

The colorful “Respected Destroyer” was many times included in the repertoire of New Orleans brass band The Soul Rebels. Following the modest beauty of Younger’s harp, we find Baratz sharp articulations on tenor, and then the crisp, clear tone and range of trumpeter Sean Jones. Everything takes place under Strickland’s hip-hop-flavored groove.

Harpists Dorothy Ashby and Alice Coltrane are paid tribute with renditions of their own pieces, “Games” and “Blue Nile”, respectively. The former is a sultry R&B piece with bluesy and Latin insinuations, whereas the latter finishes the program in modal jazz fashion with tenor man Antoine Roney maneuvering in the foreground.

Vocalist Niia interprets Marvin Gaye’s “Save The Children” with a mix of cool intonation and soulful profundity. Depositing hopes in a better world, Younger included this tune as a homage to saxophone player Jimmy Greene’s late daughter, victimized in the Sandy Hook shooting in Connecticut. Expect deep, grooving electric bass lines, dreamy and crystalline harp moves, and an apt pulse with valid drum fills. At odds with this mood, the title track unrolls with uncompromising freedom. The bandleader designates Baratz, Dillard, and flutist Nicole Camacho as melodic colorists as she squeezes out a striking harmonization.

Brandee Younger puts her own stamp on these compositions and magical moments, going from inward to the vastness of space, are instantly tracked down. What the heck kept this splendid work on the shelf for so many years?

Grade  A

Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Soulris ► 02 - Linda Lee ► 04 - Respected Destroyer


Patrick Cornelius - This Should Be Fun

Label: Posi-Tone Records, 2019

Personnel - Patrick Cornelius: alto saxophone; Nick Vayenas: trombone; John Escreet: piano; Ben Allison: bass; Mark Ferber: drums.

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New York alto saxophonist Patrick Cornelius surrounds himself of great musicians for his second Posi-Tone album This Should Be Fun, a competent and feel-good exhilaration replete of timeless rhythms and burning jazz moments.

By entrusting the rhythm section to luxurious artists such as pianist John Escreet, bassist Ben Allison, and drummer Mark Ferber, Cornelius could feel at ease. On selected tracks, he teams up with trombonist Nick Vayenas in the frontline, a recurrent collaborator. The latter contributed the only number on the recording that Cornelius didn’t pen: “Dissolution”, a well-measured middle-tempo reflection. However, his effortless melodic work gains a wider dimension on tunes such as “Telescope”, a stimulating 6/8 offering with straightforward parallel motions and perfectly synchronized rhythmic actions, and “Leaving Paradise”, a breezy song with a pronounced bossanova feel, where the bandleader and Escreet also stand out. Saxophonist and pianist find the spotlight again on the clear post-bop waters of the opening piece, “Big Pictures”, where they embark on resolute elocutions and shape spiraling circles, respectively.

Generous concentrations of joy and exuberance are offered on four of the album’s ten pieces: the title track is a hot bluesy churner rooted in the early jazz tradition; “Restless Willow” displays a lively piano figure upfront, combining ingratiating Latin vibes with typical jazz standard progressions that almost make “I’ll Remember April” relive; “Like Kenny” boasts a soulful melodicism and substantial harmonic color; and “One Shy of a Dozen”, a lightning fast 12-bar blues ridden with energy and shook by Escreet’s deliciously twisty details. Everything is laid bare with quick-moving vitality and enormous respect for the past, yet two ballads counterbalance this prevailing cheerful mood: “Precious Souls”, a rubato sax-bass duet, and a tuneful closing story, “For Morgan”.

Advocating arrangements that are both efficacious and uncomplicated, Cornelius makes use of his tunes to emit great vibrations. Most of the support will likely come from straight-ahead jazz circles, but everyone looking for honest true jazz should find something fun here.

Grade B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Leaving Paradise ► 05 - Telescope ► 09 - Restless Willow


Matt Mitchell - Phalanx Ambassadors

Label: Pi Recordings, 2019

Personnel – Matt Mitchell: piano, mellotron, Prophet 6 synthesizer; Miles Okazaki: guitar; Patricia Brennan: vibraphone, marimba; Kim Cass: bass; Kate Gentile: drums.

