Louis Hayes


The latest album from Louis Hayes, recorded back in January, sports a title that seems completely appropriate for the COVID era from whence it sprang. Named after an early-’60s hard-bop tune by Freddie Hubbard, who was a close friend and contemporary of the veteran jazz drummer, Crisis is intended as a tribute to all of Hayes’ past and current colleagues. In addition to the title track, which deftly shifts grooves from swing to Latin and back again (à la “On Green Dolphin Street”), the program also includes classic material penned by jazz royals Bobby Hutcherson (“Roses Poses”), Lee Morgan (“Desert Moonlight”) and Joe Farrell (“Arab Arab”). Dezron Douglas and Steve Nelson, this session’s bassist and vibraphonist, each contribute compositions (“Oxygen” and “Alien Visitation,” respectively) that will surely resonate with listeners hungry for contemporary sounds and ideas. The versatile pianist David Hazeltine and the vital tenor saxophonist Abraham Burton round out the all-star quintet, which approaches the diverse source material with a combination of raw enthusiasm and easy coolness, hallmarks of hard-bop’s golden age — a time when Hayes regularly shared bandstands with giants of the late ’50s and early ’60s like Horace Silver, Dexter Gordon, Cannonball Adderley, Sonny Rollins and Woody Shaw. Three standards from the Great American Songbook (powerful renditions of “I’m Afraid The Masquerade Is Over” and “Where Are You?” by guest vocalist Camille Thurman, and a partially deconstructed zip through “It’s Only A Paper Moon”) link Hayes and his hard-bopping ilk to an even earlier period on the jazz timeline. The one original here by Hayes — a loose, twisty number called “Creeping Crud” — actually has the staying power to potentially become a standard one day, an enjoyably quirky relic from the sinister age of COVID. Hayes’ grooves on Crisis are solid yet completely unforced, and he kicks up plenty of magic dust throughout via the well-placed crashes, bombs, tom-rolls and snare cracks that have marked his signature swinging style for decades.

Oscar Peterson

A Time For Love: The Oscar Peterson Quartet–Live In Helsinki
(Mack Avenue)

While the title of this album is A Time For Love, a more apt heading might be A Time To Burn because that’s exactly what Peterson and his quartet do throughout this 12-tune blast of joy. The recording captures Peterson, guitarist Joe Pass, bassist Dave Young and drummer Martin Drew on the last show of the group’s 1987 fall tour. “There was no set list. Just get out there and play,” Young wrote in the liner notes. “Just by Oscar playing an intro, we’d know.” Those notes also include an eloquent tribute to Peterson by pianist Benny Green as well as some loving words from Oscar’s widow, Kelly Peterson. Packaging aside, the music is the star here. The pianist is at the height of his musical prowess. The same can be said for guitarist Pass. If listening to the two of them blistering through “Sushi” can’t slap a smile on your face, get to the emergency room. While Young and Drew lock the rhythm in a chokehold of swing, Peterson and Pass dance with unlimited imagination across their instruments. “A Salute To Bach” offers more of that goodness at a breakneck tempo, turning the work of the iconic Baroque-era classical composer into hard-burning bebop. Clocking in at more than 20 minutes, the interplay between Pass and Peterson is, again, unbelievably intricate, demonstrating a mastery that few in the history of jazz could ever match. Young also takes a terrific bass solo on the tune. “Love” is in the title of this album, and there are certainly some wonderful ballads here such as the aptly named “Love Ballade” as well as the title cut. The intro to the latter offers a nice glimpse of Peterson’s classy onstage persona as he introduces the band before drifting elegantly into his keyboard. There is so much to love on this recording. The sound of Peterson patting his foot along to the beat of “How High The Moon” gives this music that edge of authenticity as something truly live, organic and exquisitely recorded. “Waltz For Debbie” swings dreamlike; “When You Wish Upon A Star” gives goosebumps as Pass quietly picks the intro, then plays the tune solo. It’s hauntingly beautiful. The 18-minute “Duke Ellington Medley” is a joy, and the closer, Peterson’s own “Blues Etude,” serves as a full-out sprint to the end, complete with Peterson’s solo stride break in the middle. Whew! This is jazz as good as it gets, as the crowd’s raucous applause at the end demonstrates.

Bitchin Bajas

Switched On Ra
(Drag City)

Many albums over the last year-and-a-half were born out of, and inspired by, the pandemic and the subsequent quarantine. But Switched On Ra came about because of an adjacent issue — the massive delays at besieged vinyl pressing plants.

Bitchin Bajas finished its new album back in May, and the Chicago-based trio, centered on multi-instrumentalist Cooper Crain, is particular about how it issues music. The band’s last album, 2017’s Bajas Fresh, was mastered at half-speed for vinyl at Abbey Road Studios in London. When Bitchin Bajas submitted its first album in four years, it was told it wouldn’t be pressed and out until June 2022.

