By Bobby Reed
When downloads surpassed physical CDs in popularity, one casualty of that tectonic shift was the notion of the road-trip album. Instead of selecting a great disc to stick in a car’s glove compartment, music lovers began crafting their own playlists—or turning to satellite radio—for entertainment on long drives.
Pianist/keyboardist Amina Figarova’s album Persistence is a delightful throwback in two senses: Not only does it nod to the fusion style of an earlier era, it offers a cohesive program that could be the 43-minute soundtrack for a segment of blissful highway travel. Like any great road-trip album, the program contains enough sonic diversity to keep the listener engaged, but without any boring or jarring tracks that would tempt someone to hit the eject button.
For Persistence, Figarova recruited her band Edition 113, a group players who embrace a fusion aesthetic, merging the adventurous spirit of improvisation with the muscular power of rock. Guitarist Rez Abbasi adds spidery lines to the funk-flavored title track and smolders on the medium-tempo tune “Morning Blue.” Bart Platteau (who is the leader’s husband) provides authoritative flute lines on “Horizons,” while his work on EWI helps sculpt a lovely yet mysterious atmosphere for the ballad “Lil’ Poem.” The flute, electric guitar and keyboard conversation on “R Song” is a delight that prompts repeated spins and begs for detailed study. Agile bassist Yasushi Nakamura and go-to drummer Rudy Royston keep the proceedings grounded yet grooving.
Adding welcome coloration to the album are three vocalists, who each appear on a single track: Hip-hop artist JSWISS crafts rhymes for “I’ve Got No Time,” Paul Jost provides soaring, wordless vocals on “Horizons,” and Skye’s World sings and recites spoken-word segments on “Bliss.”
The power of this program lies partly in its questing vibe: For each track, the players have the basic route in their heads, so any band member can take an intriguing, improvisational diversion down a side road, and yet still merge back into the unified ensemble and help it arrive at the intended destination.
By Bobby Reed
Listening to Childish Japes’ latest album is like being invited to a party and making some new friends who are huddled in a corner: An hour ago you didn’t even know these people’s names, but now you’re eager to learn more about them.
Looking into the band’s recent past, one thing becomes clear: The new album is a departure from its predecessor. In August 2018, the trio of Asher Kurtz (guitar), Jed Lingat (bass) and JP Bouvet (drums) released Salamander, which featured the pop-oriented singer Dave Vives on all the tracks.
The band’s new album, The Book Of Japes, finds the core trio delivering an all-instrumental program alongside Christian Li (keyboards) and David Leon (saxophones, bass clarinet). The sonic territory here is a place where jazz meets art-rock, with lots of improvisation. The tracks feature bolts of aggressive, rewarding dialogue, with members trading solos as if to say, “That’s what you got? OK, here’s what I got.”
The track “9:41” begins like a standard rock tune and then somersaults into a thrashing, skronking maelstrom before descending into a spare meditation and then returning to the melodic head. The longest track, “Testimonies,” starts with a catchy melody line before shifting to another sonic lane that eventually leads to the metaphoric soundtrack of a sci-fi movie where the hero’s spaceship verges on overheating.
“Summer MT-35”—the title of which might nod to the model number of a vintage Casio keyboard—offers a head-bobbing groove and touch of whimsy. “Vic Pils” features Kurtz’s chiming guitar work, Li’s infectious keyboard riffs, which nod to ’80s new wave, plus alto saxophone and bass clarinet parts played by Leon (whose resume includes work with trumpeter Adam O’Farrill and saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock).
For a glimpse at the recording sessions for The Book Of Japes, fans can check out a YouTube clip in Bouvet’s video blog, featuring excerpts from six tracks. The clip hints at a level of chummy camaraderie that is evidenced by the grooves on this intriguing, nine-track album.
By Dave Cantor
The emotional backing of California pianist Cathlene Pineda’s Rainbow Baby is startling. And even if somber, knotty compositions don’t hold sway over your listening habits, the courage to write music about such a personal experience should be recognized.
