Tim Hagans

A Conversation
(Waiting Moon)

A Conversation is trumpeter-composer Tim Hagans’ fourth collaborative recording project with Germany’s esteemed NDR Bigband, also known as the Hamburg Radio Jazz Orchestra. This time around, the 66-year-old Hagans takes on the roles of composer, conductor, arranger and performer in a five-movement concerto that revolves around a single concept: the exchange of ideas. With A Conversation, Hagans experiments with a truly fresh approach to big band arranging and recording, whereby he physically groups musicians together not according to instrument type, but by sonic and emotional divisions. Each grouping is charged with different artistic objectives determined by Hagans, adding to the instrumental intrigue. So, instead of a traditional four-line woodwinds/trombones/trumpets/rhythm setup, you get four mini ensembles of varying instrumental combinations within a single large orchestra playing off of each other in mysterious and evocative ways. One grouping that Hagans calls Ensemble I includes two woodwind players, three trumpeters and a trombonist. The slightly smaller but equally vital Ensemble II consists of two woodwind players, trumpet and trombone, while the four-piece Ensemble III has one reed player, one trumpeter, one tenor trombone and a bass trombone. Ensemble IV is the full rhythm section of drums, guitar, piano, bass and percussion. The music builds from simple ideas and minimalist concepts into complex constructions of towering and deep proportions. Hagans brings his instrumental voice to the discussion on three of the movements, soloing his heart out with all the post-bop enthusiasm you’d expect from the scrappy improviser. Ultimately, A Conversation is far more than just talk; it’s an astounding accomplishment by one of the leading visionaries of the international jazz scene.

Alex Conde

Descarga For Bud
(Sedajazz)

On this new release from Alex Conde, the virtuoso Spanish pianist puts his personal spin on nine landmark compositions by the legendary pianist and bebop architect Bud Powell. Descarga For Bud is the second installment in Conde’s Descaragas series, which he launched in 2015 with the release of the critically acclaimed Descaraga For Monk (Zoho), dedicated to the oeuvre of the iconoclastic pianist Thelonious Monk. Throughout Descaraga For Bud, Conde demonstrates his prowess at the keyboard, each note landing right on top of the beat in an inspired fusion of the classic bebop lexicon with traditional Caribbean and Iberoamerican stylings. For his supporting cast, Conde brings back percussionist John Santos and bassist Jeff Chambers from his Monk outing, and adds drummer Colin Douglas to the mix. On tracks such as “Oblivion,” “Parisian Thoroughfare” and “Bouncing With Bud,” Conde’s arrangements revolve around traditional flamenco forms and call for the talents of fellow countrymen Sergio Martínez on cajón and claps and flamenco guitarist Jose Luis de la Paz. The album also features trumpeter Mike Olmos, who effortlessly spins bebop lines over the bulerías arrangement of “The Fruit” and Powell’s challenging masterpiece “Tempus Fugit,” and steel pan player Jeff Narell, who brings syncopated sunshine to the calypso “Wail.” Producer Ricky Fataar, the South African multi-instrumentalist known for his roles in The Beach Boys and the Beatles spoof group The Rutles, lends his magic touch to this refreshing, uplifting and highly accessible recording.

New Memphis Colorways

It Is What It Isn’t
(Owl Jackson Jr.)

Following up on his 2020 release The Music Stands, Memphis-based multi-instrumentalist Paul Taylor returns with It Is What It Isn’t, his third album as New Memphis Colorways. Impressively, Taylor plays everything himself on the mostly instrumental album, moving between guitar, bass, synth, omnichord, percussion and drums. His reference points here include funk, Afrobeat, jazz, blues, fusion, soul and electronic music, a blend that feels both vintage and futuristic. This doesn’t exactly feel like a band — you can tell it’s all Taylor — but given the state of the world over the last year, one can’t blame him for choosing to do everything himself, alone. And this is effective. It manages to evoke fusion giants like Return to Forever, Weather Report and Herbie Hancock and doesn’t have to strain much to get there.

Despite the puzzling title, “Hey F****r, Don’t Do That,” the track has a lot going on in terms of percussion, changes and melody. Then on the slow grinding “All The Things You Are,” Taylor chooses to sing, but through a robot-like filter, arriving at a track that sounds like a bit like Daft Punk — just without the million dollar budget.

Elsewhere, this is perhaps a bit too vague. Ironically, “ffs,tmi” is perhaps not giving us enough information. Regardless, there are interesting things happening here. One hopes that as live music opens back up Taylor can assemble a band that can replicate this odd concoction onstage.

Shawn Maxwell

Expectation & Experience
(Jazzline)

For those outside of Chicago, know this: Shawn Maxwell follows the long lineage of Windy City reed players and composers with a big, brawny sound and thought-provoking art. On Expectation & Experience, Maxwell delivers 17 slices of musical exploration that came to him during the pandemic. He includes a family of 29 players on this recording, each laying down their parts alone and shipping them off to Maxwell, COVID safe. This is a truly personal, absolutely beautiful piece of pandemic art that goes down easy to soothe and uplift the soul. Take, for instance, the opening number, “Expectation.” Clocking in at just 1:39 minutes, it’s a simple duet between Maxwell on alto and Stephen Lynerd on vibraphone. It’s a shimmery salute to a better time, with a wisp of “In A Sentimental Mood” before turning off into directions unbound. “Quiet House” floats as a melancholy blues in honor of a friend who died during the pandemic, switching between 3/4 and 4/4 time with Zvonimir Tot delivering beautiful guitar work and a tasty virtual string arrangement. On “The Great Divide,” Maxwell and tenor saxophonist Alex Beltran poke the elephants and the donkeys in the room with an ode to the political banter of a presidential election. If only our elected officials could make such harmonious music. The album truly sounds like a travelogue of Maxwell and friends speaking for all of us. They follow the challenges of our quarantined lives with songs like “Feeling Remote,” “Lockdown” and “Every Day Is Monday” to outrage at what he was seen on television with songs like “Breathe” (which is a stunning beauty), “The New Abnormal” and “No Peace Without Justice.” Take, for instance, the song “Alternative Facts,” a mischievous number with Maxwell on saxophone, Howard Levy on harmonica, Steven Hashimoto on bass and Greg Essig on drums. It’s loaded with humor, angst, pathos and toss-your-hands-in-the-air surrender. The set concludes with “Experience,” another brief, beautiful duet with Stacy McMichael providing arco bass against the pleading bleat of Maxwell’s saxophone. It must be said that you can listen to this recording without notes or titles and thoroughly enjoy the ride. But what makes Expectation & Experience special is knowing the song titles, seeing what Maxwell was trying to do and hearing that he indeed nails it each and every time.

Sons Of Kemet

Black To The Future
(Impulse!)

The intersections of music and poetry, jazz and hip-hop, art and popular music always risk the chance of running afoul of one and other. Is it honest or forced? Is it too much or too little? Is it authentic, in the parlance of this day and age? Sons of Kemet’s Black To The Future, led by multi-instrumentalist Shabaka Hutchings, stays pure and true in fusing all of the above. This is the rare piece of art that captures the times — our times — full of confusion, righteous anger and absolute beauty. From the opening lament of “Field Negus” featuring the spoken-word rage of Joshua Idehen, to the closing strains of “Black,” Black To The Future delivers music for the mind, the soul and even the dance floor — sometimes all three at once, as is the case with the danceable-but-deadly truth of “Pick Up Your Burning Cross,” featuring Moor Mother and rising star Angel Bat Dawid. It rivets, shakes and bakes with crazy rhythmic drive. How could it not? For those new to Kemet, we have two incredible drummers in the persons of Edward Wakili-Hick and Tom Skinner, the amazing Theon Cross on tuba and Hutchings on reeds. It’s an exploration of rhythm and low end, as well as a treatise on continued losses of equality and equity. A demand for social justice lies at the core of this recording and this band. Few artists have put as much thought into their music as Hutchings, who has even crafted a mission statement for this work: “Black To The Future is a sonic poem for the invocation of power, remembrance and healing. It envisions our progression towards a future in which indigenous knowledge and wisdom is centered in the realization of a harmonious balance between the human, natural and spiritual world.” That’s just the beginning. But you don’t even need his words to understand where this band is coming from. Sons of Kemet naturally meld jazz with the rhythms and music of Africa, hip-hop and the Carribbean. “Hustle,” featuring Kojey Radical, is a straight-up groove with Radical describing, in chapter-and-verse detail, the “hustle inside me.” “In Remembrance Of Those Fallen” serves as Hutchings’ homage to those fighting for liberation, especially within Africa. There is an intensity to this music that has been missing, in this way, for far too long. Black To The Future speaks a truth that should be heard. But this recording and these artists never forget to move us musically as well as mentally. Hutchings understands that the best way to educate as a musician is to put your message to music. The album’s final volley, “Black,” with spoken word by Idehen, drives the message home: “Black is tired,” he says at the outset, letting all know where he stands with lines like, “This Black pain is dance,” “This Black struggle is dance,” “You already have the world,” “Just leave Black be,” “Leave us alone,” as the music leads into final resolution.

Ralph Peterson

Raise Up Off Me
(Onyx)

Here we have drummer Ralph Peterson’s 26th and final record as a leader. The album has been released on his own Onyx Productions label following his passing earlier this year. Peterson recorded this album in December 2020 with his working trio featuring brothers Zaccai and Luques Curtis on piano and bass, respectively. It represents some of Peterson’s best work, demonstrating his complete control as a percussionist, shaman, composer and bandleader. The album’s title track may be the album’s best. As one of many written in response to the murder of George Floyd at the knee of a police officer, the tune envelopes — without words — all the anger, chaos, angst and sorrow so many have experienced in trying to understand why this happened, and why it continues to happen. Peterson’s rhythms dart and dive in rapid bursts that convey uncertainty in trying to understand the situation. He pumps the bass drum to give life to the heartbeat of the man and this music. Zaccai Curtis plays in a pleading call-and-response fashion, with beautiful chordal and melodic passages tinged with just enough dissonance to express feelings of lament. Luques Curtis serves as the ears of the song, finding the space, listening and responding, acknowledging the anger with a calming “Amen.” There is much to like about this recording beyond “Raise Up Off Me.” The trio exudes a rare oneness that only comes with talent, time and great material. Peterson was an amazing drummer who could simply overpower most musicians. Not true with the Curtis Brothers. They prove to be up to the challenge of every Peterson-penned tune, such as the blistering “The Right To Live,” the intriguing “Blues Hughes” and the lovely “Tears I Cannot Hide.” Zaccai Curtis offers up his beautiful ballad “I Want To Be There For You,” full of heart and unexpected turns. And the trio takes joy in “Four Play” by the late James Williams, Bud Powell’s “Bouncing With Bud” and Patrice Rushen’s “Shorties Portion.” This might not be the very last previously unheard music we’ll get from the catalog of Ralph Peterson. But if it is, this is a perfect way to finish. His passing is a great loss to the jazz community, but his music lives on.

Aaron Novik

Grounded
(Astral Spirits)

Some very potent albums have been recorded in quarantine and released over the last year, and Aaron Novik’s Grounded is a great example. The basic concept is acoustic instruments doing electronic music, an idea many have approached but likely few have executed this well. It was made with the acoustic sounds of the clarinet, bass clarinet and contrabass clarinet using minimal effects, and it was recorded during lockdown in the Elmhurst neighborhood of Queens, New York, during April to May of 2020. These sounds are from right when COVID-19 was at its deadliest in the city.

Novik describes that time: “My clearest memories are of an eerie silence, no cars, no people walking around, interspersed with ambulance sirens every five minutes,” he said. “It was dread-inducing.”

You can hear this in the music. And his technique is certainly effective. It’s almost unbelievable that this was made using only clarinets, as the songs have a percussive base over which Novik explores simple melodies, then progressively weaves them together with increasing complexity. You picture him tapping on a drum machine and a keyboard instead of playing a clarinet.

The song titles don‘t give us much here; they’re just “Part 1,” “Part 2” … ending at “Part 10.” But as we move through these, Novik’s palpable dread at what was happening in the city is there. If you’re interested in the sound of a man contending with the pandemic’s start in a very unique way, this is recommended.

Nnenna Freelon

Time Traveler
(Origin)

Vocalist Nnenna Freelon has always had a powerful instrument, but rarely, if ever, has she employed that voice in such an intimate way. Freelon recorded Time Traveler following the loss of her husband, Phil, an accomplished architect who led the design of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture. On Time Traveler, the Grammy-winner wastes no time in grabbing your attention and pulling you in close. Freelon takes us to church with one of the most riveting versions of “Say A Little Prayer For You” that these ears have ever heard. Her vocals are pure, powerful magic. She pays tribute to her lost love throughout the 11-tune program with such songs as “Betcha By Golly Wow,” featuring a beautiful saxophone solo by Kirk Whalum, and Jim Croce’s “Time In A Bottle,” given an interesting arrangement by Miki Hayama. She ruminates over old chestnuts like “Moon River,” “Time After Time” and “Come Rain Or Come Shine,” which certainly have a personal connection. You can feel her loss as well as the joy of her memories. There are moments of indulgence here, but they are certainly understood and worth the trip to hear Freelon’s voice ache on “Just You,” for example. Anyone who has experienced loss can understand where she’s coming from as she tells us that her loss hurts, but also gives the sense that she’s going to be OK.

Jack Brandfield

I’ll Never Be The Same
(Gut String Records)

Here we have the young and amazingly talented tenor saxophonist Jack Brandfield taking us on a swinging trio journey with Randy Napoleon on guitar and Rodney Whitaker on bass. As a group, the three are a wonder of rhythm, time and musicality. Each solo aches of a melodic time gone by, when songs could be instrumental, hip and danceable all at the same time. For his part, Brandfield has a juicy, smooth tone on tenor. He knows how to coax just the right amount of purr from the horn, taking an old-school approach — one that’s reminiscent of his heroes Zoot Sims or Stan Getz — dressed up for the modern era. The lack of a drummer gives the group plenty of room to play with time and space, all the while keeping the proceedings right in the pocket. They roll through a set of a dozen classics that just leave you with a smile and an “Ah!” Especially tasty are the opening Jerome Kern chestnut “Nobody Else But Me,” a jumping take on “Lover Come Back To Me” and “On A Slow Boat To China.” In a very cool move, Brandfield and Whitaker glide as a duo through “Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me” in late-night, last-call mode. Napoleon and Brandfield do likewise on a tug-at-the-heart rendition of “Over The Rainbow.” All that said, perhaps the most impressive aspect of Brandfield’s artistry is this: He’s still in school, pursuing a graduate degree at the Frost School of Music at University of Miami. We’ll be seeing him in all the old familiar places, for sure.

Daniel Thatcher

Waterwheel
(Shifting Paradigm Records)

Bassist Daniel Thatcher’s debut album as a leader features a quartet of Chicago-area musicians who bring his composer’s voice to life and amplify his life-affirming vision. His Waterwheel ensemble, which finds Thatcher in the company of drummer Devin Drobka and electric guitarists John Kregor and Matt Gold, flies in tight formation over the course of 10 originals that blur the lines separating jazz, chamber music and rock. The album opens with a burst of enthusiasm as Drobka’s crisp brushwork establishes an inviting groove on “Odds Are Even,” a track that toys with notions of mixed meter while maintaining a seamless flow. Thatcher’s instrumental voice comes to the fore on the harmonically and rhythmically inventive “Three Sages,” his profound foundational tones establishing a dirge-like vibe and a heavy-metal atmosphere that spawns spooky, shimmering guitar solos. The sun comes out in the rising melodic lines of “Albedo,” its syncopated jazz-waltz undercurrent brightening the mood even further. “Viscous” begins with sparse group improvisation and ventures into hard rock territory, the guitars ringing with tremolo, echo and other tone-altering effects. Waterwheel arrives at its most tender group moment on the lighthearted “Let’s Grow Old Together,” where Thatcher bows the tune’s down-home, soulful melody over a pretty backdrop of arpeggiated and sustained guitar soundscapes. Throughout the program, Gold and Kregor maintain a delicate balancing act, the guitarists dovetailing neatly as they share the air space above the Thatcher–Drobka bedrock. All four members of Waterwheel are eager, experienced improvisers who embrace freeplay and structured soloing with aplomb and enthusiasm. Thatcher has said that once he settled on this lineup of musicians to perform his compositions, new tunes started coming to him quickly. Let’s hope that trend continues and we hear more from this brilliant cast of genre-morphing empaths.

Moka Efti Orchestra

Erstausgabe
(Six Degrees Records)

OK, confession time. I have not seen the Netflix series Babylon Berlin, but I can tell you that the music is awesome because the Moka Efti Orchestra, a 14-member ensemble cast in the series, has just released a new album called Erstausgabe. The group was created by the show’s music supervisor, composer Nikko Weidemann, and his fellow composer Mario Kamien, along with saxophonist/arranger Sebastian Borkowski. It’s named after a famous German club that has been re-created for Babylon Berlin, a show set in the 1920s in, you guessed it, Berlin. The music is of the crazy-good cabaret variety that might just remind you of a certain famous musical by the same name because of the setting and the sound. “Hollander Mash Up” grabs you from the downbeat with all the jump, jive and wail the band can muster. “Zu Asche, Zu Staub (To Ashes, To Dust)” has a delicious, menacing drive that builds like a cabaret aria. The band draws from a vast lexicon of swing-feel, ragtime, Chanson and even the blues, and blows it all through your ears with hyper-cool energy and tongue-in-cheek nonchalance over the course of 13 tunes brimming with throw-back reverence and send-it-way-up camp. The vocalists on the set are also thoroughly entertaining, especially the coquettishly controlled bawdiness of show star Severija Janušauskaitė. If you ever get a jones for some highly theatrical, masterfully played big band noir, this is a record for you. Meantime, I’ve got some quality TV binging to catch up on.

Marshall Gilkes Trio

Waiting To Continue
(Alternate Side Records)

Here’s a really beautiful trio recording that represents a pandemic triumph. Trombonist Marshall Gilkes, along with Yasushi Nakamura on bass and Clarence Penn on drums, were scheduled to go into the studio back in April 2020, but COVID had other thoughts. Gilkes initially had another type of album in mind, but “after several months at home, living in limbo, Waiting To Continue proved to be a more suitable title that better conveys the feeling the album represents,” he said in press materials. A few months later, the trio gathered under very strict COVID rules and started to lay down what would become the album. It is breathtaking. The title track begins with Gilkes multi-tracking his trombone before Penn and Yasushi join in. It’s a resilient, hopeful song that captures the times in which it was recorded. Beyond the title track, there is so much to like here. Gilkes has a rare and wonderful mastery of his instrument. It’s on full display throughout the record, from the slippery speed and fluidity of “Archie’s Theme” and “Taconic Turns” to the tear-in-the-eye beauty of “Anya’s Tune.” Gilkes is a force of nature who plays with hope and confidence to spare. It’s music that this reviewer almost missed out on. Indeed, Waiting To Continue, which was released back in February, could have easily suffered that fate. Luckily, I was encouraged to go back and check it out. It’s a gift. This is honest, hopeful, uplifting music for rising above and beyond the challenges of the past year as we all await the green-light to continue our lives and careers once again.

Lorne Lofsky

This Song Is New
(Modica Music)

Canadian guitarist Lorne Lofsky, deeply versed in the bebop language and long admired for his straightahead jazz chops, is a sporadic composer by his own admission. After all, he’s been focusing on his playing for the past 40-plus years as a member of other ensembles, most notably the late Canadian pianist Oscar Peterson’s quartet, not to mention his career as one of his country’s leading jazz educators. So, he only composes when an idea comes to him. A recent mini-binge of writing led to the recording of This Song Is New, his first album as a leader in more than 20 years. Sporting a dry, unaffected, no-nonsense tone, Lofsky shares the front line with tenor saxophonist and longtime collaborator Kirk MacDonald over the course of five originals and fresh takes on two standards: “Seven Steps To Heaven” (Miles Davis) and “Stablemates” (Benny Golson). Bassist Kieran Overs and drummer Barry Romberg, who’ve shared stages with Lofsky on numerous occasions over the decades, dig deep into the material, taking full advantage of the ensemble’s interpersonal chemistry and innate sense of trust. Highlights include the title track, which changes keys in deceptive ways; “An Alterior Motif,” a tune whose thematic development relies on altered harmony to guide it; and the hilariously titled “Evans From Lennie,” which reinvents the standard “Pennies From Heaven” while paying tribute to jazz heroes Bill Evans, Lennie Tristano and Lee Konitz — all of whom were famous in jazz circles for imposing interesting new melodic lines upon familiar chord progressions. Nothing feels forced on This Song Is New, which will likely come as a revelation to longtime fans of Lofsky’s masterful technique and exquisite touch.

Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders & The London Symphony Orchestra

Promises
(Luaka Bop)

Here we have one of the most ambitious projects to cross these ears in a long time. Five years in the making, British electronic producer, DJ and musician Sam Shepherd, better known as Floating Points, enlisted the help of the entire London Symphony Orchestra as well as Pharoah Sanders, one of the greatest shamans in jazz history, to create art for the ages. Promises tears down the walls between the electronic and acoustic worlds; classical, jazz and pop. The synthesis of all of this demonstrates that music — all music — can be distilled to beauty. In “Movement 1,” the mood of this tone poem is distinctly set — calming, dreamlike searching — and when Sanders comes in with the first wail of his tenor, it’s truly breathtaking. He’s powerful and searing, full of wisdom, sorrow and joy. In “Movement 4” we find Sanders vocalizing quietly, communicating more without words than most could in a volume of books. “Movement 5” finds the shaman joined by a crackly Rhodes, and an organ soaring just below his wails with just the right mix of electronica added in to give the piece a coating of ambient angst. Shepherd performed on a dozen keyboards in the making of this piece. In “Movement 6,” the strings come in to soothe the soul with layers and layers of atmospheric bliss and so much detail to take in. The crescendo is just stunning. “Movement 7” and “Movement 8” begin to return the listener back to earth, but not before Shepherd on organ, all guttural and grit, delivers the goods. “Movement 9” brings back the orchestra for a last blast of joy before the coda. Promises is fantastic meditation music for restless minds. It demands to be heard in concert halls around the world. I can’t wait for all of us to have the opportunity to hear that. Until then, a good pair of headphones will do the trick.

Cowboys & Frenchmen

Our Highway
(Outside In Music)

With the release of Our Highway, the inventive New York quintet Cowboys & Frenchmen reflects on the lives of touring musicians in the context of a cinematic video album that highlights the landscapes and roads that serve as the connective tissue for all of America’s towns and cities. Recorded live at SubCulture in the Big Apple, Our Highway features high-definition footage of the ensemble — front-line alto saxophonists and co-founders Ethan Helm and Owen Broder, pianist Addison Frei, bassist Ethan O’Reilly and drummer Matt Honor — juxtaposed with outdoor vistas filmed by band members over the course of their cross-country travels. While Helm and Broder shared compositional duties on Cowboys & Frenchmen’s 2015 debut, Rodeo, and its 2017 follow-up, Bluer Than You Think, Helm took the lead for Our Highway, writing all of the music and envisioning the overarching theme. Broder contributed to the concepts and perspectives explored in the video. And the distinguished producer Ryan Truesdell helps keep the album’s grand vision in clear focus. A suite-like thread of pieces collectively titled “American Whispers” weaves through the album, representing the tensions and harmonies that exist between the hectic pace of human civilization and the majesty of the natural world. “Alice In Promisedland” channels the searching spirituality of the late harpist/pianist/composer Alice Coltrane. Scenes from Americana abound in pieces like the fluttering “An Old Church” (which brings out the flutist in Helm) and “The Farmer’s Reason” (which Broder finesses on baritone saxophone). The probing “Where Is Your Wealth?” acts as a somber interlude that raises questions about personal values, and “Gig Life” celebrates the uplifting road-life experiences and bond-forging challenges one inevitably faces while traveling the nation’s highways. For Cowboys & Frenchmen, the traveling is not separate from the art. “It’s all part of one lifestyle,” Helm says in the promo materials for Our Highway. “The music is always in motion.” Unable to tour at present, Cowboys & Frenchmen will be partnering with music venues across the country to present the full video album as live-streaming events, allowing each space to offer the experience to audiences for a 24-hour period. An audio-only digital release of Our Highway is also available.

Alfredo Rodriguez/Monir Hossn

‘Que Sera’
(Mack Avenue)

More and more artists are foregoing the time-honored tradition of releasing a full album of music, opting instead for an even older time-honored practice: releasing singles. Here we have pianist and composer Alfredo Rodriguez getting into the game with his longtime musical partner Munir Hossn. For those who might remember the old Doris Day chestnut “Que Sera, Sera,” the Rodriguez/Hossn “Que Sera” ain’t that! It’s a Latin-tinged, booty-shaking, play-loud-with-the-top-down earworm that was created to plant a seed of hope during these difficult times. Congrats to both artists. With a smile on my face, I say “mission accomplished,” or, more aptly, misión cumplida!

Sachal Vasandani/Romain Collin

Midnight Shelter (Editors Pick)
(Edition)

This is a shiver-and-sigh record. Need to chill out at the end of a long day? Midnight Shelter is a go-to. Want to share an amazing listen with someone you love? I’d suggest Midnight Shelter. It’s a beautiful, quiet recording packed with songs of longing, reflection and bliss. Here we find Sachal Vasandani easing his way into the mode of singer-songwriter. His voice is clear. His intentions are pure. He gives each song exactly what it needs to ring true in a listener’s ears. The music of some of the best songwriters in recent history flow effortlessly alongside original tunes penned by Vasandani, pianist Romain Collin and their writing cohorts. “Summer No School,” the opening number written by Vasandani and Erik Privert, pulls at the emotions with longing and loss, setting the tone for what is to come; all the performances on this 11-song set offer a sense of saudade. With just Vasandani’s voice and Collins’ tasteful accompaniment, the two spin a world that’s simply spellbinding. They glide through Lewis Capaldi’s “Before You Go,” Harry Styles’ “Adore You,” Nick Drake’s “River Man,” Abbey Lincoln’s “Throw It Away,” Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” and “Blackbird” by Lennon and McCartney. What’s impressive is how perfectly their originals fit so naturally within the set. The two co-wrote a gliding “Great Ocean Road.” Vasandani penned “Love Away,” a ballad with wonderful wordplay and a sophisticated melody that floats between the ears. “Dance Cadaverous,” a Wayne Shorter tune that Vasandani set lyrics to, is the most adventurous offering on the program, once again demonstrating the brilliance of Shorter’s musical mind. The album concludes with with a lovely Collins offering, “One Last Try,” a perfect sentiment to put a bow on this love letter to complicated relationships and life in general.

Pete Ellman Big Band

For Pete’s Ache
(One Too Tree Records)

For more than 10 years, trumpeter, music retailer and retired Air National Guardsman Pete Ellman has drawn from a pool of Chicago’s finest players to populate his namesake big band. The ensemble’s reputation as a local force to be reckoned with precedes its debut recording, For Pete’s Ache, by a long shot. Pre-pandemic, the group sustained its profile by playing weekly gigs and serving as host to events in support of the educational community. Now, with the release of For Pete’s Ache, everything that’s already established about this group has been officially documented on a program of fresh-sounding arrangements written mainly by band members. Trumpeter Daniel Moore, who composed five of the pieces here and charted an additional two, is credited with the thrilling opener, “High Speed Pursuit,” a perfect “album one/track one” choice for announcing one’s official recording debut. Solos catch fire right after a strong initial statement from the full ensemble, with tenor saxophonist Ian Nevins, alto saxophonist Steve Schnall, trombonist Andy Baker and trumpeter David Katz all contributing fiery choruses. It’s he first of many compelling solos by Katz, who wields some of the best jazz trumpet chops in the region. Benny Carter’s classic “When Lights Are Low,” arranged and performed here by the outstanding baritone saxophonist Ted Hogarth, adjusts the dimmer setting to “just right” and showcases the band’s ability to swing lightly; his tone on the big horn is divine. Lead trumpeter Roger Ingram is the light that everyone else in the ensemble “goes to”; with him onboard, everything’s phrased beautifully. Repertoire-wise, there’s something for everyone: barn-burners, medium-up swingers, ballad features, danceable Latin-jazz tracks and a hip-hop-infused mashup of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Manteca” with the Ellington/Strayhorn standard “Take The ‘A’ Train.” Ellman’s ensemble successfully straddles the divide between tech-band concert jazz and dance-friendly big band entertainment. For Pete’s Ache promises to spread the good word well beyond their suburban Chicago roots.

Delgres

4:00 AM
(PIAS)

For anyone who has ever said nothing good happens at 4 a.m., here is proof that they’re wrong. This is an album packed with groove to spare. It’s a toe-tapping, dance-inducing powerhouse from this power-roots trio based out of Paris. Sung mostly in Creole, the music has the drive of a variety of cultural touchpoints — from the Caribbean to Mississippi blues down into New Orleans. “The blues is not sad music,” said Pascal Danae, the group’s singer, songwriter and guitarist, in a press packet. “They might be talking about terrible conditions, about terrible losses, but the bottom line is hope.” Even with a language barrier, all of this shines through on 4:00 AM. On the first single off the album, “Assez Assez,” which means “enough, enough,” Danae’s voice wails and pleads over a hard-driving groove. The song is said to capture the tragedy of immigrants dying at sea while trying to reach a new home. It’s just one example of Danae’s depth and point of view. The band takes its name from Louis Delgrés, a Creole officer in the French Army who died in Guadeloupe fighting against Napolean’s Army. Danae’s parents emigrated from Guadeloupe to Paris before he was born, but he still closely identifies with the struggles of the region. It rings throughout songs about pain, struggle and freedom, but even these heavy topics cannot suppress the joy and hope that rise above the struggle chronicled in this music.

Southside Johnny

Grapefruit Moon: The Songs of Tom Waits Remastered
(Pacific Records)

Here’s one that makes you say, “Don’t blink, time passes too quickly.” Back in 2008, Southside Johnny, the godfather of blue-eyed soul from the Jersey Shore, produced a DIY pet project—him, singing the songs of Tom Waits with a big band. It was an ambitious project, probably too ambitious for the DIY nature of this beast.

But he did it, and it turned out to be a beautiful beast—the music, unparalleled; the musicianship, incredible; Southside, at his full-throated, barroom bard best.

Johnny had a secret weapon, an accomplice, on this improbable journey. Richard “LaBamba” Rosenberg—the multi-talented trombonist best known for his work in the Late Night with Conan O’Brien band as well as touring with the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes—turns out to be an amazing arranger. And his work on this record shimmers.

With all that buildup, the project never got its due, but it did get a feature in DownBeat by this writer, which you can read HERE. As a result, it’s great to see, some 13 years later, the folks at Pacific Records have lovingly remastered, reissued and breathed new life into the project. Bravo to all on this one, and special credit goes out to Sascha Peterfreund, the remaster engineer on this project.

The sound has been completely revamped. The horns, rhythm section and Johnny’s voice are crisper, cleaner and more nuanced. It’s the way this album was meant to sound. The 12 tracks include some of Waits’ more memorable tunes—“Yesterday Is Here,” “Down, Down, Down,” “Grapefruit Moon,” “Tango Till They’re Sore” and “Shiver Me Timbers,” to name a few. Tom Waits himself joins Johnny for a vampy dance around “Walk Away.”

As a bonus track, LaBamba and Johnny dish a live duet on “Straight Up To The Top,” a swinging romp of big-band brawn and beauty that would be amazing to experience in a festival setting.

Sana Nagano

Smashing Humans
(577)

There’s a disquieting, fanciful narrative at the heart of Sana Nagano’s Smashing Humans.

The Brooklyn-based violinist, whose compositions here work to render an aural depiction of the 8-bit, sci-fi tableau shown on the album cover, oversees a quintet that relies as much on jazz-world facility as it does on rock aesthetics. Nagano, while remaining a defining element of the mix, cedes space to guitarist Keisuke Matsuno on the album’s first pair of tracks, the shuffling “Strings & Figures” and the dirge-like “Loud Dinner Wanted.”

Her writing begins to pixelate on the compositions that follow, granting a unique view of other contributors—all caught up in the bandleader’s noisy arrangements. There’s space for drummer Joe Hertenstein to direct the band on “Chance Music,” and Nagano’s violin narrates the tale of “The Orange Monster” being bullied on “Heavenly Evil Devil.”

But interactivity—where veteran saxophonist Peter Apfelbaum makes his most resonant contributions—really propels Smashing Humans and its redemptive storytelling; the repetitive lines that make up the core of “Humans In Grey” create a wash of power not felt elsewhere on the album. And as calamity is avoided in Nagano’s narrative, “The Other Humans” concludes an album that both feels and sounds a bit like Blade Runner looks.

Peter DiCarlo

Onward
(Shifting Paradigm)

New York-based alto saxophonist and educator Peter DiCarlo makes an auspicious leader debut with the release of Onward. Bridging modern and traditional jazz styles, DiCarlo’s original compositions and arrangements are brought to life by a crack ensemble that brings together trumpeter Scott Wendholt, tenor saxophonist Rich Perry, baritone saxophonist Claire Daly, pianist Jim Ridl, bassist Tom DiCarlo, drummer Chris Parker, percussionist Keisel Jiménez Leyva and in various-sized instrumental configurations. The title track starts the album out on an energetic note, with a driving ostinato in the bass and piano establishing a firm foundation for the horn section. DiCarlo’s alto makes its presence felt during his solo on “Onward,” demonstrating strong showmanship and brimming with confidence. The mellow waltz “Feast In The Fuar” is a casually paced feast of improvisation served up by DiCarlo, Wendholt and Ridl. The winding bopper “Stepping Off” has Ridl flying over the keys in his solo, while DiCarlo steps a little further out into more adventurous harmonic territory and speeds up into a higher gear, spurring some spirited band interaction. “The Imposter” takes a fresh look back on the essence of tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson’s 1963 composition “Recorda Me” with its light drums-and-congas groove and a tenor solo by Perry that starts out breathy and gradully ramps up tin intensity. DiCarlo really lets it rip during his alto solo, pushing his range ever higher and revealing the gritty side of his tone. Warmth radiates from the horns of DiCarlo and Perry on the Parker-penned ballad “Arrival.” “Hint Of Mint” is a fun, uptempo hard-bopper arranged for alto and trumpet, Adderley-style. Things get a little breezier on a smooth, Latin-flavored arrangement of “There Will Never Be Another You” that gives the drums and percussion a nice combined solo spot. Soulful guest vocals by Jerson Trinidad, a funkified groove and four Stevie Wonder-style horns make Roberta Flack’s 1974 r&b hit “Feel Like Makin’ Love” feel like a bonus track, as it closes DiCarlo’s ambitious first album with a feel-good final statement.

Joe Chambers

Samba de Maracatu
(Blue Note)

If you like your jazz with a heaping helping of swirling, wondrous rhythm, Samba de Maracatu by the legendary Joe Chambers will fill you up.

Be it on drums, percussion or mallets, Chambers has been one of the great sidemen in jazz history, providing the beat for everyone from Freddie Hubbard, Bobby Hutcherson and Sam Rivers to Wayne Shorter, Joe Henderson and Chet Baker … just to scratch the surface. He’s also had a diverse and incredible career as a leader.

Now, at the tender age of 78, Chambers makes his Blue Note Records debut as a leader, even though he played on some of the most important recordings in the label’s history. Even so, Samba de Maracatu is miraculous in its ability to be both timely and timeless, worldly, yet intimate. Chambers is joined here by Brad Merritt on piano and Steve Haines on bass, two North Carolinians who groove and complement the maestro’s aesthetic.

For his part, Chambers serves as a one-man percussion machine, overdubbing himself on drums, vibes and percussion to turn this trio into a small, pulsating orchestra. The album’s title cut offers a nod to Afro-Brazilian rhythms rooted in the Candomblé religion of Brazil’s Pernambuco province. It features Merritt and Chambers running parallel lines on piano and vibes in front of a deep-running groove. On Horace Silver’s “Ecaroh,” Chambers leads in with solo vibraphone, wringing, and ringing, every ounce of shimmer and reverb from each note before diving into the tune’s intricate twists and turns.

The recording also features two great vocal spots. First, New Orleans chanteuse Stephanie Jordan delivers a gripping rendition of “Never Let Me Go.” It’s a dreamlike moment of music noir. Second, and more surprisingly, Chambers does a mashup of Nas’ hip-hop classic “N.Y. State of Mind” with Chambers’ own “Mind Rain.” MC Parrain drops the rhymes on this one, and it works as another layer of intricate percussion in Chambers’ multilayer universe.

The nine-tune set concludes with a reworking of Wayne Shorter’s “Rio,” and just like the rest of the album, this river just flows.

To get a deeper dive into Chambers and this project, check out his interview with Blue Note President Don Was on First Look.

Ronnie Cuber/Gary Smulyan

Tough Baritones
(SteepleChase)

Two of the jazz world’s leading baritone saxophonists, Ronnie Cuber and Gary Smulyan, meet here for the first time to tear it up together—bebop-style—on the “big pipe.” Cuber, 79, and Smulyan, 64, are among the more accomplished soloists on bari, an instrument celebrated for its tonal beauty but notorious for its unwieldy heft. They play gorgeous-sounding vintage horns: That’s Cuber on his low-A Selmer in the left channel, and Smulyan on his low-B-flat Conn mixed to the right. And they let nothing get in their way during this animated April 2019 blowing session. These baritone masters make a sport of navigating the fast-moving changes, zigzagging lines and skippy syncopations that define the genre. With the ace support of pianist Gary Versace, bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Jason Tiemann, they rip their way through eight bebop/hard-bop covers and two Cuber originals on this joyfully greasy blowing summit. They come out of the gate strong on the opening tune, Horace Silver’s uptempo swinger “Blowing The Blues Away,” with Versace getting in on the improv action after solos by each baritonist. Swing ends up being the thing on Red Prysock’s “That’s The Groovy Thing,” the saxes laying down bare-bones blues figures in greasy octave-unison; Versace lays way back in a manner that shows that he gets it, too. Silver’s “Nica’s Dream” is a more sophisticated arrangement, the two saxophonists dovetailing and harmonizing on the head before jumping boldly into their solos. Dig how Tiemann uses syncopated rim-sticking and stand-clicking to drastically change texture during Versace’s solo. Cuber is under-miked at the top of Richard Rogers’ “Lover” but comes roaring into his solo like a hurricane; meanwhile Smulyan improvises through long sequences of clearly stated ideas and Versace really turns up the speed; then the saxes trade eights with Tiemann, setting him up for his own tasty solo spot. Versace introduces Thelonious Monk’s “Well You Needn’t” in a perfectly quirky manner before the harmonized saxophones take charge and state the theme. Silver’s “The Preacher” is a medium-up swinger that bestows a down-home blessing on the listener. Tough Baritones buzzes with one-take excitement. The guys simply go for it, indulging their affinity for classic Pepper Adams-style bari sax bebop.

Alan Pasqua

Day Dream
(Gretabelle Music)

As I’ve said before in this column, I’m a sucker for solo piano recordings, and Alan Pasqua’s Day Dream hits home. Pasqua, a collaborator with a broad swath of pop and jazz royalty—from Tony Williams, Bob Dylan and John Fogerty to Allan Holdsworth, Carlos Santana and Michael Bublé—recorded this highly personal collection of his favorite tunes during COVID-19 lockdown. He released it on his own Gretabelle Music last November, but the set is just now getting out to the public. It’s the kind of DIY delay that the pandemic has wrought throughout the music world.

That said, this batch of chestnuts is worth the wait. Pasqua demonstrates amazing touch and technique on the 10 tunes recorded for this document. His medley of “In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning/Smile” offers a wistful shiver to a bygone era. And, when he solos on the tune, oh, my, the chops are tasteful and transcendent. He also takes a far-away glance with a rendition of “Old Cape Cod” that pulls the heartstrings just right.

And that’s the beauty of this entire album. There’s a calming melancholy when Pasqua plays “Polka Dots And Moonbeams,” “Prelude To A Kiss” or “When I Grow Too Old To Dream,” the set’s closing track. It’s just the kind of mood that’s needed right now, a vaccine, if you will, from a long, hard pandemic. So, put down the phone, turn off the TV, sit down with your favorite beverage and relax into the beauty of Pasqua’s Day Dream.

Jane Monheit

Come What May
(Club44 Records)

Jane Monheit is a potent antidote to a certain brand of jazz snobbery. At every major jazz festival, there are fans who will begrudgingly (or cheerfully) witness a set by Cécile McLorin Salvant or Gregory Porter, but if pressed, they would assert that they don’t consider vocalists to be in the same league as instrumentalists. (Was Ella Fitzgerald as good a musician as Count Basie? Debate that over a Zoom chat sometime.)

When the luminous Monheit arrived on the scene 20 years ago with her debut, Never Never Land, she won over fans via renditions of standards such as “My Foolish Heart,” “I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good)” and Jobim’s “Dindi.”

On her latest album, Come What May, Monheit continues to dazzle, delivering a program chockfull of standards, such as “Lush Life,” “Let’s Face The Music And Dance” and Jobim’s “Samba Do Aviгo.”

Monheit’s version of Frank Loesser’s “I Believe In You” is delicately spiced with segments of scatting that elevate the tune—just a pinch of salt that works wonderfully. Throughout the program, it should be clear to any snobbish naysayer that her instrument is equal to that of her band’s, which includes guitarist Miles Okazaki, bassist David Robaire, pianist Michael Kanan, drummer Rick Montalbano and percussionist Kevin Winard.

In the opening section of “My Funny Valentine,” while floating atop Kanan’s lines, Monheit’s breath control and exquisite elongation of vowel sounds are so intoxicating that some listeners won’t even pause to ponder the arcane lyrics: “Thy vacant brow, and thy tousled hair/ Conceal thy good intent/ Thou noble, upright, truthful, sincere/ And slightly dopey gent.”

The inclusion of “Let’s Take A Walk Around The Block” (penned by Harold Arlen, Ira Gershwin and E.Y. Harburg) seems suited to our pandemic era in a particularly bittersweet way. Similarly, an elegant reading of “The Nearness Of You” might resonate on multiple levels for lovers who still share a spark, despite being stuck in a small apartment for the past 11 months. On the latter tune, the combination of Monheit’s emotive, wordless flights and Wayne Haun’s lush orchestral arrangement is positively intoxicating.

Monheit’s album-release show at Feinstein’s at Vitello’s will be livestreamed on March 12. Catching this virtual gig might not be as fun as hearing her vocals reverberate around a jazz club or a festival crowd, but that will come, hopefully soon.

John Coltrane

Lush Life
(Craft)

If John Coltrane can’t be all things to all people, then no musician can.

While the saxophonist always will be lauded for standing at the vanguard of change within jazz, his love of the music’s inner workings, history and the players who came before him serve as a ballast to that idea. And during the late ’50s and early ’60s, Trane vacillated between new and old ideas.

Lush Life, a five-cut album drawn from two disparate sessions in 1957 and 1958, trucks in classic songbook fare, with the original “Trane’s Slow Blues” sitting at its center. The lead-off track, Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke’s “Like Someone In Love,” arrives as sentimental as its title might indicate. And Craft’s limited-edition reissue offers it all with refined production and new liners from Ashley Kahn, housed in a sturdy, linen-swathed case.

But the title track of this 1961 album, which Trane would again record with Johnny Hartman in 1963, punctuates the bandleader’s ability to transcend time and place. It’s also a tune with a sly title that contrasts with what we might initially think it intends. By the end of this Billy Strayhorn classic, lyrically, we find out that love’s just “mush” and the song’s narrator is going to “rot” at a crummy bar somewhere, drinking to forget.

There’s not a happy take of the tune; Ella, Strayhorn and Hartman all turn in necessarily blue versions. Here, though, Coltrane—lushly assisted by a dexterous Red Garland at the keyboard—displays an ability to synthesize the tune’s lyrical content while still personalizing its message.

A 25-year-old Donald Byrd comes in a bit hot for his spotlight, but recovers quickly and helps push the tempo up a bit, granting Trane a new platform to re-enter. The pair end on a descending harmony line, giving the song its dour denouement, but one that seems significantly less dire than Strayhorn might have intended.

A more extravagant recombination of new and old came just two years later, when Trane’s My Favorite Things took a composition from a hit musical and rejiggered its purpose. On Lush Life, though, the saxophonist seems more occupied with wringing the emotional meaning from a classic, and does so gracefully and profoundly.

The Jeff Benedict Big Big Band

The Weather Is Here, Wish You Were Beautiful
(Groovy Panda)

Don’t be misled by the corny title of this stellar big band recording from veteran West Coast saxophonist and educator Jeff Benedict. According to the bandleader, who originally hails from Colorado, it’s just a playful commentary on the more flippant characteristics of Los Angeles culture, where style too often trumps substance. The album is actually inspired by the emotionally evocative and highly accessible music of 1970s Hollywood, when brilliant session players like saxophonist Tom Scott and trumpeter Jerry Hey ruled the studio scene and helped craft moody TV and film scores by legendary composers like Quincy Jones and Pat Williams.

Recorded over two sessions in September 2019, The Weather Is Here, Wish You Were Beautiful is loaded with substance. It’s also rife with risk-taking, thanks to Benedict, who arranged four of his original compositions in addition to several covers for the occasion, and the 16 kindred spirits who bring an abundance of soulfulness, swing and sizzle to his namesake big band. Benedict’s title track is a minor blues featuring tight ensemble passages and strong solo contributions from pianist Jeff Hellmer, trombonist Paul McKee, baritone saxophonist Charlie Richard and tenor saxophonist Jeff Ellwood. Other noteworthy soloists include trumpeter Steve Hawk, who tears it up plunger-style on Jones’ “Hikky Burr,” and guitarist Dave Askren, who takes three joyful rides over the course of 10 tracks.

The saxophone section is prominent on Benedict’s arrangement of Irving Berlin’s “Cheek To Cheek,” derived from Phil Woods’ vibrant interpretation of that standard on his 1977 album Live At The Showboat. On “Tom And Jerry,” a supremely funky piece by Sandy Megas, Benedict channels his hero Scott on alto, while trumpeter Brian Bettger plays the role of Hey in his hard-hitting solo. Benedict’s alto sound often has a juicy tartness to it, as well as a bluesy growl reminiscent of Cannonball Adderley. He offers a more “pure” tone on soprano, and shows a special affinity for sax-section writing with soprano lead—a possible nod to the delicately balanced yet always swinging arrangements of the great Thad Jones.

Covering a multitude of styles, time signatures and song forms, The Weather Is Here, Wish You Were Beautiful is sophisticated, uplifting big band music executed with precision and passion by some of L.A.’s finest jazz soloists and section players.

Stick Men

Owari
(MoonJune)

When Tony Levin, Markus Reuter and Pat Mastelotto traveled to Asia in early 2020 for a series of gigs as the Stick Men with special guest Gary Husband, their tour quickly devolved into a single date at the Blue Note in Nagoya, Japan, as rapidly spreading COVID-19 and other complicating factors led to multiple cancellations. But that one show, played before a small audience with little preparation except a few soundcheck run-throughs, turned out to be an epic performance. Sure, the Stick Men had already played hundreds of gigs since the trio’s formation in 2009, bringing its metal-edged brand of improv-heavy instrumental rock to audiences around the world over the course of multiple tours. But the addition of keyboardist Husband to the established lineup—Levin on Chapman Stick (a fully polyphonic chordal instrument that’s also capable of electric guitar-like leads and deep bass lines), Reuter on Touch Guitar (which, like the Stick, is played using a “tapping” technique) and Mastelotto on drums and electronic percussion—made for a sublime experience, as documented on the pristine recording Owari.

By turns ethereal and aggressive, this music is a weird wedding of dreamy soundscapes and churning mechanics that produces a consciousness-heightening effect and encourages focused listening. Husband fits into the picture like a seasoned regular, incorporating sci-fi synth atmospherics and snaky keyboard lines into the Stick Men’s dense sonic realm. Standout tracks include the heavily distorted “Schattenhaft” (from the band’s 2016 studio album, Prog Noir) and the relatively mellow “Crack In The Sky,” a staple in the group’s live repertoire consisting of long, sustained arcs and featuring a spoken-word contribution from Levin. Another highlight is the hypnotic title track, a group improvisation that sounds like it was performed underwater (in the company of singing whales). Owari will resonate with Stick Men devotees, as well as fans of guitarist Robert Fripp’s iconic prog-rock band King Crimson, which includes Levin and Mastelotto in its lineup of instrumental all-stars.

Diego Figueiredo

Antarctica
(Arbors)

On June 24, 2017, at the Tri-C JazzFest in Cleveland, this writer had the good fortune of catching a performance by guitarist Diego Figueiredo, who initially played solo before joining bassist John Clayton and drummer Jeff Hamilton for a mesmerizing trio set that merged jazz with bossa nova. From that day forward, I enthusiastically have followed the guitarist’s career.

Unlike Figueiredo’s excellent 2020 album, Compilation (Arbors)—for which he played electric guitar on about half the tracks—his new release is an all-acoustic, all-original affair featuring four solo guitar cuts and eight tunes on which he’s joined by the simpatico Brazilian crew of Alexandre Piu (piano), Eduardo Machado (fretless bass) and Fernando Rast (drums).

A native of Franca, Brazil, Figueiredo has crafted a program with song titles that allude to specific, appealing places—such as “Seville,” “Bryant Park,” “Edgewater Park” and “From Rio To Paris”—but no locale is more distant than the one cited in the title track, “Antarctica.” This suite-like solo guitar piece features intriguing, graceful transitions between the sections, resulting in a work that evokes the awesome majesty of the southernmost continent. Figueiredo composed the song while traveling via cruise ship. As he wrote in an email to DownBeat, I could explore the sea and land around Antarctica, and it was one of my best experiences of my life. The penguins, the silence, the beautiful sky and the icebergs—it was all a unique and new experience for me.”

In contrast to the title track, the quartet tunes “Samba For Haroldo” and “Caribbean Gonzaga” offer a tropical vibe that conjures images of rolling waves and seaside strolls. Figueiredo composed another one of the album’s quartet tracks, “My Friend Menescal,” as a tribute to the bossa pioneer Roberto Menescal (who composed the standard “O Barquinho” and who wrote the liner notes to last year’s Compilation).

Some of the music here would be an appropriate soundtrack for deep thinking and even meditation, but the melodies are consistently compelling. The program concludes with the uplifting “Alma,” an anthem punctuated with Piu’s buoyant piano lines and the leader’s intricate, cyclical solo. The song conveys a mood of “Seize the day,” prompting this listener to spin it over and over.

Fire!

Defeat
(Rune Grammofon)

In its incarnation as a trio, as well as a big band, the sparks igniting Fire! generally come from Mats Gustafsson.

