David Bindman Sextet

Ten Billion Versions Of Reality
(Self Release)

Brooklyn-based tenor/soprano saxophonist and composer David Bindman, who co-led the Brooklyn Saxophone Quartet with the late Fred Ho, wrote this suite of chamber-like pieces during two separate stays in the mountains near upstate Cambridge, New York. The remarkable geography of the region has the power to inspire the human spirit and induce deep thought and reflection, something clearly reflected in the music on Ten Billion Versions Of Reality. Bindman seeks to create works that offer artistic alternatives to the greed and materialism that pollute people’s lives and go against the natural world, and with this new release, he hits the spiritual jackpot. Bindman, trumpeter/flugelhornist Frank London, trombonist Reut Regev, pianist Art Hirahara, bassist Wes Brown and drummer Royal Hartigan—the same musicians who recorded the sextet’s self-produced 2012 debut, Sunset Park Polyphony—execute this winding stream of seven compositions with sensitivity, purpose and an exploratory mindset. Bindman’s melodies are complex yet accessible, thanks to the patient pacing, restraint and deliberateness demonstrated by his team. Time is virtually unbound. Sometimes the musicians lock into meter together, seemingly by spontaneous consensus, as when a solid groove kicks in on the opener, “Sketch In 12.” Other times they venture out or simply drift off on their own into separate yet concurrent rhythmic streams, like on the heavily improvised deep-water sections of the title track. Such diverse and disparate musical elements contribute to a profound sonic geometry, a big picture of sorts built on multiple conversations and varying perspectives.

Ranky Tanky

Ranky Tanky
(Resilience Music Alliance)

Ranky Tanky is a South Carolina-based, roots-music quintet that draws upon Gullah culture, a heritage that is found in other Southern states, too, including North Carolina, Georgia and Florida. In the album’s liner notes, Herb Frazier writes: “Gullah people from the Sea Islands of South Carolina are the descendants of Africans captured along Africa’s rice coast [in West Africa]. In the so-called new world, the enslaved toiled under the hot Carolina sun along the Atlantic coast. From this bondage came Gullah, a mixture of African and English styles.” Ranky Tanky mixes elements of African music with American gospel and r&b on its excellent self-titled disc, which includes 13 traditional songs, each arranged by the band. Lead singer Quiana Parler is a powerhouse presence, and trumpeter Charlton Singleton is amazingly adept at crafting lines that complement the singer’s timbre. A good example is “O Death,” on which the trumpeter’s lament is akin to a vocal delivery. On “Turtle Dove,” electric guitarist Clay Ross plays in a style that seems to draw a connection to West African music of the 20th century. Rounding out the band are bassist Kevin Hamilton and drummer Quentin E. Baxter, who excel at any tempo. Whether Ranky Tanky is unleashing a high-energy dance number or carefully sculpting a lullaby, such as “Go To Sleep,” the music always feels fresh. This band can take tunes from yesterday and make them sound as lively and relevant as 21st-century electronic beats.

Andrew Linham Jazz Orchestra

Weapons Of Mass Distraction
(Self Release)

This 17-piece contemporary big band led by U.K.-based baritone saxophonist, composer and educator Andrew Linham is one of the boldest—and most eccentric—large jazz ensembles performing today. This is a group with chops and personality to spare, not to mention a madcap sense of humor. Performing Linham’s original compositions, the orchestra—which consists of key players on the U.K. scene—covers a huge stylistic ground that ranges from jaunty, old-fashioned big band swing to modern large-ensemble pyrotechnics to pop power ballads. They play with guts and attitude, and manage to inject outrageous humor into even the most demanding of musical passages, striking a perfect balance between the sublime and the ridiculous. Their debut album comes as a pleasant surprise, since previously I had heard of neither Linham (who plays regularly in numerous U.K. big bands) nor his orchestra, which the leader has described as “a loud visceral remedy of jazz-based insanity to warm the cockles of your heart.” It seems that this daring ensemble, which has been performing Linham’s tunes since 2014, flies low under the big band radar, performing mostly in England (including a well-received performance at the London Jazz Festival in 2015). The cleverly titled Weapons Of Mass Distraction firmly establishes the Andrew Linham Jazz Orchestra as a significant addition to today’s big band scene and a group that deserves wider recognition at the international level.