“‘1nine’ is about the birth of our second child, but also about the time surrounding that,” Pineda wrote in an email to DownBeat, after explaining that the phrase “rainbow baby” refers to a child born following a miscarriage, still birth or death during infancy. “Our daughter was born in 2019, in January (1-19), but on January 9th (1-9-19). [About a week] before she was born, my father had emergency surgery for a bleed in the brain and was in the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, while I was stuck in California ... . He has since recovered very well, considering his age and his experiences. But that month of January was filled with an enormous swell of trauma [and] uncertainty, but also joy and celebration.”
The majority of Rainbow Baby comes off as a blue exploration of Pineda’s psyche; the music’s no less gorgeous or entrancing. And by comparison to the rest of the disc, “Carriers II”— which among the other sequences here might be heard as a contemplative air—works as a joyous-sounding interlude. Kris Tiner’s trumpet is perfectly suited to the moment. And as good as the band is—bassist David Tranchina and drummer Tina Raymond round out the quartet—Tiner painting around Pineda’s chords for supreme emotional affect across the album really is the most noteworthy feature of the music.
A pair of suites—Carriers and Wild Geese—ground the album, and give it a sort of cohesion that progressive-minded contemporary work so often lacks. It’s also a surprisingly easy recording to wade through, despite the subject matter, and again should remind listeners that L.A. boasts a pretty heavy scene. It’s just less concentrated, given the city’s sprawling reach.
By J.D. Considine
Peripheral Vision has always been a sort of two-sided affair. On one level, the Toronto-based quartet is about the writing relationship between electric guitarist Don Scott and double bassist Michael Herring. But there’s also a second aspect to the band’s music, which stems from the collaborative chemistry among Scott, Herring, tenor saxophonist Trevor Hogg and drummer Nick Fraser.
In that sense, it was probably inevitable that this double-edged quartet would end up making a double album. Irrational Revelation And Mutual Humiliation, its fifth release, plays up that duality by offering one disc that showcases the band’s compositional chops, and a second that emphasizes its instrumental agility. Moreover, it does so while broadening the band’s sonic palette, bringing in extra players on some tracks and making more extensive use of overdubs and multitracking.
What’s most striking, though, is Peripheral Vision’s stylistic range. Take, for example, Herring’s three-part Reconciliation Suite, from the first disc. Written in the hope of addressing, as a nonaboriginal person, the injustice and inequality revealed through the work of Reconciliation Canada, the music is alternately questioning and prayerful, hushed and raucous. As it moves from the opening “Prayer For Reconciliation” to the final “Kaddish For Missing And Murdered Indigenous Women And Girls,” it incorporates the full range of Peripheral Vision’s sound, from the classical sweetness of Herring’s arco work to the distorted roar of Scott’s overdriven guitar. It’s an astonishing piece of work, and amazingly is followed by “For Kent Monkman,” a boppish contrafact on “Cherokee,” that shows the band can play post-bop just as convincingly as they can invoke chamber music or art-rock.
According to the liner notes, the second disc’s title—Mutual Humiliation—stems from practice sessions in which Herring and Fraser build cohesion by “working on something hard (even humiliating) together.” “Title Crisis” has precisely that sort of feel, an ever-changing groove that stays in the pocket while remaining rhythmically off-balance. But that’s just one of the ways Peripheral Vision shows off its time-keeping acuity: There’s everything from the slow, spacious reverie of “Neo-Expressionism For Pacifists” to the gracefully dancing “Schleudern,” where Hogg and Fraser almost completely blur the line between melody and rhythm.
By Dave Cantor
It’s easy to get lost in Imaginary Archipelago, a cooperative effort by drummer/percussionists Adam Rudolph and Hamid Drake, and saxophonist/flutist Ralph M. Jones—three commanding improvisers with decades of work behind them to prove their mettle.
There’s the thrill of hearing the two veteran percussionists—who as teenagers met in a Chicago drum shop—explore imagined worlds of sound where rhythms jut out of soundscapes as quickly as they’re again submerged in Rudolph’s whirring electronic experiments. Jones serves to sketch out melodies and patterns, as on “Apekweh,” while his bandmates decide to explore a calmer segment of their improvisational skill set. Sure, some of this might come off as new agey—perhaps more so than the trio’s Karuna recording from 2018. But as soon as that perception might crop up, a track like “Suwakaba” seems to recast the sounds of the Gary Bartz NTU Troop for the 21st century. Jones, who’s worked with both percussionists in Rudolph’s Moving Pictures ensemble, gets one of his most prominent features here, his horn echoey, punchy and electronically affected, but intriguingly so.
