By Frank Alkyer
Anat Cohen and Fred Hersch are two of the world’s finest improvising artists—tasteful, thoughtful and fluid musicians who follow their muses while creating breathtaking music.
When they toured as a duo in 2016, that beauty was on full display with the give-and-take facility of two friends having a deep conversation about the world. Thankfully, that music has been captured for the ages and presented on Live In Healdsburg, recorded on June 11, 2016, at the Healdsburg Jazz Festival in Healdsburg, California. With Hersch on piano and Cohen on clarinet, this is an intimate album that invites the listener in on a thousand little secrets of lyrical nuance and magical interplay. Listen closely to songs like Hersch’s “Child’s Play” for a lesson on the power of ... listening. Cohen takes the volume of her instrument so low, she barely makes a sound, as Hersch follows with the quiet plunking of a single note in response. They weave the movement into a slowly building, tag-you’re-it, call and response befitting the music’s title. It’s one part laid-back, one part exhilarating.
During this eight-song set, the duo plays two other terrific Hersch tunes, “A Lark” and “Lee’s Dream,” as well as Cohen’s classically bluesy “The Purple Piece.” Both are wonderful songwriters, but they also know how to dig into the jazz songbook. Billy Strayhorn’s “Isfahan” sparkles with quirky lyricism. Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz” serves as an opportunity for Cohen and Hersch to play a little game of serve and volley, improvising in, over and through the tune’s melody. The Jimmy Rowles classic “The Peacocks” is this album’s true “wow” moment, an enduring portrait of restraint and longing handled with incredible grace and insight. The set closes with a slow-tempo, closing-time version of Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo.” It’s a smile-and-a-sigh trip into the heart of what makes jazz great.
Live In Healdsburg is like having coffee with an old friend: It wraps itself around your ears and reminds you there is so much beauty in the world. This would be a great show to see live. Cohen and Hersch will play at New York’s Jazz Standard on May 8, and at the Lensic Performing Arts Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on May 31. Here’s hoping they add more dates.
By Bobby Reed
Most jazz fans have encountered the unfortunate scenario of being thrilled by the names on an album cover but then being disappointed by the music. That is definitely not the case with the new leader project from Jared Gold, which showcases the versatile organist and his all-star band: guitarist Dave Stryker, drummer Billy Hart and trumpeter Jeremy Pelt. Stryker, who also produced the album, has a 14-year history with Gold, and his simpatico rapport with the organist spices up the proceedings, as each musician frequently adds clever coloration when the other is unleashing a sturdy solo. Hart—whose subtle brushwork is just as mesmerizing as his powerful stick-work in this program—demonstrates the mastery that has made him a legend. Pelt, who adds potent brass to three tracks, elevates this disc: Without him, these sessions might have yielded a memorable trio disc, but with him on board, the result is one of the strongest straightahead discs of the year thus far.
This band certainly can burn, as evidenced by the title track (which was penned by the leader), but a poignant reading of The Beatles’ “She’s Leaving Home” reflects Gold’s ability to tug at the listener’s heartstrings with a melancholy mood. Gold has curated a wonderful, eclectic program that features two Gershwin tunes (“It Ain’t Necessarily So,” “How Long Has This Been Going On”), Ornette Coleman’s “Blues Connotation,” Stevie Wonder’s “Lookin’ For Another Pure Love” (from 1972’s Talking Book) and “One For John A,” a swinging, original tribute to the late guitar icon John Abercrombie, with whom the organist worked for years. Gold and Stryker can ignite fireworks at will, but on this rendition of “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” both musicians coax a vocal timbre out of their respective axes. Nicely done, gentlemen.
By Ed Enright
Alto saxophonist Jim Snidero and trumpeter Jeremy Pelt share a deep appreciation for the canon of Cannonball Adderley, the hard-bop/soul-jazz icon who died in 1975 at age 46. Their devotion to that legacy is on full display on Jubilation! Celebrating Cannonball Adderley, where they’re joined by pianist David Hazeltine, bassist Nat Reeves and drummer Billy Drummond in a quintet that recalls the hard-swinging groups the alto-playing Adderley co-led with his cornet-playing brother Nat starting in 1957.
Cannonball Adderley’s music balanced sophistication and serious chops with joyful spirit and soulful earthiness. Snidero, Pelt and company celebrate that vibe and contribute to its continuum on the straightahead jazz timeline with this blissful new release, mixing their interpretations of the classic Adderley repertoire with originals. The album opens with Pelt’s “Party Time,” a feel-good groove that reveals the quintet’s easygoing chemistry and provides the first of many opportunities for the instrumentalists to stretch out with strong individual solo statements.