For about 30 years, the Swedish multi-instrumentalist has moved among the jazz, free-improv and rock worlds, showcasing acuity on baritone saxophone, flute and electronics, as he does on Defeat, a follow-up to the ensemble’s Actions from 2020. In a trio format here, Fire! occasionally takes on a calmer aspect, finding cavernous grooves on “each millimeter of the toad, part 2.” Bassist Johan Berthling and drummer Andreas Werliin dig in as Gustafsson plays relatively straight, adding in skronky embellishments on occasion, supported by a few guest horns. It’s by no means a betrayal of the band’s past, one that rakes in amorphous improvs as much as it does pummeling certitude—though the charming chorale that closes out “each millimeter” comes as a definite surprise.

For both the opener (“a random belt. rats you out.”) and closer (“alien (to my feet)”), Gustafsson focuses on the flute, making the music feel a bit lighter, even as the band retains its sense of adventure. There’s an almost Harold Alexander-like exuberance to his work here, though, rooted more in the European avant-garde than 1970s groove music. But the fact that Fire! can cover so much territory within the free-jazz context—and on such a regular basis—means that we’re not only likely to embark on new explorations with the troupe shortly, but we’ll also be encountering new vistas of sound along the way.

Veronica Lewis

You Ain’t Unlucky
(Blue Heart)

With one spin of Veronica Lewis’ debut album, You Ain’t Unlucky, blues fans immediately will recognize some key artistic influences on the 17-year-old singer/pianist. Along with an original tribute to Jerry Lee Lewis (no relation), she unleashes a rollicking version of Katie Webster’s “Whoo Whee Sweet Daddy” (found on the 1988 album The Swamp Boogie Queen). The New Hampshire native concludes the program with a boogie-woogie romp, “The Memphis Train,” in which she name-checks Webster, Jerry Lee and Pinetop Perkins—three pianists unlikely to turn up on the playlists of the average U.S. teen.

Gifted with a voice that combines power with an elastic range, Lewis delivers a program centered around her original compositions, all of which nod to tradition. Eschewing tender ballads in favor of rowdy barn burners, she offers up a rarity in the blues world nowadays: an album without any type of guitar. She recruited five musicians for the sessions, but the instrumentation remains consistent throughout the program: a trio of piano, saxophone and drums. Unafraid to utilize all 88 keys, Lewis favors a beat that’s steady, a horn that honks and piano that talks. (Three cuts feature acoustic piano lines recorded at Lewis’ home, where she played a 115-year-old upright named Margaret.)

This fat-free, 33-minute program probably won’t inspire a musicologist to write a dissertation on Lewis’ charming, straightforward lyrics, but it will motivate listeners to lace up their dancing shoes. You Ain’t Unlucky, a charming gem currently generating airplay, announces the arrival of a young talent who can belt out a narrative with authority and pound out a piano solo with marvelous muscularity.

Calvin Keys

Shawn-Neeq
(Real Gone Music)

California pianist Gene Russell founded the Black Jazz imprint, and began releasing albums by folks like Doug Carn and Walter Bishop Jr. in 1971. The label only would last until 1975, but during its run, Russell was able to offer an in-the-moment sketch of what was happening in the soul-jazz universe.

Guitarist Calvin Keys—who released his leader debut on Black Jazz the year the imprint was founded—would go on to tour and record with Ahmad Jamal, and solidify his spot as a ranking elder in the Bay Area jazz scene. But on the reissue of Shawn-Neeq, the composer and bandleader seems so effortlessly at home in his quartet (occasionally augmented by flutist Owen Marshall), it’s a bit surprising that he never became a more visible national figure.

Keys’ debut opens with “B.E.,” a 4/4 workout that’s suited more to the dancefloor than the confines of a traditional jazz club; the following “Criss Cross” and the closer, “B. K.,” reaffirm the vibe. The guts of Keys’ album, though, have a different feel. The title track is a contemplative, slowly paced piece leavened by Marshall’s contributions. The flutist also ranks as the main voice on “Gee Gee,” where the tempo picks up a bit, retaining the spirited flow of the era’s best electric work.

The guitarist’s second and final Black Jazz release, the 1974 album Proceed With Caution!, would feature luminaries like percussionist Leon “Ndugu” Chancler and pianist Kirk Lightsey. But this is where it started, making Shawn-Neeq a notable historic marker, as well as a sonically engaging, if all-too-short, run through the era’s soul-jazz territory. Just steer clear of Keys’ 1980s recordings, which still rely on his keen guitar work, but in a setting that’s a bit too smooth for its own good.

Muriel Grossmann

Quiet Earth
(RRGems)

With a steady stream of records flowing since 2007, the work of Ibiza, Spain-based saxophonist Muriel Grossman invokes nature as easily as the sturdy history of spiritual-jazz.

Following Reverence, where the bandleader sought to merge the “reassuring elements of spiritual-jazz” with its antecedents, Grossman returns with an album that examines her own development along the music’s continuum. Two of the compositions on Quiet Earth, though, first appeared on Awakening, a live recording from the 2011 Eivissa Jazz Festival that featured freedom-focused drummer Christian Lillinger behind the kit.

“After reflecting on my musical search, I could see that ‘Wien’ and ‘Peaceful River,’ songs from 10 years ago, [hinted at my] transition from more avant-garde to more spiritual-jazz,” Grossmann wrote in an email to DownBeat. “I wanted to give these songs more weight, since they mark this important transitional step.”

Nuanced arrangements make even a couple of retreads—set alongside the title track and another fresh, extended composition titled “African Call”—seem new.

The arrangement of “Peaceful River” here has a more succinct form, its original tentative middle section replaced by a constant swing. Guitarist Radomir Milojkovic continues to factor into the ensemble sound, comping where straightahead acts likely would have a pianist slotted. Adding in organist Llorenc Barcelo for her past few albums, Grossmann has deepened her compositional ambition and solidified sonic connections to the music’s roots in the ’60s.

While Quiet Earth largely functions as a vehicle for Grossman’s exhortations—indulging supple mutations of thematic material, though never fully cutting free—she’s cemented her voice and refined her sonic purpose.

Marc Copland

John
(Inner Voice)

Pianist Marc Copland—who played saxophone during the early ’70s alongside guitarist John Abercrombie in a fusion act simply called Friends—summons a solo tribute album aimed at his late friend. Copland and Abercrombie gigged and recorded together in a variety of settings during the subsequent decades, and the pianist finds alluring, contemplative melodies among the guitarist’s songbook to reflect the relationship they cultivated for John.

With choices from dozens of albums, Copland selects songs that he’d previously recorded with his coconspirator—who died in 2017 at age 72—and some that he didn’t. “Vertigo”—the closer, which first appeared on Abercrombie’s album 39 Steps—is dashed with a bit of dissonance, aurally replicating its namesake affliction while also hinting at the dizzying feeling Copland must have experienced after losing his friend. Most of the album, though, is given over to tunes like “Sad Song”—which easily lives up to its name and was plucked from the guitarist’s 2009 album, Wait Till You See Her. Tucked away among some of the more solemn offerings here is “Flip Side”—originally “Flipside” on the Abercrombie quartet’s final outing, 2017’s Up And Coming—a sprightly dance that could be seen as examining various aspects of the musical personalities Abercrombie and Copland displayed during decades-long careers.

Noah Bless

New York Strong–Latin Jazz!
(Zoho)

Trombonist Noah Bless—who has played with the likes of Eddie Palmieri, Paquito D’Rivera and the Spanish Harlem Orchestra—had plenty of experience to draw upon when developing his aptly titled leader debut: New York Strong–Latin Jazz! The album serves not only as an entertaining escape during the long days of the pandemic, but also a poignant reminder of the brand of Latin jazz that New York City venues have been missing on a nightly basis during the COVID-19 crisis.

Leading a gifted quintet, Bless delivers dance-inducing grooves with his renditions of Rudy Calzado’s “Ganga” and Baden Powell’s “Canto De Ossanha.” Although his brass swagger is front and center on these two tunes, Bless avoids grandstanding and knows when to yield the spotlight, giving keyboardist Mike Eckroth and bassist Boris Kozlov plenty of room to strut.

Bless showcases a more exploratory aesthetic with his original number “Chasing Normal,” and on his tune “The Key,” the band—expanded to a sextet with flutist Alejandro Aviles—gracefully navigates compelling shifts in time signatures, moving into and out of a pulsating, songo beat.

The band’s authoritative command of tempo—anchored by the work of drummer Pablo Bencid and percussionist Luisito Quintero—is on full display on a 7/4 rendition of Ray Santos’ “Sunny Ray.” A brilliant reading of Jobim’s “Ligia” features delicate dialogue between Eckroth and Bless, while the curveball in the program is a version of James Taylor’s “Fire And Rain” that highlights the familiar melody and convincingly makes the case for trombone as a muscular lead instrument.

Rich Halley

The Shape Of Things
(Pine Eagle)

The Shape Of Things is a fountain of pure jazz energy that surges with pulsar-like power.

But first, a bit about the session’s leader, Oregon-based tenor saxophonist Rich Halley. Known for his fiery improvisations and muscular chops, Halley is an unsung yet well-established West Coast artist with a contagious spirit of adventure and a long musical track record that dates back to the mid-’60s Chicago blues and avant-garde scene. His 23rd album as a leader, and his second quartet recording with pianist Matthew Shipp, bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Newman Taylor Baker, The Shape Of Things is a purely improvised affair that takes an anything’s-possible approach to basic concepts of physical dimension, proportion and structure.

Over the course of six tracks with titles like “Vector,” “Spaces Between” and “Oblique Angles,” Halley shows himself to be a master of motivic development who has developed a titanic, distinct voice on his instrument. Whether ripping through the sonic tapestry with note-blurring lines of expertly controlled squawk à la Albert Ayler, coaxing out resonant subtones like a latter-day Coleman Hawkins or singing through long, sustained, vibrato-laden notes in the manner of Pharoah Sanders, Halley never lets up the intensity. The saxophonist’s bandmates are right there with him at every turn, offering plenty of bold statements of their own. Shipp thunders with authority, using dissonant clusters to punctuate the group’s collective interplay and spinning out super-fast two-handed lines that fascinate the ear. His contribution to “Lower Strata” is substantial, his signature left-hand power magnified via liberal use of the sustain pedal as he plumbs the sonic depths of the piano. Bisio is featured prominently on “Curved Horizon,” his solo a feat of chops and endurance that’ll leave you wondering how on earth he does it. The Shape Of Things is one big chain-reaction, a wild ride whose core essence can be best described as geometry in motion.

Janis Mann & Kenny Werner

Dreams Of Flying
(Pancake)

The latest release by singer Janis Mann and pianist Kenny Werner, Dreams Of Flying, combines studio sessions and live performances, recorded three years apart, on opposite U.S. coasts, with different supporting musicians. On paper, that hardly sounds like a recipe for a cohesive program. And yet, thanks to the simpatico rapport by these two veteran musicians, the result is a marvelously congruous 63-minute album.

The duo teamed up with bassist Drew Gress and drummer Duduka Da Fonseca for a 2016 session at Samurai Hotel recording studio in Queens, and in 2019, the co-leaders presented a set of duo and trio songs (with guitarist Larry Koonse) in front of a quiet audience at the Capitol Studios building in Hollywood. Every track in the program sparkles, whether the quartet is coaxing emotion out of Stevie Wonder’s 1985 hit “Overjoyed” or Mann is demonstrating her impressive vocal command on an adventurous, eight-minute trio reading of Sandy Denny’s “Who Knows Where The Time Goes.”

Mann and Werner—who collaborated on a 2013 disc, Celestial Anomaly—once again prove that the success of a jazz-meets-cabaret endeavor relies not only on strong melodies, but also on sculpting arrangements that showcase the players’ individual strengths.

The quartet version of Paul Simon’s dark ballad “I Do It For Your Love” features rich, low-end coloration, courtesy of Gress’ haunting bass. When the quartet recorded Simon’s “American Tune,” little did they know they were creating an apropos lament for the pandemic era. “I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered/ Don’t have a friend who feels at ease,” Mann sings, latter adding, “When I think of the road we’re traveling on/ I wonder what went wrong/ I can’t help it, I wonder what went wrong/ And I dreamed I was dying.”

Mann and Werner are also fond of the tunesmith Jimmy Webb, represented here by “The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress” and “Wichita Lineman.” On the latter interpretation, Werner crafts two intertwined, mesmerizing harmonic dialogues: one with Mann’s vocal line and one with the song’s familiar melody.

The composers of these 11 tracks are all famous, but Mann and Werner make many astute choices, often choosing a lesser-known composition in the tunesmith’s songbook, such as Joni Mitchell’s “Edith And The Kingpin.” Heartache is a motif in the program, as Mann digs into Alan and Marilyn Bergman’s tear-jerking lyrics for a tune penned by Johnny Mandel, “Where Do You Start,” one of the most gut-wrenching break-up songs of all time. Werner’s commentary, weaving between the verses and underneath Mann’s assured vocals, is a master class on accenting the meaning of a lyric.

Dreams Of Flying, Mann’s eighth album, is an overlooked gem of 2020, and a great demonstration of her willingness to explore profound emotional depths.

Firm Roots Duo

Firm Roots
(Self Release)

Our connections sustain us during the most difficult of times. That’s what makes the release of Firm Roots, a duo project from Chicago-based pianists Chris White and Lara Driscoll, so very appropriate. Roots keep us grounded and nourish our spirits, making them one of the most vital connections of all. White and Driscoll have made it their mission to lay down roots together—not only in their day-to-day lives as a happily married couple but also in the simpatico music they make on this brilliant new album.

Performing on Conservatory Series Bösendorfers, White and Driscoll recorded Firm Roots at Grand Piano Haus in Skokie, Illinois, a classy showroom located close to home that’s known for its inventory of high-end instruments. The album opens with the Cedar Walton-penned title track, a tricky tune with a deceptively catchy melody that rings through loud and clear. “Sábado De Manhã,” an original composition that, like many of the tunes here, the pianists wrote together, is distinguished by a graceful yet prominent melodic line that breezes along over a light, mutually conjured samba groove; the song reflects the couple’s shared interest in Brazilian music. “One Foot First” takes White and Driscoll out of their comfort zones as co-composers as they plunge into the deeper ends of harmony, meter and song form. “Jalophony” is another challenging original that brings out the best in both players: Driscoll opens with an ostinato 3/4 figure while White lays down a 4/4 bass line, establishing an underlying tension and a sense of perpetual motion; they inevitably land on a big “1” together, as the meters come into alignment for the song’s head and solo sections. Driscoll, who’s heard in the right channel of the stereo field throughout most of the album, toys with her lines and teases out phrases as she develops her improvisations, worrying the blue notes that lurk at the heart of this minor-key adventure. White, usually on the left side, crafts more aggressive lines that tend to weave inside and outside the harmony.

Other highlights include the waltzy “I.P.T.” (which the couple performed together at their wedding reception), the intimate “Tu M’as Convaincu” and the album’s closer, a bluesy take on the standard “Willow Weep For Me” that has the pianists engaging in playful back-and-forth that reveals just how deeply connected they are.

Yussef Dayes Trio

Welcome To The Hills
(Cashmere Thoughts)

Drummer Yussef Dayes so effortlessly fuses the ideas of jazz, its various tributaries and the sounds of electronica, it’s hard to properly place his recordings in time.

“Jamaican Links,” which really amounts to an interstitial 100 seconds on Dayes’ live trio album, Welcome To The Hills, emerges from the lead-off track’s dizzying, Herbie-influenced fusion, and pretty quickly summons dub, acid-jazz and funk. “Palladino Sauce”—where Pino’s progeny, bassist Rocco Palladino, takes a namesake track on a similar trek—finds keyboardist Charlie Stacey accessing the sounds of space, while his bandmates burrow deep into the pocket. Only “Gully Side” and “For My Ladies” ease back on the tempo, using a soul-music influence as a brief respite from Dayes’ displays of funky endurance. Thing is, though, the bandleader seems as comfortable—and moreover, effective—working through any of these kaleidoscopic modes.

There’s not really a highlight on Welcome To The Hills—just a sequence of astounding rhythms, deft and expansive musical references (there’s even a much expanded take of bassist Stanley Clarke’s “Yesterday Princess”) and the adulation of the crowd pushing the ensemble forward. If it weren’t remarkable for its breadth, Welcome To The Hills still would be notable for Dayes annoucing the intentions of his chameleonic trio.

Danielle Miraglia

Bright Shining Stars
(VizzTone)

Americana and blues practitioner Danielle Miraglia wisely avoids fuss and clutter on her latest album, Bright Shining Stars. Fingerpicking and strumming on acoustic guitar are central to her sound, with percussion frequently provided by the infectious stomp of her foot. Three of the 11 tracks here are solo recordings, reinforcing a truism that the artist frequently has proven on Boston-area stages: A charming voice and fluid guitar prowess are all an artist needs to keep a listener rapt. The other eight tracks are duo cuts, pairing Miraglia with players who share her less-is-more aesthetic: electric guitarist Peter Parcek, viola player Laurence Scudder and harmonica wizard Richard “Rosy” Rosenblatt (who happens to be the president of the VizzTone Label Group).

Miraglia showcases her command of the blues with versions of the standards “C.C. Rider,” “It Hurts Me Too,” “Walkin’ Blues” and Janis Joplin’s “Turtle Blues,” as well as the witty “You Can Love Yourself,” penned by Keb’ Mo’. She saves her most dynamic vocals for Bob Dylan’s blues number “Meet Me In The Morning,” peppering her delivery with subtle growls.

Miraglia’s original compositions here include the “Pick Up The Gun,” a reflection on senseless gun violence, and “Famous For Nothin’,” a commentary on shallow, 21st-century fame. The program concludes with the title track—penned by Miraglia’s husband, Tom Bianchi—a gentle, melodic, memorable anthem for optimists.

Shemekia Copeland

Uncivil War
(Alligator)

Anyone who has paid attention to the blues scene of the past 20 years is fully aware that singer Shemekia Copeland can belt with gusto. Known more for her vocal gifts than her compositional skills, the key element that distinguishes Copeland’s good albums from her great ones is the quality of the songs she chooses. Her artistry has reached a new level with Uncivil War, thanks to Will Kimbrough, who produced the album, plays electric guitar throughout the program, and co-wrote seven of the 12 tracks.

The album opens with four remarkable, substantive Kimbrough tunes, making it clear that Copeland is not content to merely sing blues fodder about love gone wrong: “Clotilda’s On Fire” chronicles the horrors—and lasting impact—of slavery; “Walk Until I Ride” is a contemporary civil rights manifesto fueled by messages reminiscent of songs by the Staples Singers; the title track is a plea for unity during our divisive times; and “Money Makes You Ugly” is a protest song for environmentalists.

Toward the end of the album, there is a cluster of three songs that are just as weighty as those that open the disc: “Apple Pie And A .45” decries rampant gun violence; “Give God The Blues” is an existential exploration of similarities shared by several organized religions; and “She Don’t Wear Pink” is an LGBTQ anthem.

Copeland’s recordings often incorporate sonic elements from the Americana world, as evidenced here by bluegrass star Sam Bush’s mandolin textures on the title track, as well as Jerry Douglas’ exceptional work on lap steel guitar and Dobro on three tunes. Electric guitarists making guest appearances on the album include blues dynamo Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, Stax icon Steve Cropper and rock ’n’ roll pioneer Duane Eddy.

Not every track on the album is a slice of social commentary; “Dirty Saint” adds a jolt of New Orleans funk to the proceedings. Penned by Kimbrough and John Hahn, the song is a fitting tribute to Dr. John, who produced Copeland’s 2002 disc, Talking To Strangers. The program closes with another type of tribute, as the singer acknowledges her familial and artistic roots by interpreting “Love Song.” It’s a sturdy composition by her father, Johnny Copeland, who was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2017, two decades after his death. Just as Johnny did, Shemekia Copeland’s work has expanded the audience for the blues.

Hypnotic Brass Ensemble

Bad Boys Of Jazz
(Self Release)

Even before clocking the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble’s origin story, it’s hard to shake its music, a collection of roiling big-band horn harmonies, hip-hop inflected rhythms, Afrobeat-styled percussion accents and wiry wah-wah guitar accompaniment. It’s almost the perfect summation of the past 70 years of brass and dance music.

The ensemble emerged from Chicago’s deep well of talent, drawn generation after generation from the AACM’s reservoir. Now split between its Chicago birthplace and New York, Hypnotic first came to fruition as an overwhelmingly engaging group of buskers, electrifying the Windy City’s “L” stops with stubbornly catchy performances. The group’s founders—all sons of multi-instrumentalist and Sun Ra affiliate Kelan Philip Cohran (1927–2017)—soon found their impromptu performances didn’t serve as a proper forum. And after self-releasing a handful of albums, the troupe lit out for New York, falling in with a growing contingent of performers discarding genre boundaries and working to encompass the breadth of Black music birthed of the fraught American experience.

Bad Boys Of Jazz is the group’s most recent effort to cover all of that terrain, “My Ship” adding in vocals that span rapped cadences and r&b grit, before downshifting into the blue funk of “Indigo,” a tune that effortlessly pulls from ’70s groove-based music and sterling brass harmonies—something that might bring a smile to Quincy Jones’ face. “Soul On Ice,” likely named after the 1968 book of essays Eldridge Cleaver published, offers a heroic horn melody, layered atop irrepressible percussion.

Like its musical DNA, drawing as much from party music as art, the band’s worked to distill every level of culture, from romantic numbers, like the closer “What It Is,” to the cerebral funk of “Art Comes First.”

Juliet Kurtzman & Pete Malinverni

Candlelight—Love In The Time Of Cholera
(Saranac)

Tango tunes and Bix Beiderbecke compositions are two seemingly disparate ingredients that blend together beautifully on Candlelight—Love In The Time Of Cholera, the new duo album by classical violinist Juliet Kurtzman and jazz pianist Pete Malinverni. The 12-track program showcases exquisite melodic lines from both instrumentalists, as well as brilliant bouts of dialog.

Acclaimed as an educator and a specialist in the intersection of jazz and sacred music traditions, Malinverni takes a secular route for Candlelight, interpreting two songs by tango icons—Carlos Gardel’s “Por Una Cabeza” and Astor Piazzolla’s “Oblivion”—and composing two tangos himself, “Pulcinella” and “Love In The Time Of Cholera.”

The program includes five songs by Beiderbecke, a DownBeat Hall of Famer widely revered for his work on cornet, but who also composed four works for piano: “In A Mist,” “Candlelights,” “In The Dark” and “Flashes.” In addition to spacious arrangements of those songs, Kurtzman and Malinverni apply their refined approach to “Davenport Blues,” a standard first recorded in 1925 by Beiderbecke’s sextet Bix & His Rhythm Jugglers.

Despite this emphasis on Beiderbecke tunes—as well as the inclusion of Scott Joplin’s “Solace”—Kurtzman and Malinverni don’t play ragtime music. Their shared aesthetic is one born in the 21st century, an approach that dually exploits the emotional resonance of jazz and the keen precision of classical music.

On the duo’s reading of “In The Dark,” Kurtzman’s playing evokes the intricacy of human speech. Elsewhere, a lively interpretation of Brazilian choro master Jacob do Bandolim’s “Dôce De Coco” finds Kurtzman gracefully breaking out of the confines of classical performance, while still showing off the chops that landed her onstage at Carnegie Hall. The rendition of “In A Mist” demonstrates both players’ ability to intensify the impact of a melody by handling tempo with a wondrous elasticity. Malinverni, who cites Piazzolla as a key influence, has teamed with Kurtzman to craft an album that has a degree of the irresistible, heart-piercing emotive quality of his hero’s finest works.

Loudon Wainwright III With Vince Giordano & The Nighthawks

I’d Rather Lead A Band
(Thirty Tigers)

Pop-culture aficionados who recognize the name Loudon Wainwright III might know him as a wry singer-songwriter, an actor, an acclaimed memoirist or a musical patriarch with numerous children who are performers, including Rufus Wainwright. But few fans view him purely as a vocal stylist, a role that he enthusiastically embraces on I’d Rather Lead A Band, a collaboration with retro practitioners Vince Giordano & The Nighthawks. The program features songs from the 1920s and ’30s—typical fare for Giordano’s talented crew.

Wainwright and Giordano have known each other for years, having worked together on music for Martin Scorsese’s 2004 film The Aviator, and then again on the HBO series Boardwalk Empire. Here, the Nighthawks coax charming vocal performances out of Wainwright, who is well suited to sing witty ditties like the title track (penned by Irving Berlin). Wainwright does a fine job eliciting smiles as he sprints through a razzle-dazzle rendition of “How I Love You (I’m Tellin’ The Birds, Tellin’ The Bees)” and uses growls for punctuation in the comedic “You Rascal You (I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead).”

More revelatory and satisfying, however, is Wainwright’s sincere treatment of heartbreaking lyrics. “More I Cannot Wish You” (from the musical Guys and Dolls) packs an intense, emotional wallop that few would expect from the man who scored the 1972 novelty hit “Dead Skunk.” Listeners will reach for a tissue as Wainwright sensitively interprets Carrie Jacobs-Bond’s ballad “A Perfect Day,” elongating vowel sounds as he croons, “Memory has painted this perfect day/ With colors that never fade/ And we find at the end of a perfect day/ The soul of a friend we’ve made.”

Wainwright offers a straightforward version of “A Ship Without A Sail,” the tale of a lovelorn protagonist. Reflecting on the Rodgers & Hart tune in the liner notes, he writes, “Check out the 1959 Tony Bennett black-and-white TV clip on YouTube. Tony is singing the song in a spiffy Italian tailored suit, but the director has him situated indoors on the deck of some kind of simulated, fully rigged windjammer. At the very least Mr. Benedetto should have been sporting an eye patch.”

In his musical performances and in his prose, that mixture of quirky quips and emotional depth is part of the reason that Wainwright, 74, still has the ability to surprise us.

Macie Stewart & Lia Kohl

Recipe For A Boiled Egg
(Astral Spirits)

A near-religious ardency resonates throughout “Song For Soft-Serve,” the closing track of Recipe For A Boiled Egg.

Macie Stewart’s violin and Lia Kohl’s cello gently coax waves of calm, mirroring the feel of Pauline Oliveros’ The Wanderer, or any number of other deep-listening exercises. Vocals layered atop their strings further a chorale concept suited to a season when we’re all longing for a communal, uplifting note. But the decidedly placid music that closes out the pair’s follow-up to 2019’s Pocket Full Of Bees (Astral Editions) contrasts with its playful title, merging tongue-in-check panache and the seriousness of art music.

“Right Before Dinner,” a gnarled swirl of bowed strings perhaps mimicking the churn of a hungry belly, works the same way—pushing avant-expectations on the moment when hunger makes our guts emit croaking and gurgling noises. All of Boiled Egg works that way, in fact: “Scrimble-Scramble” and “Screaming Tea” get new music-y, despite their playful titles; and the long tones of “Rich, Sticky, Sweet” render both performative endurance and the suspended time of inhaling something delicious.

If improvising is the comity of lightning-fast ideas springing from collaborators’ minds, Boiled Egg might be thought of as a confluence of Stewart and Kohl parsing their concurrent work in the jazz, pop and free worlds—in real time. Regardless, it’s more filling than a five-course meal.

Chris Abrahams

Appearance
(Room40)

Australian pianist Chris Abrahams—a founding member of The Necks—started issuing solo dates prior to recording with the avant-trio he’s most associated with. And while his contemplative touch on Appearance, as well as across a raft of solo dates reaching back to the mid-’80s, is almost immediately recognizable, there’s less twitchy energy at work on the two new tunes here than Necks aficionados might expect.

The instrumental, slowly paced offerings—enduringly placid, appealing and contemplative—arrive as untouched clay, waiting for listeners to etch their impressions on the surface. But there’s form here, to be sure: “As A Vehicle, The Dream” gently floats its melody up and lets it wash away. Abrahams retains the easily accessible sound at the keyboard here that’s helped The Necks merge shimmering calm with angsty rhythms for decades. Even shorn of company, pianist still manages to burrow deeply into ideas on Appearance, gently churning up shifting embellishments to each extended cut comprising the album.

That Abrahams might be considering an overarching thematic concept is totally possible—perhaps hinted at by the title “Surface Level,” the album’s second track. But the allure of his performance here is that the listener can project their own ideas and predilections across the backdrop of beautifully wrought sound.

Colin Steele

Joni
(Marina)

Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell’s sophisticated compositions long have served as fuel for jazz artists who find inspiration in the alternate tunings and complex rhythms she has employed since her emergence as a folk-pop visionary in the 1960s. As her art matured in the 1970s, she began working with some of the top jazz players of her time, including Charles Mingus, Jaco Pastorius, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock and Pat Metheny. Her songs have been covered and reinterpreted countless times by musicians representing a wide range of genres—Hancock, Judy Collins, Norah Jones, Tina Turner, Annie Lennox, Tori Amos, Prince and Diana Krall among them.

Now comes a sparkling new recording by Scottish trumpeter Colin Steele that consists entirely of Mitchell repertoire, sparingly arranged for jazz quartet. Steele is reverential in his approach to the Mitchell songbook, his Harmon-muted trumpet evoking the singer’s distinctive, expertly controlled mezzo-soprano voice. The nine songs on Joni were written and recorded by Mitchell in the ’60s and ’70s, before her range began to descend into a smoky alto. With the sensitive support of bandmates Dave Milligan (piano/arranger), Calum Gourlay (bass) and Alyn Cosker (drums), Steele honors the familiar melodic contours and unrushed phrasing of classic songs like “Blue,” “Both Sides Now,” “A Case Of You” and “River.” These new arrangements leave Mitchell’s masterpieces wide open for smooth, soothing flights of jazz improvisation.

JCA Orchestra

The JCA Orchestra Live At The BPC
(JCA)

The 11th album by the Boston-based Jazz Composers Alliance Orchestra adheres to a tradition that dates back to 1985: presenting original works by some of the most forward-looking and innovative writers and arrangers of the times. Recorded live at the Berklee Performance Center, the new album is a diverse program of compositions by JCA members David Harris, Darrell Katz, Bob Pilkington and Mimi Rabson, played by a large ensemble that puts a modern twist on traditional big-band instrumentation with the inclusion of strings, French horn and EWI.

Violinist-composer Rabson’s “Romanople” alludes to the disparate historic cultures of Constantinople and Rome, starting with a simple melodic statement (played by violinist Helen Sherrah-Davies) inspired by the Turkish folk tradition that takes flight and lands smack-dab in the middle of a Roman military brass band. Rabson’s other contribution, “Super Eyes–Private Heroes,” is a soundtrack-worthy nod to spy thrillers and superhero flicks, brimming with excitement and suspense. Harris contributes two pieces as well: “The Latest” is rooted in the pentatonic world of traditional Thai music, while “Orange, Yellow, Blue” builds Latin, funk and rock grooves upon a busy, buzzy background of free-improvisation that manages to maintain a sublime sense of coherence and order under the composer’s direction.

On trombonist Pilkingtons The Sixth Snake,” braininess meets beauty as cool calculation and trial-and-error experimentation result in a warmhearted celebration of dazzling color combinations and complex timbral textures. A Wallflower In The Amazon,” composed and conducted by JCA cofounder Katz, is an extended interpretation of a poem by Paula Tatarunis (Katz’s late wife), featuring a compelling melodic narration by vocalist Rebecca Shrimpton. The compositions themselves are the stars of this program, brought to life in a live-performance context featuring several remarkably inventive instrumental solos.

John McLean/Charles Barkatz

Shadow Man
(Leaky Shoes)

John McLean and Charles Barkatz don’t fit the profile of typical blues artists. But they sure as hell can write, play and sing with genuine greasy-sack conviction as demonstrated on Shadow Man, a collaborative recording produced by Mark Kaz” Kazanoff with true-blue support from The Texas Horns, an ace Austin, Texas-based rhythm section, and other special guests.

Octogenarian McLean, featured here as a vocalist and songwriter, is a jack-of-all-trades performing artist who was born in New York, grew up on a Texas ranch, studied in Boston and built a lifetime’s worth of experience in theater, cinema and music. He has been a leader of several jazz groups in Paris (including the Fairweather Quintet) and recently appeared in New York at the Cornelia Street Cafe with his quartet. Barkatz, schooled in classical and jazz guitar and fluent in bossa nova, performs and records regularly in the States and his native France. Influenced by Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Wes Montgomery and Jimi Hendrix, the 61-year-old taught himself how to play the blues at a young age. Together, these two transatlantic collaborators cut right to the heart of the blues on 10 original, emotionally charged tracks tinged with elements of jazz and American roots music.

Recorded with everyone in one big room, the music on Shadow Man conveys a communal experience, where spontaneity rules the day and collective moods range from sorrow and regret to flirtatious whimsy and liberating redemption. Highlights include the punchy opener “Leaky Shoes Blues,” the horn-heavy “Brooklyn Blues Cafe,” the dreamy minor-key meditation “Lucia” and the soul-cleansing “Bathtub Blues,” with its filthified blend of amplified harmonica, riffing guitars and honky-tonk piano.

What Happens In A Year

cérémonie/musique
(FiP)

This debut recording from Josh Sinton’s collaborative trio What Happens In A Year is a completely improvised affair, a collection of spontaneous compositions recorded in the close quarters of Oktaven Studio in Mount Vernon, New York, back in 2018.

Featuring Sinton on baritone saxophone and bass clarinet with guitarist Todd Neufeld and electric bassist Giacomo Merega, cérémonie/musique is, as its title implies, ceremonial in essence, the product of weekly get-togethers dedicated to creating new music in the moment. Sinton originally intended the products of their improv summits to serve as fodder for written compositions with predetermined melodies and set forms, but soon realized that the music they’d been making was already perfectly valid in and of itself. It’s a new tack for Sinton, a prolific composer who leads multiple groups and long has played a vital role on Brooklyn’s creative music scene.

The work on cérémonie/musique is hushed and never rushed; listening to the album’s seven tracks gives a feeling of strolling through an art gallery or botanic garden, taking in the surrounding beauty and coming upon each breathtaking surprise at one’s own pace. It breathes easily and conveys a sense of spaciousness that’s the antithesis of the chaotic, frantic sounds associated with so much New York-style “free” playing. Each track is an intimate conversation, from the interval-centered opener “la politique des auteurs” to the drifting sonic textures of set-closer “music from a locked room.” With cérémonie/musique, Sinton and his collaborators have transformed a shared ritual into a collective work of art.

South Florida Jazz Orchestra

Cheap Thrills: The Music Of Rick Margitza
(Summit)

Tenor saxophonist and Miles Davis alumnus Rick Margitza is the star of the fourth recording from bassist-educator Chuck Bergeron’s South Florida Jazz Orchestra, a powerhouse ensemble consisting of top players from Miami’s jazz scene. The crackerjack group does a bang-up job performing big-band adaptations of eight Margitza originals and one standard (“Embraceable You”) in this thrilling celebration of their honored guest, who blows on all nine tracks.

The compositions chosen for Cheap Thrills span Margitza’s career, dating back to “Widow’s Walk,” a radio-friendly tune from the 1989 compilation New Stars On Blue Note that included Bergeron in the rhythm section; “Brace Yourself,” a Latin cooker originally recorded on Margitza’s Blue Note debut Color, also from 1989; and the swinger “Walls,” which first appeared on the saxophonist’s early-’90s album Hope. More recent fare includes the extended composition “Premonition,” an ambitious piece colored with a full palette of woodwind timbres, and the propulsive, brass-powered title track. Margitza, who did seven of the nine arrangements here, has substantial big band experience—including stints with Maynard Ferguson and Maria Schneider’s orchestras—and sounds particularly inspired in the large ensemble context. He sounds better than ever on tenor, with a consistently strong, bright sound in the horn’s natural registers and a crystal-clear, extended altissimo range with lead-trumpet power. The presence of several ringers—including trumpeters Bryan Lynch and John Daversa, guitarist John Hart, percussionist Xavier Desandre Navarre, trombonist/co-producer John Fedchock and baritone saxophonist/bass clarinetist David Leon—raises this already tight ensemble’s game to new levels of exceptionalism and excitement.

Margitza and Bergeron are old friends who spent time making music together in New Orleans and New York, as well as studying at Frost School of Music, where the leader and many of his band members are currently on faculty. Cheap Thrills is a testament to the strength and longevity of their musical connection.

Alonzo Demetrius

Live From The Prison Nation
(Onyx)

Live From The Prison Nation ranks as Alonzo Demetrius’ leader debut, an album that finds the trumpeter angling for a space somewhere between the smooth and thoughtful tones of Theo Croker, and the driving precision of Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah.

Opening with a vocal sample of Angela Davis outlining the difference between “prison reform” and addressing a system that benefits from mass incarceration, Demetrius details a soothing melody that distinguishes itself from “Expectations’” pensive piano refrain before moving into a funky bridge. A few tracks on, “Mumia’s Guidance”—named for Mumia Abu-Jamal—finds the ensemble offering up a spacey authority, undergirded by bassist Benjamin Jephta and drummer Brian Richburg Jr. The approach enables both Demetrius and tenor saxophonist Yesseh Furaha-Ali to carefully consider their solo spots, never rushing, savoring each successful maneuver and animating the struggle of the track’s incarcerated namesake.

In addition to Live From The Prison Nation introducing its leader to a wider audience, the album also marks the first release from Onyx Productions—helmed by drummer and educator Ralph Peterson—that doesn’t feature its founder. That’s a significant vote of confidence, and the music here seems to bear out the trust Peterson’s invested in the young trumpeter.

The Steve Spiegl Big Band

The L.A. Sessions At Capitol Studios
(Sorcerer)

Two decades ago, Steve Spiegl arranged compositions by Bach, Brahms and Scriabin for Enigma, an album by his namesake big band. On his 17-piece ensemble’s new disc, The L.A. Sessions At Capitol Studios, Spiegl dives into the world of opera, crafting instrumental arrangements of works by Handel, Puccini, Verdi and Wagner.

Spiegl rounds out the program with three of his own compositions and an arrangement of Jerome Kern’s “All The Things You Are,” which, as Spiegl points out in the liner notes, is a song that incorporates “a classic chord progression in use since Bach and Handel.” Overall, the result is one of the best big band albums of the year—an ambitious work that has an operatic scope, but without pomposity.

Despite the disparate sources of material, Spiegl sculpted a cohesive 75-minute program; all the arrangements reflect the distinctive sound of his artistic voice. Nothing here feels constrained or academic, partially because Spiegl’s arrangements build in plenty of space for solos. Andy Waddell, in particular, gives the music a modern sheen, whether he is coaxing tender notes from a nylon-string guitar (as on the leader’s “Gardens Of Cordoba”) or shredding on an electric axe (as on “Ave Maria,” from Act 4 of Verdi’s opera Otello, here rendered as a jazz waltz). A masterful arranger, Spiegl has taken themes from throughout Puccini’s Tosca to create an 11-minute suite, featuring solos by trumpeter Ron Stout, tenor saxophonist Doug Webb and Waddell, whose use of distortion pedal gives the tune some unexpected grease.

Puccini’s Turandot has inspired dozens of pop culture performances—such as the renditions of “Nessun Dorma” sung by Aretha Franklin at the 1998 Grammy telecast and the instrumental version by Jeff Beck on his 2010 album, Emotion & Commotion—and now we can add Spiegl to the list. A highlight of his 12-minute suite, touching upon themes from throughout the opera, is Charlie Morillas’ gorgeous trombone work. Whether you’re a dedicated opera buff or a big-band fan with little interest in classical music, Spiegl’s album offers a wondrous world to explore.

Yes

The Royal Affair Tour: Live From Las Vegas
(BMG)

At first glance, it might seem that The Royal Affair Tour: Live From Las Vegas is an album only for hardcore Yes devotees. A spin of this excellent disc, however, reveals it to be a fine entry point for casual fans curious to know what the band sounds like today, more than 50 years after it was founded. At least 19 musicians have been members of Yes, and the lineup that played at the Las Vegas Hard Rock Hotel on July 26, 2019, was guitarist Steve Howe, vocalist Jon Davison, keyboardist Geoff Downes, bassist Billy Sherwood, drummer Alan White (a member since 1972) and supporting drummer Jay Schellen.

Over the past seven years of tours, Yes frequently has built set lists that include the performance of an album in its entirety, such as Fragile, Close To The Edge and Drama. But for the 2019 tour, the group took a different route, as reflected by the track listing here.

In addition to classic-rock radio staples like “Roundabout” and “I’ve Seen All Good People,” the band added a few twists to the set list, all of which worked splendidly. An epic, 11-minute rendition of Paul Simon’s “America” that folds in Howe’s composition “Southern Solo” proves that he remains just as agile as he was decades ago. John Lennon’s “Imagine” is delivered as a poignant vocal duet between Davison and John Lodge (one of the opening acts on the tour). Howe cleverly makes his guitar “sing” in a way that mimics Lennon’s famous vocal line, and the drums are courtesy of White, who played on the composer’s original 1971 recording.

The current members of Yes realize that comparisons to the group’s mid-’70s personnel are inevitable. Davison, gifted with an elastic tenor, can’t sing exactly like band co-founder Jon Anderson; Sherwood, capable of crafting an earth-rattling rumble, can’t play bass exactly like band co-founder Chris Squire (1948–2015). But neither Davison nor Sherwood is required to mimic their predecessors; their job is to honor the compositions. No one alive can swing like Count Basie, but that doesn’t prevent his namesake orchestra from making transcendent music. And the same is true for Yes.

Howe, who replaced Peter Banks as the group’s guitarist in 1970, remains the heart of the band. From the album’s opening track—an arrangement of Richie Havens’ “No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed” featuring Howe’s psychedelic-flavored, twangy quotes from Jerome Moross’ score to the 1958 film The Big Country—to the gravity-defying, intergalactic riffs on the closing track, “Starship Trooper,” the six-string wizard ensures that the 75-minute program remains authentically Yes.

Susan Alcorn Quintet

Pedernal
(Relative Pitch)

Pedal steel doesn’t have to sound like Sneaky Pete Kleinow. And even if Charles Lloyd’s enlisted Gregory Leisz for his ensemble, The Marvels, there’s still room to roam on the instrument in just about any musical context.

Susan Alcorn—who’s been associated with avantists like guitarists Tom Carter and Eugene Chadbourne for decades—generally has gotten slotted into the experimental category during a career that stretches back to 1970s Texas and a clutch of country gigs. But there’s a tunefulness embedded in Pedernal’s outré moments, something that defies expectations of the avant-garde, the history of her chosen instrument, as well as the jazz genre.

For Pedernal, the pedal-steel player’s enlisted a cache of jazz performers, though—guitarist Mary Halvorson and bassist Michael Formanek among them. But it’s violinist Mark Feldman who contributes to the essential airiness here, dashing in and out of the space between Alcorn’s wavering tones on “R.U.R.” There’s also the purely exploratory “Circular Ruins,” where the quintet dispatches with time, gliding along Alcorn and Feldman’s strings to arrive at some dark intersection of jazz, classical, country and improv.

Hearing the bandleader count off “Northeast Rising Sun,” the closer, and dive into her melody might make listeners anticipate a classic country-style tune. But with Halvorson’s unassailable gambol, the song goes on to perfectly encapsulate the breadth of American music as drummer Ryan Sawyer shuffles a pulse and Formanek blithely injects his timekeeping with a swollen sense of melody that only could have been summoned during a joyous meeting of likeminded collaborators.

Analog Players Society

Soundtrack For A Nonexistent Film
(Ropeadope)

For this latest installment from the Analog Players Society—an eclectic collective featuring a rotating cast of top New York players since 2012—mix masters Amon Drum and Ben Rubin brought tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin, pianist Orrin Evans, bassist Dezron Douglas and drummer Eric McPherson into the Bridge Studio in Brooklyn to jam on a few standards and do some group improv. That three-hour session served as source material for two recent albums. TILTED, released in August, consists of three full songs culled from the session (Jobim’s “One Note Samba,” Thelonious Monk’s “Epistrophy,” the collective improv “Freedom Is, But A Fraction of Humanity!”). Soundtrack For A Nonexistent Film, out this month, is a mesmerizing program of 11 short, streetwise, hip-hop-based cut-ups cast in a cinematic soundscape that’s flush with surreal dystopian ambience straight out of Gotham City. The first six cuts on Soundtrack were helmed by Amon Drum, and the final five by Rubin.

Chase,” the opening track, evokes a run-for-your-life urgency with its pulsating drum loops, throbbing synth bass and anxiously winding saxophone lines. The slow-groover “The Water Is Rising” disorients with detuned, under-the-sea piano effects. “Space And Time” dwells on a simple, four-note piano motif that conjures vast stillness while the bass and drums drive the incessant ticking of the cosmic clock. Dreamy saxophone floats into the foreground on “Starry Night,” occasionally interrupted by the heavily processed mechanical clang of Evans’ toy piano. On “Rock The Block,” chromatic shifts in the piano, bits of wailing tenor and tasty acoustic bass lines all are layered over a foundation-shaking monster-walk drum groove. Soundtrack embraces a fuzzy analog vibe with a low end that frequently pushes into the red zone. Echoes of “One Note Samba,” with its suspended harmony, and “Epistrophy,” a font of chromatic motion, abound throughout these trance-inducing mixes, all of which were assembled by ear, without using any click. Amon Drum and Rubin have created something truly compelling with these mixes, which merit comparisons with the uncut material on TILTED.

Barre Phillips

Thirty Years In Between
(Victo)

Barre Phillips has been releasing solo bass recordings for about 50 years. And while an unengaged listener might just take away the idea that he’s careened from screech to screech and back again during that time, there’s a lot more to take in.

Maybe some of the most malevolent sounds Phillips cajoles from his instrument on Thirty Years In Between come off like wildlife field recordings interspersed with arco finesse. But there’s a train of thought here, the first of two discs offered with an occasionally more percussive approach to bass, Phillips testing the tensile strength of strings on “A Quake’s A Comin!” during a 2019 appearance at Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville. For disc two, an audio document from a Vancouver, Canada, venue in 1989, Phillips coaxes a different sort of brooding elegance from his instrument: “Camouflage” presents as something akin to nervy “new music.” But the sum total of this—as well as his solo works for the ECM imprint that supposedly concluded with the 2018 album End To End—feels like the examination of a core sample, offering the chance to deeply study the layers of sediment, the rocks, their coloration and whatever debris has been collected during the decades and centuries that’ve flown by.

With Thirty Years In Between, if you listen closely enough, maybe you can discern flecks of Peter Brötzmann or Barry Guy, Paul Bley or Keiji Haino, all collaborators during Phillips’ decades of exploration.

Vanessa Collier

Heart On The Line
(Phenix Fire)

On Vanessa Collier’s rollicking anthem of self-confidence, “Take A Chance On Me,” she employs a full-throated vocal style to declare, “I know what I’m here for/ So, don’t get in my way/ And let me be me.” Those lyrics could describe an interpersonal relationship, but they also could apply to preconceived notions that festival attendees might have about Collier, a star on the blues festival circuit whose artistry incorporates r&b, soul, funk, jazz, rock and Americana. With influences ranging from Sister Rosetta Tharpe to James Brown and Bonnie Raitt, Collier is impossible to pigeonhole.

To craft her fourth solo album, Heart On The Line, the Dallas native did some heavy lifting: She composed eight of the 11 tracks, played six instruments, wrote the horn arrangements, produced the disc and sang lead vocals, as well as the multitracked background vocals.

A two-time Blues Music Award winner in the category Horn Player of the Year, Collier opens the album with a slice of sly funk, reworking Brown’s classic “Super Bad.” In the Godfather of Soul’s original version, he encouraged tenor saxophonist Robert “Chopper” McCollough by yelling, “Blow me some Trane, brother!” In Collier’s rendition, when she nods to Brown by shouting, “Take me to the bridge,” it’s a cue to deliver her own wailing sax solo. (In the album cover photo, she’s posing with an alto saxophone on her lap, but she also plays soprano, tenor and baritone sax on the disc.)

Tracks like the original compositions “Bloodhound”—which is nestled firmly in the blues tradition—and the title track—which is flavored by some New Orleans brass revelry—seem tailor-made to win over festival audiences. On the foot-stomping “Weep And Moan,” Collier’s vocals show that she can belt with authority, while electric guitarist Laura Chavez takes a pointillistic approach, adding sonic dots of color to enhance the drama. Elsewhere, “Freshly Squozen” beautifully illustrates Collier’s originality as a composer and her dynamic range as vocalist. On this ode to a mother and daughter’s relationship, William Gorman’s organ work and Collier’s tenor sax solo add emotional punch to the vivid images conjured by the cinematic lyrics.

A graduate of the prestigious Berklee College of Music and a musician comfortable blurring genre lines, Collier is artist whose music can generate some much-needed smiles during this pandemic.

James Brandon Lewis Quartet

Molecular
(Intakt)

As much as any other contemporary bandleader, James Brandon Lewis devises thematic ideas for each of his albums.

The saxophonist, who’s released as much music in the past few years as others typically do in a decade, recently has gone in on the idea of rebelliousness (An UnRuly Manifesto) and a historical appreciation for the sax-drums duo setting (Live In Willisau). He now takes on science with Molecular.

There’s a knotty explanation related in the album’s liner notes about how Lewis’ research into the double helix informed his mode of composition here. But at some point, he also dismisses it, making the premise seem like just another intellectual pursuit among many.

“I came up with this information and it’s been a process,” he said. “I don’t understand all of it, even though I have a lot of sheet music that I’ve written off of these formulas.”

“Helix” finds the bandleader dispatching choked notes, maybe aurally sketching the twist and turns of the song’s titular structure; the following “Per1” stacks unusual combinations of notes to relate a similar visual idea with a considerably different feel. But the post-bop setting—however space-aged—recalls the best of quartet interplay, as pianist Aruan Ortiz and drummer Chad Taylor bounce rhythms off each other. A few more slowly paced efforts—“Breaking Code” and the title track—allow the bandleader to display a different aspect of his nature with varying results. It adds a bit of welcomed texture to an album otherwise given over to muscular yet thoughtful displays of blowing.

Whatever recording—or recordings—follow in quick succession, they’ll likely offer up a deeper look at Lewis’ expanding universe of intellectual infatuations.

Chad LB Virtual Big Band

Quarantine Standards
(Self Release)

Chad Lefkowitz-Brown’s first big band recording, created during the COVID-19 pandemic, consists entirely of standard repertoire, as the album’s double-entendre title suggests. With a little help from arranger Steven Feifke, the 30-year-old rising star tenor saxophonist called upon 18 instrumentalists to form the Chad LB Virtual Big Band, with individual members recording their own parts—remotely and asynchronously—on each of Feifke’s eight newly penned charts.

