By Bobby Reed
Pianist Eric Reed is among the most gifted of today’s straightahead jazz players who draw important inspiration from the past. In the liner notes to his new quartet album, the excellent Everybody Gets The Blues, the 48-year-old Philadelphia native writes, “More and more, I find myself looking back—not in the effort to recapture or to waddle in regret, but to reassess, analyze and rebuild for tomorrow.” Reed salutes pianist Bud Powell with an original tune, “Dear Bud,” reharmonizes the John Coltrane classic “Naima” with an arrangement that features his agile work on Fender Rhodes, and honors pianist James Williams (1951–2004) with a jaunty take on “Road Life,” a tune the composer recorded with bassist Ray Brown and drummer Elvin Jones for a 1988 album.
Reed’s reverence for pianist Cedar Walton (1934–2013) has a particularly strong influence on this album’s cohesive, hour-long program, which was recorded with Tim Green (alto and soprano saxophones), Mike Gurrola (bass) and McClenty Hunter (drums). Reed mixes polish with pizzazz on a bouncy, feel-good rendition of Walton’s “Martha’s Prize”; pays tribute to his hero with “Cedar Waltzin’,” an original tune that segues into Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ’Bout A Thing”; and offers a graceful reading of trumpeter Freddie Hubbard’s “Up Jumped Spring” (the first recording of which, from 1962, featured Walton, then a member of Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers).
The album’s highlight is an elegant medley that intertwines the Beatles classic “Yesterday” with the Jerome Kern standard “Yesterdays” in a glorious fashion that works well melodically—deftly illustrating that the impulse to combine these tunes is based on something more profound than the similarity of their titles. Reed shines throughout the program, especially on the ballads, including his meditative, nine-minute gem, “New Morning.”
The tour schedule on Reed’s website lists a May 16 trio gig at the Muckenthaler Cultural Center in Fullerton, California, and a quartet show on July 27 at the Central Avenue Jazz Festival in Los Angeles.
By Ed Enright
Waves Of Calm is the perfect title for this new release from alto saxophonist Jim Snidero. A reflection on his since-departed father’s struggle with Parkinson’s Disease, the eight-song program is charged with powerful emotion recollected in tranquility. Indeed, Waves Of Calm is not rooted in a static, narcotic type of calm. Rather, it’s the product of an active state of calm, the type that leads to deep insights and gives birth to meaningful art.
Snidero once again teams up with trumpeter Jeremy Pelt—whom he played alongside on last year’s joyful and soulful Jubilation! Celebrating Cannonball Adderley—for four tracks on the new recording. The pair take a noticeably more sober approach here, backed by a sympathetic, expert rhythm section of pianist/keyboardist Orrin Evans, bassist Nat Reeves and drummer Jonathan Barber. The title track opens the album with a simple descending piano line that gently leads the listener and the musicians into a peaceful place—an ideal starting point for this shared journey. On Snidero’s “Truth,” the color of the mood shifts dramatically to blue-black, as Evans’ mysterious-sounding Rhodes begins scribbling subliminal messages and Pelt’s weighty trumpet emerges. The 1938 standard “Old Folks” starts with a delicate rubato piano intro before Snidero’s alto enters, breathy and close-up, with a touch of vibrato that adds just the right amount of intensity to his restrained, paced playing.
Before you know it, we’re into the haunting “Visions”—one of the more urgent and unsettled-sounding Snidero originals on Waves Of Calm—with Evans’ nervous Rhodes once again bubbling into the atmosphere and Pelt’s powerful trumpet tones adding to the tune’s ominous sense of psychological distress. “Dad Song” is a refreshingly upbeat change of pace, with its catchy, steady pulse and playful improvisations evoking the senior Snidero’s vibrancy of spirit. On “If I Had You,” another standard jewel, Snidero virtually sings through the horn, extending his phrases with snappy, impromptu lines that indulge the veteran alto player’s appetite for bebop. The album closes with “Estuary,” a moody waltz that takes unexpected turns as it inevitably flows downstream. Just when the thought occurred to me that this album is rather Zen-like in essence, I caught a glimpse of the cover art: an image of Snidero sitting cross-legged in a clear-blue-sky setting, wearing his signature sneakers and specs, his tie loosened and his horn lovingly cradled. It’s a true picture of calm, an ideal environment for sharing musical poetry that rises and falls like waves in a sea of emotion.