So Bitchin Bajas searched for something else to do, and Sun Ra rose into its sights. If released digitally and manufactured on cassette, this new project could come out within months, which Crain said felt in the spirit of Sun Ra — creation as a decisive, immediate action.

Bitchin Bajas is no stranger to a cassette release — in fact, in double-cassette format, Bajas Fresh had more songs on it than its vinyl counterpart. The band is also no stranger to jazz, as Bajas member Rob Frye layers saxophone and flute over its meditative soundscapes.

Not that there’s much horn to be heard here, as the band interprets Sun Ra via another musical figure, noted synthesizer pioneer Wendy Carlos, she of Switched-On Bach fame, hence the title. The cassette’s case lists a dizzying lineup of synthesizers from Casio, Crumar, Korg, Moog, Realistic, Roland, Sequential and Yamaha, as well as Crain’s trusty Ace Tone Top 8 organ.

Moving past the tactics of the approach taken, this is a broad and deep burst across Sun Ra’s entire catalog, going as far back as the bandleader’s 1957 debut, Jazz By Sun Ra, for “A Call For All Demons,” and, moving forward, plucking gems from the early ’60s (“Moon Dance,” “We Travel The Spaceways”), late ’60s (“Outer Spaceways Incorporated”), early ’70s (“Space Is The Place”), late ’70s (“Lanquidity”) and all the way to 1990 for “Opus In Springtime” from his final album, Mayan Temples.

This is a long look into Sun Ra’s space, seen through the telescopic lens of 18 keyboards. Then, guest Jayve Montgomery adds an Akai EWI-4000 as a solo voice on a few tunes, just to get some air-blown signal in there, and this serves as a natural shout-out to the Arkestra’s Marshall Allen, a master of the electronic wind instrument. Even better, the Bajas’ Daniel Quinlivan turns in charming vocoder-treated vocals on “Outer Spaceways Incorporated” and “We Travel The Spaceways,” giving this trek through the stars a captain.

How’s it sound? Heady for sure. Sun Ra himself was no stranger to keyboards, using them very early on and throughout his career, and one imagines this commitment to keyboards as tools to execute his visions would make him smile. The band states the prominent themes of Sun Ra’s songs like his classic “Space Is The Place” but leaves plenty of room to improvise around them. Meanwhile, it makes the proceedings consistently rhythmic, admirable considering there’s not a trap-kit in sight here. Sun Ra’s 1972 album Space Is The Place, which was also recorded in Chicago, states on its packaging, “As all Marines are riflemen, all members of the Arkestra are percussionists.” Given this project, Crain, Frye and Quinlivan seem to have enlisted.

Farnell Newton

Feel The Love

Farnell Newton comes at jazz with a wider, more encompassing view than most. The trumpeter best known for creating the social media group Jam of the Week (which now has some 70,000 members), and hosting his jazz radio show on KMHD in Portland, Oregon, has had his heart in jazz throughout his career, even while playing and touring with a range of artists that spans funk bassist Bootsy Collins, soul singer Jill Scott and many others.

Newton blew into New York City from his home in Portland to record Feel The Love with the backing of Art Hirahara on piano, Boris Kozlov on bass and Rudy Royston on drums — a group affectionately known as the house rhythm section for Posi-Tone Records. The album has the feel of post-bop grittiness and experience Newton has earned from years on road and ears that are wide open to the new. Now in his mid-40s, the trumpeter and composer has a firm grip on the music he makes. The 11-song collection on Feel The Love features five of his original tunes, but doesn’t lean on old chestnuts to fill out the scorecard. Instead, Newton selects work by living, working composers on the scene today. His friend and musical co-conspirator Marcus Schultz-Reynolds contributes two beautiful pieces, “Litoral” and “Force Of Gravity.” Hirahara offers his tune “Laws Of Motion” to the mix. The Monkish playfulness of “Lawn Darts” by bassist Peter Brendler delivers an outside-in breath of joy. But the group’s take on John Scofield’s “I’ll Catch You,” with a tight groove and guest appearance by alto saxophonist Jaleel Shaw, stands out. So does Sean Nowell’s tune “Pale,” with strong appearances by Shaw and trombonist Michael Dease. Newton’s original tunes shine, too. The title track slides in as a driving swinger. “Affectionately Roy” is a strong addition to the canon of new music written in the memory of trumpeter Roy Hargrove. “A Child Not Yet Born” evokes the jazz noir balladry of another time and place. “The Bluest Eyes” honors author Toni Morrison’s book The Bluest Eye. And the closer, “Our Chosen Family,” speaks to the community of musicians the trumpeter has embraced and been embraced by over the years. Newton wears writing and playing like he wears his heart: on his sleeve as an artist of true passion.

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