Martial Solal & Dave Liebman

Masters In Bordeaux

The collaboration of Martial Solal and Dave Liebman, two master musicians from different generations and continents, might seem highly unlikely—but it was clearly meant to be. The 90-year-old French pianist Solal and the American saxophonist Liebman, 20 years his junior, were brought together by a former student of Liebman’s who happened to be Solal’s son-in-law. After playing a two-evening engagement at a Paris jazz club and making further such meetings a priority, Solal and Liebman were invited to perform at the Jazz and Wine Festival in Bordeaux. That concert, which took place at Château Guiraud in Sauternes, France, is the source of this brilliant live recording of the duo playing jazz standards in a spontaneous, go-with-the-flow manner. Choosing the material on the spot, they start off by riffing on the well-known jazz introduction to “All The Things You Are” before exploring the song’s main theme, taking a deconstructive approach. Solal then leads them into “Night And Day,” where sparks of exhilaration begin to fly. Liebman switches to soprano to introduce Miles Davis’ “Solar,” leading to more deeply empathic interplay. Back on tenor, Liebman plays an abstracted cadenza to kick off “What Is This Thing Called Love,” leading to exciting duo exchanges and an inspired Solal solo. The program continues with an adventurous take on “On Green Dolphin Street” and ends with a dramatic reading of “Lover Man.” With their vast knowledge of repertoire, unpredictable yet consistently tasteful choices, in-the-moment confidence and decades of experience, these two are unstoppable. And, despite their advanced knowledge and abilities, their performance here is much more relatable than the sometimes overly esoteric sax-and-piano duos of, say, Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock. Let’s hope Solal and Liebman continue their collaboration, because listening to Masters In Bordeaux leaves us wanting more—much more, as soon as possible.

John McNeil & Mike Fahie


Trumpeter John McNeil and trombonist Mike Fahie have crafted an outstanding program that alternates between seeking and soaring on their collaborative album Plainsong, consisting of 11 original compositions and a version of Thelonious Monk’s “Green Chimneys.” The co-leaders recruited a stellar band for this album: pianist Ethan Iverson (who rose to fame in The Bad Plus), bassist Joe Martin (who has collaborated with Chris Potter, Anat Cohen and Mark Turner) and drum legend Billy Hart, whose resume includes stints with Wes Montgomery, Herbie Hancock and Stan Getz. In recent years, Hart has led a quartet that features Iverson, so those two musicians share a close rapport that probably helped create a simpatico atmosphere for the Plainsong sessions. The centerpiece of the album—Fahie’s 12-minute “Plain Song, Rain Song”—begins with what might be the sound of Iverson strumming the piano’s strings. The musicians establish a mood that’s mystical and mysterious, as the song reveals its essence like a flower slowly blossoming. On this tune, the fact that McNeil makes such great use of his time in the spotlight demonstrates how well he and Fahie know one another’s strengths. Each member of this band is an artist one might call a “musician’s musician”—a player far more devoted to chasing the muse than to chasing fame. Two of the song titles here nod to fellow musicians: Iverson’s “The Tristano Chord,” which could be a tip of the hat to pianist and DownBeat Hall of Fame inductee Lennie Tristano (1919–’78), and McNeil’s “Abercrombie,” which was composed and recorded when the great guitarist John Abercrombie (1944–2017) was still with us. The quintet’s version of “Green Chimneys” opens with hooky brass riffs from McNeil and Fahie before moving into the type of challenging yet rewarding terrain that Monk scholars enjoy. This 75-minute disc is richly detailed with inspired twists.