By Bobby Reed
For casual fans, a soundtrack album often is merely a keepsake, a memento associated with a film they love, rather than a musical compilation they’ll revisit frequently. In the particular case of Bolden, there is a slight difference in mood between the film and the soundtrack. Director Dan Pritzker’s dark, well-crafted art-house film about New Orleans cornetist and bandleader Charles “Buddy” Bolden (1877–1931) is a nonlinear tale that depicts racism, brutality, drug addiction, mental illness, misogyny, prostitution and other forms of exploitation—as well as providing an imagined glimpse of the specific cultural milieu in which jazz originated.
The soundtrack, crafted by Wynton Marsalis, is a wildly entertaining excursion into the early styles of the genre, expertly delivered by the trumpeter and members of his acclaimed Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, along with a talented cast of guests, including singer Catherine Russell (who has a cameo in the film). Separated from the harrowing cinematic images of the R-rated movie, the musical program has more of a buoyant quality, as red-hot tunes are mixed with poignant balladry and some PG-13 raunchiness—such as the lyrics to Marsalis’ arrangement of the traditional tune “All The Whores Go Crazy (About The Way I Ride).” Every track in the 26-song program is exquisitely executed, whether it’s a Marsalis composition designed to evoke what Bolden’s band might have sounded like, or a song by Hoagy Carmichael (“Stardust”), Irving Berlin (“Russian Lullaby”), Fats Waller (“Black And Blue”), Edward “Kid” Ory (“Muskrat Ramble”) or Jelly Roll Morton (“Funky Butt [I Thought I Heard Buddy Bolden Say]”). If the notion of hearing Marsalis’ tentet cut loose on Louis Armstrong’s arrangement of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band’s “Tiger Rag” is something that intrigues you, then this soundtrack definitely belongs in your collection.
In the film, Gary Carr (Downton Abbey) portrays Bolden, and Reno Wilson (Mike & Molly) has the role of Armstrong. Marsalis provides the cornet and trumpet parts for both characters (JLCO trumpeter Marcus Printup also plays on the soundtrack), but Wilson does his own singing, imitating Satchmo’s gravelly vocal style on several tunes, including the comedic “I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead, You Rascal You.”
Other artists involved in the project are JLCO pianist Dan Nimmer, trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, Delfeayo Marsalis (who produced the album but doesn’t play on it) and clarinetist Dr. Michael White, who plays on the soundtrack and wrote an essay for the liner notes. White opines on how the past is connected to the present in the Crescent City: “[Wynton Marsalis’] deep knowledge of the music of his native New Orleans is reflected in how his trumpet playing expresses that proud, joyous, and defiant singing spirit that has descended from Buddy Bolden to Bunk Johnson and King Oliver to Louis Armstrong and all of the great players in this line, including Terence Blanchard, Nicholas Payton, and Wynton himself.”
By Dave Cantor
Olli Hirvonen’s guitar provided a dash of bombast on Brian Krock’s 2018 album, Big Heart Machine. The big band made something of an anachronistic album, pushing the vanguard of large-ensemble music, all scuffed up by those metally theatrics.
For liddle—an ensemble counting many of the same players, but one that formed prior to the band that played on Heart Machine—Hirvonen again adds outsized blasts of electric guitar, lending no-wave flair to a tune called “Knuckle Hair.” It’s not all that wild throughout the program, though Krock’s fervent experimentalism is readily apparent, and pleasantly so during his reeling saxophone feature on Anthony Braxton’s “Opus 23b.”
The athleticism of the avant-garde is, in part, what the originals on liddle are about, too.
“I kept writing more and more ridiculously complicated and abstract conceptual music and they would always nail it,” the bandleader said about working through his compositional process with the ensemble. “So, at a certain point my attitude changed to wanting to stump these guys, because we had the luxury of time to get deep into the nitty gritty of it all.”