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Visionary keyboardist Matt Mitchell has been contributing extensively to make our modern jazz times richer. In order to tackle seven demanding compositions that relate to one another in very peculiar ways, he gathered the horn-less quintet Phalanx Ambassadors, which includes guitarist Miles Okazaki, vibraphonist/marimbist Patricia Brennan, bassist Kim Cass, and drummer Kate Gentile. These intrepid musicians had to possess exceptional qualifications to deal with such a rigorous structure and instrumentation, including advanced reading skills. Sharing the same taste for innovation, bassist and drummer had been gigging with the pianist as Phalanx Trio, and joining forces in the Mitchell/Gentile co-led project called Snark Horse.

A perpetual vehemence enwraps “Stretch Goal”, which begins with the drummer stressing urgency while a certain mystery arises from the complementary instrumentation produced in the lower registers. Cass puts a lot of energy in his soloing effort, while Mitchell swings in his very own way, blending wild patterns and multi-shaped phrases with an impeccable articulation. Brennan and Okazaki also bring their special sounds to light, culminating a sequence of improvisations that comes in reverse order from what is normally expected.

Whereas “Taut Pry” is relentlessly polyrhythmic, “Zoom Romp” is daring, tossing ideas around a rhythmic core that relies on some rock musculature and M-base attitude. Both pieces last less than two minutes, unfolding like a diagrammatic juxtaposition of odd patterns, and their tonal approach differs from “ssgg”, a spacious, chilled-out sort of soundtrack suitable for an abstract, surrealistic tale with accomplished integration of acoustic guitar, piano, vibes, and well-measured bass notes. On her part, Gentile implants extra rhythm in the sonic frame, employing rattling sounds, cymbal color, and sharp resonant sounds as produced by a woodblock.

Almost comparable with a restless mind unable to stop thinking in circles, “Be Irreparable” seems to be struggling to settle down. The haunting textures, usually vague and soft but having a rocking propulsion navigating underneath, are symptomatic of both unsubstantial and worldly natures. Also gaining rock expansion, “Mind Aortal Cicatrix” delivers fancy cinematic orchestrations, forging thrilling polychromatic pathways with marimba and mellotron in the mix. Shifting tempos and moods are frequent practices and the group addresses the transitions with refinement. This is the kind of composition that puts on display striking individualism coupled with rhythmically solid ensemble playing.

The nearly 16-minute “Phasic Haze Ramps” brings a mix of swirling psychedelia, sophistication, and elaboration. An optimistic utopia built with ostinatos and other odd-riffing expressions skimming over routine curved surfaces. The improvised timeframes never feel mechanical, but they're rather graspable in the sense that we feel that humans are playing it. It all ends mischievously and without a warning.

Prone to polyrhythm and unconventional textural work, Mitchell thinks out of the box with his music sounding accordingly. You may allege this is all very challenging and often dense, but let’s face the facts: is it not sufficiently creative to make you plunge headfirst into its insoluble aural puzzles?

Grade A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Stretch Goal ► 04 - Phasic Haze Ramps ► 07 - Mind Aortal Cicatrix


Matt Slocum - Sanctuary

Label: Sunnyside Records, 2019

Personnel - Gerald Clayton: piano; Larry Grenadier: double bass; Matt Slocum: drums.

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Minnesota-born, Wisconsin-raised, New Jersey-based drummer Matt Slocum favors a low-key style that, seeming bashful at times, it’s far from being uncommunicative. His solid chops and thoughtful markings are always conducted in aid of the collective, often bringing out the best on his bandmates, which, in the present case, is the old pal and frequent associate, pianist Gerald Clayton, and ingenious bassist Larry Grenadier, who records for the very first time with the drummer.

The 10-track Sanctuary marks his fifth release as a leader and features all original compositions, except “Romulus”, a song composed by multi-instrumentalist Sufjan Stevens, where the mellifluous brushwork maintains the pressure low. Originally a 3/4 indie pop song with a dash of folk, this piece brings forth a magnetic, melody-centered bass statement before a waltzing pulsation takes place. It will later veer into a temperate snare-driven 4/4 spell whose lightly groovy effect impels Clayton to improvise with extraordinary pronunciation. The initial valse is then resumed with the trio at its lyrical best, having Grenadier delineating another euphonious statement at the conclusion.

Resulting from a reharmonization of Irving Berlin’s “The Best Thing For You”, “Consolidation Prize” begins as a rhythmically loose post-bop ride, departing definitely to an uptempo swinging flow that is later disrupted by a bouncing bass solo. The bandleader corroborates his temperate activity by phrasing with nuanced sensitivity. Influences of the past are visible on this tune, whose harmonically richness is akin to Bill Evans and Alan Broadbent.