Despite these performers having a history together that stretches back decades, their collective creative engagement hasn’t waned. And Imaginary Archipelago is yet another indication that Drake somehow remains one of most varied percussionists of his—or any—generation who just isn’t necessarily a familiar name to most jazzers.
By Bobby Reed
A startling crisis can add new, unexpected meaning to an existing work of art. Many albums recorded prior to 9/11 gained layers of significance that hadn’t been envisioned by their creators. This phenomenon was particularly acute for residents of New York City, and it has returned during the coronavirus pandemic. New Yorkers might experience an a-ha twinge when watching Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 film, Contagion, or viewing Jerry Seinfeld’s new standup special, 23 Hours To Kill. And Big Apple residents definitely will experience a jolt of recognition when listening to veteran rocker Willie Nile’s 13th studio album, New York At Night.
This sonic love letter to Gotham opens with “New York Is Rockin’,” a nostalgic sing-along with lyrics that celebrate the diversity of the city’s world-famous performing arts scene: “Frank Sinatra’s singing about the little town blues/ Baryshnikov is puttin’ on his blue suede shoes/ Bird is boppin’ down on 52nd Street/ The Ramones at CBGB’s got ’em on their feet/ Pavarotti’s singing up at Carnegie Hall/ Yeah, everybody’s swingin’, man, we’re havin’ a ball.”
Nile—a native of Buffalo, New York, who is a longtime resident of Greenwich Village—populates his lyrics with the names of New York streets and locations that nighttime denizens generally haven’t been prowling en mass during the pandemic (Avenue A, Avenue C, Bleecker Street, Broadway, the intersection of Park Avenue and E. 53rd Street).
Nile’s stock in trade is anthemic, straightforward rock, and tunes like the title track, “Lost And Lonely World” and “Downtown Girl” will appeal to fans whose music libraries include albums by the likes of Bruce Springsteen, David Johansen and Steve Forbert. The original ballad “The Last Time We Made Love” might resonate with listeners who cherished Nile’s interpretation of “I Want You” on his 2017 collection of Bob Dylan songs, Positively Bob.
When Nile took his band into the Hobo Sound studio in Weehawken, New Jersey, to record the new album, it’s clear that his goal was not to reinvent the wheel—or himself. He emerged with a disc that’s less rootsy than his 2006 album, Streets Of New York, and less political than his last outing, Children Of Paradise (2018).
The current dearth of live music in New York has turned Nile’s new album into a talisman of the recent past—when tourists and locals could wedge themselves into a packed club for a hot set—as well as a reminder that those days will return. And when they do, some of us will refuse to take them for granted.
By Dave Cantor
Is this a panacea for what we’re all experiencing now? Probably not. But Diluvio definitely will displace listeners’ anxiety for about 50 minutes as drummer Robby Ameen moves through his keenly honed influences, expanding beyond the Afro-Cuban sounds he’s associated with as the album rides a wave of eclecticism that eventually settles somewhere outside of genre.
“The Drifter’s Plan” comes off a bit too smooth and ranks as the only real misstep on the collection. But on “Cremant”—presumably a rumination on drinking the sparkling wine—a Latin feel dominates as trombonist Conrad Herwig slides through percussion accents without flaw. Saxophonist Bob Franceschini quoting Henry Mancini’s theme from The Pink Panther comes as an added bonus. “Mixology”—a title that might just have been an apt name for the album—is a straightahead effort, as Franceschini’s joined by tenorist Troy Roberts on the frontline.
Ameen is and forever will be affiliated with performers like Dizzy Gillespie, Rubén Blades and Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez. But closing with a version of John Coltrane’s “Impressions” is a nice touch, and again points to Ameen’s continued desire to explore any and every kind of music that’s inspired him throughout his lengthy career.
By Ed Enright
Alex Goodman hears red, and hears blue. Other colors, too.
