By Ed Enright
Trombonist Conrad Herwig has been building his acclaimed Latin Side series of recordings for 25 years, starting with The Latin Side Of John Coltrane in 1996. Now comes the eighth installment in the series, The Latin Side Of Horace Silver, a live recording on which Herwig and his all-star band refract the music of the DownBeat Hall of Fame composer and pianist through a prism of Afro Cuban and Afro Caribbean rhythms.
This incarnation of Conrad’s all-star Latin Side band is supercharged by the presence of Dominican-born pianist Michel Camilo on three tracks alongside Conrad, tenor saxophonist Igor Butman, alto saxophonist/flutist Craig Handy, trumpeter/flugelhornist Alex Sipiagin, bassist Ruben Rodriguez, conga player Richie Flores and drummer Robby Ameen; pianist Bill O’Connell appears on five tracks and contributes four arrangements.
All eight tracks brim with authenticity and invention, embracing the layered syncopation, romantic longing and fiery excitement characteristic of a range of danceable genres that fall under the “Latin” umbrella. The tracks featuring Camilo stand out in particular. “Song For My Father,” which begins with trombone stating the tune’s iconic ostinato bass line, announces the virtuoso pianist’s presence with a lightning solo that sets the stage for further exuberant improv from Butman, Conrad and Flores. “The Gods Of The Yoruba,” a 5/4 piece that’s perhaps the least well-known of the bunch, spotlights Herwig’s singing horn during a rubato-like intro before the full band establishes a Caribbean-flavored groove and soloists Sipiagin, Camilo and Ameen take flight. The album closes with a sprint through the upbeat Silver standard “Nutville” that includes sizzling improvisations from Herwig, Handy, Sipiagin, Butman, Camilo and Flores. Other well-known Silver tunes getting the Latin Side treatment include “Nica’s Dream,” “The Cape Verdean Blues,” “Filthy McNasty,” “Silver’s Serenade” and “Peace.”
Unsurprisingly, Silver’s wide-ranging jazz compositions prove to be fantastic fodder for Herwig and company, lending themselves well to stylistic reinterpretation and go-for-the-throat blowing.
By Dave Cantor
The approach multi-reedist Jacám Manricks takes on Samadhi—and his life spanning the globe, moving from Australia to the States for school in the early 2000s—seems to encompass a multiplicity of settings and ideas.
Even without a prodigious catalog to point to, the composer moves through music framed by strings and more compact ensembles, switching among saxophones, flutes and clarinets. For Samadhi, his fifth album as a leader, the Sacramento-based performer and educator enlists a new group to help him wend his way through a cultivated combination of jazz and nuanced classical touches.
On the title track—a word intrinsically linked to deep thinking and meditation—pianist Joe Gilman directs a ruminative meeting of slow-rolling saxophone lines and a subdued rhythm section. Manricks displays a penetrating bearing on his horn, traversing registers seemingly at will, enhancing the connection between the song’s title and the intent of his writing and playing. In contrast to the reclining mode of that tune, “Schmaltz”—animal fat used in cooking—almost comes off as a soul-jazz tune, rhythmically engaged and melodically enticing.
Just those two efforts aptly display the range and efficacy of Manricks’ artistry, while other efforts showcase the bandleader’s interest in toying with rhythm and his sense of play, moving listeners too quickly through an album that’s earned its title.
By Dave Cantor
There’s a promise inherent in contemporary music, and it goes something like this: With people from various backgrounds—culturally, ideologically, religiously, aesthetically—creating art, everyone can benefit from the exposure to new ideas.
Violinist and bandleader Tomoko Omura delivers on that guarantee, forging jazz compositions on Branches, Vol. 1 from narratives handed down through Japanese folktales. There’s a light blues affiliation inherent in the work found here, but it’s so endlessly enhanced by reading the short narratives included with the album’s liners—witches, monks, precocious kids, imperious rabbits intermingle—it might be tough for listeners not to wish for a book of the stuff accompanied by Omura’s vital violin.