The Chopin-inspired “Aspen Island” boasts utterly romantic moments in its feathery narrative, but not without some sadness hidden in-between the lines. If swaths of composure, self-control, and pathos can be found a bit everywhere, both “A Dissolving Alliance” and “Sanctuary” take them further. While the former advocates sparse, pensive, and lugubrious rumination with the tension stemming from bowed bass and influent chord extensions, the latter is deliberately musing in tone.

Contradicting this mood is “Days of Peace”, where we find the trio crafting a smooth harmonic path, whose velvety textures cause the improvisers to stretch out with joy and optimism. Slocum and Grenadier trade bars, showing a remarkable, intimate rapport if we consider that this session was recorded after one single rehearsal. “Anselmo” closes out the album with an ambitious spirit, disseminating vitality through the bass/drums linkage. Named after a key character in Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom The Bell Tolls, this piece is pretty active, yet never frantic or particularly tense.

Leaning on cogitation, this generous album unpacks the kind of infatuation that grows with multiple listenings, providing us with a rich territory to explore.

Grade B

Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Romulus ► 02 - Consolidation Prize ► 08 – Anselmo


Brian Krock - Liddle

Label: Outside in Music

Personnel – Brian Krock: alto saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet; Olli Hirvonen: electric guitar; Matt Mitchell: piano, Fender Rhodes; Marty Kenney: upright bass; Simon Jermyn: 6-string electric bass, baritone guitar; Nathan Ellman-Bell: drum set.

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On Liddle, up-and-coming saxophonist/clarinetist Brian Krock steps out as a bandleader and composer, preparing nine energizing tunes - seven of which he wrote - with imaginative, sinewy arrangements. For that, he summoned a couple of key players from his acclaimed Brooklyn-based 18-piece ensemble Big Heart Machine and invited a few distinctive new elements, whose level of commitment revealed to be exemplary. The robust structure of the pieces allows them to squeeze eccentric curves, sharp angles and compacted yet never cluttered textures in the same scorching pot.

The album opens with the rhythmically complex “Flip”, where the melodic boldness of the saxophone gets momentum from dazzling intervallic leaps, suggesting a groove that is immediately apprehended by the remaining members of the group. Krock wrote it as a response to a Human Feel tune composed by altoist Andrew D’Angelo. Part emotional, part cerebral, Krock’s phrasing is built over an active rhythmic tapestry that fractures when pianist Matt Mitchell pours out a dense sequence of notes like waterfalls. By that time, the backdrop is made of terse slides and fast plucks offered by Marty Kenney’s acoustic bass in cooperation with the surging and skittering percussive dexterity of Nathan Ellman-Bell.

While seamlessly shifting meters, “Knuckle Hair” boasts rhythmic ideas in tandem, playful guitar chops, and piercing toy-like piano sounds. Finnish guitarist Olli Hirvonen expresses a fervent desire in experimenting with a combination of distortion and atonality, while Mitchell contributes astonishingly formed voicings, flexible in tonal range. A rhythmic crescendo intensifies the tension, allowing the composer’s rock influence to emerge without barriers.

Krock sought inspiration in the literary refinement of James Joyce for some tunes and “Saturnine”, a polyrhythmic crossing between prog rock and avant-jazz, is one of those products. If at this moment, Mitchell and Krock (on clarinet) project their voices with confidence, then it’s Hirvonen who shines on “Memphis”, a composition he penned himself with brilliance. Exposing a blissfully atmospheric intro, the tune acquires poised indie-rock instrumentation with Ellman-Bell excelling behind the drum set with a disorienting beat not averse to syncopation. Two six-string instruments fulfill the improvisational section: the electric bass of guest Simon Jermyn (he plays baritone guitar on the alternative rock song “Please Stop”) and the high-voltage guitar of Hirvonen, who finishes in a corrosive Satriani-mode.

Smoother and melodically emphasized, “Heart Machine” has Mitchell confirming he is as incredible with melody as he is with the rhythmic stuff. Hirvonen, in turn, opts for an off-kilter approach that feels very opportune, while Krock adds more melody on the bass clarinet. Counteracting the state described before, we have Anthony Braxton’s “Opus 23b”, an uptempo piece with rushed patterned unisons and an inherent ebullient swing that later touches the avant-garde realm in all its strength.