In executing the Chad LB Virtual Big Band project, Lefkowitz-Brown drew upon his experience in New York-based large ensembles like the Birdland Big Band, the Jason Marshall Big Band and Arturo O’Farrill’s Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, as well as his own skills at home recording and his knack for reaching audiences via online platforms. It was no small feat, and Lefkowitz-Brown proves to be the perfect artist to spearhead such a venture, judging by the quality and spirit of the music on Quarantine Standards.

Ensemble passages are tight and dynamic, with plenty of locked-in swing feeding the collective feel of a traditional big band and helping to erase any sense of physical isolation. In choosing an all-standards program, Lefkowitz-Brown gave his virtual band members a shared language to work with and some common ground to stand upon, boosting the group’s chances of success in overcoming the barriers imposed by quarantine-like coronavirus safety standards.

The album serves as a fine showcase for the bandleader’s instrumental prowess, as he takes the lead voice on several tracks and solos prolifically throughout the program. Highlights include “Giant Steps,” which opens with a gripping tenor saxophone improvisation; a rapturous take on “My One And Only Love” that reveals the romantic side of Lefkowitz-Brown, who woos and coos over lush ensemble passages; and closer “Cherokee,” an uptempo favorite that brings the leader and alto saxophonist Andrew Gould together for some adrenaline-fueled solo trading.

Eloá Gonçalves Trio

Casa
(Alessa)

The old saw goes like this: Jazz is a conversation. If that’s true, members of the Eloá Gonçalves Trio are whispering. Casa is a quiet take on the piano-trio setting with a subdued bearing that belies its acute musicality.

Gonçalves, a Brazilian-born pianist studying in Austria, leads her troupe with unerring quietude, the tune “Grace” earning its name and somehow reifying the stillness of weekend afternoons. There’s nothing showy here, just assuredness and light.

A few cuts break with presumptions, though: “Elo,” which draws on Béla Bartók for fuel, features Gonçalves’ left hand more prominently than elsewhere, lending it some rhythmic heft absent in other places across the recording; “Ainda Sem Titulo” adds in trombonist Karel Eriksson, layering on more cool tones.

To close out the disc, the bandleader reprises her “Choro De Pai E Mãe,” a tune she initially recorded with Trio Matiz. Vocalist Laura Zšschg, wordlessly tracing the melody, and cellist Mathilde Vendramin fill out another placid composition. Relative to the rest of album, it’s a work flush with color, but subdued like mauve or a faded orange. If Gonçalves’ strength across Casa is evoking warmth and calm, it peaks here, leaving listeners wondering what the composer might do with an even fuller roster of musicians.

Wolff Clark Dorsey

Play Sgt. Pepper
(JazzAvenue 1)

Long regarded as canonical, The Beatles’ 1967 album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band has inspired an array of tributes, including a 2018 jazz collection from Impulse titled A Day In The Life: Impressions Of Pepper, as well as album-length interpretations by Cheap Trick (2009), The Flaming Lips (2014) and Django Bates (2017).

So, is there still interpretive gold to be mined from the 13 songs on the Fab Four’s most famous disc? Pianist Michael Wolff, drummer Mike Clark and bassist Leon Lee Dorsey prove that there is with Play Sgt. Pepper. While some of their predecessors nodded to the complex sonic tapestry that George Martin stitched together on the original album, Wolff, Clark and Dorsey scale things down, utilizing a less-is-more recipe: three musicians, eight cherry-picked songs and zero glossy production touches. The result is a master class in recasting classic pop tunes in a straightahead, piano-trio setting.

The title track and “With A Little Help From My Friends” are injected with swing, while “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” opens with Wolff delivering a straightforward reading of the iconic tune’s melody. The latter arrangement zigs at junctures when one would expect it to zag. Throughout the 39-minute program, the trio succeeds in making the source material easily recognizable while still expressing an adventurousness that prevents the proceedings from feeling overly reverential.

The combination of Clark’s elegant brushwork and the flurry of cascading notes in Wolff’s muscular solo transform “She’s Leaving Home” into a jazz gem. Elsewhere, a swing treatment—fueled by vibrant pianism and spiced with Dorsey’s bass solo—converts “Lovely Rita” into a fun ride that eschews the singsong quality of the original tune. A somber mood permeates the closer, “When I’m Sixty-Four,” shifting Paul McCartney’s ditty away from its jaunty roots.

With a clear command of The Beatles’ harmonic language, Wolff, Clark and Dorsey use their own distinct dialects and instrumental acumen to offer a stellar program that could win over jazz fans who refuse to worship at the Sgt. Pepper altar.

Raphaël Pannier

Faune
(French Paradox)

French-born drummer-composer Raphaël Pannier made a smart choice when he called upon one of his mentors, alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón, to provide the musical direction for his first album as a leader. Featuring four Pannier compositions, plus a selection of French classical pieces and jazz standards, Faune merges Pannier’s European upbringing and classical studies with his more recent experiences as an improvising performer and teacher living in America. Zenón, who plays on five tracks, took an active role in helping Pannier conceive ways to bridge those seemingly disparate worlds—much as the acclaimed saxophonist has done in linking his own Puerto Rican heritage with modern jazz concepts.

Nonoriginal repertoire on Faune extends from Maurice Ravel (“Forlane”), Olivier Messiaen (“Le Baiser de l’Enfant Jésus”) and Hamilton de Holanda (“Capricho de Raphaël”) to Wayne Shorter (“E.S.P.”) and Ornette Coleman (“Lonely Woman”). In addition to Zenón and Pannier, the lineup includes two extremely versatile pianists—Aaron Goldberg from the jazz world and Giorgi Mikadze from the classical realm—as well as bassist François Moutin. Some electronic enhancements come into play as well, with Pannier providing synthesizer programming for his dramatic intro and outro to “E.S.P.,” and internationally recognized keyboardist and producer Jacob Bergson contributing tasteful atmospheric effects on the Ravel piece. Highlights among the Pannier originals include the swinging “Midtown Blues,” with a remarkable, highly stylized bass solo by Moutin; the dark, ambiguous slow-mover “Lullaby,” which hypnotizes with its dreamlike repetition; and “Monkey Puzzle Tree,” which closes out the album with a climactic exchange between Zenón and Pannier over a simple two-note vamp.

Throughout Faune, Pannier plays to his strengths as an imaginative colorist and a master of textures whose light touch on the drum kit brings to mind the delicate brushstrokes of an impressionistic painter.

Various Artists

How The River Ganges Flows: Sublime Masterpieces Of Indian Violin (1933–1952)
(Third Man)

Any project that archivist Christopher C. King works on is bound to arrive with some backstory as interesting as the Ganges River is long.

For How The River Ganges Flows: Sublime Masterpieces Of Indian Violin (1933–1952), released on Jack White’s Third Man imprint, King glosses over the story a bit, just briefly mentioning that a friend sent him a giant box of 78s that arrived with an elephantine thump on his Virginia porch.

Apparently, in the world he inhabits, that’s not too strange an occurrence. But the gift spun the record producer into a historical frenzy, one that easily could turn into a consuming passion, much the same way Greece’s vernacular music provided King inspiration for a handful of projects, including the 2018 book Lament From Epirus.

How The River Ganges Flows covers a not too dissimilar span of time, but in a region then being carved up following another chapter of British colonialism. Much like the Nonesuch Explorer series that found white ethnomusicologists collecting field recordings from places like Indonesia, Pakistan and Zimbabwe, King’s work here has the unavoidable glint of voyeurism. He acknowledges as much in his liners, saying, “from the monoculture of the West, India is often exoticized,” and takes care to mindfully navigate the music here.

Regardless, his admiration for the violinists—moving from Northern Hindustani ragas to the South’s Carnatic music—is unquestionable.

There’s less context for the music included on Ganges than on projects like King’s Why The Mountains Are Black: Primeval Greek Village Music 1907–1960. But the affecting glissandi of Bengali violinist Paritosh Seal (who, according to King, recorded 77 78-RPM discs and here is accompanied on several tracks by only tabla and tanpura) and Carnatic teacher Mysore Chowdiah (who invented a seven-string violin to amp up the instrument’s volume) seems like the first tributary that the archivist’s set to explore on his latest musical obsession.

Yves Rousseau Septet

Fragments
(Yolk Music)

Last year, Yves Rousseau put together a seven-piece ensemble to perform and record this program of “fragments” inspired by memories of progressive rock music—a heady, testosterone-charged pop subgenre that made a strong impression upon the French bassist when he was a student in the mid-1970s.

Since that initial period of discovery, Rousseau has refined his taste for prog-rock indulgence, incorporating ideas inspired by bands like King Crimson, Yes, Genesis and other prominent artists of the era into his vast creative arsenal. With a wealth of experience as a genre-hopping player dating back to the late 1980s and a more recent reputation as a prolific composer and ambitious bandleader, Rousseau takes listeners on a nostalgia trip with Fragments, a collection of all original pieces (with just a bit of borrowed material from influential guitarist Robert Fripp and star singer-songwriter David Crosby), teeming with mechanical arpeggios, blazing Moog synthesizers, bombastic big-kit drumming, virtuoso-level electric bass lines and haunting, heavily compressed electric guitar solos.

Key moments on Fragments include Thomas Savy’s wide-ranging bass clarinet solo on “Personal Computer”; Étienne Manchon’s elephantine synthesizer entrance following Géraldine Laurent’s super-sparse alto saxophone statement on the hard-hitting “Oat Beggars”; the shimmering guitar chords and single-note bass pulse reminiscent of Pink Floyd on the slow rocker “Crying Shame”; and the psychedelic drift of the wandering, four-part “Winding Pathway.”

France-based fans of prog-rock with an appetite for well-executed music they’ve never heard before are advised to check out Rousseau’s Fragments Septet in concert Oct. 8 at Le Rocher de Palmer in Cénon, Oct. 9 at Jazz MDA in Tarbes, Oct. 23 at Pan Piper in Paris and Nov. 12 at the D’Jazz Nevers Festival.

Linsey Alexander

Live At Rosa’s
(Delmark)

The Chicago blues scene is so packed with talent that it’s not difficult to assemble a gifted ensemble flexible enough to mesh with a bandleader’s aesthetic. A case in point is Live At Rosa’s, Linsey Alexander’s fourth album for Delmark, on which the singer-guitarist fronts an ace quintet that includes bassist Ron Simmons (who has collaborated with him for more than 40 years) and keyboard wizard Roosevelt Purifoy, who has played on albums by Lurrie Bell, Toronzo Cannon, the Kinsey Report and Sharon Lewis.

Most blues fans aren’t attending live shows nowadays, and Alexander’s latest disc offers a hearty dose of what they’ve been missing: the type of meat-and-potatoes electric blues that long has been a staple in the Windy City.

The program here includes five of leader’s original compositions: “My Days Are So Long” and “I Got A Woman” are head-bobbing, blues-boogie numbers, while “Goin’ Out Walkin’” and “Snowing In Chicago” are vehicles for fiery solos by Purifoy and either Alexander or Sergei Androshin on electric guitar. On the other Alexander original, the funk-tinged “Going Back To My Old Time Used To Be,” Purifoy’s keyboards evoke Stevie Wonder’s work in the mid-’70s.

With his gruff yet solid vocals, Alexander serves up “Have You Ever Loved A Woman” (popularized by Freddie King and Eric Clapton) as a nine-minute, tour-de-force lament on the difficulties of romantic relationships. Elsewhere, the versions of songs by B.B. King (“Please Love Me”) and Junior Wells (“Ships On The Ocean”) give fans even more reasons to seek out the latest from Alexander, a Mississippi native who is now a revered elder statesman in Chicago.

Chelsea Williams

Beautiful & Strange
(Blue Élan)

Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter Chelsea Williams is a keen observer of the human condition, and perhaps her years busking on the streets of Santa Monica helped hone that aspect of her personality—along with the ability to craft catchy melodies that could grab the attention of busy pedestrians.

Teaming with her husband/producer Ross Garren, Williams has sculpted a sparkling gem with Beautiful & Strange, a 40-minute program chock-full of earworms and more hooks than a tackle box. With Sheryl Crow and Jackson Browne as influences, Williams traffics in Americana-flavored pop-rock. Although her style has a thoroughly engaging accessibility, the album features some quirky instrumentation and deft production touches—including cello, glockenspiel, toy piano, Mellotron and musical saw—that distinguish Williams from many of her better-known peers. Songs like “Wasted” and “Red Flag” are so lush and catchy that they would fit snugly on the soundtrack to a Hollywood rom-com.

As addictive as Beautiful And Strange is, though, it does not contain what is perhaps Williams’ strongest composition, which was written after the album had been released. Outraged by the effects of systemic racism, Williams posted a powerful music video for “No Justice, No Peace,” in which she sings, “My face, my hair, my skin have never been/ A threat to my security/ I know I’m no authority, but I will kneel down/ In solidarity/ What do I see/ What do I see/ Ten thousand feet marching in the streets.” Williams accompanied the video with a statement explaining that she previously had been hesitant to speak out on social or political issues, partially out of fear of alienating prospective fans.

Armed with a lovely voice, an impressive vocal range, a deep understanding of songcraft and a newfound willingness to write protest material, Williams definitely is an artist to watch.

Conrad Herwig

The Latin Side Of Horace Silver
(Savant)

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.

Jacám Manricks

Samadhi
(Manricks Music)

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.

Tomoko Omura

Branches Vol. 1
(Outside In)

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.

TEST And Roy Campbell

TEST And Roy Campbell
(577)

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.

Eric Johanson

Below Sea Level
(Nola Blue)

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.

Marvin Stamm/Mike Holober Quartet

Live @ Maureen’s Jazz Cellar
(Big Miles)

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.

Radam Schwartz Organ Big Band

Message From Groove And GW
(Arabesque )

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.

Glenn Zaleski

The Question
(Sunnyside)

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.

Sandeep Das & The HUM Ensemble

Delhi To Damascus
(In A Circle)

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.

Jordan Seigel

Beyond Images
(Wonderbird Music)

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.

Charlotte Greve/Vinnie Sperrazza/Chris Tordini

The Choir Invisible
(Intakt)

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.

Ryan Cohan

Originations
(Origin)

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.

Jeremy Levy Jazz Orchestra

The Planets: Reimagined
(OA2)

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.

Benny Rubin Jr. Quartet

Know Say Or See
(Benny Jr. Music)

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.

Rochelle & The Sidewinders

Something Good
(Self Release)

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.

The Brecker Brothers

Live And Unreleased
(Piloo)

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.”

The Greyboy Allstars

West Coast Boogaloo
(Light In The Attic)

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.

Jaga Jazzist

Pyramid
(Brainfeeder)

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.

Bill Warfield and the Hell’s Kitchen Funk Orchestra

Smile
(Planet Arts)

Smile is the second album by veteran trumpeter Bill Warfield’s Hell’s Kitchen Funk Orchestra, a one-of-a-kind little big band that infuses classic r&b grooves with swinging jazz sensibility.

Warfield, who simultaneously has embraced jazz and commercial music throughout a career that dates back to the funk-fertile early 1970s, draws upon his love for horn-driven rock groups like Blood, Sweat & Tears and soul-testifying performers like James Brown on the new recording, which follows in the same celebratory spirit as HKFO’s 2015 debut, Mercy, Mercy, Mercy. Good times abound on Smile, whose wide-ranging cover tracks include Weather Report’s otherworldly “Cucumber Slumber,” the Booker T. & the MG’s funk classic “Hip Hug-Her,” Bobbie Gentry’s haunting “Ode To Billie Joe,” an expansive arrangement of “Theme From Law & Order,” the dreamy Paul Williams-Kenny Ascher waltz “Rainbow Connection,” a supercharged version of the Eurhythmics’ “This City Never Sleeps” and two takes of the tenderly poignant title track (one vocal, one instrumental), penned by silent movie star Charlie Chaplin.

Two original compositions fall right in the middle of the program: Warfield and company get downright cerebral on the leader’s 12-tone-derived piece “Mad Dog,” with its tightly executed stop-starts and interlocking line fragments, and they funkify the blues on his train-emulating “Dance Of The Coal Cars.”

Five of the tunes here are helmed by vocalists, with fine contributions from Jane Stuart, Julie Michels and Carolyn Leonhart. Notable soloists include Lou Marini on tenor and soprano saxophones, guitarist Matt Chertkoff, alto saxophonist Andrew Gould, organist Paul Shaffer, trumpeter John Eckert, pianist Cecilia Coleman and tenor player Dave Riekenberg; Warfield’s improvisations on trumpet and flugelhorn reveal a fun-loving, self-confident artist who feels quite at home on all points of the jazz-funk spectrum.

Daniel Hersog Jazz Orchestra

Night Devoid Of Stars
(Cellar Music)

Vancouver-based composer Daniel Hersog’s debut big band album is largely inspired by his love for jazz orchestrator Gil Evans’ work with Miles Davis in large-ensemble settings.

Hersog, also known for his vital voice on trumpet, wrote much of the music on Night Devoid Of Stars with two particular soloists in mind: tenor saxophonist Noah Preminger and pianist Frank Carlberg. Hersog’s highly distilled, historically informed compositions and arrangements not only serve as an expression of his own artistic individuality, but provide wide-open platforms for his band members to construct bold, towering improvisations that amplify the innate sophistication and adventurousness of the material.

Preminger, whose connection to Hersog dates back to their days as students at New England Conservatory, distinguishes himself on the catchy “Cloud Break,” the brooding ballad “Makeshift Memorial” and the straight-rock groove of “Indelible.” Carlberg, who was an influential NEC teacher for the bandleader, makes some of his strongest solo statements on the gospel-flavored, Keith Jarrett-inspired “Motion,” during a dramatic interpretation on the Jerome Kern standard “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” and in the denouement of the album’s overarching title track. Other notable solo contributions come from trumpeter Brad Turner (on “Cloud Break”) and clarinet-doubling saxophonist Michael Braverman (“Indelible”).

Hersog’s orchestrations tend to exhibit a symphonic quality and exude a chamber-like vibe characterized by churchy brass choirs, unconventional instrumental pairings (usually involving various woodwinds) and an ever-present, Evans-like flow. The 16-piece Daniel Hersog Jazz Orchestra was booked to perform at this summer’s TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival—with Preminger and Carlberg onboard—but the event was canceled due to the coronavirus. Let’s hope listeners eventually get a chance to hear this remarkable Canadian ensemble take on these gorgeous new arrangements under Hersog’s baton in a live setting.

Ray Mantilla

Rebirth
(Savant)

Rarely do we get a precious gift from such a talented artist so close to their departure. A few months before his death on March 21 at age 85, prolific percussionist and Latin jazz icon Ray Mantilla approved the final mix of the tracks that appear on Rebirth. This album is the coda to a long career that included collaborations with Ray Barretto, Art Blakey, Dizzy Gillespie, Freddie Hubbard, Herbie Mann, Charles Mingus, Eddie Palmieri, Max Roach, Bobby Watson and many others.

The album title, which Mantilla chose, nods to the fact that during the last two years of his life, he was able to bounce back from a bout with cancer. The South Bronx native enthusiastically took his congas and other percussion instruments into the studio for what would be his final leader sessions, working with such longtime colleagues as Edy Martinez (piano, Fender Rhodes), Guido Gonzalez (trumpet, flugelhorn) and Ivan Renta (soprano and tenor saxophones).

Earworms abound on Rebirth. The version of Tito Puente’s “Philly Mambo” is so kinetic and catchy it could be the soundtrack to a nationwide exercise program. (Is it physically possible to stand still as Mike Freeman pounds out those hypnotic vibraphone riffs?) Martinez wrote nearly all the arrangements here, including a hip-swaying rendition of “Hit The Road Jack” spiced with staccato brass and woodwind blasts. Elsewhere, Freeman’s arrangement of the 1975 Bobby Hutcherson classic “Yuyo” is a delirious dose of sheer joy, while “Cumbia Jazz Fusion Experimental” evokes a mood of mystery, with Jorge Castro’s flute adding wondrous coloration.

The most outside-leaning cut here is the closer, “Rebirth Bata Rumba Experimental,” a percussion-heavy excursion that features Diego Lopez, Ogudaro Díaz and Rafael Monteagudo all playing batá drums. This, the last song on Mantilla’s final album, is the only original composition in the program. It’s a lovely farewell note from an irreplaceable player.

Larry Willis

I Fall In Love Too Easily
(HighNote)

Keyboardist Larry Willis touted a catalog—including his 1974 Groove Merchant release, Inner Crisis—that today remains a hallmark of an era when commercial strains of music merged with the art-world intentions of jazz.

That Willis, before his death on Sept. 29, 2019, worked with Hugh Masekela, Jerry Gonzalez And The Fort Apache Band, on straightahead dates and with soul outfits, speaks to his perspicacity, talent and ability to hear and see things that others just could not.

A pair of Willis originals were rerecorded on I Fall In Love Too Easily—the bandleader’s final leader date prior to his death—alongside contributions from his ensemble and some choice covers. But reimagining his “Heavy Blue,” which the keyboardist first recorded during his stint in Blood, Sweet & Tears, turns a bawdy funk jam into a showcase for Willis’ jagged chording, as trumpeter Jeremy Pelt and altoist Joe Ford take turns spinning out solos over what’s become a blue, bop excursion.

The title track, which serves as the album closer and likely the last new notes we’ll hear from Willis, are appropriately melancholy and wistful. The bandleader, alone, sounds like a rainy day. But there’s still beauty to take away from this: “I Fall In Love Too Easily” initially might have been intended to depict some long-forgotten romance, but on this HighNote record, it’s about falling for Willis at the keys and how we’re all worse off for his being gone.

Gerald McClendon

Can’t Nobody Stop Me Now
(Delta Roots)

Soul singer Gerald McClendon has found a fine collaborator in Twist Turner. The two musicians had worked together before, but their partnership reaches new heights with Can’t Nobody Stop Me Now. Turner played drums on the album, composed all 12 of its tracks and recorded, produced, mixed and mastered the sessions at Delta Roots Sound Studios in McClendon’s hometown of Chicago. Blessed with a voice that exudes grit and swagger, the singer operates in the tradition of departed Windy City icons such as Otis Clay and Tyrone Davis. The lyrics to the album’s domestic drama “Cut You Once”—a frightening yet comedic tale of infidelity—seem to name-check Davis’ 1970 hit “Turn Back The Hands Of Time.”

Turner’s compositions focus on interpersonal relationships (often troubled ones), and episodes of sneaky infidelity emerge on numerous songs here, including “Where Do We Go From Here” (featuring Skinny Williams’ wailing, pleading tenor saxophone), “She Don’t Love Me Anymore” (anchored by Art Love’s muscular bass lines) and “Runnin’ Wild,” which is fueled by Stax-style horn charts and barbed lyrics: “Tippin’ in at 6 a.m./ Stayin’ out all night long/ Whatcha been drinkin’/ Your breath is stinkin’/ Your clothes ain’t fittin’ you right.”

The dynamic duo of McClendon and Turner isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel here, but with so many of Chicago’s soul stars now singing in the celestial sphere, it’s comforting to know that their legacy is being extended. With this potent program, McClendon vividly illustrates why he has earned a suitable nickname: “The Soul Keeper.”

Kasia Pietrzko Trio

Ephemeral Pleasures
(Self Release)

In a 2019 DownBeat interview, pianist and bandleader Kasia Pietrzko was asked about Polish jazz’s defining qualities.

She said, “Maybe just a little bit Romantic. This is what [Tomasz] Stańko has—really melancholic. I think all the Polish musicians have this melancholic thing, and now they can explore and mix together classical music and jazz.”

“Ephemeral Pleasures,” the opening title track of her second leader date, though, is buoyant and bright, bounding across a decidedly contemporary rhythmic backing. Within the first three minutes, Pietrzko effortlessly displays a deft and dynamic approach to voicing chords, unlooses a playful progression and pushes against the trio’s mounting volume, turning it into a few quizzical and quiet moments. In that interview from last year, she also discussed studying with pianist Aaron Parks, and his distinctly contemporary take on 21st-century piano-led troupes colors Pietrzko’s opening gambit here, as well as tracks like “Dark Blue Intensity Of Life” and “For T.S.,” despite that latter tune being dedicated to Stańko.

But there is a darker emotional hue that the pianist explores with her ensemble—bassist Andrzej Swies and drummer Piotr Budniak: The pensive “Dearest John” takes on the tonal colors Pietrzko surely encountered while studying classical music; and the series of five improvised “Episode” tracks sound as if they sprouted in tiny DIY rooms with pay-what-you-can fees and an interest in booking new-music.

That the bandleader’s able to so easily synthesize all of this amid a 10-track program—and during a relatively early part of her career—doesn’t mean she’s the next Stańko. But it does mean that we’ll likely be listening to her explore the nexus of these musics for a few decades to come.

Aimee-Jo Benoit & Trio Velocity

Borjoner
(Self Release)

The success of an interpretive vocal jazz album often hinges on two elements: the quality of the arrangements and the depth of the singer’s connection to the material. Such is the case with Borjoner, a charming collection of 10 covers on which Calgary-based singer Aimee-Jo Benoit showcases her love of Canadian tunesmiths. Although the decisions to interpret Joni Mitchell’s “This Flight Tonight” and Jane Siberry’s “One More Colour” are far from revolutionary, Benoit excels by spicing in deft scat-singing on the former tune and rescuing the latter tune from the synth-soaked trappings of the composer’s 1985 hit single.

The aforementioned tracks are quite compelling, but Benoit and Trio Velocity—pianist Sheldon Zandboer, bassist Simon Fisk and drummer Robin Tufts—reap greater rewards when they explore 21st-century tunes by fellow Canadians. A version of Feist’s “Lonely Lonely” features rumbling drums, haunting cymbal swells and delicate piano lines that dance in tandem with the singer’s shifts in pitch. Fisk’s mesmerizing, 80-second bass solo and Benoit’s wordless vocals enliven a reading of “Repetition,” penned by Michael Feuerstack (aka Snailhouse). A rendition of “Exquisite Corpse” (by Chris Brown and Kate Fenner) illustrates how Benoit and her bandmates can show off their chops and still eschew any grandstanding.

Reshaping pop-rock material through a jazz aesthetic and improvisational flights results in sparkling gems throughout the band’s debut album. Looking beyond Canadian borders, the musicians deliver superb versions of The Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood,” Nirvana’s “All Apologies” and the standards “Midnight Sun” and “Alfie.” The word borjoner is an Old French term that translates as “to put out buds.” With this album, Benoit has planted the seeds for what one hopes will become a lengthy discography.

Dexter Gordon Quartet

Live In Châteauvallon 1978
(Elemental Music)

When Dexter Gordon returned to America in 1976 following 14 years spent as an expatriate living in Europe and working with various rhythm sections, he longed to put together his own band. That dream came to fruition when a steady quartet consisting of himself, L.A. pianist George Cables, Chicago/New York bassist Rufus Reid and Newark, New Jersey-based drummer Eddie Gladden settled into place and began gigging extensively at festivals and clubs across the States and overseas.

During a European trip in the fall of 1978, the group appeared at the Châteauvallon Jazz Festival in southern France and put on a thrilling, 110-minute performance, captured here in a deluxe two-disc package. Gordon fans will get tremendous satisfaction from listening to this previously unreleased live material, which presents the tenor and soprano saxophonist at his finest. He comes across like he’s having the time of his life, indulging in favorites like the Jimmy Dorsey hit “Tangerine,” Horace Silver’s “Strollin’,” Jimmy Heath’s “Gingerbread Boy” and the standard “More Than You Know.” True to his nature, Gordon goes quote-crazy during extended improvisations peppered with humor and charged with reverence for the bebop tradition.

This welcome release from Elemental is especially significant for Gordon collectors, as this particular quartet lineup (which only lasted until mid-1979) issued only two official recordings, the 1978 albums Manhattan Symphonie and Live At Carnegie Hall.

The Grateful Dead

Workingman’s Dead (50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition)
(Rhino)

Separating the myth from the band, and the band from the culture, is tough to do.

The wandering, exploratory on-stage performances by The Grateful Dead always will be what the band’s best known for—and maybe rightly so. But a pair of studio dates released in 1970 offered a country inflection that Jerry Garcia championed and contained some of the troupe’s best-known songs.

To mark Workingman’s Dead‘s 50th anniversary, the album is being remastered and repackaged with a live set from Feb. 21, 1971, at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, New York, spread out over two additional discs. (The troupe’s other 1970 release, American Beauty, ostensibly serves to expand on what was laid down across Workingman’s.)

“Uncle John’s Band”—a tune pretty much everyone’s had jammed into their ears, if they’ve ever passed anywhere near a college campus—opens the proper album. Overexposure might be its only sin. And while “High Time’s” gentle guitar and fragile harmonies follow, a few songs on, one of the band’s most caustic and wry lyrics opens “New Speedway Boogie”: “Please don’t dominate the rap, Jack/ If you’ve got nothing new to say.” Bluesy rock stuff and folk excursions take up the rest of the disc, before “Casey Jones,” another tune dogged by its pervasiveness, closes things out.

A take of Janis Joplins’s “Me & Bobby McGee,” with Bob Weir on vocals, opens up the live material included on this anniversary set, which actually sidesteps some of the band’s most indulgent tendencies; there is a seven-minute version of “I’m A King Bee,” as well as 17 minutes of “Good Lovin’” a bit later on. In keeping with the roots feel on Workingman’s Dead, though, the band peppers its time on stage with “I Know You Rider” and the wobbly harmonies of “Cumberland Blues.”

With the sheer volume of live stuff from the Dead—especially dating to this era—the Capitol Theatre material comes off as a suitable and reasonable premise for nostalgia. But even as hearing Garcia and company a bit more clearly in the studio might be enticing, the bonus stuff here works mostly to mark the anniversary of a landmark turn in rock, roots music and psychedelia—not a momentous discovery.

Brian Landrus

For Now
(BlueLand)

Brian Landrus’ inner Harry Carney comes into full bloom on For Now, his 10th album as a leader.

Like Carney—who anchored the Duke Ellington Orchestra’s reed section and wrenched listeners’ hearts as one of the band’s featured soloists for more than 45 years—Landrus finesses the baritone saxophone and bass clarinet in a most loving manner, deftly mining the sonic treasures that dwell at the core of those instruments. And, à la Carney, he frequently indulges in waves of invigorating vibrato that bring the most lustrous tones of those low woodwinds to life.

Shedding all inhibition, Landrus bares his soul on this emotionally charged program of 10 original compositions, two brilliantly interpreted Thelonious Monk tunes and a fresh take on the standard “Invitation.” The dream-team rhythm section of pianist Fred Hersch, bassist Drew Gress and drummer Billy Hart enables Landrus every step of the way, engaging in a constant exchange of ideas with the leader and providing appropriately hip contexts for the wide range of earnest emotions he puts on exhibit.

Also on board are the excellent young trumpeter Michael Rodriguez, who dovetails with Landrus on octave-unison lines and harmonized passages throughout For Now, and violinist Sara Caswell, who on several tracks joins Joyce Hamman (violin), Lois Martin (viola) and Jody Redhage-Ferber (cello) on velvety, collaborative string quartet arrangements by Landrus and the distinguished opera composer Robert Aldridge.

As on Harry Carney With Strings—the Norman Granz-produced mid-’50s gem that presented the Ellingtonian baritonist at the helm of a jam-session-sized combo augmented by a small orchestra—the strings enhance the emotional impact of For Now with elegantly voiced touches of sophistication, drama and mystery. The string section also plays an important role here in giving voice to many of the classically informed harmonic concepts that Landrus brings to bear upon his jazz compositions, a modern-minded approach manifested most recently on his remarkable 2017 large ensemble recording, Generations (BlueLand).

Landrus always has swung his low-B-flat off on bari, and he offers plenty of that swagger on For Now. But throughout the new album, a gentler approach to the big pipes comes into the foreground. His bari flutters with utmost grace, his bass clarinet sobs for humanity and his alto flute floats cloud-like through moody skies. With For Now, Landrus has created a work of astonishing beauty. Let the revealing liner notes by Grammy-winning composer Herschel Garfein, who co-produced the album with Aldridge, serve as your listening guide.

Ruthie Foster Big Band

Live At The Paramount
(Blue Corn)

Singer-songwriter Ruthie Foster embodies the celebrated aesthetic of musicians in Austin, Texas, who frequently blend genres in an organic way. Her new album, Live At The Paramount, finds the Americana vocalist fronting a big band that glides through John Beasley’s arrangements in a program that includes Foster’s original tunes alongside gems from the worlds of gospel, blues, soul, country, New Orleans songcraft and the Great American Songbook.

With a three-octave vocal range, Foster knows when to croon and when to belt, whether she’s delivering a completely reimagined rendition of the Johnny Cash hit “Ring Of Fire” or paying tribute to Ella Fitzgerald by spiking “Mack The Knife” with doses of scat-singing. Although 15 musicians and three singers accompany her, Foster’s charismatic voice is so powerful that it remains the focal point throughout the 64-minute program.

The big band’s punchy horns lend a Stax/Volt vibe to a rendition of Foster’s original tune “Runaway Soul,” before the singer engages in a buoyant call-and-response dialogue with fiery tenor saxophonist Joey Colarusso. Other highlights include a tour de force version of “Phenomenal Woman” (from her 2007 album, The Phenomenal Ruthie Foster) and a sweet, swinging stroll through “Fly Me To The Moon.”

The program concludes with waves of the crowd’s boisterous applause reverberating inside the 105-year-old Paramount Theatre, one of Austin’s architectural treasures. During the current pandemic, those recorded sounds serve as a bittersweet reminder of the joy that live performances can generate.

David Torn

Fur/Torn
(Screwgun)

Guitarist David Torn has worked at the edges of the jazz genre for more than 30 years, moving from his synth-indebted Cloud About Mercury on ECM to more recent works with rock act Sonar and reedist Tim Berne, whose Screwgun imprint issued Fur/Torn. The album continues a solo approach Torn cultivated on works like Tripping ꞉ Over ꞉ God, a 1995 recording. But on this latest effort, he’s stripped away everything other than his guitar and almost overwhelming waves of distortion.

A loop pulses behind “lone rider, open plains” as Torn ricochets lines against it, turning the whole undertaking into an unceasing breaker of sound, while a tacit blues feeling swells for a moment on “they were then, now & again.” This is a contemplative music—both for the performer and listener. Deriving some sort of nefarious meaning from all of these dark reverberations would be easy to do, given the moment we’re living in. And while Fur/Torn is inexorably heavy and difficult to parse—though “someday find a waltz” engages a sunnier disposition through delicately plucked progressions—it’s comforting to take in through headphones, knowing that the music must have worked as some sort of catharsis for Torn, even if it was recorded prior to the world convulsing with seemingly endless chaos.

South By North East

for human beings
(Bumblebee Collective)

During the past couple years, flutist Elsa Nilsson’s recorded duo and quartet projects, while still finding time to write Between The Beats, a book on rhythms aimed at players of melodic instruments. South By North East, a collaborative trio, finds a way to fold in a bit of everything she’s explored in those previous endeavors.

“Forward,” the opening 31-minute track here, finds Nilsson distorting her flute and dashing across a steady, repetitive Bam Bam Rodríguez bass line and a wealth of 16th notes, provided by drummer Rodrigo Recabarren. At least three distinct movements take the ensemble through a contemporary version of bop, prog-indebted explorations and snatches of contemplative quiet. That introversion crops up again during “Within.” But “Perception” gets readily funky for a spell, a surprising turn given some of the rockist intent here. It also intimates that Nilsson and her cohort are as ready to shift gears as they are to discard genre considerations altogether.

The flutist is out front across the recording, making the band, at times, sound like a ’60s psych act as much as a batch of jazz adherents. A spate of recent recordings, though, should have hinted at such an expanse. Nilsson’s work on a duo album—After Us—with pianist Jon Cowherd could sate traditionalists. And while her Hindsight explored a rock-related vibe that’s also a part of for human beings’ DNA, it was less fully realized, stumbling in places. This latest effort, though, exerts Nilsson’s mercurial skills as a musical marauder with as many interests as skills to deploy her ideas.

Lori Sims/Andrew Rathbun/Jeremy Siskind

Impressions Of Debussy
(Centaur)

The relationship between Debussy and jazz goes way back. The composer is said to have been inspired by the harmony and rhythm of African American musical forms, and numerous jazz musicians—most notably pianist Bill Evans—have cited his work as an influence on their ideas, particularly about harmony. Even so, while jazz arrangers have been more than happy to repurpose works by such contemporaries as Ravel, Albéniz and Stravinsky, there’s been precious little in the way of Debussy-jazz on the market.

Impressions Of Debussy attempts to correct that, albeit in a somewhat roundabout fashion. At the suggestion of Daniel Gustin—director of the Gilmore International Keyboard Festival in Kalamazoo, Michigan—Lori Sims’ 2016 performances of Debussy’s Preludes, Books I and II, were sandwiched around a separate concert of Debussy-derived improvisations by soprano saxophonist Andrew Rathbun and pianist Jeremy Siskind. The idea was to contrast a straightforward classical interpretation of the work with a jazz-informed expansion of the composer’s ideas. Impressions Of Debussy compresses those three concerts into 78 minutes of music, with Sims’ excerpts from the Preludes followed by Rathbun and Siskind’s elaborations and improvisations.

Sims’ readings are a delightful surprise, offering solid but understated technique and an impressive control of tempo and dynamics, a combination that brings out the coloristic depth of these pieces. Siskind and Rathbun, by contrast, put less emphasis on technique, stressing instead the harmonic and melodic language of the material. They don’t do jazz “covers” of the preludes. Instead, they sometimes rework Debussy’s ideas into improv-friendly shapes, and sometimes riff on specific phrases to pull the music more toward the jazz vocabulary. Their take on “Minstrels,” from Book I, is perhaps the most successful example of the latter, with Rathbun seizing on a simple, ascending phrase and working it until it leads the two into an interpolation of Monk’s “I Mean You.” Siskind then expands that into a stride figure that winks back to Debussy’s “Golliwog’s Cakewalk,” and then things explode from there. It’s lovely, erudite fun, though not obviously Debussian.

Elsewhere, their efforts are less exuberant, in part because there isn’t as much rhythm to play with. Take “… des pas sur la neige,” also from Book I. It’s given a gorgeous reading by Sims, who makes much of its leading tones and moody, rubato phrases; Rathbun and Siskind, however, can’t really follow that route, and instead offer a more romanticized extrapolation on the melody’s path through Debussy’s chords. Their take is pretty enough, but can’t quite muster the urgency to make its ideas sparkle.

Impressions Of Debussy delivers an attractive balance between classical music and jazz, but it doesn’t quite solve the problem of how to translate Debussy’s music into jazz. Perhaps even the best improvisors can only offer impressions.

James Carney Sextet

Pure Heart
(Sunnyside)

Composition and orchestration have long been recognized as essential skills in the art of making music, but what about personnel management? Getting the right players for a project can make all the difference, whether on the stage or in the studio, yet somehow “how to hire a band” remains absent from some conservatory curricula.

Should a school decide to establish such a course, I strongly would recommend hiring James Carney to teach it, if only on the basis of Pure Heart. On five tracks, the Brooklyn-based pianist offers music of astonishing complexity, both in terms of composed counterpoint and improvisational interplay. Listening to how perfectly the parts fit together and feed off one another, the metaphor of a watchwork comes to mind, with its intricate balance of cogs and gears. This is the sort of sound that typically takes months of rehearsing and touring to perfect—not something that simply can be thrown together with strangers in the studio.

And yet, that’s pretty much what Carney did. Although tenor saxophonist Ravi Coltrane appeared on Carney’s first album, 1994’s Fables From The Aqueduct, none of the others had played with Carney before—or, for that matter, with each other. Just listen to the effortless precision with which they dispatch the slow build of “Inharmonicity,” where the horns enter gradually and individually over a knotty, polyrhythmic pulse before slotting into a tangy ensemble section. If that doesn’t suggest long hours spent playing together, then certainly the interlocking, conversational lines of the subsequent group improvisation does. How else to explain the way Stephanie Richards’ trumpet works so perfectly against Oscar Noriega’s bass clarinet, or how Coltrane’s tenor so frequently locks in with Tom Rainey’s drumming?

There’s more, of course. On “Mayor Of Marceluus,” the sinuously serpentine melody and 31-bar form is effortlessly anchored by a linkage between Dezron Douglas’ bass, Rainey’s right foot, and Carney’s left hand. There’s the harmonic lushness of “Forty Year Friend,” on which the ensemble writing sounds like a small big band, and Noriega and Richards manage an almost telepathic degree of interplay while improvising. There is, to be honest, more spark, wit and passion in the playing than strangers ought ever to be able to manage, and for that Carney deserves a critics poll category of his own: Best Blend of Players for a Studio Project.

Daniel Carter/Matthew Shipp/William Parker/Gerald Cleaver

Welcome Adventure! Vol. 1
(577)

We can’t help read meaning into art and music. And clearly, the weird adventure we’re all living through now isn’t what this improvising quartet was getting at with the title of its album. The music here, though, swings a bit more than the names billed might lead folks to believe.

Two extended excursions bookend a shorter four-minute piece, “Scintillate,” where 577 label owner Daniel Carter offers up a cool tone on both trumpet and saxophone, sometimes poking around a bit to figure out where pianist Matthew Shipp is tonally—and where he’s leading the group. This is exploratory music—yes, the title gives it away. But it’s also the kind of music that benefits from listeners being able to sit around together and discuss what they’ve heard—or what they think they’ve heard, expanding their own knowledge of music in the process.

Shipp and bassist William Parker have decades of musical partnership behind them, and drummer Gerald Cleaver’s been an occasional compatriot in the past, too. So, what does it mean that they’re performing within this context? Is Carter’s approach as good a fit as when the rhythm section here helped record reedist Roscoe Mitchell’s ECM album Nine To Get Ready in 1997? Maybe. Or maybe not. It’s not a topic that folks currently can sit around at a bar and discuss. Discourse around the music, too, has been kneecapped by the pandemic. And we’re all a little worse off for it.

Parker playing arco during a short stretch on “Majestic Travel Agency,” the opener here, is a nice detour before the song sputters to a stop. And on the heroic 20-minute closer, “Ear-regularities,” the quartet rumbles along its journey, with Shipp steering the way. We’ll have to see when further adventures actually can be chartered, so listeners and acolytes can again congregate and let the music direct their imaginations toward new intellectual panoramas.

Dave Stryker

Blue Soul
(Strikezone)

In March 2019, a group of superheroes assembled in Cologne, Germany. Their mission—to record a great album—might not be the stuff of comic-book plots, but in true, Avengers-like form, it was accomplished by accentuating each participant’s unique strengths. Guitarist Dave Stryker teamed up with Bob Mintzer and the WDR Big Band (for whom the tenor saxophonist serves as principal conductor) to record Blue Soul. The result is album that showcases the turn-on-a-dime precision of the large ensemble, as well as the composing and arranging acumen of the two marquee leaders.

Some of the tunes here—two Marvin Gaye classics, Jimmy Webb’s “Wichita Lineman” and Prince’s “When Doves Cry”—will be familiar to fans of Stryker’s series of Eight Track albums, which feature jazz arrangements of old-school pop and r&b tunes. On Blue Soul, the big band adds intriguing textures that enhance the material without blunting the impact of Stryker’s clean, potent guitar lines.

Stryker and Jared Gold’s arrangement of Gaye’s “Trouble Man” spotlights a team of selfless players who value the sophisticated elegance of a big band and the greasy muscle of a small combo. Elsewhere, the duo’s arrangement of “What’s Going On” highlights Stryker’s remarkable ability to craft instrumental lines that evoke the cadence of Gaye’s vocal flights.

The program concludes with Mintzer’s arrangement of Stanley Turrentine’s “Stan’s Shuffle”—a bag of aromatic catnip for lovers of traditional big-band sounds. Thanks to Mintzer’s own reed work, the rendition subtly nods to the melodious playing style of Turrentine (1934–2000), who was once Stryker’s employer. Just like a great Avengers movie, this album could leave some fans fully satisfied, yet also longing for a sequel.

Vanderlei Pereira

Vision For Rhythm
(Jazzheads)

Drummer Vanderlei Pereira’s choice for his band’s name—Blindfold Test—and the title of his leader debut—Vision For Rhythm—both convey the positive attitude of a gifted musician who, as a youngster, lost his sight due to retinitis pigmentosa. In concert, his bandmates occasionally don blindfolds when performing their most intricate numbers, helping to draw a personal connection to the way in which their leader experiences music. But when a band plays this well, no such stunts are necessary to win over new fans.

Fluent in many musical styles associated with his native Brazil, the New York-based Pereira has assembled a 70-minute program that includes four of his original compositions, as well as works by Antonio Adolfo, Edu Lobo and Toninho Ferragutti, among others.

On this album of sextet recordings, the leader has crafted arrangements that give his bandmates plenty of room to shine, as evidenced by Jorge Continentino’s authoritative flute work on “Misturada (Mixing),” a 7/4 samba composed by Airto Moreira, as well as Gustavo Amarante’s compelling electric bass solo on “O Que Ficou (What Remains),” a Pereira original.

The leader’s wife, Susan Pereira, elevates the program with a variety of wordless vocal acrobatics, often adding a percussive element via rapid-fire bursts of coloration. On a rendition of Zeca Freitas’ “Alma Brasileira (Brazilian Soul)” she delivers a dazzling performance, precisely mirroring the shifts in Rodrigo Ursaia’s tenor saxophone lines. The effect is as impressive as it is hypnotic.

The band name Blindfold Test has another connotation, too. DownBeat readers have been enjoying the Blindfold Test—in which a musician is asked to comment on unidentified tracks—since 1951. Now, the challenge arises for a fervent journalist to play a track by Vanderlei Pereira & Blindfold Test during a future DownBeat Blindfold Test. After all, Vision For Rhythm offers a dozen great tracks from which to choose.

Amina Figarova Edition 113

Persistence
(AmFi)

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.

Childish Japes

The Book Of Japes
(Self Release)

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.

Cathlene Pineda

Rainbow Baby
(Orenda)

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.

Peripheral Vision

Irrational Revelation And Mutual Humiliation
(Step3)

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.

Adam Rudolph/Ralph M. Jones/Hamid Drake

Imaginary Archipelago
(Meta)

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.

Willie Nile

New York At Night
(River House)

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.

Robby Ameen

Diluvio
(Origin)

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.

Alex Goodman

Impressions In Blue And Red
(Outside In)

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.

Verneri Pohjola

The Dead Don’t Dream
(Edition)

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.

Schapiro 17

New Shoes: Kind Of Blue At 60
(Summit)

For most listeners, Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue is less an album than an icon, the sort of work so indisputably great that genuflection is the only conceivable response. But for many jazz musicians, Kind Of Blue is closer to scripture, in the sense that it has been a source of guidance and inspiration almost from the start.

Composer/arranger Jon Schapiro falls into the latter category, and New Shoes: Kind Of Blue At 60 is a sort of creative commentary on that text, a sermon on five songs, if you will. In addition to offering big-band versions of Kind Of Blue’s material, he also has six KoB-inspired pieces of his own, an itchily propulsive cycle he calls “Boiled Funk,” the title being an anagram of “Kind Of Blue.” There’s also a seventh track, “Foiled Bunk,” in which pianist Roberta Piket offers a virtuosic, two-handed deconstruction of Schapiro’s “Boiled Funk” motifs.

If all that sounds a tad Talmudic, don’t worry—Schapiro understands the centrality of the blues to Kind Of Blue, and never lets the music get arcane or cerebral. It helps that his ensemble is powered by a first-rate rhythm section, particularly Piket and Jon Wikan, who is rapidly becoming one of the most astutely swinging big band drummers in jazz today. But Schapiro’s writing is what really does the trick, fleshing out his ideas through lean, deftly coloristic ensemble passages that manage to convey small-band dynamics with a big-band toolkit. Gil Evans is an obvious touchstone here, particularly in the way Schapiro uses high-note trumpet, but there’s also a bit of George Russell in the way he uses modal harmony to maintain a sense of blues in even the densest ensemble passages.

Purists might bristle at some of the liberties taken here—for instance, the way Schapiro’s arrangement of “So What” playfully morphs the bass-line melody. But this isn’t meant for fundamentalists. Instead, by showing that creative work still can be built off of Miles’ model, Schapiro and company pay the best possible tribute: They make Kind Of Blue kind of new.

Falkner Evans

Marbles
(Consolidated Artist Productions)

When Falkner Evans’ quintet album The Point Of The Moon came out in 2011, it marked a significant departure for the New York-based veteran pianist and celebrated composer, whose three previous discs were trio dates. Now, with the release of the sextet recording Marbles, Evans expands his harmonic horizons further with the inclusion of a three-horn front line. The music—nine Falkner originals and an album-closing snippet of “Things Ain’t What They Used To Be”—is flush with ensemble interaction, and Evans and company do a brilliant job blending the intimacy of a piano trio with the dynamic flash and larger tonal palette made possible by the additional instrumentation.

Evans proves himself an expert orchestrator with a knack for voicing three-part harmony and combining brass and woodwind timbres in unexpected, yet extremely effective, ways. In addition to drummer Matt Wilson, bassist Belden Bullock and trumpeter/flugelhornist Ron Horton, fresh sounds at the leader’s disposal include Ted Nash’s vibrant alto saxophone and fat-toned flute, and Michael Blake’s gritty-spitty tenor and stately soprano. On three tracks, guest artist Steve Nelson contributes masterful, tasteful vibraphone to the instrumental mix; his presence on Marbles is the icing on the cake.

The album kicks off with “Pina,” a romantic number that rides a bolero-like groove and seduces with its mysterious-sounding, overtone-rich blend of flute, soprano and trumpet. “Civilization” is a medium swing—established by Wilson’s steady, lazy ride cymbal—that puts a subtle twist on standard song form by embedding an improvised tenor passage into the head of the tune. Evans comes to the fore on the hushed “Sing Alone,” which starts with a dreamy rubato piano intro, heavy on the sustain, eventually leading to an especially introspective solo turn from the leader. “Global News” is a medium-up jazz waltz with a driving bass line and horn parts that smoothly shift from unison to harmony and back again. The album reaches dramatic peaks when Nelson makes his solo entrance on “Hidden Gem,” spinning skyward in an uplifting spiral of mallet strokes that occasionally evoke a sunny steel-drum vibe. The title track, a major highlight, is notable for its symphonic-style horn swells, tricky syncopation, prominent vibraphone and a taut piano improvisation that’s cleverly crafted and eloquently stated.