The New York-based guitarist’s innate sensitivity to the associative power of colors and their various shades served as the inspiration behind this well-planned and superbly executed double album. On Impressions In Blue And Red, Goodman leads two distinct quartets—one for each color—on adventures in synesthesia that paint vivid musical “pictures” and conjure a full spectrum of moods and meanings. For the “blue” portion of the program (disc 1), Goodman is joined by alto saxophonist Ben Van Gelder, bassist Martin Nevin and drummer Jimmy Macbride. Goodman’s “red” ensemble (disc 2) includes altoist Alex LoRe, bassist Rick Rosato and drummer Mark Ferber. It’s impossible to explain what makes any particular sounds “blue” or “red” to Goodman’s ear, but suffice it to say that the two-pronged music-by-colors approach that he and his bandmates follow on Impressions In Blue And Red succeeds in eliciting a wide range of intuitive feels that transcend verbal description.
“No Man’s Land,” the opening track of disc 1, takes the listener into a world that’s so obviously blue, one need not ponder how or why. Meanwhile, “Choose,” the opening track of disc 2, comes across as something drawn from the same source material as King Crimson’s 1974 prog-rock album Red, with its insistent guitar patterns played over an ever-shifting, odd-meter groove. Impressions In Blue And Red benefits from a symmetry and flow imposed upon it by the leader, with each color theme complementing—rather than clashing with—the other.
Eight tracks serve as improvised solo intros that spotlight Goodman and each of his bandmates in turn. The album also includes a total of 15 originals by Goodman, plus interpretations of Herbie Hancock’s “Toys” and a movement from a baroque sonata by Johann Rosenmüller. Each disc closes with Goodman playing an impromptu solo version of a standard: “I’ll Never Be the Same” (Malneck & Signorelli) on the “blue” disc and “If I Loved You” (Rodgers & Hammerstein) on the “red.” A regular on the New York club scene and the international festival circuit, the Toronto-born Goodman makes his strongest statement to date with this bold, ambitious album.
By J.D. Considine
There’s a lot about Finnish trumpeter Verneri Pohjola that sounds familiar. The way his breathy tone skips across a trancelike groove, cushioned by the airy ambience of synth chords, will put some listeners in mind of Jon Hassell, and the way he works scales into serpentine swirls of melody might bring Ibrahim Maalouf to mind. And then there are times when Pohjola digs into the lower register and makes the most of his slow-spreading vibrato: It’s hard not to think of the vocalized beauty of Ambrose Akinmusire’s sound.
Yet for all of that, there’s nothing secondhand about The Dead Don’t Dream, Pohjola’s latest album as a leader. Some of that has to do with the expressive range of his trumpet tone, which doesn’t just rely on shifting dynamics to shape a phrase, but frequently changes timbre, moving from bright to breathy without significant loss of tonal color. It’s the sort of trick pop singers use, not trumpeters, and it adds tremendously to the narrative feel of tracks like the gorgeously mournful title tune.
But the other thing that makes The Dead Don’t Dream a journey worth taking is that Pohjola is only part of the show. However much he’s the dominant voice here, there’s a strong sense of ensemble music, something that makes each part seem like an act of orchestration. “Voices Heard,” for instance, is built around a darkly tolling progression of piano chords that seem to emerge almost out of a mist behind Pohjola’s trumpet. The music is relentless in its ongoing momentum—but never simplistic, because bassist Antti Lötjönen and drummer Mika Kallio don’t simply support the progression, they add color and rhythmic tension, while keyboardist Tuomo Prättälä puts as much weight on texture as harmony.
As with previous albums, Pohjola and company are more than happy to work with trance-y, synth grooves. But the pulse is merely foundational. What matters more is what they build on top of it: the snake-charmer trumpet lines Pohjola places over the busy bass ostinato of “Monograph” or the ghostlike chords Prättälä uses to cushion the restless thump of “Suspended.” The brightest moment, however, comes on “Wilder Brother,” when they swap the techno-trickery for an engaging swirl of polyrhythms, as Lötjönen and Kallio dance around the pulse beneath airy solos by Prättälä and guest saxophonist Pauli Lyytinen.