Liddle deserves many listenings as it encapsulates tunes that work well independently but that also cohere into a solid narrative arc. Krock is to be taken very seriously as a composer.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Knuckle Hair ► 04 - Memphis ► 07 - Opus 23b


Vulture Forest - Some Things Stay Broken

Label: Microtone Records, 2019

Personnel - Kristoffer Vejslev: guitar; James McClure: trumpet; Luka Bencic: double bass; Love Ekenberg: drums

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The music of Vulture Forest, a quartet whose members hail from Denmark, Sweden, Slovenia, and South Africa, evokes tranquil landscapes and describes them with a reliance on languid yet rich and beautiful textures. Their second album, Some Things Stay Broken, comprises seven compositions that will make you ascend to a pure contemplative state through polished instrumentation, both intentional and extemporaneous.

A Journey” and “Stargazing” start the journey and each of them shares this same sense of spaciousness and meditative quietness where the instruments breathe unhurried lines with melancholy and steady brightness.

Vayu” goes in this same direction, offering resplendent voice leading and guitar textures drowned in the minor mode while moans, squeaks, creaks, and cymbal work can be heard as an aesthetic complement. Long held trumpet notes and subdued bass help densifying its body without ever altering its course or mood. Conversely, “Simple As Can Be” embraces a more traditional song format, allowing us to actually feel the chord passages due to a more demarcated bass comping. The melody is ravishing, sometimes recalling Enrico Rava’s balladry, and the improvisations shape as the personal statements we are most often used to hear in jazz. This album’s closing song is emotionally charged.

Speaking of improvisation, a fully improvised piece, “Impro #5”, was included in the song alignment. Prolonged bowed bass, irregular scratchy and clanky percussive noises, trumpet consistency in delivering notes of average duration, and guitar in-development paths are all assembled in the spur of the moment. Even if deceptive mirroring effects are sometimes created between trumpet and guitar, their independence concedes an ampler vision of the surrounding. As if spaces and textures could be felt from different angles.

The title track opposes to “Dance of the Planets” in the way that the latter piece is propelled by unremitting reverberating drum chops with a dragging tempo and a slightly sinister vibe. The former, instead, brittle yet tuneful, soars in its own minimalism, surrounded by nostalgic and dreamy tones.

Vulture Forest’s lyrical language and smooth soundscapes are obsessively inner-directed, generating a relaxing introspective spell. In order to absorb the maximum of what this recording has to offer, you got to disconnect from the bustle of the world. The experience can be more energizing than you think.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
03 - Dance of the Planets ► 05 - Vayu ► 07 - Simple As Can Be


Johnathan Blake - Trion

Label: Giant Step Arts, 2019

Personnel - Chris Potter: tenor saxophone; Linda May Han Oh: double bass; Johnathan Blake: drums.

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Johnathan Blake is an influential drummer known for his resolute actions and instinctive reactions. His trio with saxophonist Chris Potter and bassist Linda May Han Oh is an example of both musical cohesion and freedom. Thus, the title Trion, which in physics means a singlet state formed from three atoms of different colors, couldn’t have been more appropriate to identify this double-album recorded live at The Jazz Gallery in New York and released on Jimmy Katz’s imprint Giant Step Arts.

Both discs open with a solo statement by Blake: “Calondedrum”, named for an evergreen tree native in Africa, and “Bedrum”, which means ‘drum about in celebration’. Speaking about celebration, it’s impossible to get away from the jubilant rhythmic expression of The Police’s “Synchronicity I”, which, maintaining the original time signature of 6/4, feels like a lively post-bop rollercoaster ride where Potter delves into a phenomenal and disseminative grooving idiom. The indelible hookup between Oh and Blake branches out in powerful statements. The bassist takes some time digging strong rhythmic figures and the drummer, in phase with his bandmates, pushes forward before the tradeoffs with Potter. Other celebratory occasions that encourage cultural diversity and eclectic sounds can be found on Potter’s optimistic “Good Hope”, a blazing South African-inspired piece where Blake makes shakiness a virtue with a gifted Afro-centric pulse. The saxophonist is not just mercurial here, also loading Blake’s gospel-inflected “West Berkeley St.” with ecstatic vibes. This last tune was named after a street in Philadelphia, where the drummer grew up.

No matter the angle from which the trio approaches the music, you will feel an energy that engulfs you wave upon wave. “One For Honor”, penned by bassist Charles Fambrough, is a wonderful example, stretching with a playful disposition that melds swing and Latin jazz. If Potter is determined and goes timbral in the final vamp, Blake summons many colors, adding gravity and tension to his playing.