Vincent Herring

Hard Times
(Smoke Sessions)

Vincent Herring’s third release on Smoke Sessions is a soulful groover that finds the alto and soprano saxophonist wailing the hard-bop blues, with gospel-like exclamations and deep pockets of funk contributing to the album’s uplifting vibe. Herring’s rhythm section of pianist Cyrus Chestnut, bassist Yasushi Nakamura and drummer Carl Allen provides a no-nonsense support system upon which the leader leans to bare his soul and celebrate life while confronting the challenges of hard times. They are joined on several tracks by guitarist Russell Malone, trombonist Steve Turre, trumpeter Brad Mason and tenor saxophonist Sam Dillon, playing Jazz Messengers-style arrangements one minute and conjuring the loose, easygoing feel of a late-night jam session the next. Vocalist Nicolas Bearde lends his expressive baritone to three tracks (Bill Withers’ r&b classic “Use Me” and the Gershwin standards “Summertime” and “Embraceable You”), bolstering the album’s emotional content and intensifying its portrayal of human vulnerability. Hard Times deals with classic themes and indulges in straightforward blowing without pretense—an honest, courageous approach that just plain feels good.

Ernesto Cervini’s Turboprop


Rev is the second album from Ernesto Cervini’s Turboprop, and it’s a shoot-the-lights-out blast of a listen. Cervini serves as ringmaster and drum flame-thrower on this eight-tune set. He views Turboprop as a collective drawing upon the strengths of alto and soprano saxophonist Tara Davidson, tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm, trombonist William Carn, pianist Adrean Farrugia and bassist Dan Loomis. The group has an infectious, propulsive energy that delivers a power punch without forsaking nuance and melody. “The Libertine,” a fascinating Farrugia composition, for example, begins with Cervini’s wicked-swirling rhythms while Frahm and Davidson state the theme with unison horn lines. Solos by Farrugia and Frahm are simply knockouts of taste, technique and artistry. Here and throughout the entire program there’s a sense of closeness and shared spotlight, playing with, around and through, but never over, each other. Part of that comes from the writing. “The Libertine” is one of five originals on the album. Loomis offered “Ranthem,” a lovely breath of hope. Carn delivered “Arc Of Instability,” a majestic piece that highlights the trombonist’s rich tone and composing chops. And Cervini brought two tracks to the sessions: “Granada Bus” is a loping ride and the title track, “Rev,” exemplifies the cool musical gymnastics Cervini the drummer and Cervini the composer can cook up. Beyond the originals, Turboprop offers great arrangements of Radiohead’s “The Daily Mail,” the standard “Pennies From Heaven” and even Blind Melon’s “No Rain.” Overall, Rev is a bright wave of an album and Turboprop is the real deal. Turboprop will be on the road in 2018. I, for one, would love to see this band live.

Pat Martino


Fans of straightahead jazz have reason to rejoice because guitar icon Pat Martino has released his first studio album as a bandleader in 11 years. For the aptly titled Formidable, he is teamed with his working trio—organist Pat Bianchi and drummer Carmen Intorre Jr.—and on six of the nine tracks, the group is expanded to a quintet, with trumpeter Alex Norris and tenor saxophonist Adam Niewood. Martino, 73, has crafted a program of six intriguing interpretations, along with three original compositions from his long discography. Martino, Norris, Niewood and Bianchi all contribute exciting solos to a catchy rendition of “Nightwings,” which was the title track to a 1996 album the guitarist recorded for the Muse label. Norris and Niewood also bolster “On The Stairs,” which appeared on Martino’s 1974 LP, Consciousness, and they spice up a new arrangement of “El Hombre,” the title track to Martino’s 1967 Prestige debut. Among the aspects that make this album a keeper are a sturdy commitment to swing, and the generosity of a leader who lets his gifted accompanists stretch out with solos. A couple of ballads—Ellington’s “In A Sentimental Mood” and the Charles Mingus tune “Duke Ellington’s Sound Of Love”—are performed in a trio setting, showcasing Martino’s mastery of tempo and illustrating that a smoldering flame can be just as hot as a raging inferno. Indeed, on those two numbers, the trio gloriously proves that less can be more. Elsewhere, the quintet explores Hank Mobley’s “Hipsippy Blues” (with Norris on flugelhorn) and Dave Brubeck’s “In Your Own Sweet Way,” demonstrating Martino’s exquisite taste in material. (Martino and the quintet that recorded Formidable will appear in New York at Jazz Standard on Nov. 9–12 and in his hometown, Philadelphia, at Chris’ Jazz Cafe on Nov. 24–25.)