Another Ride On The Elephant Slide
(Thirsty Owl)

Lauren Elizabeth Baba wants to disabuse anyone of the notion that all L.A. jazz is of the smooth persuasion. As the composer, conductor, bandleader and producer for her 17-piece big band, theBABAorchestra, she’s establishing adventurous new territory. Recorded live at Seahorse Sound Studios in Los Angeles, the band’s debut, Another Ride On The Elephant Slide, melds elements of free-jazz, avant-garde classical, drone rock and Middle Eastern folk music. Fans don’t turn to this band for pretty melodies. But that doesn’t mean the music isn’t infectious. On “The Myth Of Sysphis–Movement 2,” a head-bobbing groove emerges, as the bands transitions from unleashing growling waves to locking in and galloping like a chariot. With skillful use of her composer’s pen and her conductor’s baton, Baba crafts intricate, hypnotic tracks that frequently offer a surging momentum. Her music often has an undulating motif that contributes to the sonic bedrock, paired with complex intersecting lines in the aural “middle,” and then technically impressive soloing on top of those two layers. The striking solos might come from one of the band’s four trumpeters or another member, such as guitarist Gregory Uhlmann. Baba’s palette is broad: Segments of select tracks have very spare instrumentation, while other numbers are wildly dense, merging disparate parts but without teetering into sonic chaos. Baba, the recipient of an ASCAP Young Jazz Composers Award, is an artist to watch, especially for fans who enjoy the intersection of big band instrumentation and avant-garde experimentation.

Various Artists

Oscar, With Love
(Mack Avenue)

Anyone who’s read this column in the past might know that I’m an enthusiastic fan of solo piano albums. There’s something about that instrument—played alone—that allows you to hear the heart and soul of the artist. So, when you record world-class pianists playing the music of DownBeat Hall of Famer Oscar Peterson (1925–2007) on the master’s personal Bosendörfer Imperial grand in his home studio—yep, that’s something I’m going to geek out about! This is a beautiful set of music that came to life as a pet project of Peterson’s widow, Kelly, in honor of what would have been the late pianist’s 90th birthday. Originally released in 2015 in very limited numbers, the set has been re-released by Mack Avenue on a significantly larger scale. In putting the music together for this collection, Kelly Peterson focused on Oscar Peterson, the composer. There are dozens of great performances on this set, with several of Peterson’s compositions making their recorded debut. Makoto Ozone serves up two scoops of gorgeous on “The Contessa.” Fellow Canadians Oliver Jones and Dave Young deliver a beautiful “Céline’s Waltz.” Gerald Clayton’s take on “Bossa Beguine” is all style, swagger and beauty. Benny Green demonstrates his ability to sink deep into the blues on “Cool Walk.” And that’s just four examples from the 36 tracks. Seven of the selections are compositions written for Peterson by other artists, including Chick Corea’s “One For Oscar,” which he penned specifically for this occasion. There will be a variety of versions of Oscar, With Love available. The standard three-CD release comes with a 24-page booklet. A deluxe package includes the three CDs and a 100-plus-page book. And in 2018, Mack Avenue will release a five-LP set on vinyl. With its pristine audio production and exquisite packaging, Oscar, With Love is an essential acquisition for Peterson fans and anyone with even a passing interest in solo jazz piano. If you want deeper insight into this project, you can check out a video of Kelly Peterson talking about it by clicking here.

Ron Miles

I Am A Man
(Enja/Yellow Bird)

Cornetist Ron Miles is one of the most amazing accompanists in jazz. Whenever his name comes up in conversation, musicians who have played with Miles hold him one part in awe, two parts in inspiration, three parts in respect. The same holds true for Miles as a bandleader, as evidenced by his latest release, I Am A Man. It’s a recording of thought-provoking beauty in overdrive. The title (and cover art) is taken from the artist Glenn Ligon in a piece called Condition Report (2000). The music, like Ligon’s artwork, takes on the social chaos of the times. “From the beginnings of black American music, there’s been a sense of triumph over adversity,” Miles said in press materials for the release. “We’re in some trying times in 2017, that’s for sure. But we’ve seen this before. Black folks have had to do this over and over again, fighting injustice and finding a positive solution.” For Miles, that solution is to bring together a group of stellar artists—guitarist Bill Frisell, drummer Brian Blade, pianist Jason Moran and bassist Thomas Morgan—to play music from the heart, full of blues, grit and sass. The title track is a quirky blues, full of interplay. “Darken My Door” was written after Miles had a dream about his future mother-in-law; it speaks to the insecurities we all have when entering a new family. “Revolutionary Congregation” was written in honor of religious figures who also served as political heroes, such as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Gandhi. “Mother Juggler” is a love song for Miles’ mother, and all mothers. But my favorite track on this album is the closer, “Is There Room In Your Heart For A Man Like Me,” which begins with a eager, pleading bass solo by Morgan that helps convey the humble, heart-on-the-sleeve tone of the question posed in the song’s title.

