By Bobby Reed
Jordan Seigel’s deft combination of a jazz pianist’s aesthetic and a film orchestrator’s sensibility makes his debut leader date, Beyond Images, a success.
Hollywood is filled with directors who lament missing the opportunity to work with such legendary film composers as Bernard Herrmann, Jerry Goldsmith and Ennio Morricone, who died on July 6 at age 91. But filmmakers today can collaborate with Seigel, who not only has an original voice but who also possesses the ability to write in the style of departed icons. Beyond Images includes a batch of nine original compositions, each one directly inspired by an artist known for film scores, including Henry Mancini, Thomas Newman and John Williams.
Seigel’s impressive resume includes work on the music for hit TV shows and blockbuster films, and for the Beyond Images sessions, the pianist assembled a core quartet—bassist Alex Boneham, drummer Christian Euman and alto saxophonist/alto flutist Natsuki Sugiyama—as well eight guest musicians and the Vertigo String Quartet.
Afro-Cuban rhythms, propulsive piano lines and Sugiyama’s poignant alto-saxophone coloration make “Monkey In The Wilderness” (inspired by Goldsmith) the most jazz-flavored track in the program. On “The Baker Street Caper,” the plucked violin strings, insistent piano riffs and sly woodwind charts evoke past scores for great films in the mystery genre (and even though the tune was inspired by Mancini, it sounds nothing like his famous theme for The Pink Panther). Elsewhere, the sumptuous tearjerker “The Lake House” is the greatest Randy Newman song that Randy Newman didn’t compose.
A transcendent soundtrack album can stand on its own, separate from the cinematic experience, but for Seigel’s Beyond Images, there actually are no accompanying films. However, these tracks are so compelling that any of them would be a fine addition to the soundtrack for a TV show or film, perhaps with a note in the credits similar to the ones in the CD packaging, which clearly indicate that each tune was inspired by a specific film composer.
By Dave Cantor
There’s a patience to saxophonist Charlotte Greve’s playing. It’s a quality often found in the most established players, but perhaps supremely notable in a performer who has most of their career ahead of them.
A native of Germany, the bandleader has insinuated herself into the New York jazz scene, perhaps reserving some nervy energy for a more pop-leaning project called Wood River, where Greve, 32, handles vocals set atop what’s ostensibly a jazz-informed rock act. But even that project sits alongside ensemble work with saxophonist Caroline Davis, and Lisbeth Quartett, another group where Greve serves as the main melodic voice.
For The Choir Invisible—an effort that finds the saxophonist joined by drummer Vinnie Sperrazza and bassist Chris Tordini—Greve’s lilting, relaxed approach to her instrument might be the defining feature.
“Change Your Name” comes in slow waves, Greve gently prodded by Sperrazza’s extended technique and Tordini’s arco meanderings. If there’s a genuine criticism of the album, though, it’s that each of the pieces here seem cut from the same cloth: The narcotic swing of “Low,” while instantly engaging, finds itself reprised in a variety of other spots. That might just be persistence of vision, another notable aspect of Greve’s work at a relatively early part of her career. But the whole thing sounds like an easy Sunday morning listen, the trio working to preserve a dynamic that’s indebted equally to upholding tradition and exploring the slow-motion sentiment of the saxophonist.
By Ed Enright
Six integrally linked compositions constitute Originations, on which Chicago-based pianist and composer Ryan Cohan explores the assimilation of his reawakened Arab lineage and his Jewish upbringing.
Created with the support of a Chamber Music America New Jazz Works commission, Originations brings a broad spectrum of disparate musical influences and sensibilities into focus as Cohan assimilates Middle Eastern and North African themes, Western classical music elements and modern jazz into a series of intricately crafted pieces that add up to one extended work. And in so doing, Cohan makes his most complex compositional statement to date.
Originations was recorded by an 11-piece chamber-jazz group deliberately assembled by Cohan to bring his multicultural, multinational vision to life. The ensemble, led by Cohan at the piano, is staffed with some of Chicago’s top instrumentalists and improvisers: woodwind doublers John Wojciechowski and Geof Bradfield, trumpeter/flugelhornist Tito Carrillo, bassist James Cammack, drummer Michael Raynor, percussionist Omar Musfi and the Kaia String Quartet. They put considerable thought and feeling into their interpretation of Cohan’s highly compelling masterwork, surfing on waves of dynamics and casting a dramatic arc on every phrase.
The album starts on a hopeful note with “The Hours Before Dawn,” which creates a sensation of daylight blooming as Cohan’s piano cadenza evolves into an ostinato bass groove and Bradfield greets the morning with a sunny bass-clarinet improvisation. Things get a little more hectic on track 2, “Imaginary Lines,” which progresses from an elegant solo-clarinet statement by Wojciechowski into a full-band mosaic of snaky instrumental lines and punchy hits. From there, the program continues to play out like a suite. To Cohan, “Heart” represents compassion and the beauty of the human soul, while “Sabra” evokes the tenacity and warmheartedness of Israeli Jews. “A Seeker’s Soul” looks to the future with restless curiosity and a courageous sense of discovery before “Essence” closes the show with its celebratory leaps and jumps. Originations is striking and inviting by its very nature, with a special blend of refreshing melodies, warm instrumental tones and catchy rhythmic devices that make for an extremely pleasant listening experience.