“Three Magic Charms,” the first musical narrative included here, is all airy contemplation, Omura’s melody floating atop Jeff Miles’ guitar effects. When the mountain witch eventually shows up and starts pounding on the door, you can tell. The tale related on “The Revenge Of The Rabbit,” maybe the darkest narrative Branches enfolds, is no less engaging, the bandleader ceding the spotlight to pianist Glenn Zaleski for a solo as descriptive as any chapter in a book.
Based on the story of Princess Kaguya—also rendered as one of the most expensive Japanese films to date—Omura sketches “Return To The Moon” as a lament, depicting a space-bound royal leaving behind familiarity and memories to head home. Reaching the end of Branches Vol. 1 is just about as difficult.
By Dave Cantor
Multi-instrumentalist Daniel Carter and TEST slot into a space where gut-bucket improv and jazz meet, a place that, despite its remove, worked to invigorate rock-related acts interested in exploring something beyond what most expect from guitar, bass and drums.
It’s in part because of that alcove of sound, that Carter found himself performing with the quartet and trumpeter Roy Campbell at Hint House on April 16, 1999. The New York loft—rented by the rotating cast of the noisenik, rock-adjacent No Neck Blues Band (its bassist doubling in TEST’s lineup)—served as a clubhouse and laboratory where alchemy must have been achieved at least a few times at countless shows. And on TEST And Roy Campbell, the exploratory spirit of that time and place plays out during a single 47-minute live track.
So many things were different then: It was pre-9/11, musicians could hock albums and get over (to an extent) and a label system that ostensibly would collapse a few years later still was able to serve admittedly small segments of the listening population. That TEST issued work through AUM Fidelity, as well as Thurston Moore’s Ecstatic Peace! imprint speaks to a landscape that truly seems foreign at this point.
The band hedges toward the chatty side for free-music; Carter (on reeds, trumpet and flute), Campbell and reedist Sabir Mateen don’t lavish listeners with longtones or meditative waves of sound. This is work of a collective accelerated heartbeat, the frontline uncorking diabolic screeds—frequently simultaneously, overlapping in pungent wailing. But there’s a beautiful democracy to it, all involved sensing just the right moment to give a compatriot more space and time, when to step back and listen.
The sonics of the recording itself might not be on par with the performance here, but if this album’s meant to render in-the-moment creativity in corporeal form, it’s done its duty and enriched recorded history.
By Bobby Reed
Twenty years ago, brothers Luther and Cody Dickinson burst onto the national blues scene as members of what was then a blues power trio called the North Mississippi Allstars. Today, that band is still going strong and the siblings continue to find fresh ways to revitalize blues-rock, as evidenced by Below Sea Level, the new trio album by singer-songwriter Eric Johanson. Luther produced the disc, Cody plays drums on it, and Johanson recruited electric bassist Terrence Grayson for this collection of a dozen original compositions. It is the third album by Johanson (who has toured extensively in Cyril Neville’s band), and the Dickinson brothers help bring out the best in him as a both a charismatic vocalist and a blistering guitarist.
The album opens with the blues-boogie stomp of “Buried Above The Ground,” and there are plenty of other barn burners here—like “Down To The Bottom” and “Nowhere To Go”—as one would expect, given the personnel involved. But Johanson also shows a deeper side to his compositional acumen with a pair of socially conscious numbers. “Have Mercy” describes life on the streets of his current home, New Orleans, where homelessness, drug addiction and gun violence have been problems, and the sludgy “River Of Oblivion” offers an unflinching look at the tragedy of overdoses. The Louisiana native’s use of distortion pedal adds to the harrowing mood of his lament.
