Wadada Leo Smith Leads Pack of Fall Album Releases


Wadada Leo Smith, whose double album America’s National Parks comes out Oct. 14, is among the artists who have fall releases.

(Photo: Courtesy of the artist)

This fall, jazz fans can expect to add a few more items to their “must-listen” lists, as several noteworthy artists—including trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, saxophonist Donny McCaslin, vocalist Norah Jones, guitarist John Scofield and pianist Kris Davis—have released, or will be releasing, new albums before the end of the year.

In celebration of the centennial anniversary of the creation of the National Park Service, Smith will release America’s National Parks, a double-CD tribute to America’s scenic landscapes, on Cuneiform Records on Oct. 14.

Smith, who topped the Composer category of the 2013 DownBeat Critics Poll, is lauded by jazz critics for his epic and insightful compositions, which often explore single subjects in great detail. His prior release on Cuneiform was Ten Freedom Summers, a four-disc set celebrating the American Civil Rights Movement, for which he was named one of three finalists for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Music.

America’s National Parks continues in the conceptual and political vein of Ten Freedom Summers, reaffirming Smith’s dedication to commemorating significant moments and ideas in American history.

Also on Oct. 14, saxophonist Donny McCaslin and his band, which was featured on David Bowie’s Blackstar album, will make their Motéma Music debut with the release of Beyond Now, a musical homage to Bowie. Recorded nearly three months after Bowie’s passing, the project is deeply influenced by the band’s extraordinary experience collaborating with the rock legend on his final album.

Consisting of core Blackstar personnel—bassist Tim Lefebvre (Tedeschi Trucks Band, Saturday Night Live), drummer Mark Guiliana (Meshell Ndegeocello, Brad Mehldau), Jason Lindner (Now Vs Now), guitarist Nate Wood and producer David Binney, Beyond Now’s repertoire is expansive, comprising two Bowie songs and covers of songs by Deadmau5, MUTEMATH and the Chainsmokers.

Singer-songwriter Jones focuses once again on the piano for her new album Day Breaks, which features contributions from saxophonist Wayne Shorter, organist Dr. Lonnie Smith and drummer Brian Blade, all of whom are her label mates on Blue Note. The label will release the album on Oct. 7.

The 12 tracks on Day Breaks include nine original compositions plus interpretations of Horace Silver’s “Peace,” which the late pianist included on his 1959 LP Blowin’ The Blues Away; Duke Ellington’s “Fleurette Africaine (African Flower),” which he recorded with bassist Charles Mingus and drummer Max Roach on the classic 1963 LP Money Jungle; and “Don’t Be Denied,” a Neil Young composition that Jones has played in concert and that Young included on his 1973 live album Time Fades Away.

Some of the season’s most significant albums are already available. Following his Grammy win in the category Best Instrumental Jazz Album for his 2015 recording, Past Present (Impulse!/Verve), guitarist John Scofield released Country For Old Men, an exploration of country music, on Sept. 23.

Scofield’s album consists of 12 songs, including compositions by Hank Williams, Dolly Parton, Merle Haggard and James Taylor. Produced by Scofield, it features the guitarist alongside Steve Swallow on bass, Larry Goldings on keyboards and Bill Stewart on drums. The compositions on the album span decades, ranging from “I’m An Old Cowhand”—which was written by Johnny Mercer and recorded by Bing Crosby with Jimmy Dorsey & His Orchestra in 1936—to “You’re Still The One,” a 1998 hit that was recorded by Shania Twain.

On Sept. 20, critically acclaimed pianist Kris Davis released the 16-song Duopoly on her own label, Pyroclastic Records. Duopoly contains duets between Davis and eight accomplished improvisers, including guitarists Bill Frisell and Julian Lage, pianists Craig Taborn and Angelica Sanchez, drummers Marcus Gilmore and Billy Drummond, and reedists Tim Berne and Don Byron.

The physical version of Duopoly comes with a DVD of the full recording, featuring a black and white split-screen of each duo playing the selected track from the album.

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December 2023
Pharoah Sanders
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