With Marbles, Evans embraces a musical dimension that’s entirely new to him, but turns out to be right up his alley.

Chris Dingman

Embrace
(Inner Arts Initiative)

Some brilliant young players have a knack for finding one another. Such is the case with Chris Dingman and Linda May Han Oh. In the 2012 DownBeat Critics Poll, Dingman topped the category Rising Star–Vibraphone and Oh won the category Rising Star–Bass. The vibraphonist recruited her for his 2015 sextet album, The Subliminal And the Sublime, and he invited her back to play on his latest effort, the trio disc Embrace. The two are in good company alongside drummer Tim Keiper, whose resume includes work with Cyro Baptista, David Byrne and John Zorn.

In recent years, Oh has toured with world with Pat Metheny and done such great work with so many players that she has become a highly sought-after collaborator, one who can shine in a variety of settings. On Embrace—a collection of nine Dingman originals—her tasteful solos on “Find A Way” and “Hijinks And Wizardy” serve the song, without lapsing into any grandstanding.

Recorded at Atomic Sound studio in Brooklyn and produced by Keith Witty, the focal point of Embrace is the luminous timbre of Dingman’s vibes. The trio setting not only makes his fluid dynamics central to the overall sound, it also showcases his considerable gift for melody. A composition like “Hijinks And Wizardy” would lend itself to interpretation by a pianist or soprano saxophonist.

A few of the songs in the program were informed by Dingman’s deep interest in West African music traditions, especially the work of players from Mali. Dingman titled “Ali” in honor of the late guitarist/singer Ali Farka Touré, “Goddess” was inspired by vocalist Oumou Sangaré, and “Forgive/Embrace” nods to the work of kora player Toumani Diabaté. By drawing inspiration from across the Atlantic Ocean, Dingman is, in his own small way, illustrating how musicians from around the globe are united by a common language.

At a time when musicians’ careers are in peril due to the coronavirus pandemic, it’s important to applaud the efforts of organizations who support the arts, such as New Music USA, which helped Dingman make Embrace a reality. In the album’s liner notes, Dingman cites five organizations that have, in turn, provided financial support to New Music USA. When an album is this strong, fans should be particularly appreciative of the do-gooders behind the scenes, helping artists bring their visions to fruition.

The Necks

Three
(Northern Spy)

The Necks are both complicated and guileless.

For more than 30 years, the Sydney-based trio has been moving through jazz, ambient and avant-rock while dispatching more than 20 albums, frequently offering up a single, long track on each improvised disc. And while Three comes with, that’s right, three cuts, the individual works still function as a single sonic premise.

“Bloom,” the album’s opener, rattles with Tony Buck’s percussion as Lloyd Swanton’s bass ostinato lends the tune an odd sense of swing. Here as on each of Three’s tracks, pianist Chris Abrahams lets every chord he plays breathe. There’s not a rush to compete with the rhythm section’s momentum, Abrahams seems to think, his contributions giving the album a sense of calm, even during moments of intensity.

It’s that contrast making Three one of the group’s most engaging recent albums: Open drifted too much and Vertigo comes off as a bit too baroque. But Unfold and Body work in the same way as this most recent effort, despite including more rockist intentions. But like each of the band’s albums, these latest discs offer subtle variations on just a handful of themes. Even if the crackling results are soothing to some and an aural irritant to others, the trio’s belief in its mission and dedication to improvisation is something more than laudable.

Kandace Springs

The Women Who Raised Me
(Blue Note)

Recruiting an array of high-profile guests for a disc can be a risky endeavor. If the results are mediocre, then the leader might be accused of riding on others’ coattails. But when the results are strong, new fans could see the leader in a different light. Skeptics can be won over via this logic: “If she’s keeping company with these mighty collaborators, perhaps she does, indeed, belong among them.” Such is the case with singer/keyboardist Kandace Springs’ fourth Blue Note release, The Women Who Raised Me.

On the CD packaging, the track listing includes the names of the boldface guests: bassist Christian McBride, alto saxophonist David Sanborn, tenor saxophonist Chris Potter, singer/pianist Norah Jones, trumpeter Avishai Cohen and Elena Pinderhughes, who topped the category Rising Star–Flute in the 2016 DownBeat Critics Poll. Among that parade of notable guests, Springs remains the key figure and primary reason to seek out this collection, as her fluid pianism and emotive vocals soar in this setting. Producer Larry Klein has crafted a disc that combines sonic elegance with musical muscle.

On this 12-track program of covers, the leader—the daughter of singer Kenneth “Scat” Springs—pays tribute to the female vocalists who caught her ear as a youngster, including Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Carmen McRae, Nina Simone, Roberta Flack, Sade, Bonnie Raitt and Lauryn Hill.

Springs’ reading of “I Put A Spell On You” is spiced with Sanborn’s potent alto, plus a nod to Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” and some fine scat-singing. Elsewhere, an interpretation of Duke Ellington’s “(In My) Solitude” showcases a delicate touch on piano and great tenor work by Potter.

When Springs was a kid, she was mesmerized by Jones’ version of “The Nearness of You” on her 2002 debut, Come Away With Me (Blue Note). Today, Springs is signed to Blue Note, and her new album includes a version of that same standard. Springs and Jones’ arrangement of “Angel Eyes” finds the two artists trading vocal lines and sturdy instrumental passages, featuring the leader on Wurlitzer and her guest on piano. Sometimes fate favors the gifted.

Various Artists

Ella 100: Live At The Apollo!
(Concord)

Singer Patti Austin and drummer/producer Gregg Field are in fine, familiar territory again. The simpatico pair collaborated on Austin’s 2002 album, For Ella, a loving tribute to Ella Fitzgerald (1917–’96), and they reunited on Oct. 22, 2016, for a concert celebrating the “First Lady of Song.” Highlights from the all-star show are chronicled on the winning album Ella 100: Live At The Apollo!, featuring Austin on five performances that illustrate precisely why she has been a fan favorite on the jazz festival circuit. Teamed with the Count Basie Orchestra (under the direction of Scotty Barnhart), Austin authoritatively swings her way through “A-Tisket, A-Tasket,” “When I Get Low, I Get High” and “How High The Moon.”

Also present at the bash were Cassandra Wilson, Lizz Wright, Ledisi, Tony-nominated actor/singer David Alan Grier, the Howard University vocal group Afro Blue and a jazz quartet made up of Field, Brian Nova (guitar), Shelly Berg (piano) and Nathan East (bass).

The venue was an important element in the proceedings because a 17-year-old Fitzgerald famously made her debut at the Apollo Theater in 1934. Nodding to that performance, the album has a segment in which Grier re-enacts what announcer Ralph Cooper might have said on that fateful night. Vocalist Ayodele Owolabi (then 17 and now going by the stage name Ayo) delivers her rendition of “Judy,” a song Fitzgerald sang at the Apollo.

Thanks to the power of the Basie band, this concert album will appeal to longtime Ella fans, as well as connoisseurs of contemporary vocalists. Wilson smolders on “Cry Me A River,” Wright—backed by the quartet—offers knockout renditions of “Love You Madly” and “The Nearness Of You,” and Afro Blue showcases tight harmonies on “Oh, Lady Be Good.” (A bonus track on the CD version features Andra Day navigating Nelson Riddle’s arrangement of “Ain’t Misbehavin’” with panache.)

The album concludes with a wonderful and welcome departure: a live rendition of Ella tenderly crooning the standard “People.” Fans who had the opportunity to hear her in concert are, to quote the lyrics, “the luckiest people in the world.”

Jon Hassell

Vernal Equinox
(Ndeya)

Whatever jazz is, the music sprung from and is able to encompass sundry other musics. And while trumpeter Jon Hassell’s connection to the genre is nominal, his career stretches back to recording In C with minimalist Terry Riley.

Hassell, who’s likely best known as a Brian Eno collaborator from the producer’s early ambient phase, has contributed to works by pop and avant-gardists while also producing his own far-flung material, including a 1994 experiment in jazzy trip-hop. The reissued Vernal Equinox, the trumpeter’s 1977 debut, ranks as one of his most sedate works, but also precedes his better-known Earthquake Island. That latter disc, released the following year, finds its footing with a more new-agey feel and a batch of percussion that might have intrigued Talking Heads fans.

For his debut, Hassell enlisted Brazilian percussionist Naná Vasconcelos to knit in textures as the bandleader’s trumpet drips lines that refuse to intimate a melody, instead coming off like a busted-up shofar. If there’s a cut here that encapsulates Hassell’s work, though, it might be the closer, “Caracas Night September 11, 1975.” The calm calamity of crickets droning on in the evening provides a supple bed for Hassell’s wandering tone, connecting Vernal Equinox to his slow-cooked 2009 ECM effort, Last Night The Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes In The Street.

Correction: Jon Hassells surname was spelled incorrectly in a previous version of this post. DownBeat regrets the error.

Rhoda Scott

Movin’ Blues
(Sunset)

Organist Rhoda Scott’s carved out an expat life that pretty much any musician would be jealous of.

While working in Count Basie’s Harlem club, a French venue and label owner was struck by her playing one evening, and convinced her to move to Paris, where she’d release her first album in 1968.

But B-3 players, at this late date, generally adhere to traditional uses of the instrument: churchy, funky blues. And Scott’s an interpreter, not a prolific writer, generally working over classics—stuff by Galt MacDermot, Art Blakey, and Rodgers and Hammerstein.

The bandleader’s a masterful purveyor of those situations (along with her drummer Thomas Derouineau), using her skills on Movin’ Blues to take on Duke Ellington’s “Come Sunday,” while preserving a sense of the original’s passion; it’s enlarged with some slightly swinging moments. Duke’s “In A Sentimental Mood” later finds Scott wrenching all the emotion out of the composition—and her instrument—while “I’m Looking For A Miracle” swings hard enough to make listeners consider converting. And maybe that’s just what Scott was aiming for: lending listeners revelatory moments, even if they only span 14 short cuts.

That such a range of music and emotion finds itself shuttled through these duo arrangements means that U.S. jazzers for years have been missing out on Scott, who’s only made sporadic Stateside stops since setting up shop in Europe decades back.

Lina Allemano

Glimmer Glammer
(Lumo)

Playing solo isn’t simply a matter of performing without accompaniment. In many ways, it’s working without a net, as naked and unforgiving a forum as music offers. It’s even worse in jazz, because in addition to offering a close-up look at the player’s tone and technique, solo improvisation also puts their ideas under the microscope. Needless to say, there hasn’t been a huge number of players with the courage and creativity to take that challenge on.

That Lina Allemano would have the moxie to record an album of solo trumpet won’t come as a surprise to those familiar with her work. A singular improvisor who has built an impressive discography both with her free-jazz combo, the Lina Allemano 4, as well as her semi-electric quartet, Titanium Riot, the Canadian-born Allemano clearly has the creative and technical chops to pull off a solo project like Glimmer Glammer. But what’s most striking about the album is that even though Allemano offers a different set of timbres and tools for each tune, each performance carries the same sense of narrative coherence, so that the music never seems like sound for its own sake.

Of course, some tracks are more abstract than others. “Clamour,” which Allemano said “was performed with circular breathing and uses extended technique to create multiphonics,” operates across a much narrower range of pitch than, say, the elegiac “One Man Down (For Justin),” which has a largely conventional melodic structure. But that latter tune also plays with texture, as Allemano not only adds tartness to the instrument’s tone at points by slipping a mute into the bell, but uses various extended techniques to make her trumpet sputter, sigh and groan.

Then there’s the title track, a “sound collage” in which Allemano “manipulates various materials in the left hand while playing trumpet (with multiple extended techniques) with the right hand.” As complicated as that description might seem, the piece functions as a sort of conversation, with the trumpet reacting and replying to the various textures and rhythms generated by whatever it is she’s is manipulating with her left hand. Yes, the sounds are abstract, but the sense isn’t, and it’s that quality that has made Allemano one of the most underappreciated trumpeters in jazz today.

Lafayette Harris Jr.

You Can’t Lose With The Blues
(Savant)

It’s good to get along with your boss. The proof can be heard on You Can’t Lose With The Blues, the new straightahead gem from pianist Lafayette Harris Jr. For the past few years, he has been in the working band of saxophone legend Houston Person, who produced this album. The recording includes some material that Harris has played on tour with Person, including the beautiful ballad “I Love You, Yes I Do.” Harris’ deep familiarity with standards—such as “Wonder Why,” which he played on tour when he was in singer Ernestine Anderson’s band and then later performed with Person—allows him to craft personal, powerful renditions with subtle coloration and graceful nuance.

Harris recruited esteemed veterans Peter Washington (bass) and Lewis Nash (drums) for this winning, 12-song program of mostly standards, such as “Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying” and “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye.” Nash’s authoritative cymbal work on the former track—as well as Washington’s arco work on the duo arrangement of the latter track—reflect the leader’s ability to recruit ideal personnel and then let them soar. Harris ventures beyond the Great American Songbook with a delightful curveball: a luminous interpretation of “Love Me In A Special Way,” the DeBarge r&b hit from 1983. That track is followed by the most raucous number on the album, a rousing rendition of Charlie Parker’s “Bloomdido.” Harris dazzles with his solo treatment of Percy Mayfield’s “Please Send Me Someone To Love.”

Harris’ compositional skills are on display with three original tunes. “The Juicy Blues” is a satisfying swinger and “Blues For Barry Harris” is a fitting tribute to one of the pianist’s mentors. Sometimes an original tune can feel out of place amid a program of standards, but that’s certainly not the case with the title track here. Person probably had a strong sense of how to approach the production on this tune: Harris wrote it or him and played on the version that the saxophonist included on his 2014 album, The Melody Lingers On. Overall, this album illustrates the power of playing to one’s formidable strengths.

Sigurd Hole

Lys/Mørke
(Elvesang)

Folks writing on bassist Sigurd Hole’s latest solo dispatch, Lys/Mørke, tend to point out the connection he forged with nature while recording the two-disc set on the island of Fleinvær in the northern climes of Norway. But what gets lost in assessments like that is that Hole’s also removed himself from other people, creating a distance between his work and the culture it’s emerged from.

Still, Hole, who recently made his Carnegie Hall debut, explains his connection to nature in a press release, while noting the precarious environmental spot we’ve gotten ourselves into. While connecting humanity and nature—two things Hole actually sees as one and the same—the bassist doesn’t home in on the absence of other musicians from the recording and its process.

“The present­–day situation poses many challenges to humankind on so many levels—the climate crisis and the collapse of ecosystems worldwide being perhaps our greatest challenge ever,” the bassist exerts. “Grasping and dealing with such issues on a personal level can be very challenging. Even though I have hope we will manage to turn the tide in time, I often feel depressed and sad thinking about it all. To me, nature has always been an immense source of joy and inspiration.”

A deep, audible breath on “Speilbilde,” a track on the first disc, serves to draw listeners in closer, but also illustrates Hole’s relative seclusion. It’s a musician looking to connect with his instrument. And on the next cut, “Vaktsom,” he does, trilling bowed notes over the sound of the nearby ocean. Overtones overwhelm the sound of water as Hole seems propelled by his surroundings, reaching for some ecstatic state. That there’s about 80-minutes of the search seems to mean Hole found at least a modicum of comfort in the process. And hopefully, listeners can extract some sort of enlightenment from listening in on his investigation.

Clark Sommers’ Ba(SH)

Peninsula
(Outside In)

A bassist equally comfortable backing up vocalist Kurt Elling as he is occasionally performing alongside some of Chicago’s avant crowd and helming his groovier ensemble Lens, Clark Sommers coats post-bop with a veneer of 21st-century exceptionalism and adventure on Peninsula.

Recorded in 2017, four years after Ba(SH)’s first album was issued, the trio continues extolling the virtues of small groups, with Geof Bradfield’s tenor saxophone serving as the band’s propulsive lead, and drummer Dana Hall veering between swing and tracing the beat just beyond the lines.

The strongest tunes here are bookends for a few less-rewarding songs in the middle of the program; Bradfield’s a bit less convincing on soprano, leaving too much space for the trio to navigate. “Hope Dance,” though, benefits from the saxophonist’s dexterous and incandescent blowing, inspiring Sommers to go in on a solo that’s both more gratifying and melodic than other bassists might be able to summon.

While Peninsula serves to document a band two decades (and unfortunately only two albums) into its performing life, the recording also makes a point about Chicago and the players who call the city home. No matter how talented and well-credentialed Sommers, Bradfield and Hall are, they’re not necessarily the most visible players on the city’s scene. That’s how deep it is.

The Unknown New

Inkflies
(Self Release)

The Unknown New is more than just a platform for the original compositions and production talents of Chicago-based multi-instrumentalist Paul Mutzabaugh. The cross-genre ensemble—best described as equal parts chamber jazz, fusion and instrumental folk—is a guitar tour de force that showcases some of the Windy City’s strongest, and more melodically minded, players.

Inkflies, the group’s fourth CD, features Chris Siebold, Mike Pinto and Jim Tashjian on an arsenal of axes including lap steel, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, baritone guitar and synth guitar. Mutzabaugh, who plays electric bass and percussion throughout the album, provides background guitar parts (nylon string, acoustic, electric) as well. The resulting mosaic of guitar patterns, leads and improvisations entrances listeners and draws them deep into the Unknown New experience via tasty hooks, compelling solos and uplifting ostinatos. Drummer Jon Deitemeyer, a true artist behind the kit, runs a stylistic gamut, from easygoing swing to hushed balladry, to second-line snare-buzzing, to backbeat-driven rock grooves, to full-out explosions of crash cymbals, thundering toms and bass drum bombs. Percussionist Rich Stitzel adds subtle textures and not-so-subtle accents that put the finishing touch on Mutzabaugh’s delicately balanced arrangements. Three tracks are supplemented with tasteful drum loops, a light touch of production that lends Inkflies a contemporary-retro flavor.

“En Route To A Lost Lake” serves as a strong album opener with its catchy melody and Pinto’s crunchy, tremolo-laden electric guitar passages. Siebold makes the lap steel sing on “De Otro Mar,” a contemplative, dreamlike piece that conjures a sea of calm and features Tashjian on a soothing acoustic solo. Other highlights include the title track, which undergoes dramatic shifts in feel and dynamics, from light jazz waltz to slow-burn rocker and back again; “Me Sana El Fuego,” distinguished by its baritone guitar lead, funky prog-rock electric bass runs and brainy yet playful odd-meter stutter; and album closer “Velleity’s Charm,” with its exquisitely voiced chord/melody combinations and restrained, deliberate pacing. Upcoming performances by The Unknown New include a March 23 set at Elastic Arts in Chicago.

Jason Tiemann

T-Man
(Self Release)

After logging time with the likes of Benny Golson, Dave Liebman, Michael Dease and Mike LeDonne, drummer Jason Tiemann had amassed a wealth of experiences upon which to draw when formulating his debut album as a leader. He opted to explore the rich tradition of the jazz organ trio, enlisting guitarist Ed Cherry and Hammond B-3 whiz Kyle Koehler for the project.

The 11-song program on T-Man includes five of the drummer’s compositions, but he offers relatively few solos, preferring to let Cherry or Koehler take the spotlight. On the trio’s smoldering rendition of Ahmad Jamal’s “Night Mist Blues,” Cherry unfurls a flurry of lines that would make a Pat Martino fan smile, and Koehler flexes his muscles with a solo that packs an emotional wallop. The trio excels at all tempos, whether it’s surging through a high-octane burner like Tiemann’s original tune “Tizzle’s Blues” or slowing things down on a reading of J.J. Johnson’s “Lament,” which features the leader’s fine, subtle brushwork.

Tiemann—who currently teaches at the University of Hartford after spending 12 years as a faculty member at the University of Louisville—brings a deep sense of jazz history to T-Man, choosing to interpret Kenny Dorham’s “Lotus Blossom,” Jerome Richardson’s “Groove Merchant” and Osvaldo Farrés’ “Tres Palabras.” Tiemann’s arrangements help the listener connect the past to the present in a meaningful, consistently entertaining manner.

Oded Tzur

Here Be Dragons
(ECM)

Centuries ago, the phrase “Here be dragons” was used by cartographers to designate mysterious and presumably dangerous portions of the globe, in part to explain why their maps offered no information, but mainly to warn off inexperienced travelers from those perilous parts. In the liner notes to his third album, Here Be Dragons, the Israeli-born saxophonist Oded Tzur offers a story in which he imagines the famed renaissance architect Filippo Brunelleschi on a journey bankrolled by Dutch cartographers to find those dragons; part parable, part shaggy dog tale, it ends with a koan: “There are no dragons, but here is a song.”

Tzur’s playing is a lot like that story of his, quietly fantastical and full of narrative feints. His tone is light and sweet, with a whispered airiness that’s enhanced by his preference for the tenor’s upper octaves. There’s a vocal quality to his phrasing on “Can’t Help Falling In Love,” the album’s only cover. But instead of Blue Hawaii Elvis, his version sounds like Art Garfunkel at his most angelic, making the tune seem more like a prayer than a love song.

On the ghostly opening to “20 Years,” his arcing lines occasionally sound like gusts of wind moaning through an old house. By contrast, when working off of the effervescent, Caribbean-tinged groove of “The Dream,” his playing becomes more liquid, his phrases bubbling and gurgling around the fluid pulse of bassist Petros Klampanis and drummer Johnathan Blake. In both cases, the quietude of his approach invites close attention.

Being both a jazz musician and a student of Indian classical music, Tzur’s approach to improvisation is by turns intriguing and mystifying. Apart from “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” the compositions here are “‘miniature ragas’ over a moving bass line,” according to Steve Lake’s liner notes. But unless you’re well-versed in the structural logic of raga playing, it’s hard to hear how that works out; more obvious are the expressive aspects of Tzur’s playing—arching slurs, slow glissandi and notes that sound as though they were bent not by Albert King but Salvador Dali. Easier to follow is Nitai Hershkovits’ piano, which offers elegantly tuneful melodies and lean, impressionist chords.

Still, it’s hard not to be drawn to an attractive mystery, and even if it’s not always obvious why Tzur plays what he plays, there’s no denying its power and beauty, with or without dragons.

Ben Perowsky/John Medeski/Chris Speed

Upstream
(Self Release)

To most jazz listeners, the combination of B-3, tenor saxophone and drums spells “organ trio,” and reasonably so. Even when they’re sidemen, organists tend to dominate the sound of a small ensemble, the familiar purr-and-growl of the keyboard inevitably leading to an amicable vocabulary of blues licks and soul grooves.

And to be honest, there’s a fair amount of that on Upstream, even if organist John Medeski tastefully avoids the most obvious and timeworn tropes of organ jazz. Still, this isn’t an organ trio album in the end, because even at its most Leslied, Medeski’s sound invariably yields to the undeniable groove and articulation of drummer Ben Perowsky, whose playing ultimately defines Upstream.

With a resumé that runs the gamut from Mike Stern to Masada, and Rickie Lee Jones to Joan As Policewoman, Perowsky is clearly a versatile stickman. But what drives Upstream has less to do with his technical command than with his conceptual commitment. Whether through the itchy, edgy fatback behind the bruising blues of “Kanape” or the dreamy, suggestive pulse of “Meta,” Perowsky’s drumming both drives and directs the music, using his accents and spaces to coax the best out of his bandmates.

The sly, New Orleans-schooled groove of “Sidecar” boasts some awesomely funky interplay with Medeski on the intro. The tune’s true genius, though, is revealed as those intricate rhythms fold into the boppish phrasing of the head once Chris Speed’s tenor enters. As solid as the interplay between Perowsky and Medeski is, things go up a notch once the drummer starts reacting to the almost deferential grace of Speed’s laid-back tone and phrasing.

On the other end of the spectrum, there’s “Worms,” a cartoonishly brisk number in which Speed’s clarinet and Medeski’s organ are first hurried along by Perowsky’s brushwork, then coaxed into classic swing when he switches to sticks, the pocket impeccable no matter how much the tempo varies. Taken together, these delightfully varied performances upend the expectations of organ jazz, even as they leave the listener hungry for more.

Lynne Arriale Trio

Chimes Of Freedom
(Challenge)

Opening with “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” sets a pensive, but hopeful, tone as Lynne Arriale pours out emotion on the superbly plotted Chimes Of Freedom.

Turning in her 15th album as a leader, pianist Arriale continues working in a trio setting, this time splicing in drummer E.J. Strickland and bassist Jasper Somsen for her first band that straddles the Atlantic. But like her earlier work, Arriale exerts a series of tasteful flourishes and embellishments around each composition’s melody, touching on the blues for “The Whole Truth,” feeling out a gospel vibe on “Reunion” and delving into some vibrant swing and bop for “Journey.”

“[W]hat are all the colors that can go under a note that would make it work?” Arriale wondered in a September 2009 DownBeat story while discussing her writing process. “Then you have a huge palette to work from. It can take me a long time to write an arrangement, because I’m not thinking theoretically; I’m thinking, how does this sound? How does it feel when I listen to it?”

On “The Dreamers,” Strickland is so tastefully busy and full of playfulness that it’s easy to lose sight of how phenomenally Arriale’s leading her group, everything perfectly accented with behind-the-beat chording. The inclusion of vocalist K.J. Denhert on a pair of tunes by Bob Dylan and Paul Simon as Chimes Of Freedom comes to its conclusion cements the album’s theme of hope and an embrace of difference, even if sonically, it’s a bit of a distraction.

Kadri Voorand

In Duo With Mihkel Mälgand
(ACT)

An artist’s lyrics can affect how critics categorize their work. If lyrics are bubbly, critics might call it a pop song, but if the tale is depressing or gritty, then the track could get shuttled into a genre that has a stronger whiff of respectability, such as “adult alternative” or even “art song.” This dynamic comes to mind regarding the new album from Kadri Voorand, whose powerful pop music can be challenging—not only in terms of its arrangements, production techniques and shifting melodic lines but also because of its dark lyrics.

Her original tune “I’m Not In Love” opens with this couplet: “I’m in love with the roses you brought/ I’m not in love with you.” Her composition “What If I Did Kill You” expresses the protagonist’s intense feelings toward, perhaps, a lover. There’s also darkness in “Kättemaks,” the melody of which was written by Eeva Talsi with lyrics by Jaan Tätte. The song’s Estonian title means “Revenge,” and the lyrics, as translated by Mart Kalvet, seem to depict a lover’s explanation to an unfaithful partner. To exact some revenge for acts of serial infidelity, the protagonist recounts how she went down to the local tavern and “slept with everyone there.”

Voorand’s ambition and multifaceted artistry are on full display on In Duo With Mihkel Mälgand. She produced the album, composed most of its songs and contributed vocals, piano, kalimba, violin, glockenspiel and electronic effects. Mälgand, who had a hand in the production and some of the arrangements, plays acoustic and electric bass, cello, bass drum and percussion on the 12-song program. Voorand’s sonic palette includes wordless vocals, layered, multitracked singing and looped recordings of intakes of breath to craft a percussive element.

The most jazz-oriented tune is the original number “I Must Stop Eating Chocolate,” a two-minute track that initially seems banal and even a bit jokey. But the fourth verse moves into morose territory: “I’ll raise a glass of tears for you/ You’ve cooked my heart/ I’ll serve that, too.” Here, as she does elsewhere on the album, Voorand devises complex flavors by adding a bitter ingredient to cut the sweetness.

The Dave Liebman Group

Earth
(Whaling City Sound)

Typically, when we think of eco-conscious music, what we imagine is built around acoustic instruments. To some extent, we can credit this to the Paul Winter Consort’s “Earth Music” albums of the late ’60s and early ’70s, which used saxophone, flute, English horn and cello to articulate the composer’s intent. Those instruments were deemed more “natural” than electric guitars or synthesizers, even though the saxophone is very much a product of the industrial revolution, while the recording process itself is both technologically intensive and far from green.

All this came to mind while listening to The Dave Liebman Group’s Earth, an album that concludes the saxophonist’s Four Elements project (earlier entries include Water, with Pat Metheny, Cecil McBee and Billy Hart; Air, with synthesist Walter Quintus; and Fire, with Kenny Werner, Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette). Here, Liebman takes the opposite approach to expressing the natural wonders of the world, emphasizing the textural possibilities of digital and electronic sound over the traditional sonorities of wind and strings. “I am the lone acoustic instrument juxtaposing the old and the new (with the drums in the same time zone),” he writes in the liner notes.

It’s not an obvious strategy, but it works—not because the music evokes specific landscapes or seasons, either. Rather than take a programmatic approach like, say, Ferde Grofé’s “Grand Canyon Suite,” Liebman’s band opts instead to use the breadth of its sonic palette to reflect the enormous variety of our earth. “Earth Theme,” then, conveys its sense of vastness by contrasting Liebman’s soprano against the heaviness of Tony Marino’s electric bass while Bobby Avey’s wispy, white-noise synths wash over the ensemble like ethereal mist. “Volcano/Avalanche” uses electronics to blur the tonal center of Matt Vashlishan’s wind synthesizer and Avey’s keys, while a different effect scrambles the sound of Marino’s bass, making it sometimes hard to tell up from down with the harmony. And the high point of “Concrete Jungle” comes in an improvised exchange between Liebman and Vashlishan in which the saxophonist reacts not just to the notes the synthesist is playing, but also the instrument’s shape-shifting textures.

Jazz certainly would benefit from more creative uses of digital and electronic instruments.

Chet Baker

The Legendary Riverside Albums
(Craft)

This deluxe five-LP box set presents Chet Baker’s recorded output as a leader for the Riverside label between 1958 and 1959, a fruitful period when the West Coast-based trumpeter and vocalist was teaming up with some of the finest New York jazz musicians of the day—before his personal struggles began getting him into serious trouble.

Cool prevails on this collection, which brings together the four Baker albums released on Riverside, plus a fifth disc of outtakes and alternate takes from his sessions with the label. Baker’s best vocal work is highlighted on his Riverside debut, (Chet Baker Sings) It Could Happen To You, where he stamps his own personal style on swinging standards and ballads like “You’re Driving Me Crazy,” “I’m Old Fashioned,” “Everything Happens To Me,” “How Long Has This Been Going On?” and the title track. Baker’s capacity for serious bebopping comes to light on “Fair Weather,” the opening track of 1959’s Chet Baker In New York, where he’s backed by a stellar lineup of Philly Joe Jones on drums, tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin, Al Haig on piano and bassist Paul Chambers.

The 1959 all-instrumental outing Chet focuses on ballads and features pianist Bill Evans, guitarist Kenny Burrell, flutist Herbie Mann and baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams in a program of sparsely arranged standards like “Alone Together,” “It Never Entered My Mind” and “September Song.” Adams, Evans and Mann return—with the addition of saxophonist Zoot Simms—for Baker’s final Riverside album, 1959’s Chet Baker Plays The Best Of Lerner And Loewe, consisting of material from the Broadway shows My Fair Lady, Gigi, Brigadoon and Paint Your Wagon.

The reissued albums in this box set were cut from their original analog master tapes and pressed on 180-gram vinyl, a hallmark of Craft Recordings, a catalog label known for its thoughtfully curated packages and meticulous devotion to quality. The Legendary Riverside Albums includes a 16-page booklet filled with photos and insightful new liner notes by jazz historian Doug Ramsey. In addition to vinyl, the complete collection is also available digitally in hi-res 192kHz/24-bit and 96kHz/24-bit formats.

Majid Bekkas

Magic Spirit Quartet
(ACT)

What puts the magic in multi-instrumentalist Majid Bekkas’ Magic Spirit Quartet is the trance-like power of Moroccan gnawa music. Originally developed to accompany night-long ecstatic ceremonies to call down spirits, the music possesses a rhythmic depth and emotional resonance analogous to Santería music in Cuba. But where the Cuban tradition is built on the power of drums, gnawa centers on the droning drive of stringed instruments, particularly the oud and the bass-like guembri.

Bekkas, who was born and raised in Salé, Morocco, plays both, but it’s the guembri that matters most here. It’s the guembri’s twangy, restlessly propulsive bass line that dominates “Bania,” not only working in counterpoint against Bekkas’ vocal and Goran Kajfeš’ electric trumpet, but setting up an interesting friction with trap drummer Stefan Pasborg, whose playing keeps the stress on “one,” while Bekkas’ line emphasizes “two.”

Of course, traditional Moroccan music doesn’t use drum kits, much less electric trumpet, but that’s where a different sort of magic comes into play. Although Bekkas still lives in Salé, his Magic Spirit Quartet is based in Scandinavia, where Kajfeš, Pasborg, and keyboardist Jesper Nordenström live. Likewise, although the songs stick fairly close to traditional structures, with Bekkas’ guembri defining the pulse, while his vocals work a call-and-response dynamic with Kajfeš’ horn, the tracks themselves tend to expand along fusion lines, with lengthy, over-dub friendly groove sections affording the chance to stretch out and dive deeper into the music’s rhythmic core.

That said, there’s surprisingly little dilution of the music’s essential flavor. Obviously, Bekkas’ strength as a leader accounts for some of that, as his is the sort of voice—both vocally and instrumentally—that isn’t easily watered down. But Kajfeš, whose family emigrated to Sweden from Bosnia, seems utterly at home with the Arabic modalities of gnawa, and more than holds his own with the bandleader, particularly on the dramatic, entrancing “Mrhaba.”

Jen Curtis & Tyshawn Sorey

Invisible Ritual
(Tundra/New Focus)

Violin’s been used in jazz and its adjacent musics since the genre’s inception.

But in 2019, a couple of string-centric releases featuring Jenny Scheinman, as well as Wonderment—a collective recording by fiddler Zach Brock, bassist Matt Ulery and drummer Jon Deitemyer—displayed vibrant contemporary contexts for the instrument, settings that point toward the violin’s continued vitality in jazz.

Violinist Jen Curtis and drummer Tyshawn Sorey lean heavily toward the experimental on Invisible Ritual, with Sorey switching to piano during a few choice moments. Amid the exploratory fervor that comprises most of the recording, the duo swings on “IV,” a tune with Curtis double stopping and Sorey ineffably moving through sections of tumult to displays of nuanced ethereality. Here, Curtis, who’s also a member of the International Contemporary Ensemble, displays folkloric bona fides, pulling out spindly melodic lines that put the instrument’s history into focus.

On “VI,” the duo sounds more meditative with Sorey returning to the piano. It’s during moments like these that the two seem to be accessing a classical vision for the album, as opposed to some more aggro strain of improv. It’s not as if they’ve gone and scored a bunch of music, but the effortlessness of their playing certainly would make that assumption a reasonable one.

Elkhorn

The Storm Sessions
(Beyond Beyond Is Beyond)

The guitar duo Elkhorn, which is joined by multi-instrumentalist Turner Williams on its fifth studio outing, always has aimed to balance the folksy ideal of American Primitive guitar with the agency of ’60s psych stunners.

Despite inevitable John Fahey references, the band’s carved out a corner of the psych world whose audience seems up for a very specific strain of improvisation. And while Elkhorn is meditating on a theme across its discography, the band seemingly has more to excavate on The Storm Sessions.

The album—split into “Electric One” and “Electric Two,” each with parts designated “A” through “C”—finds the band holed up in a Harlem apartment during a winter storm. The slow build of “Electric Two,” as opposed to the more pastoral opening half of The Storm Sessions, benefits from Williams’ shahi baaja (a sort of electric Indian zither with keys added to it). Contributing to the insistent tension, he pushes Jesse Sheppard on 12-string acoustic and Drew Gardner on standard electric into racy exclamations.

But none of this really has anything to do with “soulful cosmic jazz,” as a press release would lead listeners to believe. Instead, it’s the impromptu jamming of three friends who all have the chops to match their varied tastes—a rangy collection of folk, blues, rock and improv.

“We don’t do pastiche,” Gardner told DownBeat last year about Elkhorn’s previous recording, Sun Cycle/Elk Jam (Feeding Tube). “We just have certain things we like and we respond to emotionally. And our way of getting a unique sound is based on just trying to play the most sincere thing that we can think of.”

It’s an admirable pursuit, one that’s yielded music worth tossing on whether you’re stuck inside this winter or just need some enthusiastic reinvestigations of psych-indebted guitar moves.

Big Band of Brothers

A Jazz Celebration Of The Allman Brothers Band
(New West)

Albums offering jazz renditions of rock songs are commonplace nowadays, so the element of surprise has faded. But A Jazz Celebration Of The Allman Brothers Band is an accomplishment of a higher order. This is a collection of smart arrangements of classic jam-band material with a sturdy blues foundation crafted for a 15-piece big band.

A central figure for this project is drummer, producer and jazz educator Mark Lanter, who has played in the Allman Brothers tribute band Eat A Peach. Also key to the proceedings is trumpeter, jazz educator and New South Jazz Orchestra founder Shane Porter, who doesn’t appear on the album, but he contributed four arrangements, including a brilliant rendition of Dickey Betts’ “Les Brers In A Minor” (which appeared on the Allmans’ classic 1972 album, Eat A Peach).

Four guest artists add credibility and spice to the 63-minute program: Blues/Americana star Ruthie Foster delivers powerful lead vocals on “It’s Not My Cross To Bear” and “Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’”; Louisiana-bred singer-songwriter Marc Broussard takes the mic for “Whipping Post” and “Statesboro Blues”; Wycliffe Gordon wrote the arrangement for the latter tune and delivers a sturdy soprano trombone solo to “Don’t Want You No More”; and Jack Pearson, who was in the Allman Brothers Band from 1997–’99, injects some potent electric slide guitar work to “Stand Back.”

Elsewhere, trombonist Chad Fisher supplies an ethereal, beautiful solo to “Dreams,” one of three tracks arranged by guitarist Tom Wolfe.

Overall, this album provides a new prism through which to appreciate the music of an iconic band, many of whose founding members are no longer with us, including guitarist Duane Allman (1946–’71), vocalist/keyboardist Gregg Allman (1947–2017), bassist Berry Oakley (1948–’72) and drummer Butch Trucks (1947–2017).

Theo Hill

Reality Check
(Posi-Tone)

The third album from Theo Hill issued through Marc Free’s Posi-Tone imprint is something of a departure for the pianist.

Though Hill returns with a rhythm section drawn from his earlier releases—bassist Rashaan Carter and drummer Mark Whitfield Jr.—Reality Check expands the bandleader’s palette by adding in vibes, provided by the seemingly omnipresent Joel Ross.

The quartet recording (Hill’s previous Posi-Tone outings were trio affairs) also finds the composer more frequently engaging an electric context for his work. Granted, tracks like “Retrograde,” off 2018’s Interstellar Adventures, find the pianist’s band treading territory first covered by ’70s groove-oriented players. But “Swell,” “Superwoman” and “Song Of The Wind,” all from this latest effort, see Hill combining his penchant for classic straightahead material with some funkier offerings.

That Ross is onboard, adding another voice and well of expression, only suits the bandleader’s writing—roomy enough for two melodic instruments and taut enough for moments of focused investigation. On “Guardians Of Light,” the pianist’s insistent left hand grants his right generous backing to take flight, as Carter exerts an electrified tone. It’s a contemplative mode, one that shifts across Reality Check’s 10 tracks, moving from charged moments of musicality to calmness and easy elegance.

Nick Finzer

Cast Of Characters
(Outside In)

When releasing a narrative album without vocals, many artists include extensive liner notes that explain the story. Trombonist Nick Finzer takes a different tact on Cast Of Characters. The album cover features Laura Reyero’s colorful illustrations of six characters, at least two of whom are real-life figures: Brutus (the Roman senator who helped assassinate Julius Caesar) and Duke Ellington (dubbed “A Duke” here). Instead of describing a narrative arc, the album packaging includes a short essay that begins, “Each of us responds and develops along our journey with the influence of people we meet along our path.” On the interior CD panels, the 14 tracks are divided into two categories: “The Cast” and “The Journey,” inviting listeners to view some songs as biographical sketches and others as plot points.

Looking closely at the back cover of the CD, listeners learn that certain “Journey” songs are associated with specific characters, so the sophisticated swinger “A Duke” is followed by the thrilling “(Take The) Fork In The Road,” the title of which might nod to Ellington’s “Take The ‘A’ Train.”

While these narrative and graphic elements add levels of meaning to the listening experience, the music is strong enough to stand on its own. The quality of this sterling recording is no surprise, given the credentials of producer Ryan Truesdell and the impressive cast of musicians that Finzer assembled: Lucas Pino (reeds), Alex Wintz (guitar), Glenn Zaleski (piano), Dave Baron (bass) and Jimmy Macbride (drums).

“Patience, Patience” dramatically builds to an explosive climax in which all the players, especially Wintz, are hurling clusters of sparks. “Evolution Of Perspective” features kinetic solos from both Finzer and Zaleski, sandwiched between intoxicating segments in which languid horn charts are juxtaposed with Macbride’s skittering drum work.

Finzer, who runs a label and media company called Outside in Music, had the recording sessions filmed, and at press time had posted three clips of live-in-the-studio performances, including “The Guru,” featuring Pino’s potent work on bass clarinet. These videos add yet another layer to our appreciation of this exquisite program.

John Bailey

Can You Imagine?
(Freedom Road)

With another election year upon us, trumpeter John Bailey recognizes that the time for a unifying candidate has come: Dizzy Gillespie. Playing off the maestro’s witty 1964 presidential campaign (during which the trumpeter imagined a cabinet that, among other jazz luminaries, included Duke Ellington as Secretary of State), Bailey is inspired by the very real issues Gillespie faced during the Civil Rights era and, in assembling this response, how much more work there is to do.

Given that kind of mission, it’s no surprise that the record’s immediate standout is the three-part “President Gillespie Suite.” In addition to providing a platform for Bailey’s taut runs, the piece builds out of a sauntering groove from drummer Victor Lewis before giving way to a growling turn from bass trombonist Earl McIntyre that clears a path for each player to move toward a harmonious and increasingly raucous statement. Later, Bailey pays tribute to Gillespie’s rechristened seat of power with “The Blues House,” a hard-swung venture marked by a zig-zagging turn from trombonist Stafford Hunter.

But Dizzy isn’t Bailey’s only running mate. The simmering “Ballad From Oro, Incienso Y Mirra” by Chico O’Farrill is drawn from a live 2016 date with the late composer’s son, Arturo, benefiting from Edsel Gomez’s buoyant piano. “Valsa Rancho,” a tune written by Brazilian guitarist Chico Buarque, travels at a more contemplative pace, girded by Janet Axelrod’s murmured flute melody before venturing toward brighter corners led by saxophonist Stacy Dillard.

Though inspired by contemplation of scant changes since Dizzy’s day, Bailey has delivered a collection driven by the pursuit of light. That’s a campaign anyone can get behind.

Various Artists

If You’re Going To The City: A Tribute To Mose Allison
(Fat Possum)

Back in the day, some of the best playlists were curated by record store clerks who made their own cassettes. Nowadays, some of the best playlists are generated using artificial intelligence and data analytics. One thing that was true decades ago and remains so today is that the various-artists tribute album can be a wondrous source of musical variety. Any playlist that has artists like Iggy Pop, Chrissie Hynde, Richard Thompson, Loudon Wainwright III, Frank Black and Ben Harper with Charlie Musselwhite on it is sure to generate attention. But when you take that talented lineup and ask them all to sing compositions by eccentric jazz and blues singer/pianist Mose Allison (1927–2016), the result is an intoxicating treat.

On If You’re Going To The City: A Tribute To Mose Allison, the lyrics alone are worth the price of admission. Taj Mahal gently growls, “If silence was golden, you couldn’t raise a dime/ Because your mind is on vacation and your mouth is working overtime” (“Your Mind Is On Vacation”). And Fiona Apple croons, “Your cellular organization is really something choice/ Electromagnetism ’bout to make me lose my voice/ Got all my circuits open” (“Your Molecular Structure”).

Throughout the program, a variety of keyboardists have the honor and unenviable task of saluting Allison’s playing style, whether it’s former Heartbreaker Benmont Tench plinking out a piano riff behind Apple, Neil Larsen adding B-3 organ coloration to Jackson Browne’s reading of “If You Live” or David Witham adding poignant, funky keyboard work to Chrissie Hynde’s version of “Stop This World.” Elsewhere, Mike Finnigan’s piano adds fluid beauty to Bonnie Raitt’s terrific 2017 concert rendition of “Everybody’s Crying Mercy.”

Produced by Sheldon Gomberg and Don Heffington, the album concludes with “Monsters Of The Id,” a duet featuring Elvis Costello and the honoree’s daughter, Amy Allison. Piano work on that track was provided by Mose himself.

The Fat Possum label has packaged this CD in a two-disc set that includes a DVD of Paul Bernays’ 2005 documentary Mose Allison: Ever Since I Stole The Blues. The film includes some admirers who don’t appear on the album, including Pete Townsend, Van Morrison, Keb’ Mo’ and Ben Sidran.

Eric Alexander

Eric Alexander With Strings
(HighNote)

Thanks, no doubt, to the precedent-setting sweetness of Charlie Parker With Strings, there’s an expectation that any pairing of a saxophonist and a string section will result in something ballad-heavy and lush. Obviously, there have been exceptions—Joshua Redman’s recent Sun On Sand being an obvious example. But Eric Alexander With Strings plays delightfully to type, with tempos slow and sultry, and plenty of minor-key melodies.

Even so, the album never sounds like a throwback, in part because Dave Rivello’s arrangements rely as much on the rhythm section as the strings, but mostly because Alexander understands that the sweet, sustained string harmonies are more effective if they stand in contrast to the muscular insistence of the saxophone. As such, his tenor tone remains big and punchy, while his solos retain the hard-bop aggression of his combo recordings. Even the dreamy “The Thrill Is Gone,” immortalized on the 1954 album Chet Baker Sings, takes on a bit of edge when Alexander tosses the melody aside and works over the changes in his gruff, slow-burning solo. The strings might still whisper sweetly, but Alexander and his band (particularly drummer Joe Farnsworth) have work to do.

Traditionally, “with strings” albums are heavy on standards, and here, too, Alexander follows the formula while slyly tweaking it. Perhaps the only immediately recognizable tune on With Strings is Leonard Bernstein’s wistful sigh of regret, “Some Other Time,” which Alexander plays against type, taking an upbeat, bop approach to the groove that brings out the harmonic genius of Bernstein’s chords. But Alexander makes a strong case for the others as overlooked gems, particularly Henry Mancini’s moody, Latin-inflected “Slow, Hot Wind,” and “Lonely Woman”—not the Ornette Coleman lament, but a sweet, mournful Horace Silver number that’s ideally suited to the plangent luster of Alexander’s ballad tone.

One area in which Alexander could have been a little less traditional is the album’s playing time, which at roughly 37 minutes is fine for an LP, but seems a bit miserly in digital format. Still, the listening experience is so opulent that even a little bit feels like a lot, a sonic luxury to be savored at leisure.

Dave Specter

Blues From The Inside Out
(Delmark)

A middle-aged dog can learn new tricks. This is evidenced by veteran bluesman Dave Specter’s latest release, Blues From The Inside Out.

For the first time in his long career, the string-bending, flame-throwing guitarist emerges as a lead vocalist, taking charge of three tunes here. The muscular “How Low Can One Man Go?” is certain to get a response from crowds. With lyrics that reference the highest office in the land, a casino, bankruptcy, bone spurs and “telling lie after lie,” the tune is an angry jab at President Donald Trump. The song is delivered as a pent-up sentiment that Specter felt obligated to express.

On this program made up of nearly all his own compositions, Specter surrounds himself with an ace team. His frequent collaborator Brother John Kattke (who also plays organ and piano) delivers potent vocals on four cuts. Sarah Marie Young offers an engaging, nuanced lead vocal on the standout track “Wave’s Gonna Come,” a powerful composition by William Brichta. Additionally, the legendary Jorma Kaukonen plays guitar on two tracks, including “The Blues Ain’t Nothin’,” which he co-wrote with Specter.

The instrumental numbers pack a punch, too: There’s a Santana flavor to “Minor Shout,” and a Meters/Neville Brothers vibe to “Sanctifunkious.” The inspiring “March Through The Darkness,” sung by Kattke, owes an artistic debt to Mavis Staples. Specter shows his witty side with “Opposites Attract,” a tale about interpersonal relationships (a key topic for many blues artists, of course).

By recruiting the Liquid Soul Horns for three tracks and percussionist Ruben Alvarez for three tracks, Specter demonstrates that his version of the blues embraces influences from various genres. Longtime fans will find plenty of sturdy material to dig into here, including the leader’s newfound role as a vocalist. Another hat Specter wears is that of a podcaster, hosting a monthly show also titled Blues From The Inside Out.

Andrés Vial

Gang Of Three
(Chromatic Audio)

Montreal-based pianist Andrés Vial gained considerable attention and acclaim for his 2018 quartet outing, Andrés Vial Plays Thelonious Monk: Sphereology Vol. 1. With subsequent volumes of Sphereology in the works, Vial has decided to continue documenting his own development as a composer with the release of his fifth album as a leader, Gang Of Three, a trio date featuring nine original compositions recorded in a single session last April.

Joining Vial are bassist Dezron Douglas, who returns from the Sphereology sessions with his beautifully resonating acoustic sound, and drummer Eric McPherson, a new collaborator who fuels the intensity of the music without overpowering it. Vial, who studied jazz drums during his formative years, takes a percussive approach to the keyboard, using just enough touch to bring a melody to the forefront or finessing his attack to coax darker tonal shades from the piano. Vial’s inner drummer emerges in a couple of tunes built upon polymetric/polyrhythmic concepts: “Chacarera Para Wayne” is an intriguing piece that’s based on a northern Argentinian folk dance, and “Put Your Spikes In” draws inspiration from a central African Gbaya folk song (“Ba-di-heim-ha-naa-dai”).

Other highlights include album opener “Atonggaga Blues,” a 12-bar blues in 7/4 that establishes an exploratory vibe; the playful “Gang Of Three,” with its funky New Orleans feel and stylistic references to the work of pianists Monk, Bud Powell and Elmo Hope; “Montaigne,” which rides a shifting samba groove through an unsettling terrain of harmonic ambiguity; and the finale, “Cascadas,” whose descending chord melody sounds like a musical waterfall.

Charles Lloyd Quartet

Montreux Jazz Festival 1967 (Swiss Radio Days Jazz Series 46)
(The Montreux Jazz Label)

Saxophonist Charles Lloyd is renowned for fearlessly reinventing himself to explore some recently discovered facet of his personality and art.

A few years after his final recording in the band of drummer Chico Hamilton and the same year as the saxophonist’s Forest Flower was released, Lloyd took a star-studded ensemble to the Montreux Jazz Festival. Vividly depicting a band that was functioning at its peak, Montreux Jazz Festival 1967 (Swiss Radio Days Jazz Series 46) serves to fill out listeners’ understanding of Lloyd’s work with pianist Keith Jarrett and drummer Jack DeJohnette. (Ron McClure’s on bass, though Cecil McBee frequently accompanied the saxophonist at the time.)