By Bobby Reed
For more than 100 years, music fans have been swooning over The Planets. The first public concert of Gustav Holst’s seven-movement masterpiece occurred in 1920, when the London Symphony Orchestra performed it under the direction of conductor Albert Coates. It would become one of the most recognizable works of Western classical music, generating numerous landmark recordings, including conductor Herbert von Karajan’s version with the Vienna Philharmonic in 1961. Jeremy Levy saw the piece performed at the Hollywood Bowl in 2017 and was so moved that he crafted his own arrangement of the suite, which he has titled The Planets: Reimagined.
Listeners need not be familiar with astrology or Holst to fully enjoy Levy’s arrangement, which eschews strings in favor of standard big-band instrumentation. Drawing inspiration from the Count Basie Orchestra, the Buddy Rich Big Band and the Pat Metheny Group, Levy has delivered a thrill ride of a program, from the crashing sonic waves and Afro-Cuban flavor of “Mars: The Bringer Of War” (featuring Andy Martin’s potent trombone solo) to the muscular trumpets and kinetic, improvised piano lines in “Neptune: The Mystic.”
Whether the tracks are long (such as “Saturn: The Bringer Of Old Age,” which stretches out more than nine minutes) or short (such as “Mercury: The Winged Messenger,” which floats by in less than four minutes), Levy frequently turns a movement into a compact mini-suite, with dramatic shifts in volume and mood. On “Jupiter: The Bringer Of Jollity,” Andrew Synowiec’s gnarly rock guitar adds spice to a catchy, shape-shifting dose of big-band swing.
Over the decades, Holst’s masterpiece has inspired numerous film composers and rock bands, including Frank Zappa, King Crimson and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. And with The Planets: Reimagined, Levy has proven once again that iconic, often-heard works can inspire fresh, innovative music.
By Ed Enright
Benny Rubin Jr.’s robust voice on tenor saxophone establishes itself from the very first notes of the plaintive wail that opens “Know,” the leadoff track from the Detroit-bred, New York-based bandleader’s second album.
With Know Say Or See, Rubin follows up his well-received 2017 debut, What’s Next, with a quartet recording featuring himself on tenor and alto saxophones, pianist Lex Korten, bassist Adam Olszewski and drummer JK Kim in a fairly diverse program of six Rubin originals and two standards. The group sounds strong and confident in a bunch of different jazz settings, from slow blues (“Know”) and hard-bop (Horace Silver’s “Kiss Me Right”) to avant-garde (“Say”) and epic/spiritual (“Down They Go,” “Or See”).
There’s conviction to spare in Rubin’s playing. His sound is raw and unpolished, with a low-end resonance that feels as if it emanates straight from the gut. Rubin is just getting started with what looks to be a promising career, and he’s clearly come a long way since his studies at the Detroit School of the Arts, his performance with the Detroit Jazz Festival Youth All-Stars in 2016 and his appearance on the 2018 Geri Allen tribute CD Lifetime with other young Detroit-area players. On Know Say Or See, he delivers fully developed ideas with the intensity and sensitivity of a maturing man on a mission.
By Bobby Reed
When Rochelle & The Sidewinders went into the studio to record their second album, Something Good, they faced a dilemma that’s common for an immensely talented, hard-working bar band: How could they capture the energy and excitement of their sweat-soaked concerts? The answer was to avoid extraneous production frills and to showcase the array of retro styles that has helped the group become a fan favorite in Austin, Texas. On the tune “Party Time,” when lead singer Rochelle Creone entreats the listener to “move your body to this groove,” longtime fans can visualize the band onstage at Austin’s One-2-One Bar or another one of the numerous Texas venues where the band plies its trade.
Each song on this 19-track effort, which clocks in at nearly 74 minutes, either was solely composed by guitarist Tom Coplen or co-written by him and Creone, who are steeped in the sounds of rock, blues, r&b, soul and funk from the 1950s to the ’70s. The tunesmiths aren’t aiming to reinvent the wheel here, crafting new yet familiar-sounding tunes with self-descriptive titles, such as “Dr. Groove,” “Raggedy Ann Stomp,” “I’d Be So Blue” and “Blues For The Night.”
Blessed with an impressive vocal range, Creone consistently belts with authority, whether she’s gracefully gliding into her upper register or dropping down to a growl. Coplen uses his six-string toolkit to add staccato, funk-flavored riffs to “Pressure Cooker,” a wah-wah pedal to “Make It Right” and a bottleneck slide to “I’m On My Way.” The quintet’s saxophonist and keyboardist, Jim Trimmier, adds hefty slabs of tenor sax to “Good Love” and “Treat Me The Way You Do.” The band’s conviction and Creone’s charisma can salvage even the most pedestrian material.
As entertaining as Something Good is, one can’t help but acknowledge that this is communal music, intended to keep a crowd high-fiving and dancing—activities that often have been in short supply during the pandemic. Still, this program of sturdy roots music could be a great soundtrack for a small family gathering or even a solo dance session.