Both “Blue Heart” and “No Bebop Daddy” drift effortlessly with a three-time feel. The former is a previously unrecorded piece by Blake’s father - jazz violinist John Blake, Jr., while the latter composition was inspired by Donny McCaslin’s young son’s frustration about the music chosen by his father while driving him to school. This number evinces a moderate inclination to rock and boasts a bass solo that combines articulation with sensitivity and deliberation. Even if no bebop is found here, Parker’s “Relaxin’ at Camarillo” brings it back.

Linda Oh’s compositional contribution is a time-shifting piece swamped in metaphors called “Trope”. After delving in a three-minute solo intro, she literally provides harmonic substance for Potter’s melodies with Blake filling every corner with enchanting brushed cymbals.

These leading contemporary jazz figures employ their accurate sense of direction, improvisatory ferocity, and instinct for groove, catapulting Blake’s artistic statement to a place of distinction.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 (disc1) - Synchronicity I ► 05 (disc1) - One For Honor ► 02 (disc2) - Good Hope


Triio - Triio

Label: Self produced, 2019

Personnel – Bea Labikova: alto saxophone, flute; Aidan Sibley: trombone; Ashley Urquhart: piano; Tom Fleming: guitar; Alex Fournier: bass; Mark Ballyk: drums.

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Despite the misleading name, Triio is not a trio. It’s a Toronto-based sextet launched in 2012, the longest-running project from bassist Alex Fournier. Their self-titled debut album includes a set of shape-shifting compositions packed with rigorous compositional detail and free improvisation.

ESD” plays a role model by showing how the group is deeply informed by the dynamics and flexible interplay of the 21st-century jazz. Besides the inevitable unprepared side inherent to jazz, their modern creative aesthetic pronounces fondness for through-composed, long-form music. This opening tune starts by engulfing the listener in its abstract solo piano vortex, probing densities and intensities before hitting the asymmetric groove that, also tracked by the bassist, sustains the theme. Prepare yourself for sax-piano unisons with occasional trombone countermelodies in the background. Before the reinstatement of the theme, drummer Mark Ballyk amplifying chops, having electronic sounds hovering over his head, while Bea Labikova’s alto sax wanders with a casual, free posture.

Bass, percussion, and prepared piano introduce “Giant Dad” in an enigmatic way, but the group unlocks a cool swing to welcome a parallel speech from flute and trombone. As trombonist Aidan Sibley detaches himself to establish an impromptu communication with guitarist Tom Fleming, a form of polyphony materializes. Still, the next phase was not destined to be melodically intense but rather rhythmically daring with a passage for prepared piano and flute. Everything is ‘melodified’ for the finale.

The impetuous “Fourhundred Dollars” assumes the shape of a chugging steam train but still tolerates a calmer passage marked by liquid guitar textures. Nonetheless, the tension gallops dauntlessly through the flurries and pointillism delivered by pianist Ashley Urquhart along with the eruptive shriek of ecstasy and raw excitement of the saxophone cries. The music gets turbulent across the board before concluding with a busy yet controlled pace. Conveying a similar mood, “Noisemaker” feels a continuation of the latter piece, extending beyond 17 minutes and sporting instrumental metamorphoses with rhythmic multiplicities and avant-jazz sensibility. What will you find here? A jazzy trombone solo over an odd-metered swinging pulse, hushed moments with bowed bass and disciplined floating guitar, pondered unisons as integral elements of a processional episode, piano rumination with variety in sound, and a final written section stamped by a guitar ostinato and topped by involving lines.

The force of this sextet derives from the personal sounds of its members and the concluding composition, “Permanently Hiccups”, shows exactly that. Polyrhythmic layers pile up resolutely, building emotional resonance. The texture may feel a bit brooding at times, but the group canalizes the final section into a hypnotic tapestry rich in unisons and counterlines.

Fournier and his Triio group reveal a breathtaking command of tempo and structure as well as a modern flair for texture. This is an ambitious effort that will help them carve out a distinct space for themselves.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - ESD ► 02 - Giant Dad ► 03 - Fourhundred Dollars


Dave Douglas / Uri Caine / Andrew Cyrille - Devotion

Label: Greenleaf Music, 2019

Personnel – Dave Douglas: trumpet; Uri Caine: piano; Andrew Cyrille: drums.

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Trumpeter Dave Douglas teams up once again with pianist Uri Caine, a member of his prestigious quintet in the 1900s, for a sequel to their 2014 album Present Joys. For Devotion, the musicians adopt the same methodology of its predecessor, adapting 19th-century sacred choral pieces from the Sacred Harp songbook, but on this occasion, in the company of a special third element who colors exquisitely behind the drumset: Andrew Cyrille.

