For Its Fifth Collection, Newvelle Issues Material From Staaf, Douglas


Pianist Carmen Staaf leads a trio on Woodland, an album that’s included as part of Newvelle Records’ fifth season of high-end LP releases.

(Photo: Anna Yatskevich)

Clear vinyl. Artful designs. A shiny, luxe collector’s box. No question, albums from the Newvelle imprint are beautiful to the eye.

The story could end there, with these records sitting as totems to vanity on a shelf somewhere. You’d want to take them down, though. They sound as gorgeous as they look.

The 2020 edition of the Newvelle Records’ box set—its fifth season—follows the same tradition as the four previous editions, with its high-quality production values, both in terms of sound and presentation. Each collection contains six LPs—rolled out individually, one every month or so through August—featuring a different ensemble on each album. The collections, available only through a subscription, are pricey, a whopping $400 for the 2020 set. But they’re investments—and the rare jazz commodity that can compete in this price range.

On the first release of the collection, due out in February, bassist Rufus Reid teams up with pianist Sullivan Fortner on the duo effort Always In The Moment. A mix of Reid originals and a few standards, the nine tracks demonstrate a palpable rapport between these two intuitive players, whether in the relaxed vibe of Reid’s “It’s The Nights I Like” or the fine-spun swing of Duke Ellington’s “Sound Of Love.” And their rendition of the haunting standard “The Peacocks” is one of the best around.

The Pablo Ablanedo Octet, led by the Argentine pianist/composer, comprises an attention-grabbing lineup of talent that includes clarinetist Anat Cohen, violinist Jenny Scheinman, saxophonists Chris Cheek and Jerome Sabbagh, and guitarist Ben Monder, among others. The combined musical gravitas on the album Christreza, set for release in April, seems light as a feather on tunes like the sweetly somber “Ti Mi Do” and the invigorating “Karmavaleando.” Diego Urcola’s trumpet solo on the title cut positively aches with feeling.

Newvelle’s label head, pianist Elan Mehler, and trumpeter Dave Douglas turn out nine absorbing, all-new compositions on If There Are Mountains, the collection’s third installment, slated to drop in May. Using haiku and poetry for the texts, Mehler and Douglas’ compositions provide a singular showcase for the sinuous vocal lines of singer Dominique Eade and an occasion for the ensemble (reedist John Gunther, bassist Simón Willson and drummer Dayeon Seok) to cohere around some penetrating musical ideas. An outstanding collaboration.

On Woodland, pianist Carmen Staaf writes bracingly energetic selections for her trio with bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Jeff Williams. From the opener—the neatly improvised “Caterpillars”—through a jauntily swinging “Waltz for Julian” to the deftly lyrical “Evergreen,” the ensemble moves as a delightfully co-ordinated unit. Staaf does step away briefly, however, to execute a spry solo version of “Pannonica,” the oddly satisfying Thelonious Monk tune. The album is set to come out in June, right after the trio’s European tour in May.

Saxophonist Patrick Zimmerli puts his virtuosic playing on display on Book Of Dreams, a cluster of his original jazz tunes and sensitively arranged Songbook standards, set for release in July. He partners again with Nonesuch bandmates pianist Kevin Hays and drummer Satoshi Takeishi, both longtime collaborators. Their program here is varied, ranging from the seductive (“Algo Mas”) to the ponderous (“Dreamscape”), with many stops in between. It’s easy to get lost in the musical world that Zimmerli creates, and the album’s end comes as an unwanted surprise.

The OWL Trio—bassist Orlando Le Fleming, saxophonist Will Vinson and guitarist Lage Lund—deliver compelling musical statements without the benefit of percussion on the final installment of the collection, Life Of The Party, slated for an August launch. The considerable impetus of their music derives from a shared awareness of an understated pulse; their arrangements are minimal, not meandering—weighty, not wanting. Vocal luminary Kurt Elling takes the mic on two eloquent originals. DB

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