The tune “Heart Machine,” where Krock’s other troupe actually draws its name, is a slow advance toward a warbling summit, Hirvonen’s guitar nimbus serving as the composition’s backdrop. Even in spots where the six strings get to be a bit overwhelming—“Memphis” hedges toward a rock-opera feel—pianist Matt Mitchell, bassist Marty Kenney and drummer Nathan Ellman-Bell ground the proceedings with playful, bounding musical gestures, enabling some of liddle’s most outside moments.
By J.D. Considine
It’s not often that a bandleader is so selfless that they’ll open an album with a track they don’t play on. It seems perfectly appropriate here, though, because trumpeter Dave Douglas’ Devotion is all about recognizing the value of others, particularly those who have inspired him musically or artistically. “Curly,” which opens the album, is a tune Douglas wrote in tribute to his favorite Stooge, Jerome Horwitz (a.k.a. Curly Howard). There’s no slapstick, but it’s not hard to recognize Horwitz’s gait in the manic syncopation of the melody, which pianist Uri Caine and drummer Andrew Cyrille happily spin into controlled chaos.
Not every connection is aurally obvious, though. “D’Andrea” and the lilting, waltz-tempo “Francis Of Anthony” might ring bells for those familiar with Italian jazz pianist Franco D’Andrea. If not, it’s still easy to be captivated by the unusual intervallic symmetry of Douglas’ melodies. On the other hand, the jaunty, gospel-inflected “Miljøsang,” which the trumpeter offers in tribute to pianist/composer Carla Bley, sounds more like mid-’70s Keith Jarrett. But that might have more to do with the way Caine plays it than how Douglas wrote it.
To an extent, though, Douglas’ liner notes create more distraction than illumination. Trying to hear the Dizzy Gillespie influence in the wistful “We Pray”—is it the half-valving or use of chromatics in Douglas’ solo?—could obscure the solemn beauty of the music itself, not to mention the way it furthers the churchy vibe Caine and Douglas established on their 2014 duo album, Present Joys (Greenleaf Music).
Better to remember that devotion can be offered in a variety of ways, and no single version is better than the others. Perhaps that’s why the album ends with Alexander Johnson’s sacred harp hymn, “Devotion,” and a performance that captures both the literal and figurative meanings of the word, as well as offering some of the album’s most inspired interplay.
By Bobby Reed
On her sophomore album, Charismatic, charming Argentine singer-songwriter Laura Valle proves that a great melody is the universal language, as she offers lyrics in Spanish, English and German (with translations posted on her website).
Based in Southern California, Valle pursues a jazz-meets-pop aesthetic on this program of 11 original compositions. She also produced the album, carefully blending her multitracked vocal parts on catchy tunes like “I Keep Digging” and “Vos Y Yo.” Pianist Rob Kobayashi, who plays on eight tracks here, provides compelling propulsion for “The Essence Is Inside Of You,” while keyboardist Brad Vinikow fuels “Todo Se Transforma,” which features Valle’s subtle vocal flourishes. The bandleader has used the term “pop march” to describe the title track, which is anchored by the quasi-martial rhythms of drummer Isaac Sanchez. Funk and r&b influences are key to “Parte Del Pacto” and “Was Ist Liebe” (one of two tracks on which Logan Bacharach contributes alto and tenor saxophone). The emotional zenith is “Voz De Niebla,” a powerful ballad dedicated to singer Amy Winehouse (1983–2011). Valle is accompanied only by Kobayashi’s piano and Tower of Power member Sal Cracchiolo’s flugelhorn on this tune, which includes a heartbreaking line that translates as “Was it love or was it life itself that left you a scar of fire?” The album concludes with the inspirational “Seres Humanos,” on which a choir of students from Valle Vocal Studios enhances the song’s optimistic mood.
By Dave Cantor
On her 2010 debut, Tangent, tenor saxophonist Trish Clowes offered up a baroque vision of jazz—pithy and skronky interludes bouncing between full-ensemble improv and intimate sonic investigations.
The approach steadily has morphed into a sturdy post-bop practice with frequent detours into the electric realm and performances with the BBC Concert Orchestra. On her latest, Ninety Degrees Gravity, the Guildhall School of Music & Drama professor mashes it all together for an engaging program that spans a litany of Clowes’ musical interests.
