Matt Wilson’s Good Trouble

Good Trouble

Good Trouble finds Matt Wilson as boisterous and hard-swinging as ever. Resourceful, too: This critic had never heard a contrafact of “Feed The Fire,” Geri Allen’s signature tune, before Wilson’s playful album opener “Fireplace.” The drummer brings his affability as well to Ornette Coleman’s “Feet Music,” spurring his bandmates — alto saxophonist Tia Fuller, tenor saxophonist/clarinetist Jeff Lederer, pianist/vocalist Dawn Clements and bassist Ben Allison — into a downright boogie. Add in a sly, slinky performance of Lederer’s “Albert’s Alley,” and who can resist?

But it’s not all fun and games for Wilson’s new quintet. Good Trouble (both band and album named from the words of the late Congressman and civil rights activist John Lewis) has a very serious message about community service. It can manifest as deeply moving, like the gorgeous ode to Lewis “Walk With The Wind” (with some wonderful saxophone interplay between altoist Tia Fuller and tenorist Jeff Lederer), or as a strident call to action, like “RGB,” a tribute to everyone’s favorite Supreme Court justice (again with great sax work, but also a rousing piano solo from Dawn Clements). At its best, it does both at once, like the gospel-cum-calypso closer “Community Spirit.”

There’s also a strain of sweetness to Good Trouble, thanks in large part to Clements’ vocals. She animates the fond ballad “Be That As It May” with a wistful, sinuous delivery. Add joy to that delivery and you have the heartbreaking-in-spite-of-itself rendition of John Denver’s “Sunshine On My Shoulders” that glides gracefully over Wilson’s tu-way pocky-way beat and Ben Allison’s knowing bass line.

Even at its most earnest, though, Good Trouble can’t help but default to Wilson’s sense of fun and humor. “RBG” ends with a vocal chant from the band, urging the listener to “honor her plea/serve your community.” Yet it concludes with gales of laughter as Fuller gleefully shouts, “Matt, you’re so in it!” You will be, too.

Isaiah Collier & The Chosen Few

The Almighty
(Duality Suite)

Isaiah Collier is a multi-instrumentalist blazing out of Chicago. About to turn 26, Collier’s ascension into the upper-echelon jazz world is happening now. His 2021 release, Cosmic Transitions (Division 81), received a 5-star review in DownBeat. He was named Rising Star Tenor Saxophonist in last year’s DownBeat Critics Poll. Live shows with his band The Chosen Few, and other incarnations, simply astound. He grew up taking the best from the wide span of music available in Chicago, developing his skills through the Jazz Institute of Chicago and the Chicago High School for the Performing Arts as well as taking in the wisdom of members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). He went on to study at the Brubeck Institute. He learned well and is now an artist in full bloom as evidenced on his latest recording, The Almighty (Division 81). There is so much to take in with this record. There’s a deep sense of the spirituality and fire of Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders as evidenced on tunes like “Compassion” (featuring AACM legend Ari Brown, a mentor) and “Duality Suite (I. +, II. -, III. Divine Masculine, IV. Divine Feminine).” “Compassion” offers a calling of the spirits for the proceedings. It’s just lovely. “Duality Suite” fires off 23 minutes of hold-on-tight, high-tension energy that gives way to soulful contemplation. This single tune offers a full spectrum of the fantastic artistry Collier and company deliver. It’s exhilarating. “Love” is a beautiful medium-tempo tune that speaks to the subject in a complex, churning musical movement with beautiful vocals by vocalist Dee Alexander. “Perspective (Peace And Love)” offers another beautiful message with the repeated refrain of “peace and love” by Collier. The album culminates into another extended, and beautifully complex, composition, “The Almighty.” In addition to the members of his amazing group the Chosen Few — Michael Shekwoaga Ode on drums, Julian Davis Reid on piano and Jeremiah Hunt on bass — Collier adds a group he calls The Celestials consisting of strings, a horn section and an expanded rhythm section to reach shamanistic heights, calling out to The Almighty. It’s thrilling, reflective, spellbinding music that never loses its sense of groove. There’s no way listeners cannot feel the magnetism of Collier’s generous, glowing spirit.

Three Story Sandbox

Artful Dodgers
(Tall Grass)

Three Story Sandbox reprises the inventive free improvisation heard on its 2016 self-titled debut with the new release Artful Dodgers, an inviting collection of spontaneously recorded tracks featuring ensemble members Jack Mouse (drums and assorted percussion), Janice Borla (wordless alto vocals) and Scott Robinson (tenor saxophone, slide saxophone and more) — with the addition of genre-bending violin virtuoso Mark Feldman, a special guest with a powerful presence. The musical proceedings are propelled by the ongoing interplay of these four seasoned players, who are presented in a variety of duet and trio configurations, as well as a full quartet. All four members of this incarnation of Three Story Sandbox come across as highly intuitive compositional soloists whose instincts lead them through moments of glorious group unity, curious musings and spirited exchanges of individual expression. The stated goal of Artful Dodgers, named after one of Charles Dickens’ slipperiest characters, was to make completely improvised music that embraces an organized interplay of sounds but comes across as if the players were reading actual notes on a page. It succeeds in this sleight-of-hand feat, thanks to the group members’ ability to achieve near-instant cohesion (seemingly out of thin air) and conjure specific moods, times and places that provide meaningful context and give each piece its distinct character. The suite-like reality-check “Tears For Ukraine” serves as a centerpiece for the album, as the musical imagery traverses a war-torn terrain of impending doom, despair, death and destruction in its heart-wrenching search for deeper meaning amid the ongoing hostilities brought upon the sovereign European nation by Russian military aggression. Other notable tracks include the opening tenor-drums duet “Twin Rivers,” the lyrically smeary Feldman-Robinson duet “Slip ’n’ Slide,” the delightfully snappy and slightly bluesy Borla-Mouse duet “Brush Dance,” the full-throttled “Artful Dodgers” with the whole quartet and the dreamy “Kamakura” with its ancient Asian soundscape of Japanese percussion, bamboo flute and haunting vocals. It all adds up to an enlightening, amusing, highly enjoyable listen filled with moments of intense anticipation leading to ever-so-rewarding resolutions. Three Story Sandbox’s brand of free-jazz eschews the unstructured, blind fury that’s frequently associated with the genre, in favor of engaging storytelling, unadulterated backyard fun and an abundance of colorful sound collages so vivid and finely textured they could constitute a supremely hip modern art installation unto themselves.