But the bandleader’s decision to include “Lady Gabor,” which originally appeared on a Hamilton disc Lloyd helped record, is just curious given that he had decades of the genre to pick through for inspiration. Lloyd and guitarist Gabor Szabo, who wrote the tune, got their start performing in the relatively unheralded Hamilton groups of the 1960s. And while Szabo dispatched a handful of pretty memorable Technicolor leader dates, there haven’t been too many folks who’ve interpreted his songbook.

The live 1967 recording—which sports a 27-minute rendition of “Forest Flower,” replete with an intense DeJohnette drum solo—lends an air of relevance to the Hungarian guitarist’s work almost 40 years after his death. The rendition here is all entrancing flute moves from the bandleader and blocky chords from Jarrett, adding a contemplative vibe to a set of tunes that also takes a run at the pianist’s “Days And Nights Waiting,” and Lloyd’s “Love Ship” and “Sweet Georgia Bright.”

Tim Ray

Excursions And Adventures
(Whaling City Sound)

For a lot of jazz fans, the interest in this album will lie more with the side players than the leader, and fair enough. Tim Ray is a talented and accomplished pianist, but because much of his career has been spent playing behind pop artists—Lyle Lovett, most notably, but also Aretha Franklin, Bonnie Raitt and Jane Siberry—his name is less likely to ring bells than the names of drummer Teri Lynne Carrington or bassist John Patitucci. And to be honest, listening to Carrington and Patitucci mix it up on tracks like the angular, funky “Messiaen’s Gumbo” is one of this album’s greater pleasures.

But don’t take that to mean that this is in any way a lopsided trio, because Ray is more than capable of holding up his end. For one thing, he’s a remarkably rhythmic player, someone who doesn’t simply work a groove, but strengthens and intensifies it. “Nothing From Nothing,” the Billy Preston chestnut that opens the album, is full of bluesy harmony and left-hand-driven gospel flourishes, and it’s a joy to hear the bandleader cut loose. But it’s his comping behind Patitucci’s electric bass solo that really seals the deal, laying down a second layer of funk against Carrington’s already authoritative groove.

There’s a similar sense of rhythmic abandon to their take of The Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black,” a tune so well suited to jazz reinterpretation that it’s almost a shock to realize that it has hardly been done before. But it’s not just the trio’s sense of groove that makes it work; it’s also because they’re more than happy to stretch the harmony to its limits. The aforementioned “Messiaen’s Gumbo” is a case in point, a Patitucci composition that combines Crescent City funk with harmonic ideas derived from composer Olivier Messiaen’s modes of limited transposition. Opening with a fatback duet between drums and bass, it’s eloquently funky, but also nicely dissonant, thanks to the way Ray’s piano pushes the chords further and further from the tonic, as if Dr. John were momentarily possessed by Craig Taborn.

Thelonious Monk’s “Trinkle Tinkle” is equally playful, thanks to a conversational approach that underscores the composition’s wit, while Franz Lehar’s “Yours Is My Heart Alone” evokes the classic Bill Evans trio, both in its swinging interplay and pellucid approach to harmony.

Works For Me

Reach Within
(Posi-Tone)

Works For Me, a Posi-Tone organized ensemble of next-generation players, opens its first full-length album with a Joe Henderson tune from 1963 and ends on a Stevie Wonder cover that’s a bit too pumped full of sucrose for what most listeners might need—or want.

Stuffed between those tracks, though, is the straighahead work of an emerging group that’s looking to keep jazz from becoming an anachronism while investigating their own day-to-day lives.

Pianist Caili O’Doherty’s “Salt And Vinegar”—seemingly a paean to a delicious potato chip—reflects the collective ensemble’s relative youth and playfulness, as Alexa Tarantino’s soprano saxophone solo bumps up against the writer’s hard-swinging feature. “Lake Sebago” nods to bucolic escapes in Maine as it benefits from Tarantino’s alto flute intoning deep lines that weave in and out of guitarist Tony Davis’ melodic bedding. It’s one of two compositions the guitarist contributes here, the other being the much bluesier “El Gran Birane.”

The one player who might be considered a veteran here is Joe Strasser, a drummer who started contributing to recordings by Sam Yahel and Ken Fowser during the late ’90s. Strasser and bassist Adi Meyerson enable the group to explore and display the personalities of all involved as the five-piece band merges sketches of 21st-century life with an ennobling 100-year-old tradition.

Simone Baron & Arco Belo

The Space Between Disguises
(Self Release)

As longtime readers know, the motto that appears on the cover of DownBeat is “Jazz, Blues & Beyond.” The phrase includes that third word as an umbrella term, which applies to music that isn’t easy to categorize. “Beyond” is similar to “world music”: Both terms are intentionally broad, and both could be used to describe the work of pianist/accordionist Simone Baron, who recently released The Space Between Disguises, the debut album by her band Arco Belo. In the album’s liner notes, Baron describes her work, writing, “I thank you for joining me and my genre-queer ensemble as we dance in the spaces between jazz, chamber music, and folk tunes from around the globe.”

This is music that might appeal to, say, fans of banjoist Béla Fleck’s collaborations with bassist Edgar Meyer and tabla player Zakir Hussain, or perhaps Meyer’s genre-fluid work with cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

Arco Belo features Baron alongside bassist Michael Pope, drummer Lucas Ashby, percussionist Patrick Graney and a string section: Aaron Malone (violin, viola), Bill Neri (viola) and Peter Kibbe (cello). On the infectious track “Who Cares,” the core players are joined by tabla player Sandeep Das and Americana multi-instrumentalist Mark Schatz, who contributes banjo and bass. The result is an accordion-fueled musical stew that’s as tasty as it is hard to define.

The album’s centerpiece is the 12-minute “Passive Puppeteer,” which feels like a suite due to its dramatic pauses and intriguing section breaks. This musical journey finds the leader delivering memorable piano lines, as well as improvised runs on the accordion. Pope pumps up the proceedings with his electric bass work, and there are touches of the avant-garde that never descend into the harshly dissonant.

The program consists mainly of Baron’s original compositions, and although she generally doesn’t traffic in deep, repetitious grooves, the music has an inviting, accessible quality that will appeal to many big-eared listeners. Toward the end of the program is a trio of works that allow Baron to flex her muscles as an arranger, as she transforms jazz pianist Walter Bishop Jr.’s “Those Who Chant” (a tune he recorded on 1978’s Cubicle) into a piece that has a flavor akin to Aaron Copland’s work. That tune is followed by the bandleader’s arrangement of pianist/accordionist Tibor Fittel’s “Valsa,” parts of which are so lovely and gentle they could be slotted into the score of an animated Disney movie.

Baron’s creative aesthetic is illustrated nicely by “Buciumeana/Kadynja,” which merges Béla Bartok’s reading of a Romanian folk tune with a traditional melody of Moldovan origin. Overall, listeners who seek to explore far-flung musical vistas might want to stamp their passport for a border-hopping trip with Arco Belo.

Brian Shankar Adler

Fourth Dimension
(Chant)

Brian Shankar Adler doesn’t so much lead his band from behind the kit as he guides them to a place where all involved feel emboldened to break through perceived limitations of the genre.

The drummer, who as a child spent time living at a New York-state ashram, solders together contemporary ideas and at least passing references to Gary Burton’s electric ensembles from the 1960s on Fourth Dimension, Adler’s seventh date as a leader. There’s a healthy dose of Indian classical music throughout, which could be attributed either to the bandleader’s time at the Shree Muktananda Ashram, where silent meditation was on tap, or simply his interest in percussion. And while the drummer’s an affiliate of the Brooklyn Raga Massive, the music on Fourth Dimension hues toward the personal, as cuts named “Gowanus” and “Watertown” sit next to “Mantra” and “Rudram.”

“Windy Path,” a low-key, contemplative excursion, might sit most comfortably with the jazz designation, piano and vibes out front and guitar in a supportive role as Adler gently urges on the quintet. It’s a minor mood, one that serves as a ballast to some of the more outré fare here. But even as “Gowanus” revels in its experimentalist tendencies—some backward tape moves and shreddy guitar contributing to the vibe—Adler’s ensemble looks to combine jazz’s history, the bandleader’s childhood experiences and the music’s increasingly global resolve.

William Hooker

Symphonie Of Flowers
(ORG)

“Freedom Rider,” the second cut on veteran drummer William Hooker’s Symphonie Of Flowers, likely was intended to invoke Art Blakey as much as civil-rights activists. Of course, Blakey was both.

But on this album—just as he has done through decades of abstract and poignant work with folks situated in the jazz and rock worlds—Hooker uses history to enliven a suite of music that bounds through subgenres and percussive ideas, tying together philosophy and sentiment in a way that generations of players have aimed for, but few have achieved. Is it broadly palatable? Probably not. But neither were the machinations of pianist Cecil Taylor, and we’re not likely to forget about him any time soon.

The bandleader opens the disc with “Chain Gangs,” and wraps up the program with “Hieroglyphics,” which judders with gravelly synthesizer, freely blown saxophone and snippets of piano and flute, as well as Hooker’s percussive acrobatics. Points between—“Rastafarian,” with its new-music lilt and fiery drums display, or “Jazz,” which seems to posit the freer history of the music as the line to follow—serve to fill out Hooker’s perspective on the genre’s development alongside bits of social commentary.

More drum features crop up on Symphonie than listeners are going to find on most other jazz-related discs. And sometimes it’s actually a handful of drummers—Warren Smith, Michael Thompson, Marc Edwards and Hooker—blasting away, while players switch to keyboards and summon jagged snatches of melody to color Hooker’s dramatic suite.

Adrian Cunningham & His Friends

Play Lerner & Loewe
(Arbors)

The leader clearly had a famous precedent in mind when he recorded his new album, Adrian Cunningham & His Friends Play Lerner & Loewe. Cunningham, an Australian reedist now based in New York, has crafted a gem in the spirit of 1956’s Shelly Manne & His Friends’ Modern Jazz Performances Of Songs From ‘My Fair Lady.’ For that vintage, influential recording, the lineup was a trio: Manne (drums), André Previn (piano) and Leroy Vinnegar (bass). But Cunningham pursues a broader sonic palette here: He recruited Fred Hersch’s acclaimed, namesake trio—featuring bassist John Hébert and drummer Eric McPherson—to join him in the core unit, and he invited trumpeter Randy Brecker and trombonist Wycliffe Gordon to play on a few tracks.

Whereas Manne focused on a single musical by the powerhouse duo of lyricist Alan Jay Lerner (1918–’86) and composer Frederick Loewe (1901–’88), Cunningham dives into showtunes not only from My Fair Lady (“Just You Wait,” “The Rain In Spain” and “I Could Have Danced All Night”), but also from Gigi, Camelot, Brigadoon and Paint Your Wagon. Along with this Cunningham album, Arbors Records simultaneously released another, related disc: a duo project by Dick Hyman (piano) and Ken Peplowski (clarinet, tenor saxophone) titled Counterpoint Lerner & Loewe.

The program on Cunningham’s work—a mixture of written charts and improvisation—showcases the bandleader’s skills on saxophone, clarinet and flute. This straightahead jazz gem also reveals the adventurous streak of a bandleader who seeks to bend, dissect and reconstruct showtunes in a new way, with fresh ideas and unexpected tempos. When Gordon unleashes some grease and growl on “I Could Have Danced All Night” and “I Was Born Under A Wand’rin’ Star,” the band transports the material from the Broadway stage to a smoky jazz club.

Fans of Hersch’s trio albums likely won’t be disappointed with this sparkling, nuanced program. The intertwining of Hersch’s poignant piano lines and Cunningham’s tender clarinet work on the ballad “The Heather On The Hill” epitomizes sophistication and grace.

Nick Fraser/Kris Davis/Tony Malaby

Zoning
(Astral Spirits)

Drummer Nick Fraser is a longtime staple of the Toronto jazz scene—and for good reason. Not only is he a tremendously creative player, equally at home with free-form improvisation and standard bop-style jazz, he’s also a remarkably attentive listener. It’s that latter quality, his ability to grasp and support what other improvisors are doing, that sets the tone for Zoning, the second album by his trio with pianist Kris Davis and saxophonist Tony Malaby.

Actually, “trio” is a bit of a misnomer here, as Fraser, Davis and Malaby are joined by saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and trumpeter Lina Allemano on half the album. The very first thing we hear on the title track is a squeaky, percussive figure played by Laubrock that quickly establishes both a pulse and a dynamic, as she and Malaby duet conversationally. A little more than a minute in, Allemano enters, growling. She offers an angular legato line that contrasts nicely against the short, near-staccato note clusters of the saxophones, and Fraser enters not long after, his snare and tambourine so understated that it takes a moment to register what they are.

After Davis comes in, the horns fade, and she and Fraser perform a clattering duet that will remind some listeners of pianist Cecil Taylor and drummer Andrew Cyrille. Then the horns return, taking the tune to its peak by working off a phrase that’s repeated at differing tempos, like a pot brought to a boil and then cooled. It’s an amazing fusion of composition structure and improvisational freedom, made all the more compelling by the deeply simpatico playing of these five musicians.

In fact, each selection on the album has its own compositional logic and improvisational surprises. The thrumming, clattering “Events” is full of rhythmic cross-currents that show off Fraser’s and Davis’ strengths, yet still showcase Malaby’s searing emotion on tenor.

“Sketch 46,” by contrast, gets by on the barest hint of a pulse, as the horns—Allemano, most notably—use nonstandard techniques to expand their sonic palettes. Yet no matter how abstract the group’s sound gets, there’s always a sense of unity and structure to the music, the sort of thing that only comes from time spent learning from and listening to each other.

Johnny Griffin/Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis

Ow! Live At The Penthouse
(Reel To Real)

Back in the early ’60s, when tenor saxophonists Johnny Griffin and Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis teamed up to record a series of albums, they were dubbed the “Tough Tenors,” no doubt in appreciation of the rough-and-tumble nature of their dueling solos. But when I first heard them, courtesy of a Prestige “two-for” package released a decade later, what struck me about their blues-inflected interplay wasn’t its combative quality but, rather, its soul. To my ears, they had more in common with Sam and Dave than with Foreman and Ali.

That’s definitely the vibe on Ow! Live At The Penthouse, recorded over two nights at Seattle’s Penthouse club in 1962. Instead of playing to the pugilistic side of their sound, the program has the relaxed, congenial feel of friendly conversation, as if each solo is meant less as one-upmanship than as point/counterpoint.

Not that there’s anything lax about their playing. Indeed, “Tickle Toe,” the Basie chestnut that was one of the highlights of the 1960 LP Tough Tenors, is even tougher here, as they rip through the tune at a slightly higher tempo and a decidedly more elevated level of post-bop improvisation. Were the duo around today, their catalog likely would be peppered with references to the Fast and the Furious movie franchise.

That said, the most endearing thing about Ow! is the playfulness of the solos. Griffin’s feature on “Bahia,” for example, starts off by echoing some of the gruff bluesiness of Davis’ opening solo, but eventually, playing off Horace Parlan’s piano chords, the saxophonist quotes “Manteca,” and then finishes the tune with a lengthy lift from Ravel’s “Bolero.”

While Davis’ solos are long on drive and bluesy growl, Griffin’s more boppish sensibility is leavened by his fondness for quotes. He slips a few bars of Thelonious Monk’s “Rhythm-A-Ning” into the soulful “Ow!,” nods to “Fascinatin’ Rhythm” while trading fours with Davis during “Blue Lou,” and ends his solo on “Second Balcony Jump” with a snippet of Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March.” Like everything else on this album, it’s a blast.

Marta Sánchez Quintet

El Rayo De Luz
(Fresh Sound)

She has songs about ragweed, green ants, sunflowers and dead flowers.

New York-based pianist Marta Sánchez distills the natural world, taking in small vignettes and turning them into springy compositions for her quintet. And most of the band from 2017’s Danza Imposible (Fresh Sound New Talent) returns for her new release, El Rayo De Luz, with tenorist Chris Cheek taking over the spot vacated by Jerome Sabbagh.

A pair of tunes—“El Cambio” and “Unchanged”—chew over stasis and the push for something new, ideas that clearly ping around the composer’s mind.

“I thought a lot this past year about change, about all the things I have been [wanting] to change for years, about what remains unchanged, about how to make a big change, if it is even possible,” Sánchez wrote in an email. “I think both tunes, if [they’re] not talking about the same [thing], probably are related to the same chain of thought.”

Change and beauty come to bear on “Dead Flowers,” too, a tune prompted by a vase that offered a slouching allure to the composer. The shift from lushness to decaying petals seems to reflect Sánchez’s preoccupation with life’s little variations. The song itself—all moody prevarication—is a noirish sketch with Cheek bleating out an intro to a piano feature that’s both inquisitive and filled with life, but set against a dark backdrop.

If Sánchez keeps shuttling the gradations of daily life through the spectrum of her keyboard, we’re eventually going to wind up with a collection of albums that serve as a novelistic look into her mind—and likely be better off for it.

Brian Lynch Big Band

The Omni-American Book Club: My Journey Through Literature In Music
(Hollistic MusicWorks)

Brian Lynch’s first big band album connects the trumpeter’s lifelong passion for reading with his expansive vision as a composer/arranger. And while the dedications on The Omni-American Book Club: My Journey Through Literature In Music reveal Lynch’s deep interest in African-American literature and social justice, one need not be familiar with authors W.E.B. DuBois, Albert Murray, Ned Sublette, Naomi Klein, Masha Gessen, Isabel Wilkerson, Ralph Ellison, Chinua Achebe, Amiri Baraka and A.B. Spellman to fully enjoy this Afro-Caribbean-fueled, two-disc collection of strikingly fresh, intricately arranged original compositions.

An alumnus of groups led by Art Blakey, Horace Silver, Eddie Palmieri and Phil Woods—and a leader on more than 20 of his own albums—Lynch made his mark as a distinguished improviser and writer conversant in a wide variety of genres long before this new large-ensemble project was conceived. With its arrival this summer, The Omni-American Book Club has elevated Lynch’s vast oeuvre to ambitious new heights of accomplishment and acclaim, earning a Grammy nomination for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album. It features a stellar cast that includes Lynch’s teaching colleagues at University of Miami’s Frost School of Music, students and alumni of Frost, world-class players from the Miami area and six stellar guests who appear on one track each: drummer Dafnis Prieto, flutist Orlando “Maraca” Valle, soprano saxophonist Dave Liebman, violinist Regina Carter and alto saxophonists Donald Harrison and Jim Snidero. The music captivates as unrelenting grooves, sparkling ensemble interplay and ripping solos take the listener on an exhilarating thrill-ride inspired by fearless intellectuals whose written works have had a life-changing effect on this socially conscious bandleader.

The leadoff track, “Crucible For Crisis,” establishes the high musical standards The Omni-American Book Club adheres to, with Prieto, Valle and Lynch igniting the passion that smolders over the course of the entire program. Liebman takes a leading role on “The Trouble With Elysium,” blowing with the tune’s swing-to-Latin flow and trading increasingly bold statements with tenor saxophonist Gary Keller during the solo section before Lynch, pianist Alex Brown and drummer Kyle Swan contribute excellent improvisations of their own. “Tribute To Blue (Mitchell)” commits to a classic big band vibe, as Snidero and Lynch swing mightily during solos that mix laid-back bluesiness with spirited bursts of bebop.

Avram Fefer Quartet

Testament
(Clean Feed)

Saxophonist Avram Fefer has developed a rapport that’s held for about a decade with the tandem of bassist Eric Revis and drummer Chad Taylor. The relationship has been flexible enough to endure some downtime; the trio’s last album was released in 2011. But Testament revels in new and nuanced textures as the trio reconvenes, adding Marc Ribot.

The guitarist’s talents—spread across genres during the past 35-plus years through his work with Diana Krall, Solomon Burke, Elvis Costello, Marianne Faithful and Tom Waits—push the band toward the edges, prompted by a tone that shifts from jazz-world comping to blues shredding. It’s also a feature of the album that might help pull some more listeners with traditionally tuned ears into Fefer’s orbit.

“Essaouira,” presumably named for the Moroccan port city, mimics the tide, rolling in on waves of Taylor’s drumming as Fefer and Ribot mirror each other on the melody. The tune, penned by the bandleader, first appeared on Eliyahu, a collective 2011 work by the trio. With Ribot’s addition, though, the song takes on a new life, as does Taylor’s “Song For Dyani,” another cut from that earlier album.

“Magic Mountain” and “Wishful Thinking” incorporate heavy doses of Ribot’s spirited six-stringing, but the bandleader’s writing and playing still shine through, touching on the calmest moments of contemplation and moving into the most pressurized distillations of passion. That the saxophonist does so in a holistic fashion across Testament makes it a hothouse of a recording, one that clearly benefits from Fefer’s time in Burnt Sugar The Arkestra Chamber and Adam Rudolph’s Go: Organic Orchestra.

Joel Paterson

Let It Be Guitar! Joel Paterson Plays The Beatles
(Bloodshot/Ventrella)

John Lennon and Paul McCartney created such a rich body of work that nearly every new tribute to The Beatles generates a healthy dose of musical joy—regardless of the genre. Even though tributes to the lads from Liverpool are diverse and commonplace, Chicago-based guitarist Joel Paterson still generates excitement with Let It Be Guitar! Joel Paterson Plays The Beatles, a disc that would reside nicely in a playlist alongside Chet Atkins’ 1966 LP Picks On The Beatles.

Mixing elements of jazz, rock, country and exotica, Paterson (electric guitar, lap steel, pedal steel), Beau Sample (bass) and Alex Hall (drums) explore The Beatles’ early work—such as “All My Loving,” “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “This Boy”—as well as later material in the band’s career (like George Harrison’s “Something” and even the brief “Her Majesty,” the “hidden track” from Abbey Road). Jazz organist Chris Foreman sits in for few tunes, adding intoxicating textures to the mix.

Paterson clearly has an affinity for The Beatles’ early work, as evidenced by the artwork for the album, a parody of the cover of the band’s first Stateside LP, Introducing … The Beatles. Overall, Paterson embraces a spare, less-is-more aesthetic.

It’s hard not to smile or sway while listening to the twangy rendition of “And I Love Her” or the sly version of “Things We Said Today.” The readings of “If I Fell” and “Michelle” are so charming that they might tempt the listener to listen to each track again, rather than running to hear the Fab Four versions. “Honey Pie” allows Paterson to show off his skills on acoustic, electric and pedal steel guitar.

“I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party” isn’t on most fans’ list of Top 10 Beatles tunes, but hardcore fanatics might recall that Rosanne Cash took a version to the top of the country charts in 1989. Here Paterson concludes his rendition with a powerful, ghostly pedal-steel wail.

Lolly Allen

Coming Home
(OA2)

In recent years, among the vibraphonists who have raised their profiles as bandleaders are Joel Ross, Behn Gillece and Matt Moran. Joining their ranks is Los Angeles-based Lolly Allen, whose cohesive new album, Coming Home, features two original compositions, along with interpretations of songs by Johnny Mandel (“Emily”), Mario Bauza (“Mambo Inn”) and Antônio Carlos Jobim (“O Grande Amor”). For this project, Allen teamed up with a couple of rising stars: Danny Janklow, who contributed alto and tenor saxophone throughout the program, and pianist Josh Nelson, who played on about half the tracks, served as assistant producer for the recording and wrote an essay for the liner notes. Allen also recruited some jazz veterans for the sessions, including guitarist Larry Koonse and drummer Paul Kreibich.

The program opens with a joyous, swinging version of Horace Silver’s “The Hippest Cat In Hollywood,” and it closes with a quintet rendition of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Bebop” that features delightful, rapid-fire exchanges among band members. Elsewhere, Allen’s luminous tone permeates her lovely arrangement of Tadd Dameron’s “If You Could See Me Now.” A reading of Luiz Bonfá’s “Gentle Rain” features drummer Kendall Kay’s light rhythmic touch—evoking the precipitation of the title—as well as a mesmerizing solo from Allen.

With the satisfying musical journey presented on Coming Home, the young vibraphonist has become a rising bandleader to watch.

Michael Formanek Very Practical Trio

Even Better
(Intakt)

If the collaborative endeavor Thumbscrew wasn’t enough to demonstrate the way bassist Michael Formanek and guitarist Mary Halvorson excel in each other’s company, Even Better is further proof.

Formanek’s career has been stippled with stints heading his own troupes, and for this latest trio, in addition to Halvorson, he’s tapped exploratory reedist Tim Berne to join in. Each player here’s known for bounding experimentation, and while Berne’s in the spotlight a bit less than Halvorson, closer “Jade Visions” is a gorgeous excursion headed by the saxophonist’s register hopping. It’s a tune penned by bassist Scott LaFaro (1936–’61), and played as tribute, the whole thing predicated on the trio wending its way through the melody, Berne measuredly out front. When he drops out, though, Halvorson and Formanek duet for about a minute in some sort of tempered, all-knowing, slow-paced excavation of beauty.

The bassist’s Very Practical Trio—its purpose hinted at by both its name, as well as the music on Even Better—clearly isn’t about avant-garde heroics and displays of technical acumen. Even the most outré moments, including the eight weird minutes of “Implausible Deniability,” seem quiet, insular and personal, pointing at the wonderland of associates with whom Formanek has developed an undeniable rapport during a truly momentous career.

Tomeka Reid Quartet

Old New
(Cuneiform)

It’s hard to understand why cello isn’t played by more jazz musicians. It has tremendous range, both in terms of pitch and expressivity, is more suited to pizzicato playing than violin, has a smoother, richer arco sound than bass and can generate all sorts of interesting colors using harmonics. It’s easily one of the most versatile instruments around.

But don’t take my word for it—listen to Tomeka Reid. On Old New, she does a little bit of everything, from brisk bow work to plangent plucking, playing single-note lines, chords and squeaky bits of aural shrapnel. In fact, she does as much sonic shape-shifting with her bow and fingers as guitarist Mary Halvorson does with her pedals across the recording.

Even better, she and Halvorson do all this within a format that is, for the most part, straightforward and melodic. Take, for example, “Sadie,” a spritely, bop-style tune that finds bassist Jason Roebke laying down a solid walking line, while drummer Tomas Fujiwara maintains an amiable shuffle. Reid’s solo, played pizzicato, starts off as straightforward hard-bop, but moves steadily toward the blues as she uses microtonal finger-slides to emulate guitar string-bending. Halvorson, whose solo follows, takes pitch-bending in a totally different direction, using her pedalboard to make tones melt and drip like one of Salvador Dali’s clocks. In all, the track manages to be both straightahead and outside, a perfect realization of the title aesthetic.

It’s in that blend of modern and traditional that Reid and her quartet truly find their sound. “Niki’s Bop”—written for Reid’s mentor, flutist Nicole Mitchell—is built around a harmonically angular tune and features some fairly free interplay between Reid and Halvorson. But no matter how out-there the solos get, the music remains firmly rooted, thanks to the New Orleans swagger of Fujiwara’s drumming and Roebke’s groove-grounded bass. On the other hand, even though “Wabash Blues” is drenched in tradition, there’s not a blues cliché to be heard, thanks to the harmonic and technical audacity of the playing. But because the form is so easily understood (and the rhythm so solid), even the most nonlinear aspects of the solos go down easily.

Mike Holober & The Gotham Jazz Orchestra

Hiding Out
(Zoho)

A single, repeated, bell-like tone, followed by a slow trickle of high-pitched woodwinds and muted brass, open the appropriately titled suite “Flow” from Mike Holober’s new recording with his Gotham Jazz Orchestra—a 17-piece, New York-based ensemble of the highest caliber. An idyllic scene gradually emerges as the minimalist music floats downstream and a simple melodic theme takes shape, then reemerges, shaded with a pleasantly dissonant harmony. The waters deepen from moment to moment, eventually opening up into a grand vista that continues to grow in complexity and gain momentum. The arrangement expands in breadth and the ensemble builds to dramatic crescendos, the tenor saxophone soloist soaring ever higher above the prevailing currents and occasional eddies below. The view only gets more spectacular from there, as the Hudson River-inspired motives of Holober’s composition unfold over four movements.

Equally compelling, and inspired, is the five-part suite “Hiding Out,” another Holober composition that depicts the grandeur of the natural world (in this case, the landscapes surrounding Clearmont, Wyoming). Other highlights of this double album include the opening track, “Jumble,” a large-scale original work in one movement, and Holober’s arrangement of the seldom-heard Jobim tune “Caminhos Cruzados,” showcasing trumpeter Marvin Stamm, one of nearly two dozen instrumental aces who contributed to Hiding Out.

In addition to being an esteemed composer, arranger and pianist, Holober is an avid outdoorsman whose passion for backpacking, canoeing and camping manages to find its way into everything he writes. It has been 10 years since the release of the Gotham City Jazz Orchestra’s last album, Quake, as Holober has been immersed in projects with other major big bands (Germany’s hr-Bigband and WDR Big Band, among others) and working as an educator (The City College of New York and the BMI Jazz Composers Workshop), not to mention playing plenty of sideman gigs. He hasn’t exactly been “hiding out,” so to speak, but he certainly has been less visible as a leader, until now.

With the release of this long-anticipated, epic work, Holober has brought a profound artistic vision to bear on today’s jazz scene and confirmed his standing as one of the finest modern composer/arrangers of our time, in the tradition of Gil Evans, Bob Brookmeyer and Jim McNeely.

Erroll Garner

Campus Concert
(Mack Avenue/Octave Music)

The release of vintage recordings can lead to a reassessment and deeper appreciation for an artist’s career, and that certainly has been the case with pianist Erroll Garner (1921–’77). The DownBeat Hall of Fame inductee’s renaissance is in full swing. In 2015, Legacy released an expanded version of the classic album Concert By The Sea, with 11 previously unreleased tracks. That was followed by two albums of previously unreleased material: the 2016 studio compilation Ready Take One (Legacy/Octave) and the 2018 release Nightconcert, a live trio date recorded in Amsterdam in 1964 with bassist Eddie Calhoun and drummer Kelly Martin.

Between Fall 2019 and June 2020, the partnership between Mack Avenue and Octave Music will reissue 12 albums in the Garner catalog as part of the Octave Remastered Series. Each of the albums has been restored to clean up any distortion in the original tapes. Each will include a previously unreleased track, and the reissues will feature some musical introductions that were edited out of the performances when they originally were released. In addition to Garner’s vocalizations (yelps, growls and grunts), he frequently would precede a standard with a solo piano flourish, as his bandmates waited to see what would follow these mesmerizing introductions. Reinstating these intros gives the contemporary listener a more accurate depiction of what it would have been like to hear Garner on the bandstand.

The lively Campus Concert, the sixth release in the Octave Remastered Series, was recorded at three shows in 1962 and finds Garner in a trio setting with Calhoun and Martin. Those players were there to support the star; no bass or drum solos are included here. Nor are there any spoken comments, but listening to this gem gives one the sense that the pianist had established a rapport with the crowd. The spotlight is trained on Garner as he applies his distinctive, muscular style to a set that focuses on standards, including “My Funny Valentine,” “Almost Like Being In Love,” “In The Still Of The Night” and “These Foolish Things (Remind Me Of You).”

The album opens with a rousing “(Back Home Again In) Indiana,” a track perhaps chosen as a crowd-pleaser for the audience at Purdue University, in West Lafayette, Indiana—where the bulk of the program was recorded. Throughout the proceedings, Garner swings like a gate and displays an infectious robustness, as on “Lulu’s Back In Town,” one of two cuts recorded at the World’s Fair Playhouse in Seattle.

“Stardust,” the other Seattle track, is the album’s zenith. Previous versions of Campus Concert include a 4:52 version of Hoagy Carmichael’s classic tune, but this reissue offers a 5:47 rendition. So, not only can listeners enjoy the familiar right-hand and left-hand call-and-response segment included on the album’s original release, they also get to hear Garner’s full exploration of the tune, showcasing his renowned harmonic imagination at work.

The program concludes with a previously unreleased original tune, “La Petite Mambo,” a fun swinger that nods to another original that the Pittsburgh native played that night in Indiana: “Mambo Erroll.”

Listening to this program will put listeners in a time machine that travels to an era when jazz had great cultural currency on college campuses, and the fervid cultural debates about The Beatles were still a few years away.

Dave Douglas

Engage
(Greenleaf Music)

Political jazz is a peculiar beast. Unlike the more pop-oriented forms of protest music, there’s often no singer to act as a figurehead, and no lyrics to provide a polemic. At its most muddled, it works about as well as using abstract art on a campaign poster.

On the other hand, if you look at politics as a form of action, rather than a school of thought, playing jazz can be a surprisingly suggestive model. A jazz combo is, after all, a form of community, and how the individuals act together determines the success of the whole. Is there anything in art more uplifting than hearing a group of people come together to make great music?

That seems to be the thinking behind Engage, trumpeter Dave Douglas’ latest project. Describing the music in his liner notes as “compositions dedicated to positive action,” Douglas avoids partisan specifics and instead urges action “to stay positive and engaged through music daily.”

Musically, the positivity is expressed through writing based entirely on major triads. None of that half-diminished-seventh ambiguity here. But Douglas’ crew—woodwind player Anna Webber, guitarist Jeff Parker, cellist Tomeka Reid, bassist Nick Dunston and drummer Kate Gentile—are the sort who aren’t going to let triadic harmony limit them to “See Spot Run” simplicity. However straightforward the writing on the delightfully tuneful takes of “Showing Up,” the playing comfortably stretches limits, particularly when Webber’s alto flute and Reid’s cello are in creative counterpoint.

It should also be mentioned that Douglas can be pretty creative with his major-triad harmony, as “One Sun, A Million Ways,” with its closely intertwined trumpet lines (Dave Adewumi joins in here), makes plain. There’s a difference between “simple” and “simplistic,” after all. From the gospel-inflected groove of “Free Libraries” to the “Maiden Voyage”-style pulse that powers “Sanctuary Cities,” Douglas and company make a compelling case that standing up for shared values isn’t just good politics, but good art as well.

Kit Downes

Dreamlife Of Debris
(ECM)

The best art arguably can encompass high and low, the profane and the sanctified.

Kit Downes, who topped the categories Rising Star–Keyboard and Rising Star–Organ in the 2019 DownBeat Critics Poll, turns in his second leader date for the venerated ECM Records, Dreamlife Of Debris, and rather easily coaxes spirited exhortations and divine simplicity out of a piano, as well as a church organ. But it’s the combination of Downes’ ghostly organ turns and the placid longtones of Tom Challenger’s tenor saxophone that make the album’s title such a fitting thing.

Just as ECM has retained a certain jazz aesthetic over the years, it has cultivated a strain of classical music with keystone releases by the likes of Arvo Pärt. The middle path might be some sort of slow-rolling minimalism, not unlike Steve Reich’s compositions or Terry Riley’s drone works from the 1960s; Downes’ take of Ruth Goller’s “M7” could have slotted into almost any of those recordings. And the bandleader’s own “Circinus” finds his organ copping some uncluttered version of decades-old austerity, while cellist Lucy Railton bows the changes and Challenger’s horn sweeps through emotions. It’s a sturdy formula that peaceably works throughout the recording.

A couple of tunes set Downes at an acoustic piano, his bandmates helping to mimic the dark and dour image of the album cover. “Blackeye,” the closer where Downes and Challenger split writing credits, opens with a contemplative feeling that’s not just pervasive here, but across a bunch of ECM works. The pair and Railton float around on clouds for about a minute-and-a-half; then 15 seconds of silence. Downes switches to organ and, making his most concerted contribution to Dreamlife, Seb Rochford comes padding in on an augmented kit that sounds like it largely consists of toms and a gong. It’s Moondog territory, and it sends the band toward its most propulsive, songlike statements. It’s also the most aggressive-sounding composition Downes has recorded on either of his leader dates for ECM. It still might not be a jazz tune, but “Blackeye” is a deeply affecting sonic turn that’s a surprise and a nod toward less experimental works—if only just vaguely.

Hendrik Meurkens

Cobb’s Pocket
(In+Out)

What happens when an art form’s foremost practitioner dies? When harmonica legend Toots Thielemans passed away in 2016, fans around the globe asked, “Who will carry the mantle?” The responsibility for extending the jazz-harmonica tradition has fallen to various players, including Grégoire Maret, Howard Levy and Hendrik Meurkens, a native of Hamburg who now is based in New York.

Meurkens, also acclaimed as a vibraphonist, sticks to the harmonica on his new album, Cobb’s Pocket. He composed the title track in honor of the drummer on this quartet project, Jimmy Cobb, now 90 years old. The other players on this album are straightahead masters with a long shared history: Guitarist Peter Bernstein and organist Mike LeDonne frequently collaborate in the latter’s Groover Quartet. The new album marks the third time that Meurkens has recruited Cobb for one of his leader dates, but the first time that the harmonicist has recorded with an organ trio. The results are deeply satisfying.

Meurkens’ elegant rendition of Slide Hampton’s “Frame For The Blues” features the type of tenderness that made Thielemans an icon, while LeDonne and Bernstein each offer solos that propel the musical narrative without lapsing into grandstanding. Meurkens’ solo on the title track is a master class on crafting melodic lines and colorful shading with a harmonica, demonstrating that in the right hands, the instrument can rival the trumpet or saxophone in terms of musical intricacy and emotional impact. Throughout the album, just as one would expect, Cobb’s playing is consistently tasteful, as he builds the sonic pocket that is celebrated in the title track.

The program leans heavily on standards but also includes three Meurkens originals, including one of his most famous compositions, the oft-recorded “Slidin’.” The album opens with a strong dose of swing and groove via “Driftin’,” which appeared on Herbie Hancock’s 1962 debut, Takin’ Off. Meurkens decided to include an interpretation of “Unit 7,” partially because Cobb had recorded a rendition of the Sam Jones composition in 1965 alongside bassist Paul Chambers, pianist Wynton Kelly and guitarist Wes Montgomery on the album Smokin’ At The Half Note.

“Polka Dots And Moonbeams” is one of the most frequently recorded standards in history, with a lengthy line of interpreters that includes Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan, Dexter Gordon, John Denver and Bob Dylan. Although it has been recorded hundreds of times, Meurkens brings something fresh to the tune, thanks to his command of an instrument not frequently found on the jazz bandstand.

Tyshawn Sorey/Marilyn Crispell

The Adornment Of Time
(Pi)

The bifurcation of jazz and its associated musics—or at least the listenership of the two branches—has been hugely beneficial in one respect: Any perceived limitations to form and function are discarded by one set of folks and stringently adhered to by another, enabling both the inside and outside wing to retain its heroes.

The downside, though, is that folks like pianist Marilyn Crispell, despite working with a wondrous list of well-known performers for decades and releasing music through ECM, remains a relatively unsung purveyor of “out” sounds. During the past year, though, in addition to issuing her umpteenth album on Leo, Dream Libretto, the pianist also was an integral part of Joe Lovano’s Trio Tapestry. Linking up here with drummer Tyshawn Sorey, another improvisor who perhaps warrants wider acclaim, Crispell is capping an intensely creative period in her career. Or, at least, another one.

The Adornment Of Time, a single 64-minute track, sports at least six sections, ranging from its twinkling-chimes opening to the few stentorian segments where Sorey and Crispell rail against the expected.

It’s a musical Rubik’s Cube.

Crispell might coax out some dissonant chords as Sorey tucks into a regular rhythm before both engage in extended silence. Tinkering with the inside of her piano functions as a sonic detour, as do her painterly washes of tremolo or augmented chording. Then there’s the excitement of Sorey’s thudding exclamations—or moments of tender restraint. And while The Adornment Of Time isn’t likely to change the minds of listeners who think the genre ostensibly stopped evolving in 1959 (or 1961, if you want to use Coltrane’s Live At The Village Vanguard as the point when everything started to break apart very publicly), it’s as vital a recording to the music’s longtail history as the Branford Marsalis Quartet’s most recent effort. And just as enjoyable, if you have the right set of ears.

Various Artists

Come On Up To The House: Women Sing Waits
(Dualtone)

A transcendent tribute album illuminates the artistry of the honoree, as well as that of the participating performers. Rocker Warren Zanes is to be applauded enthusiastically for producing Come On Up To The House: Women Sing Waits, as is Dualtone CEO Scott Robinson, who conceptualized the project. This disc brilliantly presents a dozen Tom Waits ballads in Americana settings. In place of Waits’ gruff, guttural (yet charming) singing are lead vocals from female artists whose styles are far more accessible. These tunes are finely crafted gems, not rowdy barn burners.

The press release for this album describes Waits’ persona as being “equal parts bard, balladeer, Beat poet, barfly, carnival barker and smoky lounge singer.” That is one way to view him. But this album’s pristine performances shine a spotlight on an oft-overlooked aspect of Waits’ personality: Though frequently regarded as an eccentric actor and junkyard howler, Waits is also a sophisticated tunesmith whose melodies can benefit from a singer with a broad vocal range.

Waits’ album discography stretches from 1973 to 2011, but five of the tunes on Come On Up To The House are from a single source—his Grammy-winning, 1999 disc, Mule Variations. Waits cowrote most of the tracks on that album with Kathleen Brennan, whom he wed in 1980.

No fan of Mule Variations should hesitate to seek out this tribute disc. Portland band Joseph (a trio of sisters) sets the tone with the opener/title track, giving Americana fans a rich slice of manna. Australian singer-songwriter Angie McMahon delivers a delicate version of “Take It With Me,” Arkansas folkie Iris DeMent unleashes her poignant vibrato on a pedal-steel-fueled “House Where Nobody Lives” and Los Angeles native Phoebe Bridgers sculpts a sad, cinematic “Georgia Lee.” Aimee Mann’s rendition of “Hold On” conveys the type of palpable emotional investment that can arise when one great songwriter interprets the work of another.

Sibling vocal harmony is the key ingredient of Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer’s strings-laden, countrypolitan rendition of “Ol ’55” (popularized by The Eagles). British r&b singer Corinne Bailey Rae—who is akin to a great character actor, in that she can elevate any production in which she participates—offers a soulful rendition of “Jersey Girl” (popularized by Bruce Springsteen). Other artists appearing on the album include Rosanne Cash (“Time”), Courtney Marie Andrews (“Downtown Train”) and Kat Edmonson (“You Can Never Hold Back Spring”).

Zanes’ production results in an album that is polished and even radio-friendly, without being overly glossy. Compositions like “Time” and “Georgia Lee” can stand on their own as poetry on the page, with plenty of music and rhythms inherent in the carefully selected words.

Barney Wilen Quartet

Live In Tokyo ’91
(Elemental)

French saxophonist Barney Wilen’s a relatively unknown figure in the States; it’s perhaps his Zodiac or Moshi that obsessive diggers and avantists best know him for. But Wilen’s career stretched from the 1950s, when he recorded with Miles Davis and innumerable expat Americans, until his death in 1996.

A newly issued set, Live In Tokyo ’91, showcases the bandleader late in his career, still toting an assured tenor sound alongside a band performing at the Keystone Korner in Japan. It’s a straightahead effort, but so solid a recording that even those coming to the album hoping for the eccentricities deployed on Zodiac and Moshi should be sated by the bop dispensed here. A smoky take of Sonny Rollins’ “Doxy” comes just after a rendition of “Besame Mucho,” which is honestly a more fiery and rewarding interpretation than it has any right to be by 1991.

The set gets bogged down a bit when on the second disc the quartet turns to “Latin Alley” and features a pretty dated-sounding keyboard, courtesy of Olivier Hutman. It’s not a regrettable performance, just one that shows its age. And, for the most part, that’s the only disparaging thing to be said about Live In Tokyo ’91. While Wilen really never broke through in the States, the 14-tune recording could work to introduce a confident and thoughtful player to folks who never went digging for his work in the first place.

Kris Davis

Diatom Ribbons
(Pyroclastic)

In a recent Q&A with Wendell Berry, The New Yorker’s Amanda Petrusich asks the poet and naturalist about his output being connected to the past, if “all new work is in conversation with everything that preceded it, that language itself is simply a continuum.”

The best music—within the jazz world and beyond it—can contain a multitude of ideas and sounds, reference endless genres and tell listeners something about the moment that it was recorded, as well as the past. Diatom Ribbons­—and actually a lot about pianist Kris Davis in general—does precisely that.

Vocal snippets of Cecil Taylor crop up; Esperanza Spalding recites a poem by former U.S. Poet Laureate Gwendolyn Brooks; and between Terri Lyne Carrington and producer/turntablist Val Jeanty, who ostensibly function as Davis’ trio on Diatom Ribbons, there’s a concerted beat-centric feel to more than a few spots across the album.

“Rhizomes” also folds guitarist Nels Cline, bassist Trevor Dunn and percussionist Ches Smith into the ensemble, casting a downtown no-wave spell over the proceedings. The amassed troupe doesn’t exactly summon DNA, but the recording’s constant pulse ties it to the out-rock world in a way few jazz acts seem compelled to explore.

Synthesizing so much information could pretty clearly have resulted in a messy pastiche, but bandleader Davis has taken it upon herself to translate the past’s artistic investigations and triumphs for contemporary listeners—and those in the future.

Ben Markley Quartet

Slow Play
(OA2)

In the liner notes to his new quartet album, Slow Play, pianist Ben Markley proudly cites pianist Cedar Walton (1934–2013) as one of his key influences. The disc is a follow-up to the Ben Markley Big Band’s Clockwise: The Music Of Cedar Walton (OA2), which received a 4-star review in the July 2017 issue of DownBeat. On his current project, Markley incorporates Walton’s strong sense of melodicism into a program of eight highly satisfying original compositions. Markley, the director of jazz studies at the University of Wyoming, recorded the album at Denver’s Mighty Fine Studios. His stellar bandmates are musicians with whom he previously had collaborated, and he wrote the tunes with them in mind: bassist Marty Kenney, drummer Jim White and monster saxophonist Joel Frahm. Conga player Andy Wheelock (who is also on the faculty at UW) adds intriguing Latin textures to two tracks: “Max’s Mission” and “One For Armando.”

Deep grooves, sweet swing and dynamic interplay are all essential ingredients in this program. On the songs that evolve into blowing vehicles for Frahm—such as the nine-minute “’Mon Back”—he delivers a tenor tone that is brawny yet beauteous, offering solos full of feeling and free of extraneous notes while reinforcing the overall compositional structure. On the ballad “Sentience,” White switches to brushes and Frahm picks up a soprano, etching lines that are compelling and never cloying. On the sly, slinky “The Return OF Catboy,” Frahm cleverly drops in a quote from Harold Arlen’s “If I Only Had A Brain,” and on “One For Armando,” he briefly nods to “America” (from West Side Story). Throughout the program, Markley steers the ship but gives his bandmates room to roam. Toward the end of “Armando,” the drums and conga dialogue with piano support reflects the leader’s commitment to serving the song.

This album is one of those sparkling, straightahead gems that can convert pop fans into jazz acolytes.

Markley’s big band, with guest drummer/composer Ari Hoenig, will perform at Dazzle in Denver on Oct. 25, and the pianist will lead a trio with Wheelock and bassist Gonzalo Teppa at UW in Laramie, Wyoming, on Nov. 17.

Bill Frisell

Harmony
(Blue Note)

On his Blue Note Records debut, veteran guitarist Bill Frisell documents his latest project, a reflection on the near-magical musical kinships he’s forged with various artists during his career. Produced by his longtime collaborator Lee Townsend and recorded by Tucker Martine at Flora Recording & Playback in Portland, Oregon, HARMONY features Frisell in a quartet setting with two longtime collaborators—vocalist Petra Haden and cello player/vocalist Hank Roberts—plus a relative newcomer, Luke Bergman, on acoustic guitar, baritone guitar, bass and voice. It’s a cozy configuration that fosters an up-close and intimate vibe centered around the human voice and rooted in jazz, traditional Americana and chamber music.

Throughout the album, Haden’s ethereal lead vocals and the trio’s quietly powerful harmonies bring new dimensions to Frisell’s music, magnifying the pensive beauty and perpetual patience that mark his guitar playing. Originally commissioned by the FreshGrass Foundation (an organization dedicated to the vitality of contemporary American roots music) and performed at FreshGrass West! in San Francisco during November 2016, HARMONY features eight compositions by Frisell, some from his existing catalog and some brand new: “There In A Dream” by the late bassist Charlie Haden (who had deep musical and personal ties to Frisell), Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life,” Lerner & Loewe’s “On The Street Where You Live,” Pete Seeger’s “Where Have All The Flowers Gone,” Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times” and the traditional “Red River Valley.”

The message behind the music is a celebration of a great old American tradition that Frisell fully embraces and clearly articulates in one simple statement: “Let’s just get together and sing.”

Caroline Davis & Rob Clearfield’s PERSONA

Anthems
(Sunnyside)

The most compelling thing about the sound of Caroline Davis’ alto saxophone is the way it lingers. She doesn’t just play notes, but inhabits them. So, even the briefest of passing tones is given its due as it progresses to a phrase’s conclusion. It’s a very deliberate style of playing, and one that justifies the title Anthems without making it seem like a challenge.

It helps that the title tune, with its stuttering, staccato theme, plays against type, offering not so much heroic uplift as hesitant urgency while the band works through the melody’s glitchy rhythms. Without a background beat, the accents carry a sort of randomness, which is reinforced by the suddenness of the ending, which feels as if Davis simply had shouted, “Stop!” Four tracks later, there’s a reprise of the tune; this one is not only more legato, but grounded by Jay Sawyer’s metronomic snare. With that through-line in place, it’s easier to appreciate the rhythmic eddying of the improvisation, as Rob Clearfield’s Fender Rhodes messes with chords and Sam Weber’s electric bass skitters beneath Davis’ alto. Again, the ending is abrupt, but this time, it’s easier to hear the build-up. Together, the two versions seem less like bookends than two samples from a universe of possible “Anthems.”

Anthems is full of thoughtful interplay between melody and rhythm, and the best thing about the album is that however much theory goes into the writing, the music never sounds contrived or mechanical. “People Look Like Tanks,” for instance, has each of the four members working off different rhythmic concepts: the piano like a syncopated Philip Glass, the bass moving so slowly it seems like a half-tempo countermelody, the drumming so spare it’s as if he weren’t allowed more than two beats per bar. And yet, the pieces jell perfectly beneath the wistful questing of Davis’ alto. Selfless and deep, it’s the sort of playing that speaks to the connection these musicians feel, and the intelligence with which they go about making music, qualities that mark this as a band to watch.