The group then dives deep into the Adderley catalog, putting their personal spin on “Del Sasser” (from Adderley’s 1960 album Them Dirty Blues), “Wabash” (from 1959’s Cannonball Adderley Quintet In Chicago) and the Frank Perkins/Mitchell Parish ballad “Stars Fell On Alabama” (also from the Chicago album), which features Snidero at his laid-back best. Other highlights include “Sack Of Woe” (from 1960’s Cannonball Adderley Quintet At The Lighthouse), Snidero’s “Ball’s 90th” (marking Cannonball’s milestone anniversary this year) and “Work Song,” a major Nat Adderley-penned hit from the 1960 album of the same name.
Jubilation! Celebrating Cannonball Adderley offers something for hard-bop aficionados and soul-jazz fans alike. It honors an esteemed DownBeat Hall of Famer whose music perpetually satisfies and whose example continues to inspire serious, fun-loving players like Snidero and Pet.
By Bobby Reed
In the promotional materials for her new album, the flutist Andrea Brachfeld says, “If you want to play jazz, you have to be able to get the articulation of Charlie Parker, to make the instrument sound like a trumpet or saxophone. With a lot of flute players, I don’t hear those articulations.”
As evidenced on If Not Now, When?, Brachfeld’s playing has a muscular flair and bite. She’s not here merely to make “pretty” flute music; she’s here to dig deep. (Eric Dolphy was an early influence.) But that’s not to say she’s incapable of crafting the type of romanticism that many fans traditionally have expected from a flutist. For Brachfeld, a beautiful timbre is not enough; a pleasant tone must be in service of an engaging instrumental narrative. A great example is “Deeply I Live,” which combines Brachfeld’s lovely, breathy lines with an intricate flurry of boppish fury, as well as fine solos from bassist Harvie S and drummer Jason Tiemann—and, most importantly, compositional acumen. The 10-minute, multi-part tune conveys a sonic journey and demonstrates the compositional chops that earned Brachfeld a grant from Chamber Music America’s 2017 New Jazz Works program (funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation). The grant provided a boost that helped her complete this album, which features nine original songs and a splendid rendition of “Amazing Grace.”
The band also includes Brachfeld’s longtime collaborator Bill O’Connell (piano), who augments the leader’s elegant sense of drama, merging thrilling escapades with carefully placed respites. In one portion of “Anima Mea,” Brachfeld plays at a slower tempo than her bandmates, building a dramatic arc of musical tension that is resolved in brilliant fashion. This band’s balance of taut cohesion and adventurous improvisation is mighty impressive.
On May 18 (the date of the album’s release), Brachfeld, O’Connell, Tiemann and Harvie S will perform two sets at Trumpets Jazz Club in Montclair, New Jersey. The same lineup will play at New York’s Triad Theater on June 18.
By Dave Cantor
The compositional atmosphere flutist Jamie Baum has created on Bridges is a mystifying thing.
For her fourth album with the septet that appears here, her sixth overall as a leader, Baum investigates commonalities in the seemingly disparate musical practices in Jewish culture, of Southern Asia and the melodies of the Arabic maqam. It’s a heady premise, one fraught with potential pitfalls, but with a generous composer writing for an ensemble with whom she’s well acquainted, Bridges offers several distinct moods during nine pieces, three of which comprise The Shiva Suite, the program’s centerpiece.
Following three slow-brewed tracks, splashes of dissonance interrupt the first portion of that suite—aptly titled “Earthquake”—before the band moves into knotty compositional territory and a calm conclusion on “Contemplation.” A grandiose guitar detour distracts a bit from the overall tenor of the album on “Joyful Lament,” centered on a melody borrowed from Pakistani vocalist Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s “Lament.” But the aural distinction also serves to reinforce Bridge’s premise: the connection of different cultures into a singular experience.
It’s to her credit that Baum infrequently makes herself the focus of the ensemble here, reinforcing the compositional goal that Bridges is based upon; she leaves plenty of room for Navin Chettri’s tanpura, vocals contributed by the troupe’s trumpeter, Amir ElSaffar, and sundry percussion. Whatever the reason, it’s refreshing to hear a leader be so convinced of her music’s purpose as to allow ensemble playing and the interaction between these cultures to be the fulcrum on which the entire album swings.
By Ed Enright
Saxophonist Jon Irabagon’s 10th album as a leader is a super-charged spectacle of daredevil adventure tempered by a dose of freak-show macabre.
The six Irabagon-penned mini-suites that constitute Dr. Quixotic’s Traveling Exotics are intricate creations distinguished by cyclical, interwoven lines, strange meters and intense motific development. Irabagon and his bandmates—pianist Luis Perdomo, bassist Yasushi Nakamura, drummer Rudy Royston and guest trumpeter Tim Hagans—blow over these exotic, twisted forms with well-developed improvisations that veer toward the abyss of reckless abandon in the name of blessed irreverence and compelling storytelling. It’s an exhilarating program that draws from the realms of post-bop, free improvisation and progressive rock.