Emi Meyer


With her U.S. debut, Monochrome, singer-songwriter Emi Meyer has crafted a gem that will greatly expand her international fan base. Born in Kyoto to a Japanese mother and an American father, the Tokyo-based Meyer has released several albums in Japan, and her music has appeared on the soundtrack to Japanese director Nobuhiro Doi’s film Flying Colors and in the States on the TV shows Awkward and Younger. Though Meyer has often sung standards (and even released “Fly Me To The Moon” as a single), the program on Monochrome illustrates that her original compositions are where she shines brightest. That’s not to say that she isn’t a skilled interpreter, as evidenced by a charming rendition of “What A Wonderful World,” a tender, compelling version of Michael Bublé’s “Home” and a potent reading of “I’d Rather Go Blind” that showcases her vocal range and spotlights keyboardist Eric Legnini’s retro-leaning organ work. Meyer’s original compositions reveal a craftsperson with great vocal control and a keen melodic sense who has internalized some elements of jazz standards and allowed them to influence her work in elegant, subtle ways. Nick Phillips’ trumpet lines augment the poignancy of Meyer’s vocals on the title track, and Dan Balmer’s jazz guitar on “Flesh And Bones” complements the singer’s impressive phrasing. Elsewhere, Balmer injects a memorable solo on “Paríso,” an intoxicating original that’s flavored by Brazilian rhythms. The album opens with the cello-enhanced “Odyssey” and the piano-driven “If I Think Of You”—hummable tunes that might make fans of Norah Jones and Diana Krall feel that they’ve found a new artist to follow closely.

Ghost Train Orchestra

Book Of Rhapsodies Vol. II

Led by singer, songwriter, trumpeter, composer, sound scavenger, arranger and producer Brian Carpenter, the terrific ensemble Ghost Train Orchestra has now released its fourth album, Book Of Rhapsodies Vol. II. The band specializes in diving back into the more composed side of early jazz. The first Book Of Rhapsodies disc (released in 2011) focused on the music of four composers: Alec Wilder, Charlie Shavers, Reginald Foresythe and Raymond Scott. The goal was simple—to bring attention to the music of these writers before it was forgotten. For Vol. II, GTO finished off several Scott, Foresythe and Wilder compositions left over from the first recording sessions and added to them three pieces by an all-but-forgotten composer/arranger named Hal Herzon. The liner-notes essay describing how this music was uncovered and resuscitated is enough to purchase it. (So there will be no spoiler in this review.) Suffice it to say, Carpenter and company do an amazing job of taking the old and making it brand-spanking-new again. The music on this program has a tongue-in-cheek smirk, a quirky sense that the composers were getting away with something grand when they wrote the music and that GTO is still getting away with it, wearing a big grin, today. Scott’s “Confusion Among A Fleet Of Taxi Cabs” is 103 seconds of pedal to the metal. “Hare And The Hounds” by Fabian Andre and Hal Herzon is the perfect chase-scene music. It’s quick and light and has moments that will make you laugh. “A Hymn To Darkness: Deep Forest” and several other tunes on the program give Carpenter an opportunity to use a choir for oohs, aahs and baas. It’s a great way to use human voices as another instrument in the orchestra. What makes all of this music work are Carpenter’s total dedication to the arrangements, his love of these bygone composers and a sense of pure, joyous fun. On Wilder’s “Kindergarten Flower Pageant,” Carpenter enlists his son to write lyrics to go with the tune, sung sweetly by a children’s choir. In short, anything goes here. This is a group that performs regularly around the New York area with a home base at a club called the Jalopy Theater in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Red Hook. I still haven’t seen this band, but, rest assured, I’ll track them down the next time I’m in New York. I’ve got a strong feeling the only thing better than listening to this music is hearing it live.