Crosscurrents Trio

Good Hope
(Edition)

On the bandstand, Zakir Hussain is an intense listener deeply committed to meaningful conversation. That’s true whether he’s performing with a septet edition of Crosscurrents or scaling the band down to a trio version with two other virtuoso musicians: bassist Dave Holland and saxophonist Chris Potter. Hussain justifiably is referred to as the world’s most celebrated tabla player, and on his new trio album, Good Hope, he plays other percussion instruments, too: the kanjira, chanda and madal. In his awesomely skilled hands, these percussive tools expand his palette; after all, you can’t be a great conversationalist without supplying nuanced replies and colorful commentary.

All three musicians in this egalitarian trio are credited as co-producers of Good Hope. Hussain contributes two compositions to the album, while Holland and Potter each supply three tunes. The 66-minute program is an extended master class on musical conversations, with tracks like Hussain’s “J Bhai” characterized by plenty of sonic space surrounding the instruments, allowing listeners to fully appreciate the details (all carefully captured by recording engineer Chris Allen at the Sear Sound studios in New York).

Fans who discovered Hussain through his work in the band Sangam (with saxophonist Charles Lloyd and drummer Eric Harland) will find much to like on Good Hope. Holland delivers melodic, authoritative bass lines and Potter frequently cuts loose, unfurling solos that gain momentum and muscle as they motor forward. When he switches to soprano saxophone on Holland’s 11-minute composition “Lucky Seven,” Potter illustrates the mixture of high-octane pyrotechnics and thoughtful subtlety that makes him such an acclaimed reedist. (Potter knows the tune well, having recorded it on the Dave Holland Quintet’s 2006 album, Critical Mass.) The bassist’s “Bedouin Trail” offers a smoldering vibe that complements the more fiery, uptempo material in the Good Hope program. The tenor and tabla dialogue on the title track is a joy to behold.

The Crosscurrents Trio’s European tour will include shows at the Enjoy Jazz Festival in Heidelberg, Germany (Oct. 23), the Tampere Jazz Happening in Finland (Nov. 1) and the London Jazz Festival (Nov. 17).

Black String

Karma
(ACT)

In the West, folk-fusion bands, from the Clancy Brothers and Fairport Convention to Mumford & Sons, have brokered their debt to the past by making folk melodicism conform to the norms of contemporary pop song structure. Black String, by contrast, prefers to make modern pop and jazz conventions bend to the instrumental strictures of traditional Korean music. So, unlike, say, the Wagakki Band, which uses traditional Japanese instruments to play mainstream rock, Black String uses mostly traditional Korean instruments to turn rock, jazz, and other styles into a kind of hybridized folk music.

Part of that stems from the fact that Black String is, itself, a hybridized band. Although bandleader Yoon Jeong Heo focuses on the stringed instrument the geomungo—the Korean cousin of Japan’s koto—and members Aram Lee and Min Wang Hwang play traditional Korean flutes and percussion, respectively, Jean Oh balances that with electric guitar and electronics, a sonic palette that adds anything from a rock edge to an ambient wash of acoustic color.

That range affords Black String a tremendous stylistic latitude. Some tunes, like “Beating Road,” augment folk melodies with the sort of rhythmic urgency that suggests a cross-cultural connection with jazz. On the other hand, the group’s mournful, coloristic cover of Radiohead’s “Exit Music (For A Film)” is not unlike listening to music with subtitles—although the content is familiar, the expression is different enough to seem transforming. At times, as on “Exhale-Puri,” Oh’s straight-eights strumming suggests a rock sensibility, but then Hwang starts singing in a folkloric Korean style and the balance flips entirely.

All told, Karma marks the sort of cultural crossover that, while not as commercially penetrating as K-Pop, might prove more enduring, because it’s less about assimilation than it is about expressing cultural identity across musical conventions. And as much as I like BLACKPINK, I’m much more curious to hear what Black String does next.

Telepathic Band

Electric Telepathy, Vol. 1
(577)

If it’s generally accepted that performers—at least those seeking some sort of artistic fulfillment—are engaged in a constant search for a language fit to dispense their ideas, Telepathic Band’s Electric Telepathy, Vol. 1 seems to find the Brooklyn ensemble scouting out at least two dialects.

Reedist Daniel Carter—an occasional part of the William Parker-Matthew Shipp axis of exploratory improvisation—gets top billing here, in part as deference to his work through the decades. But also because of his clear connection with clarinetist Patrick Holmes, the pair delivering slightly-off harmonies across the album.

But it’s mostly Matthew Putman’s ghostly keyboard washes that make Electric Telepathy, Vol. 1 work. “Horticultural Techniques” is based on his bed of echoes layered atop bassist Hilliard Greene and drummer Federico Ughi’s rhythms, enabling the frontline to seek out expressive and impromptu statements. The 20-minute opener, “Flesh Dialect,” ostensibly functions the same way, with ambience courtesy of Putman’s keys serving as one of the band’s most notable features. “Ghost-Watch,” though, encapsulates the troupe’s discovery of swing, Carter (this time on trumpet) and Holmes bumping up against Ughi’s persistent drumming after conjuring a groove about two minutes in.

It’s the uncertainty in both these vernacular approaches that makes Electric Telepathy, Vol. 1 worth a listen, and gives the Brooklyn ensemble such an auspicious name.

The Sensational Barnes Brothers

Nobody’s Fault But My Own
(Bible & Tire Recording Company)

Fat Possum Records, the acclaimed, Mississippi-based label, has launched a new imprint devoted to gospel music: Bible & Tire Recording Company. The inaugural releases are a reissue of late-1960s and early-’70s material by Elizabeth King & The Gospel Souls, The D-Vine Spirituals Recordings, and an album of new recordings, The Sensational Barnes Brothers’ Nobody’s Fault But My Own.

Music is in the bloodline of the Barnes family: Chris Barnes and his brother Courtney are following in the footsteps of their father, the gospel singer Calvin “Duke” Barnes (who passed away on April 5), and their mother, Deborah, who once worked as a backing vocalist for Ray Charles. At one point, the couple and their four children performed as a group called Joy. Today, a group of relatives still records and performs under the name The Barnes Family.

All the material on Chris and Courtney’s new album was mined from the 1970s catalog of the Memphis-based label Designer Records. With the organ work of Calvin Barnes II or Jimbo Mathus as a frequent focal point, the group explores a soul-music aesthetic that will be familiar to devotees of the Stax label. The songs’ lyrics discuss praying, reading the Bible and devoting oneself to a higher calling. On “I Won’t Have To Cry No More,” George Sluppick’s drumming and Will Sexton’s pithy guitar riffs reinforce the vocals of the brothers, who traffic in the type of tight harmonies that sometimes come easily to family members. The crying pedal steel guitar of Kell Kellum on “Try The Lord” and the head-bobbing, foot-tapping infectious vibe of the rousing “Here Am I” have the power to appeal to believers and skeptics alike.

Fans who enjoyed the recent Aretha Franklin gospel-centered documentary Amazing Grace (filmed in 1972) and who now want to explore retro-leaning gospel music of today might want to check out this new work by The Sensational Barnes Brothers.

George Garzone/Peter Erskine/Alan Pasqua/Darek Oles

3 Nights In L.A.
(Fuzzy Music)

Veteran East Coast tenor saxophonist George Garzone seldom has sounded more inventive and impassioned than on this new three-CD collection, recorded live in January at Los Angeles’ new jazz club Sam First over the course of three nights with drummer Peter Erskine, pianist Alan Pasqua and bassist Derek Oles. The group chemistry at work during these performances was equal parts sensitivity and combustibility, a balance of wide-open looseness and masterful precision. It all hinges on the group’s penchant to swing relentlessly while exploring a vast realm of expressive possibilities informed by each player’s considerable depth of experience.

The quartet stretches out on blowing vehicles like “Invitation,” “I’ll Remember April,” “Like Someone In Love,” “I Hear A Rhapsody” and, in three different takes, “Have You Met Miss Jones?” Other highlights include a creative reading of John Coltrane’s “Equinox,” five originals by Garzone and one tune apiece by Erskine, Pasqua and Oles (whose medium-tempo swinger “The Honeymoon” appears in two versions).

Garzone is in rare form, radiating minor-key modal lyricism, emotionally charged balladry, angular uptempo blues and straightahead bebop teeming with tenor toughness—as only he can. Erskine is a consistently refreshing catalyst for this most fortunate meeting of monsters; Oles is pitch-perfect and rock-steady throughout; and Pasqua’s less-is-more approach to the keys provides contemporary harmonic and melodic context while leaving adequate space for magic to unfold around him. This substantial offering of four jazz masters communicating in a highly evolved common language—and playing at the absolute top of their game—is one for the books.

Mike LeDonne

Partners In Time
(Savant)

If you’re fortunate enough to have bassist Christian McBride—one of the top bandleaders in jazz—play on your piano trio album, it would be foolish to give him tight strictures. On the studio album Partners In Time, keyboard wizard Mike LeDonne wisely lets McBride do his thing, and recruits another elite player, drummer Lewis Nash, for a sterling session that showcases a simpatico rapport among three titans. The results are slightly loose, yet focused and authoritative. These musicians had collaborated before, but they had never made a trio album together.

LeDonne—who is revered in New York for his organ work in the Groover Quartet—sparkles in this setting, delivering red-hot piano lines that match the fiery intensity of his work on the Hammond B-3.

A thread of “standing on the shoulders of giants” runs through the program, thanks to various forms of tribute. McBride’s bass solos spark five of the eight songs, including “Lined With A Groove,” composed by one of his heroes: bass icon Ray Brown (1926–2002). LeDonne’s tune “Saud” (one of his three original compositions here) offers moods that shift from majestic to muscular, both appropriate for a song written to honor pianist McCoy Tyner (aka Sulaimon Saud).

LeDonne pays tribute to another one of his chief influences, Cedar Walton (1934–2013), with a swinging version of the pianist’s “N.P.S.” A shadow of history is present here: Walton included “N.P.S.” on his 2001 album, The Promise Land. That disc was recorded at Van Gelder Studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, which is where LeDonne recorded Partners In Time. In the album’s liner notes, the bandleader states that one of the reasons he wanted to do a session there was the opportunity to play the Steinway B piano that had been used on so many great albums.

The program concludes with the burner “Bopsolete,” which LeDonne gave an intentionally ironic title. The tune is spiced with some deliciously frenetic arco work from McBride. Though there are multitudes of potent riffs, breaks and solos in this program of mainly first-take recordings, Partners In Time is more than merely a blowing session. With creative interpretations of standards, such as a sly reading of “My Funny Valentine,” LeDonne, McBride and Nash illustrate that in 2019, bop and its related dialects are far from obsolete.

LeDonne, on organ, will lead the Groover Quartet during shows at Smoke in New York on Sept. 10, 17 and 24.

Jane Bunnett & Maqueque

On Firm Ground/Tierra Firme
(Linus/True North)

With their previous album, Oddara, Jane Bunnett and Maqueque presented an almost panoramic view of Cuban jazz, with flashes of percussive virtuosity, splashes of chamber music intimacy and regular bursts of vocal uplift. Although there was plenty of room for Bunnett’s rhythmically urgent, emotionally expressive flute and soprano sax, the arrangements took pains to show off the range and versatility of her ensemble. If Cuban music were a big canvas, they were determined to cover it all.

On Firm Ground/Tierra Firme, by contrast, is less interested in framing the richness of Cuban music than in showing off the strengths of Maqueque itself. As well it should. Five years since its inception, the sextet only has gotten stronger, tighter, funkier, and the music on its third album bears the unmistakeable confidence of a band that has found its voice, and is eager to speak with it.

Tracks like “La Linea” and “Habana De Noche” build sweetly melodic structures atop sinuous, richly harmonized grooves, balancing bass and percussion against lush vocal chorales, with the piano and Bunnett’s soprano providing pungent counterpoint. At their best, these tracks sound like a logical progression from the pop-friendly fusion Irakere specialized in.

What ultimately makes Terra Firme ground-shaking are the moments when Bunnett and Maqueque move beyond that template. The lithe, soulful “On Firm Ground” steps beyond the usual boundaries of Cuban jazz, thanks to the searing sacred steel guitar of guest Nikki D. Brown (imagine Robert Randolph with Santana, then square it), while “Broken Heart,” with bassist Tailin Marrero on upright and Brown providing well-placed blue notes, shows an impressive command of balladry.

Elsewhere, “Monkey See Monkey Do” is a lovely bit of social uplift that not only speaks to the potential within, but does so with the sort of blithely inspiring melody that makes its “believe in yourself” message seem almost redundant. Bunnett and Maqueque might sing about being on firm ground, but clearly they’re reaching for the stars.

Lauren Henderson

Alma Oscura
(Brontosaurus)

With the exception of a cappella artists, a singer can’t soar without a supportive squad. And an empathetic producer is essential to the equation. Lauren Henderson’s sixth release, Alma Oscura, is a gem, thanks to a combination of strong material, a subtle vocal style and carefully crafted settings that showcase the vocalist’s strengths. Much of the credit belongs to Michael Thurber, who played bass on the sessions, produced the album, composed three songs in the program and co-wrote the title track with Henderson.

Singing in Spanish and English, Henderson has a soft delivery that emphasizes nuance and heightens a narrative’s drama—without pyrotechnics. She surrounds herself with a terrific supporting cast that provides powerful coloration, whether it is Jon Lampley’s trumpet echoing the lead vocal line on “Something Bigger,” Emi Ferguson’s poignant flute on the title track, Sullivan Fortner’s fluid pianism on “El Arbol” or Leo Sidran (Ben’s son) sculpting a fine bilingual vocal duet with Henderson on his composition “From The Inside Out.”

Although a total of 15 musicians played on the sessions, Henderson and Thurber avoid excess at every turn, favoring a spare, impactful aesthetic. “Where Are You Now?” (a Thurber tune) has a smoky flavor that would appeal to fans of jazz, r&b and sophisticated pop, while “Protocol” has an infectious tango vibe. This album is 30 minutes long, inviting repeated spins and revealing Henderson’s admirable penchant for quality over quantity.

Henderson’s European tour includes a Nov. 22 gig at Zig Zag Jazz Club in Berlin.

Roxy Coss

Quintet
(Outside In)

Whatever your political leanings, the travails of the Trump era have given culture makers a target. And the dirgey sections bookending Roxy Coss’ “Mr. President” simultaneously encapsulate the sullen feel of the past few years while momentarily comforting listeners with something that might have played under the credits of an M. Poirot spot on PBS. There’s also—almost—a hint of “My Favorite Things,” filtered through Coltrane.

The composition crops up three tracks into Quintet, Coss’ live dispatch of works that she’s presenting as something of a self-assessment. As much as reflection, though, the rerecording of older material serves as a proclamation of spirit, Coss coaxing notable performances out of her ensemble: Miki Yamanaka’s contributions on keys both prod the group along and lend it a languorous tint, when the bandleader’s compositions call for it.

Song titles like “Free To Be” and “Enlightenment” should hip listeners to Coss’ cause and consequential artistry. But off the bandstand, the saxophonist, too, has worked toward egalitarianism, founding the Women In Jazz Organization, a group aiming to help “women and non-binary people have equal opportunity to participate in and contribute” to the music.

The bandleader’s reach—both as a performer and as a force for good—comes along with an abundance of round-toned assuredness, and Coss’ horn, even during some of the more tender efforts, like the medium-tempo “Breaking Point,” hints at future decades brimming with recordings.

Aki Rissanen

Art In Motion
(Edition)

Perhaps because he grew up at a time when the term “keyboard” was as likely to mean a synth or sampler as a Steinway, Finnish pianist Aki Rissanen seems to have a particular fondness for the pulsing insistence of eighth-note ostinatos. It’s a sound that evokes the chattering circuitry of sequencers, except that instead of programming the notes, Rissanen plays them by hand, a bit of virtuosity made all the more astonishing because it’s merely background, a rhythmic pattern that simply supports the melodic thrust of what he’s playing.

“Aeropeans,” the track that opens his third album with bassist Antii Lötjönen and drummer Teppo Mäkynen, is a case in point. It begins with a blur of rhythm, the piano percolating like a sequencer as the bass moves in contrary motion against it, offset by a spare, glitchy rhythm on hi-hat, all in 5/4. It’s the sort of background groove you’d expect from an adventurous electro-pop group, except that the Rissanen trio leaves gaps in the groove, which allows the beat to breathe a bit. Moreover, where much electronic music seems determinedly horizontal, driven by an endlessly looping ostinato, Rissanen and company keep changing things up—the texture, the rhythmic patterns, the tonal center. Structurally, it’s more étude than electro.

Then again, as Rissanen states in the liner notes, his sensibility owes as much to Mozart as to Moby, and the classical influence is strong throughout Art In Motion. Two tracks are jazz interpretations of classical pieces, and their differences are instructive. “Moro Lasso Al Mio Duolo” is based on a 17th century motet by Carlo Gesualdo, but instead of getting the John Lewis treatment, it’s lifted out of the baroque era and reimagined with the moody, modal harmony of Brad Mehldau. “Cantus Arcticus, Melancholy,” by contrast, is based on a late-20th century orchestral piece by Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara, and alternates between ghostly open chords and the sort of knotty jazz lyricism you’d expect from Keith Jarrett.

Add in the witty dissonance of “Das Untemperierte Klavier,” which features a striking, double-stopped solo by bassist Lötjönen, or the mutated bossa of “Seemingly Radical,” a tune whose melody eerily echoes “Thanks For The Memories,” and Art In Motion finds the Rissanen trio moving in many directions, all of them interesting.

Chase Baird

A Life Between
(Soundsabound)

“Ripcord,” the opening gambit of saxophonist Chase Baird’s A Life Between, makes it seem like the album might make a run at some sort of jazz-rock update. But the easy melodicism of each cut—defined by Baird’s innate ability to whip off lines that contain some sort of vocal quality—minimizes those concerns. That the bandleader’s brought along pianist Brad Mehldau and drummer Antonio Sánchez doesn’t hurt much, either.

“Ripcord,” though, does lunge and sway during a transitional passage like any rock-world breakdown. But Baird uses the easily understood compositional component as a way to thread together his solos and Mehldau’s. It’s not necessarily a neat stitch, but absolutely functional.

“I really want to be in Radiohead,” the bandleader said in a press release, half-joking. “But how can I be a saxophonist and do that?”

Despite Baird’s questionable desire, Nir Felder drops in some McLaughlin-esque guitar moves on “Reactor,” a tune replete with digital gurgling and Mehldau’s facile comping that again sturdily references a rock setting.

But some of the most exciting moments here come during a duet passage between Baird and Sánchez on “Wait And See,” each player familiar with the other’s vocabulary from playing in the drummer’s band, Migration. And squeaky solemnity abounds on “Im Wunderschönen Monat Mai,” the album closer, an interpretation of a Robert Schumann composition. It closes the album out on a quiet, reflective note, in stark contrast to how A Life Between started. It’d be easy to posit that these two approaches—aggro and balladic—in some way hem up the broad sonic personality of the bandleader. But really, at a time when we’re all devouring vast quantities of film, writing, art and music, it should just be the standard. Baird easily surpasses that expectation while in the company of the some of genre’s best.

Ricardo Peixoto

Scary Beautiful
(Moving Finger)

Veteran guitarist Ricardo Peixoto is poised to broaden his fan base with the elegant, all-original album Scary Beautiful, on which the Rio de Janeiro native (and current Bay Area resident) excels in solo, duet and full-band settings.

Peixoto’s discography includes work with the bands Terra Sul and the Berkeley Choro Ensemble, as well as Inverse Universe, a duo project with Brazilian vocalist Claudia Villela. On Scary Beautiful he plays acoustic and electric seven-string guitars and works with a set of top-shelf collaborators, including Paul McCandless (soprano sax), Harvey Wainapel (clarinet and bass clarinet), Marcos Silva (piano), John Santos (percussion) and Villela, who overdubs eight vocal tracks on the brief dreamscape “Nereids,” the only song here that isn’t an instrumental.

Nodding to Brazilian musical traditions, Peixoto offers a couple of songs in the baião style: “Santos E Demônios” opens with an ominous mood, perhaps fitting for the demons in the song’s title, and later is leavened by a flute solo from Bob Afifi. On the lively “Baião De Três,” Peixoto changes the traditional baião rhythm from 2/4 to 3/4 time, resulting in an earworm.

“Noturna” is a lovely solo guitar number, while “Simpática,” a guitar and piano duet with Silva, is based on the choro rhythm (which some jazz fans have heard clarinetist Anat Cohen navigate in her exploration of Brazilian styles). The samba “Morro Da Paixão” is a memorable hip shaker featuring horn arrangements by Luiz Brasil, while “Velha Amizade” is somewhat reminiscent of the gentle ocean waves lapping the shore that one experiences in classic Jobim tunes.

Peixoto has absorbed the musical traditions of his homeland and utilized them to create original compositions that acknowledge the past while moving toward the future.

Various Artists

Strain Crack & Break: Music From The Nurse With Wound List, Volume 1 (France)
(Finders Keepers)

In the world of underground curios, Nurse With Wound, a 40-year-old noise project headed by British performer Steven Stapleton, is staggeringly important. The amassed esteem, in part, is predicated on a list of almost-forgotten bands that Stapleton and company included with their first release, Chance Meeting On A Dissecting Table Of A Sewing Machine And An Umbrella.

With the heft of a history textbook, the Nurse With Wound list—which places John Cage and Can alongside Steve Lacy and La Monte Young—is set to be rendered as a series of compilations, breaking down artists by country of origin. Strain, Crack & Break: Music From The Nurse With Wound List, Volume 1 (France) is the program’s opener.

The music on Stapleton’s own 1979 LP moves to capitalize on some combo of musique concrète, free improv and proto-industrial shards of sound. The result isn’t imminently listenable—and apart from a few 1990s collaborations with Stereolab, there isn’t really an entry point for casual listeners. That’s not what any of this is about, though. Instead, it’s the comp’s reified obsessiveness, completionism and the cataloging of a past that otherwise might be utterly obscured to future seekers. The NWW list certainly isn’t an all-encompassing compendium of outsider music, but still takes into consideration a wealth of sounds, pointing toward Stapleton being a pretty curious listener.

Jazz drummer Jacques Thollot—who’d done time with Don Cherry, Joachim Kühn, Krzysztof Komeda and others—opens Strain, Crack & Break with a cut from his 1971 solo debut, where he played various keyboards, percussion and electronics. The final third of the track is one of the few moments on the newly devised comp that actually swings. Sputtering synths and cut-up tape follow with offerings from Phillippe Besombes and Pierre Henry, and Horrific Child, Mahjun and Lard Free turn in some reasonably palatable prog. The rest is a miasma of sound, experimentation and skronky self-indulgence, but the good kind. Red Noise’s 15 minutes of juiced-up electric noodling and jocular jazz on “Sarcelles C’est L’Avenir” ranks among the best of what’s here.

Volume two, which focuses on the finer points of German sensationalism, is said to be in the works for 2020; the number of total installments still has yet to be determined. It’s a lot of music by any measure. But thinking to work the NWW list into LP-length projects is both a brilliant step toward the preservation of a disappearing past and an intriguing vantage point to watch Stapleton assess the guidebook he devised for experimentalists.

Rich Willey’s Boptism Big Band

Down & Dirty
(Wise Cat)

Rich Willey has built a beast of a modern big band album: Down & Dirty is a 77-minute program of 11 original tunes (and one jazz standard, “Old Folks”) orchestrated by ace arrangers and performed by a killer assortment of Los Angeles-based instrumentalists. Willey’s bass trumpet melodies and improvisations play a central role on the album, which also features the leader on traditional B-flat trumpet and flugelhorn. With help from his producer, Dan Fornero, Willey hired section players with the right combination of chops, sight-reading skills and interpretive sensibility to execute a collection of previously unseen, highly sophisticated big band charts supplied by Gordon Goodwin, Michael Abene, Chris Walden and band keyboardist Wally Minko.

The results of the sessions, which took place in January, are spectacular. The music draws upon a full palette of tonal colors, with assorted woodwinds, muted brass, piccolo trumpet, auxiliary percussion, electric guitar, synthesizer, French horns and strings rounding out the more traditional big band instrumentation. All these arrangements are highly involved affairs, full of dramatic counterpoint, connective-tissue interludes, unexpected timbral combinations and thematically appropriate background parts in the solo sections.

A wide range of styles is presented here, from straightahead jazz and Latin grooves to funk, reggae, baroque, balladry and straight-up rock. Standout instrumentalists include lead trumpeter Wayne Bergeron, tenor saxophonist Bob Sheppard, trombonist Andy Martin and drummer Peter Erskine. Willey’s tone on bass trumpet is round and centered, fatter than a regular trumpet (which sounds roughly one octave higher), yet brighter than a trombone (which shares the same tessitura). It makes for a nice juxtaposition to the mighty brass section work that runs through much of the program. Willey’s flugelhorn tone is simply gorgeous, marked by expressive phrasing and tender dynamics. In true leader fashion, he puts his personal stamp on all the material on Down & Dirty—a major artistic accomplishment from a player who, in addition to extensive work as a sideman to the greats, has been leading his own ensembles since 1986.

Bob Sheppard

The Fine Line
(Challenge)

Like a lot of elite, Los Angeles-based studio musicians, reedman Bob Sheppard is one of those players whose sound is more familiar than his name. Even though he’s played on dozens of albums during the past 40 years, ranging from guest spots with the likes of Rod Stewart, Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen to sideman gigs with Chick Corea, Freddie Hubbard and Peter Erskine, The Fine Line is only his fourth album as a leader.

Talk about a late bloomer.

Sheppard offers the music here as someone with little to prove, and that casual confidence brings a low-key bravura to the playing. Take the album-opening “Edge Of Trouble”: A driving, modal tune in the vein of McCoy Tyner, it leaves plenty of blowing room, not only for Sheppard’s agile, witty soprano, but also for Simon Moullier’s coolly virtuosic vibraphone and John Beasley’s spryly adventurous piano. But Sheppard and company aren’t content to merely blow changes; they want to make things interesting. So, as the group is easing into the tune, Moullier bends notes and puts chords out of phase, so that his vibes evoke a synthesizer. Later, during Kendrick Scott’s drum solo, Sheppard, Moullier, Beasley and bassist Jasper Somsen play an elaborate contrapuntal pattern that gives Scott extra material to work with. It’s the sort of clever arranging that adds extra dimensions to the music.

That ingenuity pervades the album, ensuring that there’s always a little bit extra for the listener to dig into.

Why play a pop tune like “People Make The World Go ’Round” straight when you can abstract it? Instead of following the form, Sheppard and Beasley use the refrain as a compositional anchor, stretching it through reharmonization, and bending it via variations in tempo and meter. For his reading of “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was,” Sheppard pretends not to know what time the original was in, and plays it as a dark and dreamy jazz waltz.

Featuring innovative arrangements and simpatico playing, The Fine Line is a gem of an album, and another excellent reason to remember Bob Sheppard’s name.

Gard Nilssen Acoustic Unity

To Whom Who Buys A Record
(ODIN)

It’s easy to lament any bygone era, just as mourning the increased use of electronics in jazz is a mantra some are unwilling to let go of. Regardless of your feelings about drum programming or electronics in general, there was something intensely precious about a time when bands just set up on the floor and went at it.

Norwegian drummer Gard Nilssen plays in troupes that make the most of technology, but his trio Acoustic Unity—with bassist Petter Eldh and reedist André Roligheten—is something of a throwback, even as the music on To Whom Who Buys A Record seeks to cultivate an unconventional language. The knotty verbiage of the album’s title also references the past—To Whom Who Keeps A Record, an Ornette Coleman disc collecting material from 1959–’60. And while the music here isn’t necessarily beholden to the saxophone icon’s work, the same sense of adventure tugs at both.

Nilssen leads the trio through 12 post-post-bop explorations, while Roligheten’s voice emerges as a distinguishing feature. There’s a distinctive, but somehow fragile, Coltrane vibe on “Masakråke,” a tune written by the bandleader that highlights his indelible connection with the reedist, who bleats out the theme then effortlessly shifts to improv.

Acoustic Unity hasn’t been Nilssen’s main focus, his time being split among Cortex, the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra and sundry other outfits. But To Whom and 2017’s Live In Europe (Clean Feed) illustrate that he values the trio as a vehicle for his writing, unfettered by bombast—and electrical concerns.

Sara Gazarek

Thirsty Ghost
(Self Release)

With Thirsty Ghost—her sixth album—vocalist, composer, arranger and producer Sara Gazarek positions herself as an Artist with a capital “A.” Her stature among colleagues is illustrated by the company she keeps: Kurt Elling penned the liner notes essay and contributes vocals to “Distant Storm”; Larry Goldings plays organ on two cuts he wrote with Gazarek (“Easy Love” and “Gaslight District”); and Grammy nominee Alan Ferber wrote horn parts for three tunes.

Gifted with a vocal style that’s both authoritative and accessible, Gazarek soars atop Stu Mindeman’s bubbling Fender Rhodes and Christian Euman’s skittering drums on “Never Will I Marry” and then peppers the proceedings with some slick scatting. The elasticity of Gazarek’s phrasing makes the arrangement of “I Get Along Without You Very Well” a virtual master class in mining an amber song for fresh revelations.

The two aforementioned tunes brilliantly demonstrate the leader’s technical prowess and clear affinity for the Great American Songbook, but it’s the more eclectic fare here that reveals Gazarek’s full artistic range. Her source material comes from various decades and genres: Nick Drake’s “River Man” (1969), Stevie Wonder’s “I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)” (1972), Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” (1973), Björk’s “Cocoon” (2001) and Sam Smith’s “I’m Not The Only One” (2014). Each of those renditions is stamped with a sleek creativity that distinguishes it from the original version. In Gazarek’s reading of “Jolene,” for example, the narrator is embodied not simply as a victim worthy of pity, but rather a fierce avenger who is not to be crossed.

The closing track, “Distant Storm,” features Gazarek’s original lyrics paired with pianist Brad Mehldau’s instrumental tune “When It Rains.” This cut is the zenith, thanks to its poetic lyrics; a carefully crafted arrangement; Gazarek’s multitracked vocals; a mighty—yet mellow—alto saxophone solo from Josh Johnson; Elling’s quirky guest turn; and the leader’s dramatic, punch-in-the-gut conclusion. Transcendence abounds in this six-minute tour de force.

Thirsty Ghost is the type of album that can transform a career, winning over new fans and causing longtime observers to re-evaluate their estimation of the performer.

Gazarek’s current tour includes two sets at Jazz Standard in New York on Aug. 10, plus residencies at the Dirty Dog Jazz Cafe outside Detroit (Aug. 16–17) and Jazz Alley in Seattle (Sept. 17–18).

Avishai Cohen (bass)

Arvoles
(Razdaz/Sunnyside)

Because Avishai Cohen’s previous outing—a 2017 album titled 1970 (Sony)—was his most commercially successful release thus far, one wouldn’t blame him for revisiting a similar artistic wellspring. Instead, for his 17th leader date, the bassist went in another direction, recruiting an entirely different set of musicians for the deeply personal, nostalgia-fueled Arvoles.

Half the program here consists of trio recordings with pianist Elchin Shirinov and drummer Noam David, and on the other half, the band expands to a quintet with trombonist Björn Samuelsson and flutist Anders Hagberg. It’s all original compositions, with the exception of “Arvoles”—a traditional tune with a title in the Ladino language that means “Trees.”

In concert, Cohen can become a muscular machine of pure propulsion. On this studio album, however, he demonstrates an admirable musical diversity. His arco work adds wondrous, subtle texture to “Childhood (For Carmel),” a lovely, slow ballad. The arrangement for another ballad—the title cut—features a lot of space and poignant pauses to heighten the drama, with the leader’s conversational playing style evoking human speech. “Wings” has a touch of swing and includes a bass solo that finds Cohen shining brightly without grandstanding. “Simonero” features a piano riff so infectious that the tune could be the theme song to a hit sitcom.

Elsewhere, a tempered dose of sentimentality flows through the trio tune “Nostalgia,” spiced by a knotty piano motif, as well as the brief “New York 90’s,” featuring a triumphant trombone tone. With Arvoles, Cohen shows he’s forceful enough to melt your mind with a pounding rhythm—but tender enough to showcase his mother’s paintings in the CD packaging.

Cohen will highlight material from Arvoles during a quintet concert on Aug. 25 at the Red Sea Jazz Festival in Eilat, Israel.

Laura Jurd

Stepping Back, Jumping In
(Edition)

It’s all atmosphere that opens “I Am The Spring, You Are The Earth,” the nine-minute centerpiece of London-based trumpeter Laura Jurd’s new disc, Stepping Back, Jumping In.

The Ligeti Quartet executes her composition with airy ambience, sawing those strings to sinister effect. It’s a disquieting moment amid an album-length pastiche of jazz, chamber music and something akin to a film score. “I Am The Spring” drifts on for a bit, augmented by Rob Luft’s slide guitar and Anja Lauvdal’s mounting synth drone. Jurd’s horn doesn’t factor into the mix until about five minutes in, contributing a new layer of tension among the other brass as the tune ambles toward an experimental denouement.

A few tracks on, “Companion Species” more closely approximates Dinosaur—a collaborative ensemble Jurd performs in—splicing in a dash of funk and some jazzier tendencies. She doesn’t take the spotlight frequently, and here Jurd’s solo is pretty short. But she trills, emotes and delights so effectively in the quiet moments provided by her writing that it’s tough not to want the feature to stretch on for a while.

Stepping Back, Jumping In isn’t the composer’s first tangle with strings, but it marks further development in Jurd’s voice, one that cleverly weaves together new-music exceptionalism, experimental bravura and occasional jazz feels.

Victor Gould

Thoughts Become Things
(Blue Room)

Any player adding a string ensemble to their regular jazz troupe is taking a risk.

Several titans of the genre have given it a shot, and despite Charlie Parker With Strings generating enough acclaim to warrant a 2019 Record Store Day release of alternate takes—nearly 70 years after the sessions—the original album might not be one that many listeners would turn to if, say, Bird And Diz was within arm’s reach.

Pianist Victor Gould doesn’t lean too heavily on the string quartet that crops up on most of the tracks of his third leader date, Thoughts Become Things: On “October,” “What Do We Need,” “Let Go” and “Inheritance,” strings are used for added color to introduce and close out a song or transition between sections. The title track is a notable exception, as reeds and brass are interwoven with a moody quartet.

Tucking in a rendition of “Polka Dots And Moonbeams” adds a bit of historical grandeur to the proceedings. And saxophonist Godwin Louis—who somehow hasn’t become as big a name as the rest of the cohort here—gets a feature on “Karma Jones,” Gould bookending the composition with blocky, resonant chords.

Thoughts Become Things doesn’t take avant-garde risks, but it certainly advances a new and important compositional voice. And with Gould’s latest effort bolstered by a raft of talent—trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, bassist Vicente Archer, multi-instrumentalist Anne Drummond—listeners should expect further flourishes on future offerings.

Akiko Tsuruga/Graham Dechter/Jeff Hamilton

Equal Time
(Capri)

The best thing about the trio organist Akiko Tsuruga formed with drummer Jeff Hamilton and guitarist Graham Dechter is that none of them are trying to reinvent the wheel. Theirs is a straight-up, hard-swinging organ trio in the classic tradition. And all they’re trying to do is excel at the form—which they do. In spades.

Start with the groove, because if the rhythm isn’t right, we might as well pack up the B-3 and go home. Hamilton—as should be obvious to anyone who’s heard him behind Diana Krall, the L.A. 4 or any of the big bands with which he’s played—is a master of skip-ride swing, a player whose light touch belies the power of his pulse. But that’s only half the magic here: The rest lies with the uncanny swing of Akiko’s left-hand bass lines, which not only walk convincingly, but also push the beat the way a bassist would.

Because of those two elements, this trio is always deep in the pocket. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a churchy blues like Hank Mobley’s “A Baptist Beat,” an uptempo swinger like Steve Allen’s “This Could Be The Start Of Something Big” or even something as rhythmically tricky as John Coltrane’s “Moment’s Notice”—where the head slips gracefully between 3 and 4—the groove is always top-notch, and the solos make the most of it.

Listen, for example, to the end of “I Remember You,” where the three players trade eights. Dechter’s solo is lithe and tuneful, with cool, bop-fueled momentum, and Hamilton answers it with an equally melodic drum solo. Akiko takes a more soulful approach to the bridge and Hamilton answers in kind, with a snappily syncopated reply. It really is a band of equals—one that makes mainstream jazz fans wonder why Akiko and Dechter aren’t better known.

Steve Goodman

Affordable Art
(Omnivore)

Singer-songwriter Steve Goodman (1948–’84) has been gone for roughly the same amount of time that he wandered the Earth: It’s been 35 years since he succumbed to leukemia at age 36. In recent years, his legacy might have dimmed a bit, as the album No Big Surprise: The Steve Goodman Anthology and the all-star outing Tribute To Steve Goodman both fell out of print. The Omnivore label seeks to reverse that process in a big way with reissues of four Goodman albums, all loaded with numerous bonus tracks, including the sparkling gem Affordable Art (1984).

More successful as a composer than as a recording artist, Goodman penned “City Of New Orleans,” a modern classic that has been recorded dozens of times, most famously by Arlo Guthrie and Willie Nelson. Goodman and his close friend and fellow folkie John Prine teamed up to write “You Never Even Called Me By My Name,” which David Allan Coe transformed into a country hit in 1975. (Live versions of those two tunes appear on Omnivore’s reissue of Artistic Hair, originally released in 1983.)

Chicago Cubs fans know Goodman for two of his own recordings: the wry “A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request” and “Go Cubs Go,” the team’s victory anthem, originally written for radio station WGN. Both tunes are included on Omnivore’s reissue of Affordable Art, a generous package that includes seven previously unreleased solo acoustic tracks.

Prine shows up twice in this program—as the co-writer of the slight but charming “How Much Tequila (Did I Drink Last Night?)” and as the composer and duet partner on the brilliant, devastating “Souvenirs.” Goodman, who’s often compared to Prine, was a songwriter of many moods, and the original LP of Affordable Art demonstrated that he could craft material that was sad (“California Promises”), silly (“Talk Backwards”), sentimental (“Old Smoothies”) or surreal (“Watchin’ Joey Glow”).

At his best, few could match Goodman’s wit. He collaborated with two other clever tunesmiths—Shel Silverstein and Michael Peter Smith—for “Vegematic,” the hilarious, insanely catchy tale of a man who falls asleep in front of a TV and then, in a somnambulant state, answers “every single one of those late-night, mail-order ads.” Cynical Baby Boomers will appreciate the song’s stealthy stab at consumerism, particularly the line about “an autographed photograph of Rin Tin Tin at Six Flags Over Burbank.”

Affordable Art is the best of the four reissues, but the other collections have their merits—particularly for Goodman completionists. Omnivore’s version of Santa Ana Winds (1984) is marred by production values that haven’t aged well, but bolstered by a jazz-infused reading of “The Big Rock Candy Mountain.” Unfinished Business (1987) is an uneven collection of demos, outtakes and unissued recordings compiled by Goodman’s manager, Al Bunetta. Though the songwriter fought fatigue as his health failed, Goodman’s skills as an expressive folk guitarist survived, as evidenced by many fine performances chronicled on these four albums.

Mike Clark

Indigo Blue: Live At The Iridium
(Ropeadope)

Drummer Mike Clark, whose work with Herbie Hancock and The Headhunters in the 1970s expertly straddled the jazz-funk divide and generated enough aural excitement to influence multiple generations of players, indulges his straightahead side on this live all-star session recorded last year at New York’s Iridium.

Trumpeter Randy Brecker, alto saxophonist Donald Harrison Jr., tenor saxophonist Rob Dixon, bassist Christian McBride and pianist Antonio Faraò join Clark on a swinging program that includes original compositions by bandmembers and a couple of Thelonious Monk standards. Despite his reputation as the man who literally wrote the book on funk drumming (he authored the 2012 Hal Leonard publication Funk Drumming: Innovative Grooves & Advanced Concepts), Clark finds himself in very familiar territory here, having honed his straightahead chops over decades playing gigs with the likes of Chet Baker, Joe Henderson, Woody Shaw, Bobby Hutcherson, Nat Adderley, Gil Evans and scores of other heavyweights from the worlds of bebop and blues. His spang-a-lang ride work reveals itself to be second nature as the veteran drummer drives the ensemble with his tasteful snare-and-cymbals swing grooves and insistent shuffles. But Clark’s most creative statements come during the quieter moments of this recording. Hear his brushes sizzle, subdivide, scrape and swish on the Faraò ballad “Sweet.” And dig the understated-yet-creative way Clark provides support during the bass solos: he ticks, taps, skitters and clicks out the time with intensity, but at a volume low enough to reveal the depths of McBride’s resonant, pure-acoustic tone.

BT ALC Big Band

The Search For Peace
(Ropeadope)

Co-led by trombonist Brian Thomas and trumpeter Alex Lee-Clark, the 19-piece BT ALC Big Band succeeds in funking up one of the most storied traditions in jazz. The Boston-based big band’s fourth album, The Search For Peace, reflects an artistic debt to funk icon James Brown, the bandleader’s danceable rhythms and potent horn charts being key influences on the program’s seven original compositions (three by Thomas and four by Lee-Clark). This 43-minute album offers plenty of barn burners that could fill a dance floor; just the first 30 seconds of Lee-Clark’s “Dance” should get listeners bobbing their heads and shaking their hips.

The catchy “Tune For Lou” sounds like the lost theme song from a 1970s sitcom and features a greasy organ solo from Sam Gilman, nodding to the soul-jazz organ tradition. “Live 9” begins with a beat influenced by reggae before moving into soul and funk territory. “Make It Your Job,” a Thomas tune, is driven by kinetic trombone work and a canyon-deep groove. And the title track subtly samples a recording of President John F. Kennedy’s June 10, 1963, commencement address at American University in Washington, D.C., in which he said that the United States would “do our part to build a world of peace where the weak are safe and the strong are just. We are not helpless before that task or hopeless of its success. Confident and unafraid, we labor on—not toward a strategy of annihilation but toward a strategy of peace.”

Apparently Thomas and Lee-Clark, who are both educators, wanted to inject a short history lesson into the musical proceedings.

Boston-area fans can catch the BT ALC Big Band at Sally O’Brien’s in Somerville, Massachusetts, on July 25, Aug. 29 and Sept. 26.

Dock In Absolute

Unlikely
(CAM Jazz)

A quirky name, an unusual home base and an aesthetic centered on deep melodicism are all factors that make Dock In Absolute an intriguing band.

On its sophomore album, Unlikely, the Luxembourg-based trio—Jean-Philippe Koch (piano), David Kintziger (electric bass) and Michel Mootz (drums)—walks the tightrope between high drama and attention-seeking bombast without ever slipping into the faulty side of that divide. The all-original program here includes eight Koch compositions, one by Kintziger and another that the pianist and bassist wrote together.

Fond of quicksilver tempo shifts and sonic dynamism, bandleader Koch helps the material lope, sprint and morph gracefully, but avoids the pitfalls of flabbiness and excess. “Night Train To Lipetsk” barrels along in muscular fashion, building drama, segueing into a section in which Kintziger’s authoritative bass subtly slides to the forefront, then shifts into a solo piano segment before snapping back into a full-band flurry, spiked with Mootz’s skittering cymbal work. The longest tune—the gorgeous, seven-minute “Floating Memories”—features some of Koch’s best work, as he delivers an arresting, memorable melody and later provides pithy, upper-register coloration.

Somewhat like British trio GoGo Penguin and pianist Hiromi’s trio, Dock In Absolute is fueled by drum patterns that owe more to rock than jazz, resulting in songs like “Borderline” and “No Plan B” that seem destined to resonate with festival audiences.

The outliers in the Unlikely program are “Drawing Light”—Kintziger’s captivating solo bass tune—and the closer, “Tangle Borders,” a layered track that incorporates touches of dissonance in the form of a recording that sounds a bit like a police dispatcher’s radio transmission.

The band’s democratic interplay will be showcased on stages around the globe in 2019, with gigs at the Jazz in Daegu Festival (Aug. 18, in South Korea), the Odessa Jazz Festival (Sept. 22, in Ukraine) and the Kolkata Jazz Festival (Dec. 1, in India). At press time, the band only had one U.S. date scheduled: Aug. 10 at the San Jose Jazz Summer Fest in California.

Sylvie Courvoisier/Mark Feldman

Time Gone Out
(Intakt)

On the face of it, a piano and violin duo seems less like a jazz project than something from the classical realm, and if you’re listening for the traditional tropes of mainstream jazz—blue notes, swung eighths, regularly recurring chord changes—you won’t find them here. If, on the other hand, what you listen for is creative improvisation that marries a strong compositional sense with a high level of virtuosity, you can’t go wrong with Sylvie Courvoisier and Mark Feldman’s duo album, Time Gone Out.

It opens with “Homesick For Another World,” an eerily beautiful performance that finds the two evoking that “other world” through ghostly violin harmonics and strummed piano strings, before fading into a pregnant silence. And yet, there’s such a tunefulness to Feldman’s playing that the piece never feels off-putting. “Limits Of The Useful,” on the other hand, feels more purposely abstract, as the two focus more on texture than tune, particularly in Courvoisier’s use of prepared piano through the first half. Here again, though, there’s such a playfulness to what they’re doing that it’s easy to be drawn into the music.

By far, though, the album’s best moments come when the music’s scale turns epic. At nearly 20 minutes, the episodic title tune ranges from fevered improvisation to exchanges that could pass for excerpts from some lost piece by Olivier Messiaen. The level of communication between these two (who, in addition to being longtime duet partners, are also spouses) not only facilitates these stylistic pivots, but also leaves room for the occasional gag, as on “Not A Song, Other Songs” where at one point a long glissando from Feldman is answered by Courvoisier pounding a deep, thunderous chord—boom! You can almost hear the two of them smiling as they move on to the next exchange.

Nature Work

Nature Work
(Sunnyside)

In Chicago, Sun Ra compositions rank as repertoire with chimerical improv being the lingua franca.

Ample evidence comes on the quartet recording by Nature Work, helmed by the city’s Greg Ward on alto saxophone and Jason Stein on bass clarinet. Splitting up writing duties on the tracks here, the pair invites experimentally inclined bassist Eric Revis and exploratory drummer Jim Black to round out the group, adding some New York gravitas to the proceedings.

But Nature Work just sounds like Chicago, smartly penned heads sitting alongside patches of emotionally wrought blowing. On Stein’s “Porch Time,” Revis and Black lock into a maniacal debate, churning out some of the most menacing moments of the album, as Ward blends in calming, ropey lines of improv before the tune’s composer briefly restates the tune’s melodic material.

Contrasting Stein’s writing with Ward’s finds tunes like the latter’s “Tah Dazzle,” pointing toward some divergent ideas—but only marginally. Ward seems to find wobbly phrases and lines for the pair to repeat, providing listeners easier access to the swelling improvisations that follow. While both players clearly are writing to give everyone space to explore, Stein works to get to all involved to that musical nexus more immediately.

Elephant9

Psychedelic Backfire I/II
(Rune Grammofon)

Jammy Oslo-bred fusion trio Elephant9, now more than a decade into life, offers up a pair of live recordings on Psychedelic Backfire I and II that seethe with aggression and recline with tranquility.

Revisiting its recorded past in a live setting at Oslo’s Kampen Bistro, the band dispatches six cuts on the first disc as a trio, with a pair of the tunes being revisited on II. But here keyboardist Ståle Storløkken matches patches of regal prog, as on “I Cover The Mountaintop,” with Soft Machine-esque jazz and psychedelia. “Actionpack1,” a tune off 2018’s Greatest Show On Earth, turns motorik, the ensemble’s drummer Torstein Lofthus flexing significant time-keeping acumen—and stamina.

Sometimes the setup doesn’t quite work, though: The version of “Habanera Rocket” on I sounds a bit thin and quickly descends into patchouli-scented aimlessness. With Dungen guitarist Reine Fiske in tow for a second version of the tune on II, the song’s quieter opening section better sweeps into a chunk of funky improv. Of course, hearing Storløkken unspool the ambient opening of Stevie Wonder’s “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life” might provide a more accessible port of entry. But even some of the knottier moments on both installments of Psychedelic Backfire make clear that there’s still some point of convergence in the psych and jazz worlds that are worth trying to pry open.

Marlene Rosenberg

MLK Convergence
(Origin)

If you don’t know bassist Marlene Rosenberg from her work with Paul Wertico or Ed Thigpen, OK. But she’s gigged with a virtual murderers’ row of players and had Makaya McCraven in her group before most folks had heard the drummer’s name.

Origin label honcho and drummer John Bishop had been paying attention, though.

“The first time I noticed her was when she was in Joe Henderson’s band with Renee Rosnes and Sylvia Cuenca back in the late ’80s,” he wrote in an email. That group issued the live set Punjab in 1990, Rosenberg taking a writing credit for “Blue Waltz.” “But she’s done thousands of gigs over the decades; one of us jazz worker bees.”

As playful, sturdy and vaguely funky as the material is on MLK Convergence, the album’s title works to reference the civil rights icon as much as the first letters in the names of the trio’s principal members, which in addition to Rosenberg includes drummer Lewis Nash and pianist Kenny Barron. Apart from a track featuring Christian McBride doubling-up on bass, “And Still We Rise,” and the album closer, “Love’s In Need Of Love Today,” most of MLK Converge doesn’t feel overwhelmingly political. But “Not The Song I Wanna Sing,” the only cut here with vocals, offers up lines from guests like, “Rogue killer cops take black lives that do matter/ Minor traffic stops that end with blood spatter” over an acoustic groove suitable for A Tribe Called Quest to have sampled in 1994. Rosenberg, who’s been based in Chicago since the ’80s, also makes certain to mention the 2014 shooting of Laquan McDonald, a 17-year-old slain by a city policeman.

Michael Winograd

Kosher Style
(OU People)

There was a time, back in the 1960s, when klezmer was considered not just retro but actually dead, and those who played it were not practitioners but revivalists. Clarinetist Michael Winograd grew up in that era, but plays like a skeptic—listening to him, you’d never imagine there was a time during which klezmer was in decline.

Much of that has to do with the way Winograd has mastered the klezmer clarinet vocabulary. It’s not the tunes he plays so much as the way he plays them that stamps this music as being “Kosher style”—the throaty glissandos, the crisp grace notes, ululating ornaments that make his clarinet phrases sound distinctively, definitively of the Jewish tradition. Interestingly, the rest of his young, Brooklyn-based ensemble pretty much leaves that space entirely to Winograd. Although there are moments in which the saxophonists mimic the clarinet’s phrasing, trumpeter Ben Holmes and trombonist Daniel Blacksberg tend to play it straight, to such an extent that Holmes’ carefully-tongued phrases would be as at home in a polka band as in Winograd’s ensemble.