Cannonball Adderley

Burnin’ In Bordeaux: Live In France 1969

With 10 new Record Store Day releases, some of producer Zev Feldman’s bounties might get lost in the shuffle this year; Burnin’ In Bordeaux won’t be one of them. There are beloved classics in Cannonball Adderley’s catalogue that aren’t this good. Roy McCurdy, the drummer for Adderley’s quintet on this 97-minute live date from March 1969, snaps the listener to attention immediately after pressing play — or dropping the needle on the first record of the two-LP deluxe 180g vinyl set.

That opening track/McCurdy tour-de-force is “The Scavenger,” and, in fairness, the drummer is the best-miked of the bunch — but that doesn’t dilute his killer work. While it’s happening, alto saxophonist Adderley, his cornet-playing brother, Nat, and pianist Joe Zawinul chew the tune to bits. Then they attack “Blue ’n’ Boogie” as if rabid (with a long and devastating McCurdy solo), offer a quick taste of funk on “Walk Tall” and close by wringing every drop of blues out of “Oh Babe.”

Yet Adderley and the boys hit the ballads with the same zeal. This take on “Manhã de Carnaval” is practically a tear-jerker, helped along by Victor Gaskin’s beautiful arco bass solo; “Somewhere” and “Come Sunday” are irresistible features for Adderley and Zawinul, respectively — with Zawinul getting two more (electric) features on the medium-tempo “Why Am I Treated So Bad” and requisite “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy.” The real triumph, however, is a treatment of William Fischer’s “Experience In E” that alternates between hard-driving swinger (in the head and the Adderleys’ solos) and ballad (Zawinul’s solo and his duo with Nat).

It must be acknowledged that quite a lot of this recording is Adderley talking to the audience (nearly half the track in the case of “Walk Tall”). But his deep, rich speaking voice turns out to be as warm and engaging as his high, creamy alto tone. It doesn’t slow things down a bit. Burnin’ is right.

Rudy Linka/George Mraz

Just Between Us
(Independent Release)

This all-acoustic session of duets recorded a quarter-century ago by a pair of Czech-born jazz musicians — guitarist Rudy Linka and bassist George Mraz (1944–2021) — has emerged from the archives to reveal its timeless, delicate beauty. These 10 crisply captured tracks, recorded by engineer James Ferber in 1998 in New York and initially released as a limited pressing in Poland, have been revived by Linka and are now available worldwide on vinyl and (coming soon) as a digital download. The rapport between these two expatriate artists, both of whom established their careers working in New York clubs and studios after attending Boston’s Berklee College of Music (first Mraz in the late 1960s, followed by the younger Linka in the mid-’80s), is instantly apparent. As on previous small-group recordings made with Linka for the Enja label, including 1995’s Czech It Out! and 1996’s Always Double Czech!, Mraz imparts his hard-swinging bass lines, refined melodic sense and deep mastery of the bebop lexicon on seven Linka originals and three standards. Linka engages the former bassist for Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Peterson and countless other heavies with the openheartedness of an artist in his true element, in an intimate musical conversation with his fellow countryman that touches on everything from intense post-bop improvisation to intriguing harmonic progressions to subtle conjurings of ancient slavic folk music. Highlights include a reading of Miles Davis’ “Nardis” that sparkles under Linka’s tender touch and draws strength from the guitarist’s ability to spin out gorgeous melodic lines while simultaneously comping the corresponding chord changes; the subtle syncopation of the medium-up Linka-penned swinger “Would You?”; a free-spirited waltz written for Linka’s daughter Steff and a more intriguing piece dedicated to his wife, Solveig; the Sam Rivers composition “Beatrice,” which elicits some especially lively duo interaction; and a reflective Linka piece titled “Page Before,” which finds these two kindred spirits in tacit agreement on where the song’s simple syncopated figures land and how the harmonies ultimately resolve. The centerpiece of this delectable program is their take on the standard “Too Young To Go Steady,” which proves to be an ample showcase for both players to bring their instrumental prowess to the forefront as they draw from wells of deep-seated emotion and toy with flights of pure whimsy, Czech style. Linka has a way of ending many of the pieces here with ambiguous-sounding chords strummed with a flamenco-like flow that makes it seem as if he’s stroking some celestial harp. Indeed, in this completely unplugged environment, with the warmth of vinyl further revealing the human element at the heart of these recordings, nearly everything about Just Between Us feels just right.

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