Nine of the ten tunes on this recording are the product of Douglas’ crisp compositional vein. The exception is the title track, penned by Alexander Johnson. The album sunrises with “Curly”, a witty piano-drums duet dedicated to one of the Three Stooges, the comedian Jerome Horwitz. Manifesting a carefree posture, Cyrille is the perfect accompanist for Caine’s mercurial stride piano and fine block chords.

D’andrea” is initially dipped in enigmatic voicings, contrasting with Douglas’ bright phrases. The harmonic dark clouds dissipate after the trumpeter speaks his own idiom, a well-lighted association of hard-bop and avant-jazz. This tune is a tribute to Italian pianist Franco D’Andrea as well as “Francis of Anthony”, an impeccably brushed waltz with muted trumpet.

Both “Miljosang” and “False Allegiances” are devoted to and cull inspiration from Carla Bley’, and the pianist’s influence is well patented in their form, structure, and melodic/harmonic coherence. The former piece is a fetching and uncompromising 4/4 environmental tune arranged with harmonic straightforwardness, while the latter is a beautiful blues-tango with expressive muted trumpet and elegant mallet drumming. Caine delineates seductive bass lines with his left hand while, with the other, pronounces the melody in unison with the trumpeter. To me, this track is the absolute emotional apogee of the recording.

The sensitive comping, rhythmic effulgence, and splendid voice-leading continue on “Pacific”, a haunting ballad delivered with sharp focus. This piece was devoted to Aine Nakamura and the Mannes/New School composition class of Fall 2017 and its title derived from the tune system (C-F-C) of an Asian instrument.

Pianist Mary Lou Williams and trumpet master Dizzy Gillespie are also paid tribute on “Rose and Thorn”, a confluence of modal jazz and stride piano, and “We Pray”, a candid and sensitive ballad, respectively.

Douglas architects this music with empathy and trust, and the trio bestows a spontaneous charm that leaves a lasting impression. Versatility and intuition are among their strong points, therefore, this music never fails or gets boring.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
05 - False Allegiances ► 07 - Pacific ► 09 - We Pray


Federico Ughi - Transoceanico

Label: 577 Records, 2019

Personnel - Rachel Musson: tenor saxophone; Adam Lane: double bass; Federico Ughi: drums.

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Transoceanico is a vinyl/digital release from Italian-born, Brooklyn-based drummer Federico Ughi, who leads a powerful trio composed of like-minded explorers: British saxophonist Rachel Musson and American double bassist Adam Lane.

This sturdy free jazz session celebrates the 20th anniversary of Ughi’s very first album, The Space Within, which consisted of duets with saxophonists and was released in the UK while he was living there. It kicks off with “So Far, So Good”, a dense yet never crowded exercise where the group always finds a consistent direction. With the experienced Lane suggesting harmony by plucking more than one string at a time, Musson emphasizes rhythmic ideas that suddenly dissolve and then return for further development. Concurrently, Ughi’s drumming gains impetus to the point of becoming fervently spanking.

On “Segnale Di Via Libera”, bassist and drummer weave a tight rhythmic web adorned with on-spot cymbal splashes. In a preliminary phase, the saxophonist blows fragmented phrases, which evolve into raucous yet expressive cacophonies with the time. The trio heartily reunites for a moderate final stage, right after Ughi’s solo based on groovy rudiments.

Blues Apart” embraces a deceptive hush and calmness. A tense atmosphere invades the scenario, especially created by Lane, who infuses heavy bowed bass interjections. This piece differs from “Emergency Exit”, whose mysterious tones and tense pyramids of sound are taken on during the first minutes. Here, Lane exhibits a sort of coiled phrasing that ends uprooted, while Musson embarks on surging cacophonic gushes that burst with energy and intensity. This is a showcase for her noisy contortions wrapped in dark timbral shades. Ughi keeps the entire thing moving on the borderline with restless chops that magnify the music’s rough edges.

The drummer starts alone “Sky Ramblin” and speaks for more than a couple of minutes. His language includes effervescent cymbal legato and meticulous, reverberant tom-tom drives. We can also identify a droning melancholy coming from the bowed bass and a less aggressive approach by the saxophonist, who goes vibrato with flickering pitch variations.

The trio pours out their souls with a rough sound, embracing somber timbres and advocating free speeches that go beyond the far side of tonality. Transoceanico doesn't open up new avenues, but if you wish to continually remain in the 'outside' world, this is a valid option.