By Ed Enright
The funk runs thick on this two-CD recording from a July 1980 performance in Hamburg, Germany, marking an especially exciting addition to The Brecker Brothers’ discography.
Live And Unreleased documents the most potent band coming out of the 1970s New York jazz-funk scene in a slamming performance that presents all six members—brothers Randy and Mike (1949–2007) Brecker on trumpet and tenor saxophone, guitarist Barry Finnerty, keyboardist Mark Gray, electric bassist Neil Jason and drummer Richie Morales—at the peak of their creative powers. In true Brecker Brothers fashion, this iteration of the iconic fusion ensemble plays with extreme energy, exacting precision and audacious derring-do as the musicians rip through tight, angular arrangements of familiar fare like “Strap Hangin’,” “Sponge,” “Inside Out” and “Some Skunk Funk.” Every single note—and there are lots of them to enjoy here—is imbued with purpose and sizzle.
The softer, soulful side of electric jazz comes through as well, most prominently on the Mike Brecker-penned “Tee’d Off” and in mood-setting sections of “Funky Sea, Funky Dew” and “I Don’t Know Either.” And when it comes time for the cats to solo, watch out: Each of these fearless improvisors will set ears ablaze and brains awhirl. It’s an adrenaline-fueled, electric adventure that will transport you back to a time of large, enthusiastic crowds in throbbing, sweaty venues, where the musicians on stage fed ravenously on good vibes emanating from a sea of humanity. Turn up the volume, close your eyes and prepare for a long, thrilling night with one of the most ass-kicking bands to ever play in concert. And pay close attention to the bold choices made by Mike Brecker during his nine-minute unaccompanied solo on “Funky Sea, Funky Dew.”
By Dave Cantor
Premised on a similar musical concept as New Orleans ensemble Galactic, The Greyboy Allstars were San Diego’s live rare-groove machine.
Initially formed as a group to accompany DJ Greyboy, the ensemble worked out its funk bona fides on a 1994 debut—West Coast Boogaloo, which is set to be reissued on Aug. 7—before band members went on to tour with The Rolling Stones and helm individual acts, sporadically getting back together and releasing new recordings.
The West Coast Boogaloo reissue sets up the band as a catchall for styles ranging from jazz to funk, soul and boogaloo, with a new album—Como De Allstars, released in July—extending the format.
But for the band’s debut, James Brown’s chosen trombonist, Fred Wesley, burnished the troupe’s already steely skills on several tracks. “Soul Dream,” written by saxophonist Karl Denson, opens with layered flute, sax and trombone in an airy fanfare that quickly gives way to languid washes of keys and drums as persistent as uncertainty in our daily lives has become. If there’s anthemic material anywhere, it’s here. Add in Wesley’s generous solo flourish and it’s tough to find contemporary analogues that so effortlessly embrace historical groove and the feeling that something new’s happening.
Setting an interpretation of Kool & The Gang’s “Let The Music Take Your Mind” alongside versions of Rusty Bryant’s “Fire-Eater” and “Miss Riverside,” which Sonny Sitt recorded in 1971, collapse the divisions thought to exist among groove music. While the Allstars’ updates sand away some fractious of-the-moment blemishes of the originals, nothing comes off as lacking depth of feeling. It’s a testament to not just the power and cohesion of the material assembled here, but to the sheer exuberance the right combination of instrumentalists and time can summon.
By Dave Cantor
In the past, Norwegian ensemble Jaga Jazzist has come off as a 21st-century big band, a rock act with jazz inclinations and a group that prizes beat music as much as well-arranged choruses. It just depends on the record.
After a lengthy wait—the very electronic Starfire, Jaga Jazzist’s last proper release, came out back in 2015—Pyramid arrives as a cooled-out, surreally ambient exploration of texture. The disc retains a debt to jazz and draws on a range of influences that enable the eight-piece ensemble to land on new combinations of sound. The absence of trumpeter Mathias Eick—who left the group after its 2010 album One-Armed Bandit and went on to lead a handful of ECM dates—doesn’t really come to bear. But the noticeable lack of extended horn passages seems to account for the program’s reliance on synth.
Dedicated to electronic music pioneer Isao Tomita (1932–2016), album opener “Tomita” ventures through at least four distinct sections, shifting from serene electronics with Lars Horntveth’s saxophone gliding atop it all to rock-act rhythmic gambits. Bassist Even Ormestad’s round tones bounce off the quick-step drum pattern in the song’s middle portion, making it seem like the Nordic psych scene is something that the band has kept tabs on, too. The album—clocking in at about 40 minutes, despite being billed as an EP—next turns to “Spiral Era,” a tune that sounds grand and endless, but focused enough to hinge on Horntveth’s guitar work. “The Shrine” gets all elegiac, before slowly revealing its overtly electronic underpinnings; even with that conceit, the horn/synth choruses seem steeped in a big-band lineage. And like earlier tracks, as well as on the closing number, “Apex,” the compositional approach taken by Horntveth stitches together vastly different musics into a singular piece of art, perhaps pointing to why Flying Lotus issued the recording on his far-reaching Brainfeeder label.