Johanson ends the program with two tunes that are lighter, both thematically and sonically. He demonstrates both his acoustic and electric guitar prowess on the philosophical “Love Is Rebellion,” and he straps on a resonator guitar for an unaccompanied closer, “Riverbend Blues.” These songs provide the listener with an exhalation, a satisfying denouement following the hair-raising ruckus that the trio unleashes across much of this memorable program.
By Ed Enright
This live album by the working quartet of flugelhornist Marvin Stamm, pianist Mike Holober, bassist Mike McGuirk and drummer Dennis Mackrel documents a late-2019 gig at Maureen’s Jazz Cellar in the Hudson River town of Nyack, New York. Its beauty lies in its simplicity: four well-established artists playing the music they love in an intimate jazz club for an appreciative audience. They engage in the type of dynamic, in-the-moment interplay that’s only possible among musicians who perform together regularly and listen to each other closely, letting each tune evolve organically as they anticipate each other’s moves and react to any and all sounds of surprise. All four players draw from deep reserves of bandstand experience and demonstrate thorough knowledge of the straightahead jazz canon; they speak the same language with remarkable fluency, and always seem to have appropriate musical references—whether serious or lighthearted—at the ready.
The quartet falls together on a medium-tempo swing as the programs starts with Horace Silver’s “Out Of The Night Came You,” setting the mood for the evening with a walking bass line, a laid-back swing feel, double-time blowing and playful trading. The standard “Invitation” opens with an attention-getting upright bass improv by McGuirk, a powerful presence on the album who makes full use of the instrument’s tonal palette and melodic capabilities; I found myself looking forward to every one of his solos, and there are a lot of them here to enjoy.
A straight-eighth groove drives the Holober original “Morning Hope” as Mackrel knocks the rims with a light touch and McGuirk’s bass figures create an undertow of sustain and suspension. “All The Things You Are” is taken as a fast jazz waltz, with Holober’s rhythmically aggressive piano madness juxtaposed against Stamm’s dark, subdued sound in the flugel’s middle-to-low range. Things calm down quite a bit for a meditative reading of Silver’s prayerful ballad “Peace,” and the group’s take on Bill Evans’ “Funkallero” is a bright post-bop romp that plays up the fun factor and, in retrospect, celebrates the feel-good vibe of a welcoming club environment in the pre-coronavirus era.
By Bobby Reed
It’s not every day you encounter an album that claims to accomplish an unprecedented instrumental feat. In his liner-notes essay to Radam Schwartz’s Message From Groove And GW, Ron Scott writes, “This is the first time an organist has roared thru an entire big band album playing bass lines on each track.”
The album title pays tribute to two of Schwartz’s heroes: organist Richard “Groove” Holmes (1931–’91) and big band leader Gerald Wilson (1918–2014). While studying Holmes’ collaborative work in the ’60s with Wilson, Schwartz was particularly intrigued by a couple of tracks on which the bass parts were played by the organist (rather than a member of Wilson’s orchestra). Schwartz took that idea and ran with it, recruiting tenor saxophonist Abel Mireles’ Jazz Exchange Big Band and drummer David F. Gibson (whose resume includes work with Odean Pope and Jimmy Heath) for an hour-long album attributed to the Radam Schwartz Organ Big Band.
Like many other sterling big-band albums released this century, the secret sauce for Message is not the instrumentation or the arrangements, but rather the material. In additional to original compositions from band members (including three by the leader), the group surveys a delightfully eclectic batch of tunes by Bach (“Von Gott”), John Coltrane (“Blues Minor”), Charles Mingus (“Work Song”), the Isley Brothers (“Between The Sheets”) and Carolyn Franklin (“Ain’t No Way,” a hit for the composer’s older sister Aretha).
The program opens with the leader’s “Trouble Just Won’t Go Away,” which swings like a gate, followed by a muscular take on “Blues Minor,” sculpted here as a swinger with plenty of space for solos from Schwartz, Mireles, alto saxophonist Danny Raycraft and guitarist Charlie Sigler (who shows a debt to Wes Montgomery in a couple places on the album).