Grade  B

Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
01 - So Far, So Good ► 03 - Blues Apart ► 06 - Sky Ramblin


Linda May Han Oh - Aventurine

Label: Biophilia Records, 2019

Personnel – Linda May Han Oh: acoustic and electric bass; Greg Ward: alto and soprano saxophones; Matt Mitchell: piano; Ches Smith: drums, vibraphone; Fung Chern Hwei: violin; Sara Caswell: violin; Bennie Von Gutzeit: viola; Jeremy Harman: cello + Invenio vocal ensemble.

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The prodigiously gifted bass player Linda May Ahn Oh proposes a warm, often quietly expressive set of music on her newest outing, Aventurine, a personal music essay in which some of the pieces took several years to reach the desired state of maturation. Flanked by collaborators such as top-tier pianist Matt Mitchell, imaginative drummer/percussionist Ches Smith, and outgoing saxophonist Greg Ward, Ms. Oh also employs a dutiful string quartet and the Melbourne-based vocal ensemble Invenio on selected numbers.

The latter group contributes significantly on the tunes the bassist wrote for her nieces. The first of them is the title cut, which starts out the record with the string players embracing a quasi-cinematic solemnity. They share brief pizzicato moments with the bassist after a complex orchestration comes off, landing on a gracious classical-like roundabout where noteworthy vocal layers float atop. The other piece is “Rest Your Weary Head”, which was divided into two distinct tracks. The first of them brings a dreamy, lullaby-ish feel in the voices and texture, while the second initiates with a spacey, serene interaction between soprano sax and bass that becomes vivacious around the time that the pianist brings a sort of Latin motif into the game. With Smith infusing expert beat displacement, the bass continues its free-flowing ramble, while the violin and the sax ostinatos take turns. 

Lilac Chaser” got its title from the visual illusion of the same name and was musically inspired by the work of pianist Andrew Hill with strings. The thick, round sound of the electric bass initially concentrates in a pedal, eventually breaking down to incorporate a groovy motion. Mitchell shows off his fleet-fingered pianism, sweeping the keyboard with quick-wittiness to get a gripping out-of-focus effect. He also excels on “Satuit”, a much jazzier exercise with a swinging bounce.

Ebony” recirculates rhythmic figures, creating a folk-jazz dance that climaxes during the ecstatic improvisations offered by Ward and Mitchell. If jazz is very much alive here, “Cancrizan” eulogizes classical music, inspired by a crab-canon arrangement from J.S. Bach.

The bandleader’s roots are celebrated on fascinating musical hybrids such as the layered “Song Yue Rao” and the scrupulous “Seepsea Dancers”, both drawn from listenings of shuochang, a traditional Chinese genre of storytelling. More restraint in tone, the latter composition is dedicated to the bassist’s late former manager Izumi Uchida.

Oh’s compositional virtuosity is on display throughout the record, generating layered and risk-taking new music. She manages to propel some classic material to unfamiliar places, like on Charlie Parker’s “Au Privave”, a bebop tune turned into funky experiment enclosing multi-keyed dialogue, and a mournful reading of Bill Evans’ “Time Remembered”, where she delivers a fine bass solo with the strings playing a focal role.

Unlike the outgoing avant-garde forays of Oh’s previous recording Walk The Wind, Aventurine relies on compositions that are patchworks of eclectic inspirations, emphasizing the collective while still providing opportunities to create individually.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Aventurine ► 09 - Ebony ► 13 - Satuit


Andre Carvalho - The Garden of Earthly Delights

Label: Outside in Music, 2019

Personnel - Jeremy Powell: tenor and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet; Eitan Gofman: tenor saxophone, bass clarinet, flute; Oskar Stenmark: trumpet, flugelhorn; Andre Matos: guitar; Andre Carvalho: double bass; Rodrigo Recabarren: drums, percussion.

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After two well-succeeded albums released in his native country, Portuguese bassist/composer Andre Carvalho raises the bar with a new studio album made in New York, the city he has been living since 2014. Eleven new compositions/movements constitute the suite inspired by Bosch’s famous triptych oil painting The Garden of Earthly Delights, whose enigmatic intentions and visual awe are transported to the music. Carvalho convened the same creative sextet he has been gigging with for a while now. The three-horn frontline composed of trumpeter Oskar Stenmark and saxophonists Jeremy Powell and Eitan Gofman is on the same wavelength of the adaptable rhythm section that affiliates guitarist Andre Matos and drummer Rodrigo Recabarren to the bandleader.