Rez Abbasi

Unfiltered Universe
(Whirlwind Recordings)

Guitarist-composer Rez Abbasi takes a subtle approach to melding South Asian music and modern jazz on his 12th album as a leader, the third installment in a trilogy of recordings with his supergroup Invocations. A quintet featuring Abbasi with saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, pianist Vijay Iyer, bassist Johannes Weidenmueller and drummer Dan Weiss, Invocations debuted with the 2009 album Things To Come (Sunnyside), which highlighted North Indian Hindustani music, and followed that up with 2011’s Suno Suno (Enja), an exploration of the Qawwali music of Abbasi’s native Pakistan. Now, with Unfiltered Universe, the band takes the Carnatic music of South India as its point of departure. Although each member of Invocations has studied South Asian musical traditions in depth (sometimes in collaboration with each other), they operate on a level that’s more intuitive than preconceived. Rather than being obvious and explicit, the South Asian elements of Unfiltered Universe are woven into in the music’s underlying rhythms, melodic structures and phraseology. Indeed, a collective grasp of South Asian traditions informs the stimulating ensemble communication and propulsive grooves on display here. Highlights include the angular opener “Propensity”; the sometimes pensive, sometimes wild title track; and the cerebral-meets-whimsical “Thin-King.” Abbasi’s stated goal in composing the music for this album was “to let the influences hit the empty canvas and allow that to speak to me” without first imposing any foundational ideas on what he planned to create. The result is something that Abbasi describes as “unprocessed and unfiltered,” revealing the universe of music and experience that exists within him—hence, the album’s apt title and fresh, bold sound.

Gregory Porter

Nat “King” Cole & Me
(Blue Note)

Gregory Porter has one of the most amazing singing voices you’ll hear on planet Earth. It can raise you to your feet with its power or help you sink into a chair and say, “Ah,” because it’s so darned soothing. On Nat “King” Cole & Me Porter leans to the soothing side of his instrument in paying tribute to, perhaps, his main influence as an artist. Porter has made it clear from the beginning of his career how much Cole means to him as an artist and as a person. He wrote the semi-autobiographical musical called, not surprisingly, Nat King Cole & Me, back in 2004. He has said that as a youth he often imagined Cole as the father figure he never had. If that sounds like a lot of pressure on this tribute, it is, but Porter doesn’t show it. He gracefully swings through a set of songs made famous by Cole as well as some originals that you can almost hear Nat sing. The program includes gems like “Mona Lisa,” “Smile,” “Nature Boy,” “L-O-V-E,” “Quizas, Quizas, Quizas” and “Sweet Lorraine,” all backed by the London Studio Orchestra with arrangements by the amazing Vince Mendoza. This is an ambitious, risky project that could have turned out sounding dated or stale, but Nat “King” Cole & Me delivers reward after reward. First, we get the reward of hearing one of our greatest living singers in a grand musical setting. Second, the band—consisting of Christian Sands on piano, Reuben Rogers on bass and Ulysses Owens Jr. on drums—swings beautifully. Trumpeter Terence Blanchard drops in for two great guest spots. Finally, the London Studio Orchestra brings an added dignity to the proceedings. Cole & Me has all the lushness of those original Cole renditions, but remains very clearly the work of Porter. This is not someone mimicking the King; this is a fully formed artist taking on that music with reverence, but with his own style. Porter’s tone is impeccable, his sense of time, sublime. One of my favorite cuts here is the Porter original “When Love Was King.” It’s a song that first appeared on his Blue Note release Liquid Spirit. Here, it’s presented as a dazzling, grand remake. In all, this is another fantastic contribution to the growing legend and discography of Gregory Porter.