“Abbott & Costello” isn’t brimming with slapstick and wordplay, as its name might lead listeners to believe. Instead, it’s a performance that builds quietly, determinedly, and, in part, on the fluttering multiphonic tones Clowes summons. A live recording of “Lightning Les” slowly moves from organ jam to all-out guitar shredding, recalling Medeski Martin & Wood’s partnership with John Scofield on the 1998 album A Go Go. Most of the program here, though, finds members of the quartet deploying a tender understanding of its component parts.
The only misstep might be a bit of middling vocals that introduce the otherwise engagingly broad 11-minute “Free To Fall.” But even in that, Clowes clearly is looking to incorporate just about every music she loves. So, if the composition momentarily references Gong or Soft Machine, it’s only in the interest of moving through genres to hit on some new wrinkle of creation.
By Dave Cantor
The veracity of all those stories you’ve heard or read about Lee “Scratch” Perry is immaterial. The 50-plus years of music the producer and vocalist has worked on is legitimately awe-inspiring. And the fact that he has continued releasing work at a pretty steady clip only adds to the respect he should be afforded.
Of course, most of the recordings under his own name—not Prince Buster, The Wailers, The Congos and scores of other collaborators—are difficult to keep track of, being strewn across hundreds of releases. But Perry’s relationship with On-U Sound’s Adrian Sherwood, a UK dub provocateur, has yielded dozens of albums since the 1980s. Granted, it’s not all on par with Return of The Super Ape, but most music isn’t.
Rainford opens with the whir of crickets, turns to a song about evil spirits that sports a familiar riddim and slowly advances toward “African Spaceship,” a tune with what sounds like a weird, pitched-down guitar, making it seem as if a late-’90s El-P production has been unearthed. A few more novel sonic moments crop up, but Rainford’s really about extending an astounding reggae legacy more than further innovations. It’s all marked with history, and Perry, now 83, has to understand that he doesn’t have another dozen albums left in him.
The closer, “Autobiography Of The Upsetter,” intimates that.
The Grammy winner tells listeners that his father was a Freemason, and that his parents wanted to create a “Godly being.” The song’s refrain, “I am the Upsetter,” is a simple statement of purpose as Perry goes on to explain that he’s on the planet to eradicate racism. That might be a bit of a stretch, but seeing his writing credit on the back of The Clash’s 1977 debut long-player likely expanded the minds of at least a few impressionable punks.
By J.D. Considine
Sometimes, the long view offers the best perspective. Reflections compiles tracks drawn from 20 years of sitar virtuoso Anoushka Shankar’s recordings, and in so doing demonstrates not only the breadth of her work, but also its consistency.
Like her father, the legendary Ravi Shankar, Anoushka is a master of Hindustani classical music, but also open to working outside that tradition in various types of fusion formats. We hear her playing in a jazzy Americana style with her half-sister, Norah Jones, and also in the classical style with her father. There are collaborations with flamenco stars Pedro Ricardo Miño and Duquende, with Israeli pop singer Noa Lembersky and with actress Vanessa Redgrave. There are deep grooves, and tracks where the rhythm seems as fluid and unhurried as the water of a pond; there are songs with an obvious verse/chorus structure, and others that mostly are improvisation. Sometimes, the music seems modern and wide-screen, at others, it sounds timeless and intimate.
Through it all, Anoushka’s sitar remains constant—not just its sound, but the musical sensibility behind it. Like all truly great improvisors, she maintains her voice regardless of the material she’s playing, or with whom. This especially is evident when she leaves the Hindustani tradition to wander the wilds of world-music and pop. In some cases, it’s a matter of adapting her technique to the vocabulary of another music, as she does on the flamenco tune “Buleria Con Ricardo,” where she manages to make the melody’s Andalusian ornamentation sound perfectly at home on sitar. But she’s also able to discover an idiomatic role for herself that previously didn’t exist, as on “The Sun Won’t Set,” where Shankar uses the sitar’s lower register to play the blues, sounding a bit like a dobro against Nitin Sawhney’s finger-picked folk guitar. And it’s that sort of playing that quietly reminds us that this is one of improvised music’s great players.