Nevertheless, it’s hard not to be awed by Winograd’s complete command of klezmer ornamentation, much less the wit with which he deploys it to make the music fit contemporary Brooklyn Jewish culture. It’s so kosher you should feel guilty listening to the recording on your stereo Friday night.

The Hot Sardines

Welcome Home, Bon Voyage
(Eleven)

If one had never heard the music of The Hot Sardines but had seen a recent photo of the octet onstage, it would be easy to assume that vocalist and co-leader Elizabeth Bougerol’s washboard is the most unusual aspect of the band’s instrumentation. But that honor actually goes to the band member whose specialty is “playing the feet”—gifted tap dancer A.C. Lincoln. Of the dozen tracks on the hot-jazz band’s new live album, more than half of them feature tap-dance breaks that add an essential percussive element to the retro-leaning ensemble’s sonic fabric.

Welcome Home, Bon Voyage documents vibrant performances in two cities: Toronto (at Koerner Hall on April 14, 2018) and the band’s home base of New York (at Joe’s Pub on April 20–21, 2018). The Hot Sardines walk a path between fun and kitsch as they interpret works from such composers as Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee Clarence Williams (1893–1965), represented here with a lovely version of the ballad “Baby Won’t You Please Come Home” and a red-hot romp through the novelty tune originally titled “I Ain’t Gonna Give Nobody None O’ This Jelly Roll.” At the latter song’s conclusion, Bougerol tells the crowd, “It’s about dessert,” joking about the 1919 song’s innuendo.

Throughout the program, Bougerol offers a sly, charming delivery, and on a ballad like Fats Waller and Andy Razaf’s “Keepin’ Out Of Mischief Now,” there’s not much shelter provided by historical recontextualization, so the vocal performance must succeed on its own merits—as opposed to winning over the audience simply through an act of musical archeology. But sociohistorical context is always a factor when a 21st century band decides to tackle material like 1902’s “(Won’t You Come Home) Bill Bailey,” which addresses a romantic squabble, or 1928’s “Crazy Rhythm,” which contains the lyrics “What’s the use of Prohibition/ You produce the same condition.”

Musical chops abound here, as displayed by the dialogue between trumpeter Noah Hocker and clarinetist Nick Myers on “Jelly Roll,” or the poignant pianism of band co-leader Evan Palazzo on “Exactly Like You” and “After You’ve Gone.”

Following mid-July shows in Austria, the United Kingdom and Ukraine, The Hot Sardines will begin a leg of U.S. dates on July 26 at Bard College’s Fisher Center in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York.

Lauren Desberg

Out For Delivery
(Self Release)

Motown founder Berry Gordy has been credited with the famous quotation, “Don’t bore us—get to the chorus.” It’s a slogan that applies to jazz-pop singer Lauren Desberg’s fat-free, 31-minute release, Out For Delivery. The album, which includes 10 Desberg compositions and two standards, is peppered with four flavorful nuggets that are each fewer than 85 seconds in duration. The listener never has time to get complacent or sated, because the program’s pace is brisk and the hooks are strong.

The album opens with “The Way You Feel Inside,” which merges modern pop production and multitracked vocals with Andrew Renfroe’s jazz guitar licks. This song’s protagonist encourages people to express themselves honestly, and, like much of Desberg’s work, there’s more depth to the lyrics than one might initially notice—thanks to the breezy melody. “Something Wrong With Me,” the tale of an unlucky-in-love narrator whose fortune mysteriously turns to sunshine, is a showcase for the production prowess of Drew Ofthe Drew, who gracefully eases Braxton Cook’s saxophone into the mix, first as a background voice deep in the echo-laden distance and then, gradually, as the featured instrument, clear and authoritative in the foreground. Also among the seven gifted musicians at the sessions was pianist Kris Bowers, who shines on the introduction to the brief closer, “The Choice.”

Desberg, drummer Jonathan Barber and Drew Ofthe Drew (who also mixed and mastered the album) ensure that the two standards—“The Sweetest Sounds” and “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter”—are given fresh aural twists for a millennial audience. On these interpretations (and throughout the program), fans of Norah Jones might be drawn to Desberg’s vocal delivery, which is buoyant but not lightweight.

Interpersonal relationships are central to several of the songs here, including the poignant “How Could I Have Pain,” in which Desberg examines the difficulties of human connections, crooning, “We run in stride, but still we know we’re not in the same race/ I’m on the straight and narrow while he climbs/ I’ll see him at the finish line.”

Jordon Dixon

On!
(Self Release)

There’s something to be said for the sturdiness of blues, bop and ballads, and D.C.-based tenor saxophonist Jordon Dixon digs into each for his second leader date, On!

A Louisiana native, the bandleader took on the burden and distinction of serving in the Marines for 11 years, according to the album’s press notes. After an honorable discharge, he headed to D.C. to study music and hooked up with Allyn Johnson, a pianist and educator who’s prominently featured across the new recording. The pair’s readily apparent rapport really is what enables On! to swing so easily.

“What You’ve Done For Me,” a muggy ballad, features the pianist in an expansive mood, Johnson’s solo plunging from one end of the keyboard to the other. As the bandleader takes back the spotlight, Johnson’s support might come off as a bit too busy, but still manages to hit all the right spots. On “Flame And Friction,” trumpeter J.S. Williams contributes fanfares linking it all back to the bandleader’s home state, adding further historical context to a recording that’s utterly beholden to the past, but somehow refuses to seem stuffy, reserved or artless.

For On! to be Dixon’s second long-player and to come off as assuredly as it does seems to mean that even as the well-worn combo of blues, bop and ballads heads into its ninth decade, there’re still players creative enough to invigorate the concoction.

Carlos Barbosa-Lima

Delicado
(Zoho)

The Zoho label has earned a strong reputation in part because of its commitment to Brazilian music and legendary artists such as acoustic guitarist Carlos Barbosa-Lima, who, after moving to New York in the 1980s, frequently collaborated with fellow countryman Antônio Carlos Jobim (1927–’94). Delicado, Barbosa-Lima’s 10th release for Zoho, is a tribute to the music traditions of Rio de Janeiro, such as bossa nova, samba and choro. The program includes compositions by Jobim, Luiz Bonfá (1922–2001), João Pernambuco (1883–1947), Baden Powell (1937–2000) and others. For the recording sessions, the leader assembled an all-star quintet, featuring artists who have appeared on previous Zoho releases: Larry Del Casale (guitar), Duduka Da Fonseca (percussion), Nilson Matta (bass) and Helio Alves (piano).

Barbosa-Lima, still spry and spectacular at age 74, graciously shares the spotlight with his bandmates. The title track—composed by choro master Waldir Azevedo (1923–1980)—reflects the quintet’s great rapport, with subtle, intricate interaction, and both guitarists playing the melody.

Sixty years after the release of director Marcel Camus’ Orfeu Negro (Black Orpheus), musicians still find inspiration in the film’s soundtrack, which features work by Jobim and Bonfá. In his 15-song program, Barbosa-Lima interprets three tunes from the film’s score. The band’s version of “Samba De Orfeu” is an earworm with delightful percussive accents. A creative arrangement of “A Felicidade,” another samba number, segues from a full-band treatment into a twisting path of delicate solo parts and whimsical segments that evoke the sounds of tropical birds. Del Casale and Barbosa-Lima—who have been collaborators for more than 15 years—offer a gorgeous duo reading of “Manhã De Carnaval” that tugs at the heartstrings. Barbosa-Lima’s arrangement of “Odeon,” written by pianist Ernesto Nazareth (1863–1934), illustrates the drama and poignancy that this icon can generate in a solo guitar setting.

Delicado will please longtime fans and also might serve as a fine introduction to some of Brazil’s greatest composers.

Ultra World X-Tet

Wise Dreams And Fables Of The Sky
(Giespro)

Diverse aspects of Greek mythology, ancient China and the multiculturalism of contemporary San Francisco all factor into Wise Dreams And Fables Of The Sky by the Ultra World X-Tet. The bulk of the Bay Area quintet’s third release is devoted to the titular suite, a four-song adventure inspired by Homer’s The Odyssey. Gary Schwantes (saxophones, bamboo flutes, ocarina) composed nearly all the material here, which was recorded live at San Francisco’s Old First Church with Doug Ebert (bass), Surya Prakasha (drums), Yangqin Zhao (yangqin, a Chinese hammered dulcimer) and Winnie Wong (guzheng, a zither that originated more than 2,500 years ago and became common during the Qin dynasty). The result is a smorgasbord that organically blends straightahead jazz, fusion, funk, blues, world music and other sonic elements. Listeners don’t need to know the plot of The Odyssey to fully appreciate the dramatic, cinematic qualities of this instrumental program; however, thanks to liner notes that outline the plot of books nine through 12 of Homer’s epic poem, one can make a game of matching melodic segments with their corresponding literary scenes, such as Odysseus’ encounter with the Cyclops or his return to Ithaca.

Although this is a concert disc, there is no stage banter and very little crowd noise, giving it the feel of a studio recording. A couple of memorable motifs—one involving a march-like rhythm and another featuring the guzheng—provide a buttress in the sturdy architecture of the suite. A far cry from a mere exercise in eclecticism, this album invites contemplation about the enduring components of that most human of endeavors: storytelling.

Angelika Niescier

New York Trio
(Intakt)

Perpetually in good company, alto saxophonist Angelika Niescier is adding to a run of Intakt albums with her latest disc, New York Trio.

Across three consecutive recordings, bassist Christopher Tordini has been a constant companion, helping to provide Niescier with a versatile rhythm section that’s either been rounded out by Tyshawn Sorey or Gerald Cleaver, who’s behind the kit on this newest set. Working in a chordless troupe here, as well as on 2018’s The Berlin Concert, grants the reedist unsparing freedom to roam, and the berth to examine and re-examine a pair of compositions on each album, while also interspersing a handful of new confections.

After opening last year’s live disc—which according to New York Trio’s liner notes actually was recorded after this studio date—with two performances that might drown out some rock acts, a mathier take on “The Surge” announces this disc’s arrival.

“I was [excited] to include them in a different environment,” Niescier recently told DownBeat while chatting at a Cologne cafe. “I think I cut [the introductorily passage of ‘The Surge’] for the live performance, because we had so little time to rehearse, and included the whole thing [on the studio version]. And ‘5.8,’ I think I wrote a different solo section. I was like, should I do this? Then I was like, fuck it, yeah. It was such a different energy.”

It’d be easy for Niescier only to spotlight her burly approach to alto, augmented on New York Trio by trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson, and come to each composition with a stormy fervor. But for “Ekim”—its melody borrowed from Turkish composer Nazife Güran—the bandleader and Tordini bend, blow and bow quietly, Finlayson weaving in lines with only minimal chatter from Cleaver. Programming “Push Pull” as the next track—one where the drummer leans into a groove more than anywhere else on New York Trio—might just be a satisfying accident, pointing out the bandleader’s various, contrasting and erudite approaches to composition. But it’s just as likely a clever and playful move, again flashing Niescier’s wit for a growing Stateside audience.

Eric Alexander

Leap Of Faith
(Giant Step Arts)

Eric Alexander steps outside of himself and embarks on far-reaching excursions for this live outing, recorded last August at New York’s Jazz Gallery with bassist Doug Weiss and drummer Jonathan Blake.

Leap Of Faith presents the tenor saxophonist in a liberated light, with few harmonic constraints to heed and no commercial expectations whatsoever from Jimmy Katz’s nonprofit organization Giant Step Arts [ed. note: Katz is a regular DownBeat contributor]. Alexander takes full advantage of this artistic and financial opportunity to explore his own wide-ranging tastes and shed his image as a bebop purist by boldly venturing into avant-garde territory and beyond. His playing is explosive, unbridled, searching and cathartic in this chordless trio setting—wide-open terrain that previously was unexplored by Alexander.

The program is all Alexander originals that were composed during a recent period of turbulence in the saxophonist’s life, and he clearly uses this new material to vent his wildest ideas and innermost emotions. Leap Of Faith begins with a brief free investigation that quickly takes shape as “Luquitas,” a showcase for the group’s boundless energy and unceasing momentum. The saxophonist plays with uttermost intensity on the swaggering “Hard Blues” and the Coltrane-fired “Second Impression.” Blake’s thundering drums anchor the blistering “Frenzy,” and Weiss’ resonant bowings serve as an essential undercurrent for “Magyar,” a work based on a reduction of themes from Béla Bartók’s Music For Strings, Percussion And Celesta.

With Leap Of Faith, Alexander followed the advice of his longtime friend Katz and pursued a project that radically departs from the norm, investigating a more expansive setting than the traditional bebop métier that has defined his artistry for decades. The resulting album is an honest depiction of one of today’s most burning tenor players, unleashed, at a pinnacle of raw passion.

Sam Newsome

Chaos Theory: Song Cycles For Prepared Saxophone
(Self Release)

In the seven decades since John Cage’s “Sonatas And Interludes” instructed pianists to “prepare” their instrument by placing screws, coins, pencils and other objects on the instrumnent’s strings, prepared piano has become a common enough concept that it even has leaked into the realm of rock music.

By contrast, Sam Newsome’s prepared saxophone, though it clearly takes inspiration from Cage’s approach, involves a whole other level of invention and virtuosity. Head over to his blog, and you’ll not only hear but see him alter the sound of his soprano in a variety of mind-bending ways, from inserting a noise maker into the neck, to adding lengths of plastic tubing between the mouthpiece and body of the horn. The clip where he stretches a deflated balloon across the bell and plays his horn like a bata drum is particularly brilliant.

Chaos Theory: Song Cycles For Prepared Saxophone applies these and other techniques to create multitracked soundscapes that will forever alter your understanding of what sounds a saxophone can make. Comparisons to Colin Stetson seem inevitable, but Newsome is working with a much broader palette, and to a different compositional purpose.

Despite the title’s promise of chaos, Newsome’s song cycle maintains a fairly conventional sense of melodic logic and rhythmic consistency. Although some tunes—such as “Chaos Theory, No. 2 (Hiss-ology)” or “Solo, No. 3 (Flutter-Effect)”—largely are built around specific techniques, other tracks layer a range of preparations to create rich and inventive soundscapes. “Sonic Polarity,” for example, is built over a percussive ostinato and didgeridoo-like drone that lends a sort of Persian classical feel to Newsome’s improvisations, while “Bubble Mute Boogie” builds off a prepared percussive pattern to create an addictively sweet blues groove. I can’t wait to hear what other possibilities Newsome discovers as he dives deeper into his preparations.

Elliot Galvin Trio

Modern Times
(Edition)

On “Ghosts,” the opening cut of the Elliot Galvin Trio’s new recording, Corrie Dick’s drumming tips in about 20 seconds after the track begins. It announces a decidedly pop-conscious consideration of the genre, but one that makes Modern Times imminently digestible.

Galvin uses the piano trio format within the confines of three­- to five-minute tunes, spinning right-hand flights into swelling waves of choppy chords. It doesn’t all actually come off sounding like pop music, and to Modern Times’ benefit, the playfulness these tunes rest upon sometimes is absent the overly serious stance listeners might associate with the jazz genre. Maybe it’s a generational thing; Polish saxophonist Kuba Więcek, another 20-something bandleader, moves in similar circles, ideologically if not sonically.

The ensemble’s setup—as well as Galvin and Dick performing together in UK group Dinosaur—enables the troupe to easily float into the odd, moody tune amid all the ebullient compositions here. “Fountainhead,” a three-minute cut about halfway through the disc, opens with a solo turn, before the bandleader is joined by bassist Tom McCredie’s arco spotlight. “Gold Shovel” and “Into The Dark” are relatively somber works, too, but offset by the playful “Jackfruit,” a tune presumably named for the meat-substitute.

The fruit, native to Southern India, isn’t exactly a staple in the States yet, and neither is Galvin. In time, though, at least one of them is going to be embraced here. Modern Times hints that Galvin’s turn likely is coming first.

Linda May Han Oh

Aventurine
(Biophilia)

Because they normally work in the background, solo albums by bassists often are marked by long bass solos, or unaccompanied bass performances, or even just an unusually bass-heavy mix. To that extent, Aventurine sounds little like a typical bass player’s album, as leader Linda May Han Oh keeps the music’s focus on her ensemble, not her acoustic or electric bass.

It isn’t just a general lack of bass solos. There are long stretches in the elegiac “The Sirens Are Wailing” when Oh doesn’t play at all, instead letting the string quartet and saxophonist Greg Ward take the helm for much of the piece, mixing improvised lines with those Oh has written. It’s an amazing bit of writing, and quite a testament to Oh’s abilities as a bandleader, as shifts between the composed and the collectively improvised sections are utterly seamless. Moreover, there’s not even the hint of a bass solo in its whole nine minutes.

Although some might read that as evidence of Oh’s selflessness, a better take would be to see Aventurine as a reflection of the type of music she most wants to make: deeply compositional, strongly collective and drawing freely from a range of musical traditions. Hence her treatment of “Au Privave,” which uses Charlie Parker’s serpentine blues as the basis for a churning, polytonal set of variations on a theme, giving us an approach to melodic elaboration that encompasses both jazz and classical music. When the group begins “Song Yue Rao,” Oh states the melody and others join in, making the Chinese folk tune sound like an old-timey string band piece. But as more voices enter, rhythms are added, lines are improvised, and other keys are suggested, until the music owes as much to Ornette Coleman as to any folk tradition.

With 14 tunes unspooling during about 75 minutes, Oh covers a lot of ground on Aventurine, and it’s a testament to her musical vision that even after a dozen or more listens, the album continues to reveal additional depths. True, there isn’t much in the way of bass solos, but somehow, it’s unlikely anyone will mind.

Eric Reed

Everybody Gets The Blues
(Smoke Sessions)

Pianist Eric Reed is among the most gifted of today’s straightahead jazz players who draw important inspiration from the past. In the liner notes to his new quartet album, the excellent Everybody Gets The Blues, the 48-year-old Philadelphia native writes, “More and more, I find myself looking back—not in the effort to recapture or to waddle in regret, but to reassess, analyze and rebuild for tomorrow.” Reed salutes pianist Bud Powell with an original tune, “Dear Bud,” reharmonizes the John Coltrane classic “Naima” with an arrangement that features his agile work on Fender Rhodes, and honors pianist James Williams (1951–2004) with a jaunty take on “Road Life,” a tune the composer recorded with bassist Ray Brown and drummer Elvin Jones for a 1988 album.

Reed’s reverence for pianist Cedar Walton (1934–2013) has a particularly strong influence on this album’s cohesive, hour-long program, which was recorded with Tim Green (alto and soprano saxophones), Mike Gurrola (bass) and McClenty Hunter (drums). Reed mixes polish with pizzazz on a bouncy, feel-good rendition of Walton’s “Martha’s Prize”; pays tribute to his hero with “Cedar Waltzin’,” an original tune that segues into Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ’Bout A Thing”; and offers a graceful reading of trumpeter Freddie Hubbard’s “Up Jumped Spring” (the first recording of which, from 1962, featured Walton, then a member of Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers).

The album’s highlight is an elegant medley that intertwines the Beatles classic “Yesterday” with the Jerome Kern standard “Yesterdays” in a glorious fashion that works well melodically—deftly illustrating that the impulse to combine these tunes is based on something more profound than the similarity of their titles. Reed shines throughout the program, especially on the ballads, including his meditative, nine-minute gem, “New Morning.”

The tour schedule on Reed’s website lists a May 16 trio gig at the Muckenthaler Cultural Center in Fullerton, California, and a quartet show on July 27 at the Central Avenue Jazz Festival in Los Angeles.

Jim Snidero

Waves Of Calm
(Savant)

Waves Of Calm is the perfect title for this new release from alto saxophonist Jim Snidero. A reflection on his since-departed father’s struggle with Parkinson’s Disease, the eight-song program is charged with powerful emotion recollected in tranquility. Indeed, Waves Of Calm is not rooted in a static, narcotic type of calm. Rather, it’s the product of an active state of calm, the type that leads to deep insights and gives birth to meaningful art.

Snidero once again teams up with trumpeter Jeremy Pelt—whom he played alongside on last year’s joyful and soulful Jubilation! Celebrating Cannonball Adderley—for four tracks on the new recording. The pair take a noticeably more sober approach here, backed by a sympathetic, expert rhythm section of pianist/keyboardist Orrin Evans, bassist Nat Reeves and drummer Jonathan Barber. The title track opens the album with a simple descending piano line that gently leads the listener and the musicians into a peaceful place—an ideal starting point for this shared journey. On Snidero’s “Truth,” the color of the mood shifts dramatically to blue-black, as Evans’ mysterious-sounding Rhodes begins scribbling subliminal messages and Pelt’s weighty trumpet emerges. The 1938 standard “Old Folks” starts with a delicate rubato piano intro before Snidero’s alto enters, breathy and close-up, with a touch of vibrato that adds just the right amount of intensity to his restrained, paced playing.

Before you know it, we’re into the haunting “Visions”—one of the more urgent and unsettled-sounding Snidero originals on Waves Of Calm—with Evans’ nervous Rhodes once again bubbling into the atmosphere and Pelt’s powerful trumpet tones adding to the tune’s ominous sense of psychological distress. “Dad Song” is a refreshingly upbeat change of pace, with its catchy, steady pulse and playful improvisations evoking the senior Snidero’s vibrancy of spirit. On “If I Had You,” another standard jewel, Snidero virtually sings through the horn, extending his phrases with snappy, impromptu lines that indulge the veteran alto player’s appetite for bebop. The album closes with “Estuary,” a moody waltz that takes unexpected turns as it inevitably flows downstream. Just when the thought occurred to me that this album is rather Zen-like in essence, I caught a glimpse of the cover art: an image of Snidero sitting cross-legged in a clear-blue-sky setting, wearing his signature sneakers and specs, his tie loosened and his horn lovingly cradled. It’s a true picture of calm, an ideal environment for sharing musical poetry that rises and falls like waves in a sea of emotion.

Wynton Marsalis

Bolden: Music From The Original Soundtrack
(Blue Engine)

For casual fans, a soundtrack album often is merely a keepsake, a memento associated with a film they love, rather than a musical compilation they’ll revisit frequently. In the particular case of Bolden, there is a slight difference in mood between the film and the soundtrack. Director Dan Pritzker’s dark, well-crafted art-house film about New Orleans cornetist and bandleader Charles “Buddy” Bolden (1877–1931) is a nonlinear tale that depicts racism, brutality, drug addiction, mental illness, misogyny, prostitution and other forms of exploitation—as well as providing an imagined glimpse of the specific cultural milieu in which jazz originated.

The soundtrack, crafted by Wynton Marsalis, is a wildly entertaining excursion into the early styles of the genre, expertly delivered by the trumpeter and members of his acclaimed Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, along with a talented cast of guests, including singer Catherine Russell (who has a cameo in the film). Separated from the harrowing cinematic images of the R-rated movie, the musical program has more of a buoyant quality, as red-hot tunes are mixed with poignant balladry and some PG-13 raunchiness—such as the lyrics to Marsalis’ arrangement of the traditional tune “All The Whores Go Crazy (About The Way I Ride).” Every track in the 26-song program is exquisitely executed, whether it’s a Marsalis composition designed to evoke what Bolden’s band might have sounded like, or a song by Hoagy Carmichael (“Stardust”), Irving Berlin (“Russian Lullaby”), Fats Waller (“Black And Blue”), Edward “Kid” Ory (“Muskrat Ramble”) or Jelly Roll Morton (“Funky Butt [I Thought I Heard Buddy Bolden Say]”). If the notion of hearing Marsalis’ tentet cut loose on Louis Armstrong’s arrangement of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band’s “Tiger Rag” is something that intrigues you, then this soundtrack definitely belongs in your collection.

In the film, Gary Carr (Downton Abbey) portrays Bolden, and Reno Wilson (Mike & Molly) has the role of Armstrong. Marsalis provides the cornet and trumpet parts for both characters (JLCO trumpeter Marcus Printup also plays on the soundtrack), but Wilson does his own singing, imitating Satchmo’s gravelly vocal style on several tunes, including the comedic “I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead, You Rascal You.”

Other artists involved in the project are JLCO pianist Dan Nimmer, trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, Delfeayo Marsalis (who produced the album but doesn’t play on it) and clarinetist Dr. Michael White, who plays on the soundtrack and wrote an essay for the liner notes. White opines on how the past is connected to the present in the Crescent City: “[Wynton Marsalis’] deep knowledge of the music of his native New Orleans is reflected in how his trumpet playing expresses that proud, joyous, and defiant singing spirit that has descended from Buddy Bolden to Bunk Johnson and King Oliver to Louis Armstrong and all of the great players in this line, including Terence Blanchard, Nicholas Payton, and Wynton himself.”

Brian Krock

liddle
(Outside In)

Olli Hirvonen’s guitar provided a dash of bombast on Brian Krock’s 2018 album, Big Heart Machine. The big band made something of an anachronistic album, pushing the vanguard of large-ensemble music, all scuffed up by those metally theatrics.

For liddle—an ensemble counting many of the same players, but one that formed prior to the band that played on Heart Machine—Hirvonen again adds outsized blasts of electric guitar, lending no-wave flair to a tune called “Knuckle Hair.” It’s not all that wild throughout the program, though Krock’s fervent experimentalism is readily apparent, and pleasantly so during his reeling saxophone feature on Anthony Braxton’s “Opus 23b.”

The athleticism of the avant-garde is, in part, what the originals on liddle are about, too.

“I kept writing more and more ridiculously complicated and abstract conceptual music and they would always nail it,” the bandleader said about working through his compositional process with the ensemble. “So, at a certain point my attitude changed to wanting to stump these guys, because we had the luxury of time to get deep into the nitty gritty of it all.”

The tune “Heart Machine,” where Krock’s other troupe actually draws its name, is a slow advance toward a warbling summit, Hirvonen’s guitar nimbus serving as the composition’s backdrop. Even in spots where the six strings get to be a bit overwhelming—“Memphis” hedges toward a rock-opera feel—pianist Matt Mitchell, bassist Marty Kenney and drummer Nathan Ellman-Bell ground the proceedings with playful, bounding musical gestures, enabling some of liddle’s most outside moments.

Dave Douglas/Uri Caine/Andrew Cyrille

Devotion
(Greenleaf Music)

It’s not often that a bandleader is so selfless that they’ll open an album with a track they don’t play on. It seems perfectly appropriate here, though, because trumpeter Dave Douglas’ Devotion is all about recognizing the value of others, particularly those who have inspired him musically or artistically. “Curly,” which opens the album, is a tune Douglas wrote in tribute to his favorite Stooge, Jerome Horwitz (a.k.a. Curly Howard). There’s no slapstick, but it’s not hard to recognize Horwitz’s gait in the manic syncopation of the melody, which pianist Uri Caine and drummer Andrew Cyrille happily spin into controlled chaos.

Not every connection is aurally obvious, though. “D’Andrea” and the lilting, waltz-tempo “Francis Of Anthony” might ring bells for those familiar with Italian jazz pianist Franco D’Andrea. If not, it’s still easy to be captivated by the unusual intervallic symmetry of Douglas’ melodies. On the other hand, the jaunty, gospel-inflected “Miljøsang,” which the trumpeter offers in tribute to pianist/composer Carla Bley, sounds more like mid-’70s Keith Jarrett. But that might have more to do with the way Caine plays it than how Douglas wrote it.

To an extent, though, Douglas’ liner notes create more distraction than illumination. Trying to hear the Dizzy Gillespie influence in the wistful “We Pray”—is it the half-valving or use of chromatics in Douglas’ solo?—could obscure the solemn beauty of the music itself, not to mention the way it furthers the churchy vibe Caine and Douglas established on their 2014 duo album, Present Joys (Greenleaf Music).

Better to remember that devotion can be offered in a variety of ways, and no single version is better than the others. Perhaps that’s why the album ends with Alexander Johnson’s sacred harp hymn, “Devotion,” and a performance that captures both the literal and figurative meanings of the word, as well as offering some of the album’s most inspired interplay.

Laura Valle

Charismatic
(Self Release)

On her sophomore album, Charismatic, charming Argentine singer-songwriter Laura Valle proves that a great melody is the universal language, as she offers lyrics in Spanish, English and German (with translations posted on her website).

Based in Southern California, Valle pursues a jazz-meets-pop aesthetic on this program of 11 original compositions. She also produced the album, carefully blending her multitracked vocal parts on catchy tunes like “I Keep Digging” and “Vos Y Yo.” Pianist Rob Kobayashi, who plays on eight tracks here, provides compelling propulsion for “The Essence Is Inside Of You,” while keyboardist Brad Vinikow fuels “Todo Se Transforma,” which features Valle’s subtle vocal flourishes. The bandleader has used the term “pop march” to describe the title track, which is anchored by the quasi-martial rhythms of drummer Isaac Sanchez. Funk and r&b influences are key to “Parte Del Pacto” and “Was Ist Liebe” (one of two tracks on which Logan Bacharach contributes alto and tenor saxophone). The emotional zenith is “Voz De Niebla,” a powerful ballad dedicated to singer Amy Winehouse (1983–2011). Valle is accompanied only by Kobayashi’s piano and Tower of Power member Sal Cracchiolo’s flugelhorn on this tune, which includes a heartbreaking line that translates as “Was it love or was it life itself that left you a scar of fire?” The album concludes with the inspirational “Seres Humanos,” on which a choir of students from Valle Vocal Studios enhances the song’s optimistic mood.

Trish Clowes

Ninety Degrees Gravity
(Basho)

On her 2010 debut, Tangent, tenor saxophonist Trish Clowes offered up a baroque vision of jazz—pithy and skronky interludes bouncing between full-ensemble improv and intimate sonic investigations.

The approach steadily has morphed into a sturdy post-bop practice with frequent detours into the electric realm and performances with the BBC Concert Orchestra. On her latest, Ninety Degrees Gravity, the Guildhall School of Music & Drama professor mashes it all together for an engaging program that spans a litany of Clowes’ musical interests.

“Abbott & Costello” isn’t brimming with slapstick and wordplay, as its name might lead listeners to believe. Instead, it’s a performance that builds quietly, determinedly, and, in part, on the fluttering multiphonic tones Clowes summons. A live recording of “Lightning Les” slowly moves from organ jam to all-out guitar shredding, recalling Medeski Martin & Wood’s partnership with John Scofield on the 1998 album A Go Go. Most of the program here, though, finds members of the quartet deploying a tender understanding of its component parts.

The only misstep might be a bit of middling vocals that introduce the otherwise engagingly broad 11-minute “Free To Fall.” But even in that, Clowes clearly is looking to incorporate just about every music she loves. So, if the composition momentarily references Gong or Soft Machine, it’s only in the interest of moving through genres to hit on some new wrinkle of creation.

Lee “Scratch” Perry

Rainford
(On-U Sound)

The veracity of all those stories you’ve heard or read about Lee “Scratch” Perry is immaterial. The 50-plus years of music the producer and vocalist has worked on is legitimately awe-inspiring. And the fact that he has continued releasing work at a pretty steady clip only adds to the respect he should be afforded.

Of course, most of the recordings under his own name—not Prince Buster, The Wailers, The Congos and scores of other collaborators—are difficult to keep track of, being strewn across hundreds of releases. But Perry’s relationship with On-U Sound’s Adrian Sherwood, a UK dub provocateur, has yielded dozens of albums since the 1980s. Granted, it’s not all on par with Return of The Super Ape, but most music isn’t.

Rainford opens with the whir of crickets, turns to a song about evil spirits that sports a familiar riddim and slowly advances toward “African Spaceship,” a tune with what sounds like a weird, pitched-down guitar, making it seem as if a late-’90s El-P production has been unearthed. A few more novel sonic moments crop up, but Rainford’s really about extending an astounding reggae legacy more than further innovations. It’s all marked with history, and Perry, now 83, has to understand that he doesn’t have another dozen albums left in him.

The closer, “Autobiography Of The Upsetter,” intimates that.

The Grammy winner tells listeners that his father was a Freemason, and that his parents wanted to create a “Godly being.” The song’s refrain, “I am the Upsetter,” is a simple statement of purpose as Perry goes on to explain that he’s on the planet to eradicate racism. That might be a bit of a stretch, but seeing his writing credit on the back of The Clash’s 1977 debut long-player likely expanded the minds of at least a few impressionable punks.

Anoushka Shankar

Reflections
(Deutsche Grammophon)

Sometimes, the long view offers the best perspective. Reflections compiles tracks drawn from 20 years of sitar virtuoso Anoushka Shankar’s recordings, and in so doing demonstrates not only the breadth of her work, but also its consistency.

Like her father, the legendary Ravi Shankar, Anoushka is a master of Hindustani classical music, but also open to working outside that tradition in various types of fusion formats. We hear her playing in a jazzy Americana style with her half-sister, Norah Jones, and also in the classical style with her father. There are collaborations with flamenco stars Pedro Ricardo Miño and Duquende, with Israeli pop singer Noa Lembersky and with actress Vanessa Redgrave. There are deep grooves, and tracks where the rhythm seems as fluid and unhurried as the water of a pond; there are songs with an obvious verse/chorus structure, and others that mostly are improvisation. Sometimes, the music seems modern and wide-screen, at others, it sounds timeless and intimate.

Through it all, Anoushka’s sitar remains constant—not just its sound, but the musical sensibility behind it. Like all truly great improvisors, she maintains her voice regardless of the material she’s playing, or with whom. This especially is evident when she leaves the Hindustani tradition to wander the wilds of world-music and pop. In some cases, it’s a matter of adapting her technique to the vocabulary of another music, as she does on the flamenco tune “Buleria Con Ricardo,” where she manages to make the melody’s Andalusian ornamentation sound perfectly at home on sitar. But she’s also able to discover an idiomatic role for herself that previously didn’t exist, as on “The Sun Won’t Set,” where Shankar uses the sitar’s lower register to play the blues, sounding a bit like a dobro against Nitin Sawhney’s finger-picked folk guitar. And it’s that sort of playing that quietly reminds us that this is one of improvised music’s great players.

Adam Bałdych Quartet

Sacrum Profanum
(ACT)

Polish violinist Adam Bałdych goes where the muse leads him. On each of his recent ACT albums recorded with the Helge Lien Trio—Brothers (2017) and Bridges (2015)—Bałdyc composed almost the entire program. In the liner notes for his new quartet album, Sacrum Profanum, Bałdychh reminisces about being expelled from music school “for playing jazz, for improvising and for rebelling against classical music.” But then he explains the impetus behind the new disc: “I felt the imperative to connect with my greatest inspiration at the moment—classical music.” But he’s not talking about Bach, Brahms and Beethoven. The 10 tracks on Sacrum Profanum are split evenly between original tunes and works by a diverse assemblage of composers that includes Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179), Thomas Tallis (1505–’85) and Gregorio Allegri (1582–1652). Bałdych also interprets “Bogurodzica” (a piece from the 13th century) and the “Concerto For Viola And Orchestra” by contemporary Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina.

Although the selections here jump from century to century, the leader’s decidedly modern, “new music” aesthetic keeps the proceedings cohesive. Bałdych has recruited a crew of flexible players—pianist Krzysztof Dys, bassist Michał Barański and drummer Dawid Fortuna—who excel at spare, poignant arrangements, as well as dense tracks packed with sonic layers. There are plenty of moments of thorny aural angst here, but on the version of Tallis’ “Spem In Alium” and the original “Longing,” Bałdych offers sections with gorgeous, clean violin lines. It’s lovely evidence that his youthful rebellion against classical sounds certainly was not a permanent, wholesale rejection.

Huw Warren Trio

Everything In Between
(CAM)

Huw Warren has a thing for Hermeto Pascoal—and Brazilian music in general.

As far back as 2009 on Hermeto + (Basho), the Welsh pianist has taken the time to arrange and record more than a dozen compositions by the bandleader. But on Everything In Between, the work’s been so firmly ensconced in a contemporary jazz context it’d be tough to pick out the provenance of each composition. “Loro,” though, briefly offers glints of the piece’s origins as a song penned by Egberto Gismonti.

Warren’s tempered trio has roots in Perfect Houseplants, a quartet founded during the early ’90s that the bandleader participated in with bassist Dudley Phillips, who ably plies electric bass during most of the program here. On “Vou Viviendo,” a tune plucked from the songbook of Brazilian composers Pixinguinha and Benedicto Lacerda, Phillips switches to acoustic, lending the workout a different kind of propulsion, something absent from other cuts here. The bandleader’s son, Zoot, on drums, shuffles behind the lustrous, light and lively keyboard flourishes the elder Warren summons, and ushers in the album closer, Pascoal’s “Musica Das Nuvens E Do Chão.” It’s a supremely funky conclusion to an otherwise pastoral trio recording.

Norah Jones

Begin Again
(Blue Note)

Wealth and fame can be destructive. Athletes and celebrities who hit it big at a young age often crash and burn. Norah Jones is an exception. She was 23 when Blue Note released her debut, Come Away With Me, in 2002. It earned her an armload of Grammys, and by 2005, it had shipped 10 million copies in the United States. In the years following that stratospheric career launch, Jones remained focused on artistry, rather than celebrity. She became an eager collaborator and a careful shepherd of her career, not rushing to put out “product” as a bandleader. And Jones has shown an expansive curiosity in choosing collaborators, whether she was helping form the bands The Little Willies and later Puss N Boots, or working with Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Green Day songwriter Billie Joe Armstrong, producer Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton, organist Dr. Lonnie Smith or sitar player Anoushka Shankar (who is her half-sister). For fans who have stuck with Jones, it’s been an intriguing journey.

Her new leader date, Begin Again, compiles seven original tracks, the majority of which she already has released. Like Esperanza Spalding, Jones’ artistic restlessness seems intertwined with eschewing the traditional ways that albums have been made, packaged and promoted. Her collaborators on this set include Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy, keyboardist Thomas Bartlett and drummer Brian Blade. “My Heart Is Full” pairs Bartlett’s piano, keyboards and synthesizer with Jones’ layered vocals for a memorable studio creation that’s spare, yet haunting. “Begin Again” is a rocker with these pointed lyrics: “Can a nation built on blood find its way out of the mud?/ Will the people at the top lose their way enough to stop?/ Can we begin again?”

Jones—playing piano, celeste and acoustic guitar—pursues an Americana vibe with co-writer Tweedy on “A Song With No Name.” Another tune written with Tweedy, “Wintertime,” will appeal to fans of Jones’ 2004 album, Feels Like Home (Blue Note). On “Just A Little Bit” (recorded and mixed by Patrick Dillett), Jones’ yearning vocal and insistent piano riffs are augmented by poignant trumpet work from Dave Guy. Overall, the charming Begin Again isn’t a grand statement; it’s a document of an artist seeing where the winding path takes her.

Jones will tour Australia and New Zealand in April, then take a break and launch a North American tour on June 18 at Heinz Hall in Pittsburgh. Tour info is posted at her website.

Branford Marsalis Quartet

The Secret Between The Shadow And The Soul
(OKeh/Sony)

Branford Marsalis never has sounded better on tenor and soprano saxophones, as revealed on this new release by his stellar working quartet with pianist Joey Calderazzo, bassist Eric Revis and drummer Justin Faulkner.

The Secret Between The Shadow And The Soul—the group’s first release since 2016’s Upward Spiral (OKeh/Marsalis Music) with guest Kurt Elling and first purely instrumental effort since 2012’s Four MFs Playin’ Tunes (Marsalis Music)—succeeds in its relentless pursuit of musical sophistication, cohesiveness and inclusiveness. Clearly, these long-loyal bandmates have reached a new plateau together. Marsalis, always a strong storyteller, plays with tremendous conviction and deftly manipulates his sound palette to conjure a range of emotions on the seven tracks here, which include fresh compositions by Marsalis, Revis and Calderazzo, as well as creative interpretations of Andrew Hill’s “Snake Hip Waltz” and Keith Jarrett’s “The Windup.”

Whether winding through the quirky three-bar phrases of Hill’s piece or navigating the elegant radiance of Calderazzo’s “Cianna,” the abrupt perspective-shifts of Revis’ “Dance Of The Evil Toys” or the gentle flow of Marsalis’ “Life Filtering From The Water Flowers,” the quartet stands as a model of adventurousness and commitment. Under Marsalis’ direction, their approach to writing and improvising emphasizes melody and rhythm first, with harmony playing a less-defining role on any given piece. The resulting music drives hard and holds little back as it traverses the many moods this quartet has at its command, even during the more reflective moments on The Secret Between The Shadow And The Soul.

Iro Haarla

Around Again: The Music Of Carla Bley
(TUM)

Ideally, a songbook tribute album shouldn’t have the listener agree, “Yes, this is great writing,” but instead think, “Wow, I never understood these songs that way before.” In other words, the idea is to strive for revelation—which is precisely what Finnish pianist Iro Haarla delivers with Around Again: The Music of Carla Bley—not confirmation.

The focus here is on Bley’s earliest work, back when her tunes were being recorded by the likes of Paul Bley and Jimmy Guiffre. What Haarla and her trio grasp is that these pieces were centered not on harmonic structures, but on melody. In that sense, Bley’s writing was not unlike Ornette Coleman’s, in the sense that the compositions provided theme and mood, but didn’t lock the players into some set harmonic schema.

Haarla is suited ideally to this approach, as her playing tends to be lean and linear, emphasizing the melodic lift of a line, more than its harmonic weight. She brings an almost heartbreaking lyricism to melancholy cadences of “Ida Lupino,” and makes “Utviklingssang” sound like the Nordic folk song it should have been.

But it also helps that her playing leaves plenty of room for her bandmates. Bassist Ulf Krokfors, a longtime collaborator, is particularly on point, offering thrumming, contrapuntal lines that at their best evoke the empathetic warmth of Charlie Haden; his intro to “Vashkar” is particularly affecting. Meanwhile, Barry Altschul—who, as the drummer for Paul Bley’s trio, was heard on the first recording of many of these tunes—sticks to the quiet side of his polyrhythmic approach, keeping the energy up but the dynamics down through hushed flutters of brushed cymbals or tom-tom patterns that rumble like distant thunder. Between them, their lean, cohesive approach makes even the most familiar of these tunes sound fresh and exciting—just what any fan would want from a tribute album.

Ben Winkelman Trio

Balance
(OA2)

With the release of his sixth album as a leader, Australian-born, New York-based pianist Ben Winkelman continues to develop his concept of a piano trio whose primary artistic goal is to strike a balance between composition and improvisation. Bassist Matt Penman and drummer Obed Calvaire—both of whom never had played with Winkelman until this recording session—are featured as more than just sidemen/soloists. In crafting his meticulous arrangements, Winkelman treats his bandmates as if they were part of a small orchestra, providing them with detailed parts that are integral to the 10 original compositions on Balance. The music draws from Winkelman’s vast musical interests (including Afro-Cuban, gospel and classical influences) filtered through a jazz perspective.

Highlights include the odd-metered “Bx12 Part One” and “Bx12 Part Two,” the satisfying medium-tempo swinger “April,” the dreamlike ballad “Santiago,” the structure-meets-spontaneity of “Window Shopping,” the harmonic ambiguity of “The Trip” and a rhythmically challenging treatment of Thelonious Monk’s “Bye-Ya.” The intellectual meets the intuitive by design throughout the entirety of Balance as Winkelman’s trio of equals, perpetually seeking a state of equilibrium, approach joyful swing, hard-hitting rock and chamber-like inventions as one big, interconnected thing of beauty.

Lage Lund

Terrible Animals
(Criss Cross)

There’s a sense of heedless exploration that opens guitarist Lage Lund’s Terrible Animals, but the bulk of the album moderates the initial avant-excursions.

Opener “Hard Eights” rattles with an moody melody and some light effects listeners might not be expecting from the bandleader. The rabble subsides a bit as pianist Sullivan Fortner ambles through a solo, kicking up odd rhythms and an unpredictable cascade of notes. Control of the tune’s ceded back to Lund, before the next tune, “Aquanaut,” conjures some fusion-adjacent vibes.

What follows is a noticeable shift away from the genre-fluidity that defines Terrible Animals’ opening tracks: “Haitian Ballad” mostly is restraint and beauty, flecked with moments of abandon; “Ray Ray” finds Fortner swinging pretty hard; and “Take It Easy” excels on the back of Lund’s light guitar trickery.

“Octoberry” and the title track rank as exceptions, making use of clipped guitar notes and otherworldly buzzing. There’s really not a slack moment across the 10-tune offering. And that’s in part because of Lund’s compatriots: Fortner, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Tyshawn Sorey. But maybe the introductory whiff of the avant-garde simply was Lund exploring a singular facet of his musical personality, before serving up a bevy of less experimental work. Whatever the reason, bits and pieces of Terrible Animals sound like an irresistible and raucous foray into the beyond.

Eumir Deodato

Os Catedráticos 73
(Far Out Recordings)

The reissue of keyboardist Eumir Deodato’s Os Catedráticos 73 is a head trip that will make synapses fire and hips sway.

The opening track, “Arranha Céu (Skyscrapers),” is dance-floor manna, fueled by the kind of awesome grooves that crate-diggers live for. Mixing Brazilian rhythms with the soul and grease of a classic jazz-organ trio, Deodato delivers a program that can, for 36 glorious minutes, make a fan’s troubles seem far away. Along with seven original tunes, the 11-track program includes a couple of choice songs by another Brazilian icon, Marcos Valle: the earworm “Flap” and “Puma Branco (The White Puma),” a slower tune that will motivate dancers who want to nuzzle. Among the 13 gifted musicians who played on these recording sessions are Azymuth drummer Ivan “Mamão” Conti and trumpet ace Marvin Stamm.

The program percolates at a brisk pace: Only two of the 11 tracks here are longer than three-and-a-half minutes. When the final notes of the closer, “Carlota E Carolina (Carly & Carole),” fade out, the listener’s logical options are to start the program over, or dig even deeper into the Deodato catalog with Far Out’s reissue of 1965’s Ataque. That title, like Os Catedráticos, is available on 180-gram vinyl. Bravo!

Maja S. K. Ratkje

Sult
(Rune Grammafon)

There’s something solemn and wondrous about the writing of Norwegian novelist Knut Hamsum (1859–1952). He didn’t necessarily laud the creative class and weirdoes in works like Mysteries (Mysterier) and Hunger (Sult), but each offered a unique, sometimes troubling vision of life.

Thing is, he was a fan of Adolf Hitler. So, the dour, entrancing performances on Norwegian keyboardist/composer Maja S. K. Ratkje’s Sult, an adaptation of the music she wrote for a ballet based on the Hamsun novel, is starting from a fraught premise. It’s still haunting—in part because of its origins.

The novel follows its protagonist, a writer, through a difficult time as he roams the streets, keenly attuned to his dismal station in life. The book’s title is literal here. Ratkje—who’s recorded with jazzworld figures, as well as experimentalist Ikue Mori—uses the discordant feel of aimlessness and surreptitious creativity to inform the pump organ she plays across nine tracks, occasionally intoning some wordless, emotive sentiments. There’s a bit of good whistling, too.

While Sult, the novel, has been canonized, described as the opening salvo of 20th-century literature and ranks as an early work by a pretty significant novelist, there likely was another piece of writing to draw from, something not tainted by barbarity. But maybe it’s the haunting and eerie pastiche of history, sound and stage that makes Ratkje’s recording worthy of note.

Steve Davis

Correlations
(Smoke Sessions)

Trombone ace Steve Davis has put together a new sextet, introduced here on a set of inspired new compositions and fresh arrangements of classic jazz tunes.

The multigenerational group—which includes trumpeter Joshua Bruneau, saxophonist Wayne Escoffery, pianist Xavier Davis, bassist Dezron Douglas and drummer Jonathan Barber—benefits from plenty of shared history and deep connections, both on the bandstand and under the tutelage of alto saxophonist and educator Jackie McLean (1931–2006) at University of Hartford’s Hartt School of Music. When this recording was made last September, the band was newly formed, having played together as an ensemble for the first time the previous weekend at Smoke in New York. The musicians show tremendous enthusiasm for the material, eloquently arranged by Davis for a three-horn front line à la Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers—of which the trombonist was a member in the early ’90s. Their solos brim with a sense of adventurousness and burn with fire and conviction. Highlights include the carefree opener, “Embarcadero,” with its breezy Latin groove and tasty horn voicings; “Bautista’s Revenge,” which features the distinct touch and polyrhythmic mastery of special guest percussionist Cyro Baptista, not to mention a killer trumpet ride by Bruneau; the straightahead swinger “Blues For Owen,” dedicated to late jazz journalist Owen McNally; the Thad Jones chestnut “A Child Is Born,” which reveals the finesse and lyricism that have characterized Davis’ playing for decades; a gorgeously interpreted version of Horace Silver’s serene ballad “Peace”; and a rousing take on McCoy Tyner’s “Inner Glimpse” that closes the album with a show of the ensemble’s full force.

Anna Webber

Clockwise
(Pi)

There’s a distinctive orderly feel to Clockwise, the latest from composer, multi-instrumentalist and 2018 Guggenheim fellow Anna Webber, despite some of the music’s feral keening.

It’s easy to get lost in the warbling chaos that comprises portions of the album’s opening third, the breathier moments recalling some of Sam Hillmer’s work with ZS, an avant New York troupe that rumbled into existence during the early 2000s. Shifting into “King Of Denmark I/Loper” and “King Of Denmark II,” though, finds Webber prodding the septet into territory folks might deem new music. The works feel a bit darker here—grumbling and foreboding—even as some of the same extended techniques remain foregrounded.

Devised after pouring over compositions by 20th-century composers—Stockausen, Cage, Varèse—each piece’s scaffolding was written following meetings Webber had with musicians when they were asked to show her “a bunch of the weird sounds that you know how to do,” she recently told DownBeat. And the troupe’s rhythm section seems capable of injecting an additional sense of play into the clutch of new compositions, removing any semblance of over seriousness, even as a specter of darkness lingers. Pianist Matt Mitchell (who also performs in Webber’s SIMPLE Trio) infrequently finds himself at the center of the action, but along with the bandleader on flute, lightens the mood on “Array,” a 10-minute excursion that easily could be dispatched prior to some sinister plot twist in any Hitchcock film.

Less academic than its premise portends, Webber’s Clockwise easily splices wobbly swinging sections into a collection of work that’s as rigorously conceived as it is agreeable to take in.

Marilyn Mazur

Shamania
(RareNoise)

If the title Shamania puts you in mind of a quirky musical revue—sort of a tribal music twist on Beatlemania—then you and Danish percussionist Marilyn Mazur are pretty much on the same wavelength here. The music this 10-piece Scandinavian ensemble makes is built around the concept of urkraft, a Danish word that can be understood to mean an elemental or primeval force, which on this album is framed through compositions that evoke the ritualistic, communal elements of shamanism.