Schwartz’s bluesy arrangement of “Work Song” illustrates the peanut-butter-and-jelly-like perfection of showcasing the organ in a big band, as trumpeter Ben Hankle, trombonist Andrae Murchison and athletic alto saxophonist Anthony Ware blow mightily before the leader steps in with his own groovy, greasy lines. Each step of the way, it’s obvious that the band feeds off the energy of the soloist, and vice-versa.
Schwartz and Gibson produced the album, leaving in some slight roughness around the edges to give the program an immediacy, allowing listeners to imagine they’re sitting in the control room at Sound On Sound Studios in Montclair, New Jersey, as the large ensemble struts and shouts with glee.
By Ed Enright
Pianist/composer Glenn Zaleski fronts a traditional-style jazz quintet on this collection of new and old material that has him re-examining his place in the world on the occasion of turning 30. Unlike his previous leader recordings, which featured him in solo and trio formats, The Question sports a two-horn front line that evokes the classic Blue Note sound of the 1950s and ’60s. Tenor saxophonist Lucas Pino, one of the pianist’s longtime collaborators, and trumpeter Adam O’Farrill, a more recent acquaintance, provide the leading voices on this outing, with Zaleski presiding on piano and rhythm section support provided by bassist Desmond White and drummer Allan Menard.
Among the original tunes on this this eight-song program, several were written in the summer of 2019, when Zaleski was in an especially reflective frame of mind, and a couple were written during his college years at The New School in New York (where he matriculated after studying at the Brubeck Institute). Zaleski also includes an original piece arranged for nonet (with the addition of alto and baritone saxophone, trombone and guitar) and two covers by pianists who were influential to him (Dave Brubeck’s ballad “Strange Meadow Lark” and James Williams’ blues-inspired “Road Life”). “The Question” and “The Answer” serve as bookends, playing off the same melodic line; the former leads off the album with an inquiry of sorts, while the latter concludes the program on a more resolute note. It all comes together nicely and bodes well for Zaleski as he personally looks to a promising, more grounded future while reckoning with his ambitious past.
By Bobby Reed
For tabla player Sandeep Das, music isn’t merely entertainment: It’s a vehicle for conveying his deeply held beliefs. The liner notes to his new album, Delhi To Damascus, provide a mini-course in history and philosophy, and the 63-minute program gracefully mixes elements of Indian classical music with traditional styles that originated in Syria.
Under the canopy of his nonprofit initiative, Transcending Borders One Note at a Time, Das’ goal is to use music to unite people across geographic and cultural divides, and his new album fulfills that mission, drawing upon the borderless, genre-blending aesthetic to which he has contributed during the past 20 years as a member of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silkroad Ensemble.
Das’ HUM Ensemble consists of Syrian oud player Kinan Adnawi and two fellow Indian musicians: sitar player Rajib Karmakar and Suhail Yusuf Khan, an eighth-generation master of the sarangi, a bowed string instrument.
Surrounding himself with players deeply immersed in ethnomusicology, Das has crafted tracks that showcase the shared timbral colors of the four instruments, resulting in an organic set of music that not only warrants repeated spins, it practically demands it. In the hands of others, this type of culture-mixing music might sound dry or overly academic, but empathetic leaders like Ma and Das know that getting listeners to bob their heads is just as important as sparking their intellectual curiosity.
The program consists of original compositions by band members, as well as their arrangements of traditional material, including some Indian ragas. The album’s zenith is “I Came, I Saw, I Surrendered,” a traditional tune arranged by Das and Karmakar that showcases a hypnotic dialogue between the plucked sitar and the bowed sarangi, before building to a mighty sonic wave that crests to become a completely safe yet effective mood elevator. Sculpting an organic program that can be both soothing and exciting is no easy task, but this quartet was more than up for the challenge on this, its recorded debut.
With Delhi To Damascus, Das and his fellow travelers have delivered a road map for some irresistible aural adventures.