Chris Thile

Thanks For Listening

Public radio listeners know mandolinist Chris Thile as the current host of A Prairie Home Companion. Others might know him from his work with the progressive bluegrass trio The Punch Brothers or new-grass artists Nickel Creek. And lucky jazz fans might have caught Thile’s recording and tour dates with pianist Brad Mehldau. It was one of the more surprising and enjoyable pairings this reviewer has heard in a long time. Thile has released a new solo album, Thanks For Listening, and it’s a gem of beautiful vocal harmonies, incredible musicianship and sophisticated, cutting lyrics. Thile has taken the mandolin and bluegrass tradition in directions before unseen. The music here brims with complex art and lush production. The tunes were written for a segment called “Song of the Week” that aired during each Prairie Home broadcast. Instead of just releasing those performances, Thile went into the studio and recorded 10 of the 19 songs he had composed for the segment. The results just shimmer. “I Made This For You,” the opening cut, highlights Thile’s strengths as a songwriter, lyricist, instrumentalist and artistic visionary. It’s an operetta in 4 minutes and 11 seconds. “Thank you, New York” demonstrates why a musician like Mehldau would want to team up with Thile. It’s a grand, beautiful pop song with an instrumental break that sends shivers down the spine. And the title track is a great sendoff as the final cut of the recording. It twists the theme into a very personal manifesto on the isolated nature of life today. Rest assured, there’s nothing easy in the music of Chris Thile. It makes you think, and sometimes think twice. And, in the end, it makes you glad you were listening.

Kenny Werner Trio

Animal Crackers

Pianist Kenny Werner’s trio with bassist Johannes Weidenmüller and drummer Ari Hoenig has been together for 18 years, and Animal Crackers benefits from the powerful chemistry the group has forged during that time. The trio has reached a comfort level that allows it to approach improvisation as spontaneous composition, like a group consciousness that opens the players’ ears to possibilities beyond the conventional practice of running lines and patterns. One of the trio’s favorite activities, according to Werner, is turning a standard into a composition all its own. This is clearly evident in the gleeful ways the musicians dissect, expand and transform old favorites like “The Song Is You,” “If I Should Lose You” and “I Should Care,” defying expectations in a brainy but delightful manner. The mood is darker on Werner originals like the minor-key “Ari” (written around a rhythm Hoenig created for an arrangement on one of his own albums) and the avant-funky “What?,” one of several places on Animal Crackers where Werner adds a tasteful touch of synthesizer. The title track, another Werner composition, skips along playfully while spiraling into the treacherously deep woods of twisted time and vague tonality. Two tunes credited to the entire trio—“Breathing Torso” and “Mechanical Arm”—show just how well these three bandmates jell when the charts are put away and spontaneous composition is given free rein. The Kenny Werner Trio is currently on a European tour, with upcoming concerts on Dec. 6 at Pizza Express in London; Dec. 7 at Duc des Lombards in Paris; and Dec. 8 at Porgy & Bess in Vienna, Austria.

Jimmy Chamberlin Complex

The Parable
(Make Records)

Hard-hitting drummer Jimmy Chamberlin is famous among rock fans for his years of work with the Smashing Pumpkins. Jazz fans know Chamberlin from his recent work with saxophonist Frank Catalano. And diehard fans will recall Life Begins Again, his 2005 album by The Jimmy Chamberlin Complex. Bassist Billy Mohler and guitarist Sean Woolstenhulme, who both played on that album, are back for the band’s new release, a jazz effort titled The Parable, on which they are joined by Randy Ingram (piano, Fender Rhodes) and Chris Speed (tenor sax, clarinet). Here, Chamberlin combines the energy and production values of a rock album with the spontaneity of an improvised jazz session. “Jazz really allows you to paint in real time,” Chamberlin said in the press materials for The Parable. “You’re painting first drafts and being OK with them.” This program of six tracks contains some killer “frist drafts” that succeed wonderfully. Speed, who’s certainly comfortable in an improv setting, emerges as the MVP of this session due to his inventive lines and excursions that arrive at satisfying destinations. On the title track, Chamberlin delivers compelling cymbal work (without showboating), while Ingram adds cool coloration to the sonic equivalent of an abstract painting. Speed adds poignant clarinet work to “Magick Moon,” while Mohler adds a sturdy, anchoring bass line to “El Born.” Overall, Chamberlin proves himself to be a gracious bandleader, providing a platform for his colleagues to soar.

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