There’s a contagious fun factor at work here, manifested in the musicians’ playful interactions (in both composed and improvised passages) and outrageous statements; pushed to the extremes of their abilities, they reveal their brightest colors and demonstrate an open-minded willingness to embrace the unknown wholeheartedly. The delightful, breathtaking madness of Dr. Quixotic’s Traveling Exotics is celebrated in the album’s tongue-in-cheek liner notes, which tease the reader with promises of carnival-like monstrosities and the “hidden dangers” that lie within. Enter at your own leisure, and prepare to witness incredible feats of high-wire musicianship.
By Dave Cantor
Christopher C. King has figured out how to make some of his fixations work in his favor.
From collecting scores of forgotten 78 RPM records to sussing out the almost-lost histories of insular music enclaves, the Grammy-winning producer has dug not for the most obscure, but most meaningful music and stories sitting around with a veneer of dust settled atop it all.
Lament From Epirus, his first book, details King’s trips to a secluded northwestern region of Greece where he gets drunk on tsipouro, dances poorly and attempts to understand why folk music from that part of the world connects to his obsession with Southern roots music. It’s equal parts travelogue, ethnomusicology, history lesson and wry self-deprecation.
On his trips (documented not just in this new book but in a story by author and critic Amanda Petrusich), as in daily life, King’s work serves to lionize the utilitarian nature of music that seems perilously close to obsolesce and disappearance. He rails against the globalization of art, while omitting any discussion of our changing needs in an ever-new and confounding world. But it’s seriously tough to doubt his adoration of Epirotic music and players like violinist Alexis Zoumbas and clarinetist Grigoris Kapsalis with their laments and party tunes, all framed by King’s travels.
At the very worst, Lament From Epirus features a writer at odds with contemporary society who has no time for sub-genres of sub-genres or even the plaintive simplicity of a good garage-rock stomper. At his best, though, King’s a vivid writer and a champion of music that we’re all better for hearing.
By Bobby Reed
For her new album, Outside The Soirée, Chicago-based vocalist Erin McDougald decided to pursue her ambitions and go big. The result is a thrilling, 80-minute program featuring contributions from two of the greatest living instrumentalists in jazz: Tom Harrell (trumpet and flugelhorn) and Dave Liebman (soprano and tenor saxophones).
McDougald is a skilled bandleader and singer who can swing with grace, as she does on “Don’t Be On The Outside,” or coax depths of emotion out of a ballad, as she does on a powerful rendition of Cole Porter’s “Begin The Beguine.” McDougald’s version of “Don’t Wait Up For Me” (which singer Chris Connor recorded in 1955), offers the intoxicating combination of her subtle vocals, Liebman’s knotty, yet propulsive, soprano saxophone solo and Harrell’s pristine trumpet. Elsewhere, on “The Man With The Horn,” Harrell and McDougald craft an intimate, compelling dialogue, featuring his muted horn work and her graceful vocal delivery, which showcases a mastery of dynamics.
Throughout the 13 tracks, McDougald doesn’t bogart the spotlight, frequently stepping aside for exquisite solos from the eight instrumentalists who participated in the sessions, which included bassist Cliff Schmitt and the brothers Rob Block (piano, guitars) and Dan Block (alto saxophone, flute, clarinet).
To be a successful interpreter of standards, one must be a convincing narrator, and McDougald repeatedly proves she’s up to the task. When she unfurls “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most,” the listener might hang on each word, every sculpted syllable. More impressively, many listeners actually will believe our protagonist as she croons and sighs Fran Landesman’s gut-punching lyrics, such as, “Love is just a ghost.” Within this eight-minute rendition, McDougald’s arrangement offers some brief, nuanced scatting, a sweet dose of swing, a potent, buoyant vibraphone solo from Mark Sherman and a compelling argument that there’s plenty of new avenues to explore in a vintage standard—even one that’s been recorded by titans like Ella Fitzgerald, Betty Carter and Cassandra Wilson.
By Dave Cantor
The creative set in Chicago always has both benefited and suffered from its lot of being planted between New York and Los Angeles.
Improvising pianist Matt Piet’s work, firmly rooted in the lineage of the city’s creative music, is buoyed by its clear allegiance to the jazz tradition, while slyly insinuating the bandleader’s grounding in classical music.
Split into two extended tracks, Matt Piet & His Disorganization open Rummage Out not with some searching piano, but the ringing of a bell on “Lost & Found.” There’s empty space there, as members of the quartet pry open the possibilities of their instruments. As the ringing ebbs alongside the whinnying of Josh Berman’s cornet and Nick Mazzarella’s alto saxophone, the quartet, which also includes stalwart percussionist Tim Daisy, lands on something just this side of spiritual jazz, tinged by Piet’s bouncy chording.
What’s as remarkable as the music here is that Piet’s most frequently been found performing as a member of Four Letter Words or heading up a trio of his own making. The confluence of newly discovered musical interests found here amid a lineup of some of Chicago’s best jazz-adjacent performers speaks to Piet’s vision, as well as his ability to seamlessly move through the genre’s most adventurous strains.