The album’s opener, “Prelude”, feels quite cinematic on the point of probing a mystifying scenario. Unyielding bow work, cautious guitar, and ponderous unison lines coalesce into a lethargic pace well founded on a 6/4 time signature. Bass clarinet, soprano saxophone, and trumpet infuse just the right amount of exoticism and freedom in this extraordinary invitation that leads to the luxurious “The Fool of Venus”, which hooks up a vivid guitar ostinato turned into groove by the bassist. The horn section contributes both aligned and crisscrossed lines within a sumptuous mix of Eastern and Western musical confluences that, on occasion, brings to mind the quintet of Dave Holland. Stenmark is the featured soloist on this tune, demonstrating versatility and range.

Recabarren’s resourceful drumming comes to prominence on “The Fountain”, where the gentle flute melodies contrast with the dizzy-spells caused by Matos’ effects-drenched guitar. Also immersed in a cool poise, “Dracaena Draco” smoothly transits from a collective passage to a 2-minute bass narration.

Like the painting that inspired it, the music is rich in detail and contrast. Take, for example, the modern flair and playfulness initially offered on “Of Mermaids and Mermen”, and then the ruptures and suspensions that follow them. The polyphonic instrumentation slowly takes us to Gofman’s saxophone supplications, accompanied by sparse guitar liquidity and unabashed drumming, and later adorned with horn fills. Thereupon, the tension is brought down considerably with “Cherries, Brambles and Strawberries”, which follows a more traditional song format, softened by sax-guitar melodicism and Recabarren’s propelling brushwork. After a well-developed story told by Powell, Matos brings his guitar forward with a solo bathed in an equipoised solution of bluesy rock and rustic folk jazz.

Showcasing distortion-laden sounds, the guitarist is also in evidence on energetic rock pieces such as “Evil Parade”, a mixed-meter composition that couples 3/4 and 5/4 time signatures while having trumpet and tenor alternating bars, and “The Forlorn Mill”, a hard rock-meets-jazz excursion with delightfully accented phrases. With the horns on the loose and the rhythm section mutating the substructure without breaking it, this sounds very avant-gardish.

Knowing exactly what he wants, Carvalho reveals a strong identity as a composer. His decisiveness is on display throughout a work that brims with a fresh contemporary spin.

Grade  A

Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Prelude ► 08 - Evil Parade ► 10 - The Forlorn Mill


Tom Harrell - Infinity

Label: HighNote Records, 2019

Personnel - Tom Harrell: trumpet; Mark Turner: tenor sax; Charles Altura: guitar; Ben Street: bass; Johnathan Blake: drums.

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Ace trumpeter Tom Harrell’s new recording, Infinity, brims with uncomplicated structures, harmonic sophistication, nervy improvisations, and a mix of kaleidoscopic hard-bop and straight ahead post-bop influences. The album comprises ten Harrell compositions subjected to wonderful musical treatments by a hot quintet that includes Mark Turner on tenor sax, Charles Altura on guitar, Ben Street on bass, and Johnathan Blake on drums.

All these musicians have recorded with the trumpet player before and, on this particular album, their skills stand out in clean-cut narratives such as “The Fast”, which is pinned down by a hooky rocking vamp in seven, and “Dublin”, charmingly introduced by acoustic guitar before a 4/4 modal jazz is installed. Both pieces feature Harrell and Turner as soloists, with Altura and Blake contributing incisive improvisational work on the former composition. Turner is simply genial, shaping conversational phrases with momentary out-of-focus incursions, while Harrell puts a lot of sensitivity in melodic articulations surrounded by the finest light.

If the easy-listening “Folk Song” exhibits a gentle backbeat that produces cool and sophistication vibes, the time-shifting “Hope” offers percussive rattles and shakes, parallel melodies, rarefied reverb-drenched guitar, and an unforeseen bolero-ish routine that, in a flash, morphs into a vibrantly swinging locomotion. This is a clinical demonstration of Harrell’s compositional facility and inventiveness.

Both “Coronation” and “Ground” exude happy thoughts. However, whereas the former feels blatantly popish, the latter has the restless up-and-down trajectories of the bass instilling the spirit of disco-funk.

Immediately upon finishing “Duet”, a short trumpet-saxophone extravagance, Harrell brings the album to a close with the sweeping, busy, and vibrant post-bop of “Taurus”, whose mutable dynamics pack a punch.

The trumpeter is an intelligent, exceptionally melodic sculptor who channels discipline and freedom to the right places for the most breathtaking effect. He is outstanding here, and so are his bandmates.

Grade  A

Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 - The Fast ► 02 - Dublin ► 10 - Taurus