If that sounds complicated as theory, it’s invigoratingly straightforward as sound. Most of the pieces here are built around a basic pulse matched to a simple, folk-like melody. You could call them “cells,” but they’re used more like musical Legos, given the sense of play that goes into the fanciful structures Mazur and company construct. There are chants and airs, gentle beats and insistent pulses, and though the ensemble sound often is immense, the music maintains a refreshing simplicity, so that even the densest passages remain invitingly accessible.

Mazur also intended a measure of theatricality in the music (live, the ensemble includes the improvising dancer Tine Erica Aspaas), and as such, it can be strikingly dramatic. “Space Entry Dance,” for example, opens with a chant-like unison melody over a slow, loping pulse, then—after a thrumming drum and percussion break—morphs into a wistful funk groove, with trumpeter Hildegunn Øiseth soloing lyrically over Makiko Hirabayashi’s Rhodes piano. Gradually, the percussion builds heat, until the piece peaks with a shrieking tenor saxophone solo by Sissel Vera Pettersen. It’s a joy to hear playing that not only maintains such a strong narrative, but infuses it with a sense of adventure. Here’s hoping the ensemble’s next release includes video.

Kristen Lee Sergeant

Smolder
(Plastic Sax)

Jazz vocalist Kristen Lee Sergeant opens her sophomore album, Smolder, with a track that nods to the aesthetic on her excellent debut, Inside Out. That 2016 album included jazz arrangements of 1980s pop tunes by The Police, Tears For Fears and Modern English. The new disc opens with a powerful, flute and cello-infused rendition of Spandau Ballet’s 1983 pop hit “True.” This version is a master class in how a jazz singer and arranger like Sergeant can rework a pop tune with different instrumentation, intelligent tempo shifts and vocal lines that ascend and descend in unpredictable, intricate ways.

This is a theme album, with 10 tracks that all have lyrics referring to heat, flame, embers or smoke. Throughout the program, Sergeant’s training as an actress and classical vocalist enable her to craft moments of engaging drama, whether she’s seductively sliding into a note with a near-whisper, delivering a breathy revelation or belting out a lyric with full-throated muscularity. Such skills help add vitality to her renditions of standards such as Cole Porter’s “It’s All Right With Me,” Cy Coleman’s “The Best Is Yet To Come,” Duke Ellington’s “I’m Beginning To See The Light” and Lerner & Loewe’s “Show Me” (from My Fair Lady). In a clever arrangement for an unusual medley, Sergeant mixes sections of “These Foolish Things” into a reading of “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes.” She shows off her compositional chops with the lovely, thematically fitting “Balm/Burn” and “Afterglow,” two gems that are influenced by master tunesmiths, yet sparkle with fine elements of originality. Helping the vocalist ignite the program are Jeb Patton (piano), Cameron Brown (bass), Jay Sawyer (drums), Rogerio Boccato (percussion), Jody Redhage Ferber (cello) and Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra member Ted Nash (alto flute and alto saxophone). This elegant album illustrates what can happen when admirable ambition is paired with vocal vibrancy.

Russ Lossing

Motian Music
(Sunnyside)

Paul Motian (1931–2011) wrote and recorded more than 100 original compositions during his long career as a drummer and bandleader. And he shared his tunes, notable for their singable melodies and rhythmically ambiguous forms, freely with his bandmates. One of those former bandmates is pianist Russ Lossing, who collaborated with Motian on several pieces in the drummer’s oeuvre. Lossing’s standing trio of 20 years with bassist Masa Kamaguchi and drummer Billy Mintz pays homage to Motian and his compositional concepts on this new recording of 10 Motian originals.

The group is a great fit for Motian’s tunes, which are ripe for creative interpretation by their very nature. All three members demonstrate a unique ability to let the pieces sing for themselves and expand upon them in an organic way. The entire program was recorded live in the studio, all one-takes, in the order presented on the album. The musicians worked without any pre-set arrangements or discussions about the music—everything unfolds completely naturally, with a distinct free-jazz bent. Melodies—often played by Lossing in two-handed, multi-octave unison—and textures dominate the session. Harmony is mostly decorative and spontaneous, with the exception of a few instances where Motian wrote actual chord progressions. The music is by turns fluid and disjointed, booming and delicate, insistent and reflective. On this captivating recording, Lossing and company do a stellar job of illuminating the bare essence of Motian’s idiosyncratic writing.

Chuck Redd

Groove City
(Dalphine)

Applause is deserved for album packaging that conveys a clear, straightforward message. The album title and retro font on the cover of drummer-vibraphonist Chuck Redd’s new album, Groove City, tell fans what to expect. And Redd, who has appeared on more than 80 recordings, certainly doesn’t disappoint. In his liner notes essay, Redd explains that fans often ask him what he thinks about when he’s playing. His response is: “Be grateful that you’re here, and visualize the groove.” On his sixth album as a leader, Redd plays vibraphone and percussion, recruiting the great Lewis Nash to handle the drum-set duties. Rounding out the band are pianist John di Martino, bassist Nicki Parrott and tenor saxophonist Jerry Weldon, who contributes to four of the 11 tracks. This crackerjack unit delivers delicious grooves in various forms, whether they’re simmering or smoking on a program that includes a couple of Redd’s compositions (“A Groove For Gail” and “Blues In The Shedd”), two tunes by his former employer Monty Alexander (“Renewal” and “Regulator”), one by Thelonious Monk (“Evidence”) and one by Antonio Carlos Jobim (“Tide,” featuring Parrott’s tasty, wordless vocals). A quartet rendition of the standard “Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Cryin’” illustrates the band’s ability to be simultaneously intense and gentle, hot yet cool, thanks in large part to the fluidity of Redd’s attack. A duo arrangement of Billy Strayhorn’s “A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing” showcases Redd’s skills as a narrator, while di Martino provides the ideal coloration. A fresh version of Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman”—built atop a compelling 16th-note groove from Parrott and Nash—uses the recording studio to great sonic effect. On that track, and throughout the album, Redd and his collaborators are sensitive to the beauty of luminous vibraphone notes that resonate, hanging in the air, tugging at the heart.

A jazz veteran, Redd is highly regarded in jazz circles, thanks to his 15-year stint as a member of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, his 19-year tenure with the late guitarist Charlie Byrd and his current position as a faculty member at the University of Maryland. With Groove City, longtime fans and newcomers can savor the satisfying artistry of Redd—a gracious, grateful leader.

Gary Clark Jr.

This Land
(Warner Bros.)

During Prince’s lifetime, some critics and fans didn’t grasp the scope of his influence. It’s possible that the stature of multi-instrumentalist Prince Rogers Nelson (1958–2016) will increase during this century, especially if his artistry is viewed as a factor that shapes the work of future generations of musicians. One spin of Gary Clark Jr.’s new album, This Land, makes it clear that Prince (along with one of his influences, Marvin Gaye) casts a long shadow. That’s evidenced not only because Clark occasionally sings in a falsetto and, in Prince-like fashion, contributes guitar, bass, keyboards, percussion and programming to the diverse album here—but also because he crafts provocative lyrics, revels in the sheer musicality of his productions, and does it all with a confident swagger that seems to say, “This is my art, and I don’t give a damn what haters might say about it.”

Casual fans might categorize Clark as a supremely gifted guitar slinger and potent blues-rock vocalist, à la another Texan to whom he has been compared: Stevie Ray Vaughan (1954–’90). Indeed, some song titles on This Land, such as “The Guitar Man,” “I Walk Alone” and “Low Down Rolling Stone,” might lead fans to think that Clark’s sixth release on Warner Bros. is a straight-up blues-rock album, but it’s far from it. This willfully eclectic disc—which opens with a searing, fury-fueled title track that addresses racism with lyrics that drop the F-bomb and the N-word and make reference to being “right in the middle of Trump country”—conveys that Clark doesn’t want to be pigeonholed in any way. On this lengthy, all-original program, Clark offers plenty of musings about interpersonal relationships, along with some commentary on the state of the world. Elements of blues, hard rock, r&b, soul, hip-hop, rockabilly, punk and other genres are part of this glorious smorgasbord of 15 songs (plus two bonus tracks). The album is rife with samples and interpolations, and Clark overdubs multiple instrumental parts on most of the tracks. The infectious “Feelin’ Like A Million” is built with reggae rhythms, the drum loops of dance-club tunes and some stinging guitar lines. “Pearl Cadillac” (which Clark performed on Saturday Night Live, generating more than 250,000 views on YouTube) has a Prince vibe, and a traditional-flavored blues tune, “Dirty Dishes Blues,” is placed at the end of the program, just before the bonus tracks.

Clark recorded most of the album in his hometown of Austin, and he recruited collaborators who also have a track record of blending genres, including percussionist and Prince collaborator Sheila E., jazz trumpeter Keyon Harrold and bassist/keyboardist Mike Elizondo (whose extensive resume includes work with Eminem, Dr. Dre, Cassandra Wilson, Ry Cooder, Ed Sheeran, Maroon 5, Muse and Mastodon). A video trailer for This Land includes this testimonial from Prince: “Gary Clark Jr. has it all.” Sure, that’s hyperbole, but it’s certainly fun to hear head-bobbing music from an artist who can draw from diverse predecessors—B.B. King, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Curtis Mayfield, Tupac Shakur and D’Angelo—filter those influences through his own blues-soaked prism, and create a new sonic rainbow.

The Comet Is Coming

Trust In The Lifeforce Of The Deep Mystery
(Impulse)

This is about searching. For space, for time and for understanding.

It’s a sentiment extolled by Kate Tempest, an English poet, during “Blood Of The Past,” the fourth cut on The Comet Is Coming’s Trust In The Lifeforce Of The Deep Mystery, a follow-up to its 2016 long-playing debut. “Imagine a culture that, at its root, has a more soulful connection to land,” Tempest intones, before detailing the vagaries of modern life.

The Comet Is Coming, just one of three acts helmed by Shabaka Hutchings on the Impulse label, takes on a more pliable feel than Sons of Kemet or Shabaka and the Ancestors, moving from floating minimal stretches to dancefloor theatricality and into jazzy workouts. But the saxophonist’s tone still strafes easily through whatever setting he’s working in. Here, along with synthesist Dan Leavers and drummer Maxwell Hallett, tracks like “Super Zodiac” seem to herald a new Aquarian Age while stitching in sci-fi sounds, quick-step rhythms and Hutchings playing ahead of the beat, a tactic that isn’t quite his signature, but an approach that might enable listeners to pick his horn out of a crowded field.

With or without its lofty aims, Trust In The Lifeforce Of The Deep Mystery pretty easily can be read as a party record. The dancey intentions of not just this ensemble, but a huge swath of the contemporary UK scene, don’t subvert its efforts at pushing the culture toward a more fully realized consciousness. Instead, the angle might make the spirit of this work more easy to dispatch—and even taken to heart.

Michael Rother

Solo
(Groenland)

German psychedelia’s tense simplicity pretty regularly offers up some astonishing beauty, as well as countless avenues to chase down transcendence.

As guitarist Michael Rother worked through four studio albums collected for the Solo box set—Flammende Herzen (1977), Sterntaler (1978), Katzenmusik (1979) and Fernwärme (1982)—a sort of ecstatic calm wavered over the proceedings, something separate from the wild proto-punk vibes on the pair of properly issued Neu! albums he contributed to in the early ’70s.

The guitarist’s unrecorded stint in Kraftwerk, his work with Harmonia and contributions to film scores, some of which are included on the LP version of Solo, provide evidence of an expansive career. But this cache of recordings, where the guitarist is joined by Can drummer Jaki Liebezeit, should be understood as standing on equal ground with his earliest ensemble work.

The first pair of discs in the Solo collection hedge a bit closer to what folks might think of when conjuring some vision of an ur-krautrock group. And while Katzenmusik heralds the coming decade, Fernwärme solidifies a colder feel, even as some of Rother’s most placid moments crop up. But the shift’s mostly in service of Rother painting grandiose statements with his guitar, as opposed to keeping up with Liebezeit, who makes for a cooled-out sort of companion when contrasted with the intense histrionics Klaus Dinger injected into Neu!.

More than 20 years back, Chronicles I cobbled together bits and pieces of what’s laid out here across 6 LPs or 5 CDs. But even if this portion of Rother’s career was scattered around and in-print, housing these early “solo” efforts in a single collection helps fill in part of kosmische’s history that, until now, likely remained obscured to legions of Stateside listeners.

Paal Nilssen-Love

New Japanese Noise
(PNL)

A fearless contributor to improvised collaborations with international scope dating back to the ’90s, drummer Paal Nilssen-Love continues a dizzying release schedule, this time with New Japanese Noise on his own PNL imprint.

The Norwegian drummer’s success might be tied more to his ability to find sympathetic players across an international landscape than it is cultural exchange. But the results, if acrid improv’s your thing, really are indisputable. For the live New Japanese Noise—a companion to the simultaneously issued New Brazilian Funk, an album dealing more with spontaneity than its title might intimate—the bandleader draws from an expansive pool of Japanese noiseniks, including reedist Akira Sakata and Toshiji Mikawa, a member of the all-spleen Hijokaidan.

“The Bone People” seems best at harnessing the history of Japan’s noise scene with some confluence of Mikawa’s troupe and Keiji Haino-esque guitar blurts, the latter courtesy of Kiko Dinucci, who appears here, as well as on New Brazilian Funk. Nilssen-Love’s background scuttle, the fetid dispatches of electronics and Sakata’s sneering edicts merge in a sweaty eddy of sound; opening salvo “Stiff Upper Lip Jeeves” works with similar reverberations. But it’s on “Eats, Shites And Leaves” that most listeners will find something akin to jazz, Sakata’s warbles leaning on light electronics and Nilssen-Love’s patter, before punky energy hijacks the proceedings.

This isn’t a new statement of purpose for anyone involved here, just seething seekers throwing down and releasing the recorded results, so listeners might feel the jolt of what went down at the 2018 Roskilde Festival in Denmark.

Michael Kocour

East Of The Sun
(OA2)

Pianist Michael Kocour brings formidable technique and exquisite touch to 10 Great American Songbook standards on East Of The Sun, his third solo outing.

Performed on a refurbished 1975 Steinway model B grand in a small studio with no added reverb, the album has an intimate, straightforward vibe that recalls classic solo piano recordings by the likes of Hank Jones, Art Tatum and Thelonious Monk. Kocour gets deep inside the repertoire and dwells there to his own satisfaction, taking everything at his own pace. On tracks like “I’ve Got A Right To Sing The Blues,” his patient, striding left hand allows his right hand to take off on detailed melodic excursions that delight the ear without ever straying too far from home.

Kocour not only nails all the changes of these old, familiar tunes; he crafts well-anchored structures out of them, deploying clever devices that reveal the depth of the material and create a swinging momentum that keeps the listener engaged. He takes an altogether unexpected approach to Gershwin’s “Who Cares?,” switching the roles of his left and right hands, and letting an entire arrangement unfold as he explores the tune’s harmonic contours at bebop speed. On the ballads “She’s Funny That Way” and “Star Dust,” Kocour makes the most of the Steinway’s pure, dry tone and player-friendly responsiveness, conjuring dreamy images of years gone by, while tempering any residual sentimentality with tasteful touches of modern-leaning reharmonization. Kocour closes the program on an uplifting note with the sanctified gospel groove of “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” a vibrant, indulgent track rife with lively tremolos, greasy grace notes and dramatically stretched-out rhythms.

Originally from the Chicago area, the Phoenix-based pianist (who’s director of jazz studies at Arizona State University) has released six albums as a leader or co-leader, including Speaking In Tongues, a 2006 solo album of repertoire by Bud Powell and Monk, and Wherever You Go, There You Are, a 2004 solo album that combines jazz standards and original compositions.

Paolo Fresu/Richard Galliano/Jan Lundgren

Mare Nostrum III
(ACT)

Many jazz fans have been swayed by shiny wrapping paper only to find that the gift itself was disappointing. This can happen when one impulsively buys an album solely on the basis of its personnel. But Mare Nostrum III—the third album in a trilogy by Italian trumpeter Paolo Fresu, French accordionist Richard Galliano and Swedish pianist Jan Lundgren—is a case of the music being just as impressive as the stellar reputations of the players.

The 15-song program contains four original compositions by each member of the trio, along with winning renditions of the Italian classic “I’te Vurria Vasà,” Quincy Jones’ “Love Theme From ‘The Getaway’” and Michel Legrand’s “The Windmills Of Your Mind.” On the latter, a molasses-like tempo enhances the track’s poignancy. Heavy on ballads and relentlessly focused on gorgeous tone, this tearjerker of an album should be issued with a box of tissues. The album’s producer, René Hess, ensures that there’s plenty of “air” in these spacious arrangements, so that listeners can luxuriate in each instrument’s seductive timbre.

A track like Galliano’s “Le Jardin Des Fées” (a tribute to the late violinist Didier Lockwood) demonstrates the powerful impact of blending the tones of these three musicians. The track also illustrates selflessness: Although it is a Galliano composition, the arrangement gloriously highlights the work of Fresu and Lundgren. Fresu’s “Human Requiem” pairs his muted trumpet with Lundgren’s delicate pianism. And the trumpeter’s “Perfetta” provides a forum for swooning segments by Galliano and Lundgren. Mare Nostrum III—a gem of extraordinary, invigorating beautyis the collaborative product of three confident veterans who know when to pass the baton and step out of the spotlight.

Allison Miller’s Boom Tic Boom

Glitter Wolf
(Royal Potato Family)

When a band truly is collaborative, it’s fitting to judge the bandleader by the company she keeps. In her band Boom Tic Boom, drummer Allison Miller surrounds herself with dazzling players: violinist Jenny Scheinman, cornetist Kirk Knuffke, clarinetist Ben Goldberg, pianist Myra Melford and bassist Todd Sickafoose. In a promotional video for the album, Miller says, “Every single person in my band has such a unique personality on their instrument that they can’t [help] but sound exactly like themselves—which is what I love.” Ten years into the band’s existence, these musicians are firing on all cylinders.

Much of this hour-long program, all of which was written and arranged by Miller, has a tug-at-the-listener’s-sleeve insistence. Miller’s deep interest in timbre and texture is reflected in the various instruments she utilizes when composing a song, including drums, vibraphone, piano and bass. That multi-instrumentalist approach, in turn, seems to inform a process in which she brings the compositional framework to her bandmates, whose contributions become integral to each song’s mood.

The interplay between Goldberg’s clarinet and Knuffke’s cornet adds fireworks to “Congratulations And Condolences,” the propulsive leadoff track. The 6-minute title track opens with Melford’s bouncy piano lines and Scheinman’s plucked violin strings, before shifting into a rousing piano section, followed by a potent horn riff. Then, at the 4:03 mark, the tune transforms into an Afro-Cuban workout, featuring guest percussionist David Flores. “White Wolf” opens with Goldberg’s hummable theme, spiced with a kinetic cloud of notes from Melford, before the track downshifts into a vehicle for Scheinman’s violin lines, which can be long and poignant or punchy and more rock-flavored. This song’s narrative arc comes into focus as the theme later re-emerges. Elsewhere, Knuffke’s cornet lends an animated feel to “Welcome Hotel,” which is anchored by a loping party groove crafted by Miller, Sickafoose and Melford.

Overall, Glitter Wolf sounds like an album by Boom Tic Boom—and no one else.

Jessica Jones Quartet

Continuum
(Reva)

Reva Records’ inaugural release comes from the Jessica Jones Quartet, a nimble, even-tempered ensemble equally at ease with Continuum’s opening interpretation of Thelonious Monk’s “Evidence” as it is casually moving through the free original “Just This.”

The troupe’s namesake

tenor saxophonist seemingly has influenced the jazz landscape as much through education as through her own recordings. Rare Earth Vibration Association, an organization that runs youth programs and works to produce performances (and even an opera in the East Bay), has encouraged countless students to pursue music, including trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, who makes an appearance here on “Continuum Reprise,” a song that hints at Jones’ past work with Don Cherry

The ensemble—which also counts bassist Stomu Takeishi, drummer Kenny Wollesen and Jones’ husband, Tony Jones, on tenor—wields such a confident understanding of its powers that the troupe is able to portray a straightahead ethos on “Wither Without You” and then pare back its instrumentation to a single saxophone and bass while transforming Billy Eckstine’s “I Want To Talk About You” into a questing, slowly paced ballad.

Moody and introspective more than explosive, Continuum maintains a medium boil throughout its entirety, a noteworthy accomplishment for any ensemble dealing with some of the genre’s freer elements.

John Raymond

Real Feels Live, Vol. 2
(Sunnyside)

Following up the first live installment from Real Feels, issued back in 2016 on Shifting Paradigm, John Raymond, an Indiana University educator, reconvenes the convivial trio for a set that owes as much to the cool school as it does 21st-century resourcefulness.

Across Real Feels’ handful of recordings, a certain set of sonic hallmarks are reiterated: easy intensity, discernible rhythms without full-on swing and Raymond’s echoey harmonies. But something of a sonic peculiarity crops up on the second track, “Minnesota, WI,” opening with Gilad Hekselman’s brittle, mechanical guitar moves. While it’s a bit beyond what one might expect from a Raymond production, it speaks to the trio’s ability to graft on ideas from ensemble members, piling on bits of each player’s personality. Of course, Raymond quickly moves into the full-toned melody on flugelhorn, each note flickering against the backdrop, courtesy of Heksleman and drummer Colin Stranahan. A radical reworking of the troupe’s “Joy Ride,” the title track to its 2018 studio album, again makes use of Hekselman’s pedalboard. But the newly devised aspects of the performance have more to do with falling behind and jumping ahead of the beat than with electronics.

In a sly wink to the procession of time, Real Feels Live, Vol. 2 closes with a Bob Dylan tune, “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” marking some sort of generational and political shift when contrasted with an interpretation of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land,” which was sequenced toward the end of that first live recording. It’s a Midwesterner’s move, to be sure, lauding the folk accomplishments of the past, set within a musical scaffolding largely predicated on Hekselman’s processed tones, Raymond’s breathy take on the melody and Stranahan’s real feelings behind the kit.

Steph Richards

Take The Neon Lights
(Birdwatcher)

Almost since the beginning, jazz trumpeters have been using unconventional techniques to add to their instrument’s palette. Starting with the growl Bubber Miley brought to Duke Ellington’s band, players used mutes, half-valved notes and a variety of electronics to make the instrument’s sound less brassy and more vocalized.

On her solo debut, Fullmoon, Canadian-born, Brooklyn-based Steph Richards proved herself a virtuoso of nonlinear trumpet playing. In her hands, the instrument’s timbre is unbelievably plastic, at some points as squiggly and evasive as a drop of mercury, while at others so sharply defined as to seem almost percussive. Even better, Richards is the sort of improvisor who understands how texture and melody interrelate, so that even her strangest sounds support the compositional logic of these tunes.

Take The Neon Lights, her sophomore effort, adds a rhythm section to the mix, expanding Richards’ ideas multidimensionally. “Brooklyn Machine,” for example, takes a repeating three-note figure and tosses it like pizza dough, stretching the tempo, passing it around the band, kneading the idea until it’s fully worked. Richards drives the groove almost as much as drummer Andrew Munsey, and bassist Sam Minaie, playing arco, occasionally mimics the trumpet’s sound. There’s also a spectacular middle section with Richards’ two voices in dialogue, working a timbral context of dark versus light that cleverly brings us back around to a recapitulation of the head.

Richards has explained Take The Neon Lights as a tribute to New York, and the approaches, both compositionally and instrumentally, she and her quartet take are as varied as the city itself. It’s hard not to love the way she works wah-trumpet against the rhythmic washes of “Rumor Of War,” and the abstracted funk of “Stalked By Tall Buildings” is a vivid and whimsical evocation of the hive-like buzz of megacity life. And because the virtuosity with which Richards and her bandmates evoke this cityscape is so subtle and self-effacing, the music’s sense of scale truly lives up to the title.

Ken Fowser

Right On Time
(Posi-Tone)

Having released multiple leader dates for Posi-Tone featuring a classic jazz quintet lineup of saxophone, trumpet, piano, bass and drums, Ken Fowser has recorded an organ-jazz album at the suggestion of producer and label head Marc Free.

Joining the New York-based tenor saxophonist on Right On Time are organist Brian Charette, guitarist Ed Cherry and drummer Willie Jones III, with guest horn players Steve Davis (trombone) and Joe Magnarelli (trumpet) appearing on several tracks. The change of context required a fresh approach from Fowser, who composed all 10 tracks here, many of them built upon a blues groove aesthetic reminiscent of old Lou Donaldson records. Fowser’s writing and playing are appropriately straightahead; his melodies come at you directly, and his tenor tone is clean and unaffected, with slightly dark shadings. His all-star sidemen devour the material, whether swinging their way through blues-based numbers like “Stand Clear Of The Closing Doors” and “Keep Doing What You’re Doing” or turning up the heat on more harmonically advanced compositions, like “Duck And Cover” and “Knights Of The Round.” Killer solos abound, as everyone on board makes a substantial contribution to the collective exuberance. Cherry shares the melody line with Fowser on the quiet waltz “A Poem For Elaine,” which elicits gentle, yet exquisite, statements from the guitarist and saxophonist, not to mention an especially sweet solo spot from Charette.

Right On Time is a great idea that clearly sparked a creative fire in Fowser and resonated with his chosen bandmates. Critical ears and casual listeners will relish the results.

Justin Morell

Concerto For Guitar And Jazz Orchestra
(ArtistShare)

It is a rare, beautiful thing when a friend from one’s childhood remains a friend into adulthood. Justin Morell, a guitarist who teaches at Lebanon Valley College in Pennsylvania, and John Daversa, a trumpeter who teaches at the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music, grew up playing music together. Now, they have collaborated on a splendid new album that melds classical, jazz and Brazilian rhythmic influences: Concerto For Guitar And Jazz Orchestra.

Morell composed and arranged all the music in the three-movement suite, but does not play on the recording, instead recruiting jazz guitarist Adam Rogers as the featured soloist. Daversa directs and conducts the 19 musicians in the Frost Concert Jazz Band. With diverse chops that allow him to navigate jazz, classical and improv territory with authority, Rogers delivers spidery guitar lines in the first movement, “Lost, Found And Lost,” putting his individual stamp on the material. However, this accessible concerto (which unfurls with fast, slow and fast movements) feels like one that could be performed gracefully by other orchestras and soloists. The second movement, “Life And Times,” has a solo guitar segment in which Rogers’ personality shines like a beacon. Throughout the program, the guitarist balances the intricacies of complex fretwork with the desire to forge an emotional connection with the listener. The 37-minute program showcases not only the athleticism of Rogers, but also of other players, including drummer Garrett Fracol, whose cymbal work is particularly compelling in the final movement, “Terraforming.” Although Morell and Daversa have deep roots in academia, they have teamed with the classically trained Rogers to craft a program that is just as suited for the concert stage as it is the classroom.

Maxine Gordon

Sophisticated Giant: The Life and Legacy of Dexter Gordon
(University of California Press)

With the publication of Sophisticated Giant, independent scholar Maxine Gordon has delivered on her promise to her late husband, tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon (1923–’90), to complete the biography he began writing late in his life.

Maxine draws upon personal memories, artist interviews, business correspondence, extensive historical research and Dexter’s own prose to paint a multidimensional picture of the artist affectionately known as “Society Red.” Beyond the details of his musical career—including early stints in the bands of Lionel Hampton, Louis Armstrong and Billy Eckstine, classic bebop recordings as a leader on Savoy and Blue Note, a dozen years spent living and playing in Europe, high-profile engagements upon his heroic return to the States in the ’70s and his Oscar-nominated, starring role in the 1986 film ’Round Midnight—the book reveals aspects of Dexter’s personal life that depict the man behind the music, ranging from the outrageously funny to the deadly serious.

Sophisticated Giant is peppered with Dexter’s voice, his witty quotes and extensive reflective notes, interspersed within Maxine’s informative narrative. Coinciding with the book’s release, Legacy Recordings has reissued a vinyl version of Dexter’s late-’70s all-star album of the same name (featuring Woody Shaw, Benny Bailey, Frank Wess, Slide Hampton, Wayne Andre, Howard Johnson, Bobby Hutcherson, George Cables, Rufus Reid and Victor Lewis), which was produced by Michael Cuscuna for Columbia.

Allison Au Quartet

Wander Wonder
(Self Release)

The third album from Toronto’s Allison Au Quartet opens with Todd Pentney’s anachronistic synthesizer radiating sounds that might indicate to listeners of a certain age that it’s time to flip over a cassette. What follows are nine more tracks that hue more closely to the jazz genre’s acoustic development, while solidifying Au’s broad compositional prowess.

The ensemble—which took home the 2016 Juno Award in the category Best Jazz Album of the Year: Group for Forest Grove—mostly sticks within the bounds of prime-bop territory, carving out a backdrop for the saxophonist to ponder melody and expression through the tender tone of her horn. As with that earlier disc, the quartet’s personality comes through most clearly on balladic work, “Morning” beginning calmly with Au and Pentney stretching to meet the dawn, then being joined by the rest of the band. On “Future Self,” Au’s tone, control and phrasing easily recall ’50s trendsetters, even as she adds some well-placed squeaks and rhythmic peculiarities to her original composition. But on “Red Herring,” it’s all intrigue, with a sturdy noir feel to the endeavor propelled by Fabio Ragnelli’s galloping drums and quicksilver thematic shifts, making the composition’s title seem more than fitting. Au’s endless lines are met, supported and enlivened by Pentney’s swells of synth, expanding the quartet’s purview beyond the territory of decades-old torchbearers. The history of the music is here, but something more expansive, too.

Greg Ward Presents Rogue Parade

Stomping Off From Greenwood
(Greenleaf Music)

Saxophonist Greg Ward turns in a program that’s as eclectic as it is electric with Stomping Off From Greenwood, a recording that features the endlessly sturdy Chicago rhythm duo of bassist Matt Ulery and drummer Quin Kirchner.

Calming bits of nuanced playing (“Pitch Black”) counterbalance some of the blustery, aggressive portions of the disc, portraying Ward’s penchant for an all-encompassing take on the genre as the band moves between tradition and the vaguely funky influences that crop up sporadically throughout the album. On the leadoff track, “Metropolis,” the band shifts from a quick-step opening gambit infused with Ward’s assured line, twined with guitar, into a lunging breakdown, something that would be suited to burly rock acts dealing with tension and release. The band swings hard a few tracks later on “The Contender,” and takes on an experimental sheen for the ruminative “The Fourth Reverie.” Rhythm and melody are replaced by Ward’s sporadic squeaks, his ensemble slowly building a musical pyre for the bandleader to burn down moments later.

Though now ensconced in the New York scene, Ward’s latest offering—suffused with not just players from, but also the exploratory fervor of Chicago’s top-tier performers—portends future successes, no matter his stomping grounds.

Mary Halvorson/Joe Morris

Traversing Orbits
(RogueArt)

The internal logic and rhythms of Mary Halvorson’s maneuvers up and down the fretboard are instantly recognizable in just about any setting. And as she continues releasing a fecundity of music stamped with the irrepressible style, the guitarist has circled back to record with Joe Morris, her one-time instructor, nodding to the importance of the music’s historical mentoring system.

Summoning a skittering storm of slinky single-note runs on Traversing Orbits, Halvorson and Morris offer up a batch of stark duets, a chance for the pair to extol their similar styles. “Semaphore” mostly sounds like stuttering, each guitarist scraping and raking picks across their six strings, summoning any kind of noise they might find suitable within the duo context. “Full Of Somehow” follows, offering up chording—largely absent throughout the program—and coming closest to what opponents of free music might think of as jazz.

Apart from guitarist Tashi Dorji, there’s perhaps not another more suitable partner for Halvorson, as she and Morris improvise their way through music that cascades and wobbles, bounces and judders. The improvisations, though, never seem aimless, each performer displaying easy mastery of their instrument. The lone setback (or perhaps one of the recording’s most sturdy recommendations) is not being able to fully figure out who’s who at any given moment.

During a career that stretches back to the ’80s, Morris has thrummed his way through avant-garde circles. And here, he and Halvorson work to enshrine freedom for another generation of improvisors.

Ellen Rowe Octet

Momentum, Portraits Of Women In Motion
(Smokin’ Sleddog)

There are two ways a listener might understand Ellen Rowe’s ambitious new album, Momentum, Portraits Of Women In Motion. One would be to consider the concept, in which Rowe pays tribute to great women of politics, music and sports, and the fact that she does so by assembling a stellar cast to play these pieces. An alternate approach would be to sidestep the album’s social content and simply focus on the music, particularly the deftly voiced horn charts Rowe has written, and the soulful, Horace Silver-style groove she pulls from the ensemble.

Personally, I’d advise a bit of both. For one thing, Rowe’s writing is trying to tell a story, and if you don’t know that “Game, Set And Match” is a tribute to Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova, then the bouncing, two-note horn shots at the beginning of the piece don’t make as much sense as when you imagine them as the sound of a volley at the French Open. But even if you don’t make that connection, it’s hard not to love the skittering drum fills Allison Miller slips between the shots, the funky boogaloo pulse she drops beneath Virginia Mayhew’s tenor solo and her hi-hat work behind Ingrid Jensen’s coolly grooving trumpet.

Rowe has recruited a high-calibre crew here: In addition to Miller, Mayhew and Jensen, she has Tia Fuller on alto saxophone, Lisa Parrott on baritone, and the astonishing Melissa Gardner on trombone. As for the listener, the experience is certainly life-enhancing. Between the writing and the playing, tracks like the deeply swinging “The Soul Keepers” (a tribute to Geri Allen by way of Mary Lou Williams) and “Ain’t I A Woman” (a civil-rights tribute that’s equal parts gospel and hard-bop) are as good as mainstream jazz gets these days.

Tommy Emmanuel & John Knowles

Heart Songs
(CGP Sounds/Thirty Tigers)

Among Americana musicians today, few names are more revered than that of Chet Atkins (1924–2001). A virtuoso guitarist, esteemed producer and Nashville record executive with a great ear for talent, Atkins bestowed the rare designation CGP (Certified Guitar Player) on a very select group of pickers. Two of them are Tommy Emmanuel and John Knowles, who have teamed up for the acoustic duo album Heart Songs.

Both players owe an artistic debt to Atkins, helping make renditions of popular songs (rendered as instrumental numbers on acoustic guitar) music that not only belongs on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry, but also in classical concert halls. Somewhere, Atkins surely must be smiling over the gorgeous arrangements of two country classics on this album: Hank Williams’ “Cold, Cold Heart” and Don Gibson’s “I Can’t Stop Loving You.” Whether Emmanuel or Knowles is engaging in intricate fingerpicking, delivering a subtle bass line or offering chiming coloration, each has the ability to highlight the melodic contours of whatever material he interprets. The diverse program here includes studio renditions of “Somewhere” (from West Side Story), the Bee Gees’ “How Deep Is Your Love,” Billy Joel’s “Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel)” and “I Can’t Make You Love Me” (popularized by Bonnie Raitt) before concluding with a couple of live tracks. This ever-tasteful, incredibly talented duo is certain to perform some of those tunes on a tour that will take them to New York’s City Winery (Jan. 15–16), The Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia (Jan. 22–23), the Dakota in Minneapolis (Jan. 25–26) and Hammerschmidt Memorial Chapel in Elmhurst, Illinois (Jan. 28), as well as other cities.

Ina Forsman

Been Meaning To Tell You
(Ruf)

In the middle of Ina Forsman’s excellent new r&b album are two gutsy, related songs that are apt for the #MeToo movement. The 49-minute program features a Rashomon-like twist with tracks “Whatcha Gonna Do” (about a physically abusive man pursuing a woman as she’s walking down the street, with a focus on the male point of view) and the no-means-no anthem “Why You Gotta Be That Way” (featuring a female narrator who rebuffs a man who is pursuing her as she’s strolling down the street). These pair of songs, as well as “Miss Mistreated” (“Did you ever put some makeup on your face just to fade all the scars and bruises?”) reflect a seriousness of purpose. This 25-year-old Helsinki native has emerged as a contemplative songwriter—in addition to being a vocal powerhouse, who has conquered stages on the international blues festival circuit.

Forsman’s eponymous debut (released by Ruf in 2016) features a version of the blues standard “I Want A Little Sugar In My Bowl,” but on Been Meaning To Tell You, she wrote all the lyrics and wrote or co-wrote all the music. Her sense of humor and swagger slide into the funk and hip-hop-influenced “Get Mine,” as she sings a clever line with an onomatopoeic sneeze inserted: “I’m here to tell you/ That this beat is sick like ah, ah, ah-choo/ Now bless me/ I’m what they call the good kinda cocky/ That means I’m the best but I don’t say it.” Forsman does possess a mighty big voice. She might not have the transcendent pipes of, say, Adele or Jennifer Hudson, and she occasionally indulges in an extraneous vocal flight to show off her impressive range, but this newcomer is powerful entertainment personified. One might not think of Finland as a source for hard-earned, engaging r&b—but think again.

Victor Garcia

The Grind/The Groove
(Self Release)

Trumpeter Victor Garcia established himself years ago among the top jazz soloists, section players, composers, arrangers and educators on the Chicago scene. On his long-awaited debut as a leader, Garcia gets right down to the serious business of playing highly accessible, all-original music with several Windy City colleagues who are heavy-hitters in their own right.

Dan Trudell’s B-3 serves as the central axis of The Grind/The Groove, drawing from the deep well of jazz-organ tradition and serving up sublime bass lines that support and encourage the superb contributions of Garcia, alto saxophonist Greg Ward, tenor saxophonist Rocky Yera, trombonist Tom Garling, guitarist Scott Hesse and drummer Charles Heath. Over the course of 10 tracks, Garcia and the gang explore a range of styles and moods that are sure to resonate with fans of straightahead modern jazz. Dig the bluesy soul of “Zugzwang-a-Lang,” the bittersweet “Farewell, My Love,” the shifty agitation of “Confined Within,” the greasy, rockin’ funk of “Whatcha Talkin’ Bout?,” the delicately brushed waltz “Izzy’s Lullaby,” the hard-bopping “Delightful Chaos,” the lightly swinging “Blues On A Sunny Day” and the hip-hopping, second-line insistence of “Gon’ Be Alright.” Exhilarating solo turns abound throughout the program, and the smartly arranged tutti and counterpoint ensemble passages (tightly voiced for four horns) are executed with flair and precision. The writing, the playing, the grind and the groove all coalesce into one fine body of work on this auspicious leader debut from one of Chicago’s most exciting and hard-working young artists.

Mark Lockheart

Days On Earth
(Edition)

British tenor saxophonist Mark Lockheart is more famous in his homeland than he is in the States, thanks to his work in the big band Loose Tubes, the quintet Polar Bear and the trio Malija, as well as his albums as a bandleader. His new release, Days On Earth, showcases the musical acumen he has honed over the decades, as he combines an agile, adventurous sextet with a 30-piece orchestra conducted by John Ashton Thomas. For this 50-minute program, which Lockheart composed as a suite, he recruited luminaries from the U.K. jazz scene, including pianist Liam Noble, bassist Tom Herbert, drummer Sebastian Rochford, guitarist John Parricelli and alto saxophonist Alice Leggett.

On “This Much I Know Is True,” the interplay and intertwining of the strings and saxophones reflect the work of a cohesive unit—as opposed to a combo augmented by nonessential orchestral coloration. Thomas, whose credits include orchestrations for the superhero movies Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok, establishes an indelible, head-bobbing groove for the 10-minute track “Believers.” Throughout the program, Lockheart frequently crafts segments within each of the seven songs, so an element of unpredictability arises and the overall momentum never sags. The album closer, “Long Way Gone,” takes its title from the powerful book A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah, a native of Sierra Leone. Each movement in Lockheart’s suite was inspired by a human trait or tendency: “Long Way Gone” is connected to his ideas about humans’ quest for reconciliation; the song’s vibrant melding of an orchestral swell, a muscular tenor saxophone solo and lovely harp work by Helen Tunstall fits the theme wondrously.

Anne Sajdera

New Year
(Bijuri)

Fans of Anne Sajdera might assume that her new album would be a continuation of the Brazilian-flavored work she pursued with the band Pelo Mar and on her previous album, 2012’s Azul. However, New Year represents a new chapter for the pianist, who grew up in San Diego and was trained at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. The album reflects Sajdera’s deep admiration for Herbie Hancock—both as a musician and a thought leader. As a youngster investigating jazz, Sajdera spent a lot of time listening to Hancock’s music, and his influence on her style today is evidenced by compelling, melodious compositions, such as “Treasure” and “Bright Lights.” In the album’s liner notes, Sajdera explains that New Year was inspired by Hancock’s call for intercultural dialogue through jazz, a message he returns to frequently as a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador.

During a 2014 trip to the Czech Republic, Sajdera met trumpeter Miroslav Hloucal and alto saxophonist Jan Fečo, with whom she later collaborated for concerts in the States and for recording sessions at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, California. The result is New Year, which includes five of Sajdera’s compositions, three tunes written by Hloucal and Fečo’s wondrous arrangement of a traditional Roma tune that he’s titled “It Depends On That.” At the core of much of the program is a quintet, with tracks alternating between the rhythm duos of bassist Dan Feiszli and drummer Jason Lewis, and bassist Gary Brown and drummer Deszon Claiborne. Other highlights include “Pictures,” a straightahead gem by Hloucal that features Sajdera’s propulsive, yet spacious, piano solo, along with powerful tenor saxophone contributions from guest Bob Mintzer; and Hloucal’s “Changeling,” a tune spiced with potent horn work by the composer and Fečo. Both players exude confidence and a selfless sense of serving the composition.

The album concludes with the only live cut in the program, a rendition of “Azul” that showcases Sajdera’s dazzling, authoritative right-hand work. The live recording was captured in Oakland, California, at Piedmont Piano Company, where Sajdera is set to perform Feb. 8.

Charlie Haden & Brad Mehldau

Long Ago And Far Away
(Impulse)

Bassist Charlie Haden (1937–2014) and pianist Brad Mehldau had known each other for about 14 years when they were invited to perform a duo concert at the Christuskirche church in Mannheim, Germany, as part of the 2007 Enjoy Jazz Festival. The resulting live recording is finally seeing the light of day as Long Ago And Far Away, and it’s a testament to the simpatico that existed between these two exemplary, groundbreaking improvisers, who were cut from similar cloth but born generations apart.

When Haden and Mehldau met in 1993 at a festival in Pennsylvania, a bond of friendship and mentorship instantly was formed. They subsequently performed together with saxophonist Lee Konitz at Los Angeles’ Jazz Bakery in 1996, and in 1997 the trio made a recording for Blue Note called Alone Together. But Haden and Mehldau had never performed as a duo prior to the concert that ultimately yielded this long-awaited CD, whose release was held up because of contractual reasons. The bassist and pianist stroll through the program of six standards (“Au Privave,” “My Old Flame,” “What’ll I Do,” “Long Ago And Far Away,” “My Love And I,” “Everything Happens To Me”) engaged in perpetual conversation, acknowledging the familiar melodies but improvising all the while—detouring, modulating, quoting and meandering. By taking their time and embracing an open-minded aesthetic, they discover new paths, rather than following established routes, letting their ears and their hearts lead the way through material deeply ingrained in their memories. Interacting in the hallowed space of an art nouveau cathedral, rapt with mutual respect and admiration, these one-time soul mates achieved a true state of grace.

Fareed Haque & KAIA String Quartet

New Latin American Music For Guitar And String Quartet
(Delmark)

Earlier this year, musicians Julia A. Miller and Elbio Barilari acquired venerated Chicago label Delmark Records from its founder, Bob Koester, and the new owners wasted no time putting their own stamp on the endeavor. Delmark recently issued Paquito Libre—an album by Miller and Barilari’s band, Volcano Radar—which features reedist Paquito D’Rivera. Additionally, for guitarist Fareed Haque’s album with the KAIA String Quartet, New Latin American Music For Guitar And String Quartet, Barilari wore multiple hats, serving as co-producer (along with Daniel Goldberg), writing the album’s liner notes and composing “Canyengue,” one of nine tracks on the program. Barilari, who hails from Uruguay, contributes an apt piece that places him in august company: The other composers represented on this generous, 79-minute album are Argentina’s Astor Piazzolla (1921–’92), Cuba’s Leo Brouwer and Mexico’s Eduardo Angulo.

The album beautifully blurs the lines between jazz, classical, Latin and world music. Haque, who is equally at home playing classical guitar or electric fusion, sticks to an acoustic instrument here, teaming with the talented KAIA String Quartet: violinists Victoria Moreira and Naomi Culp, viola player Sixto Franco Chorda and cellist Hope Shepherd DeCelle. The centerpiece of the album is a stellar, 28-minute arrangement of Piazzolla’s suite Five Tango Sensations. Here, DeCelle’s cello work provides an intriguing, sturdy foundation in the movement titled “Loving.” Throughout the Piazzolla segment, and particularly during the rendition of Angulo’s suite El Alevin (The Minnow), Haque’s intricate playing techniques and sensitivity to the setting make for memorable music that warrants repeated spins. This album—which would appeal to fans of genre-blending artists such as the Kronos Quartet or Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble—is a wonderful entry in the expanding catalog of the 65-year-old Delmark label.

Gary Burton

Take Another Look: A Career Retrospective
(Mack Avenue)

Who else could make a song with the name “Liturgy” sound so inviting?

If you’re an unrepentant Gary Burton obsessive, hearing how he swings in various settings during six decades alone is worth the time spent here. Across the five LPs of Take Another Look: A Career Retrospective, the now-retired vibraphonist and educator accompanies his various ensembles through hippified electric settings, some acoustic work and occasional ventures into Appalachian-derived music.

Welcome and familiar tunes from Burton’s late-’60s groups crop up early, “General Mojo’s Well Laid Plan,” “Country Roads” and “Boston Marathon” making the case for his band being well-suited to thrill fans of The Grateful Dead. A few Latin-tinged numbers are interspersed (“Como En Vietnam” gets a bit free on disc two of the set), and the fiddle’s in no short supply, either. The set’s third LP finds Burton embracing an ECM aesthetic on his sides for the label, and on the next album, GRP Records come to bear.

Burton also should be credited with offering guitarists an inviting forum in which to work, much in the same way Chico Hamilton envisioned his own ensembles (both leaders recorded with Larry Coryell early on in his career). Players as dissimilar as Wolfgang Muthspiel, Pat Metheny, John Scofield and Julian Lage all crop up in Burton’s orbit on Take Another Look, and mark the vibraphonist’s growth and development.

As an art object, the toothsome, marbleized design of the LP sleeves and sturdy packaging makes the Mack Avenue collection (which includes only a single previously unreleased track) an engaging stroll through Burton’s important—and sometimes underappreciated—career.

Muriel Grossmann

Golden Rule
(RRGems)

Some performers angle at updating the spiritual jazz template with nods to contemporary music. Kamasi Washington’s rightly been lauded for invigorating the style with modern flair and the feel of life in Southern California. But Ibiza, Spain-based Muriel Grossmann has taken a different tact.

Instead of working to reflect contemporary culture, the saxophonist relates some ecstatic inner-state through strains of music that almost are indistinguishable from her forbearers’ concoctions. Joined by a cast of players Grossmann has been working with—in some cases—for about a decade, the quartet unleashes seven shimmering cuts on both the LP and CD versions of Golden Rule, with an extended take of John Coltrane’s “Traneing In” filling out the vinyl. Grossman’s interpretation of the tune kicks up the original’s tempo a bit and removes it from its all-acoustic origins as the bandleader splices in the galactic spirituality found in Trane’s later work.

While switching between alto and soprano, and offering up a spate of originals, Grossman is well-supported by Radomir Milojkovic’s lustrous guitar work. On “Core,” a wild uptempo and dramatic affair, the guitarist follows Grossmann’s solo, refusing to back away from the energy already coursing through the band’s 11-minute excursion. Here, Milojkovic nestles into repetitive riffs, only to find a way out and onto a related run every few moments.

While combustible displays from Grossmann and her troupe aren’t tough to pick out here, it’s a pair of quiet, contemplative tracks—“Direction” and “Light”—that exhibit the bandleader’s unbound belief in the players assembled for Golden Rule. It’s not quite group improv on that latter track, but somehow as the quartet mumbles its way through the song, a collective energy absent from the rest of album breaches the accumulated vibe to offer listeners a peaceful coda to an otherwise explosive recording.

Dire Wolves

Paradisiacal Mind
(Feeding Tube)

Taking its name from a Grateful Dead tune, folks might expect Dire Wolves to amble aimlessly through tie-dyed frivolity. Instead, since 2009, the five-piece band’s been working in the mold of new-millennium freak folksters, invigorating the form with psychedelic intent and the tenants of jazz improvisation.

On Paradisiacal Mind—the Bay Area troupe’s fifth release of 2018—a more concerted focus is put on the improvisational aspects of Dire Wolves’ practice. Last year’s Excursions To Cloudland (Beyond Beyond Is Beyond) fully honed in on freedom, Arjun Mendiratta’s violin punctuating the ensemble’s rock backdrop. But there always seemed to be an agreed upon opening gambit. Paradisiacal Mind just sounds like spontaneity.

“Just Live Your Life Behind Your Eyes” opens with Mendiratta’s droning strings, some echoey vocals and what sounds like an occasionally clanking tin can. The next 12 minutes find the ensemble slowly building toward brief sonic summits, only to pull back on the mounting tension and ease into something akin to new age noodling. By the time “In And Out Of Den Garten He Goes” rolls around a few tracks later, Dire Wolves asserts its rock, jazz and improv reduction with ecstatic intent. Again, there’s no proper melody or regular rhythm to grasp, setting Paradisiacal Mind in opposition to Cloudland. But the closing title track conflates the band’s collected influences in a careening 17-minute rock opus, befitting the band’s Bay Area lineage.

Kyle Nasser

Persistent Fancy
(Ropeadope)

Ostinato—the use of repeated musical lines to provide a sense of drive, forward motion and mounting tension—plays a defining role on Kyle Nasser’s second leader album, embodying the “persistent” in Persistent Fancy. Cycling rhythms and recurrent melodic themes propel the saxophonist’s 13 original compositions and one cover through an ever-evolving terrain of advanced harmony and raw emotion—from the album’s opening track, the broodingly minimalist “Split Gut,” to the lightly skipping closer, “Coffee And Cannabis.”

Nasser’s six-piece ensemble (with alto saxophonist Román Filiú, guitarist Jeff Miles, keyboardist Dov Manski, bassist Nick Jost and drummer Allan Mednard) rides this musical momentum to destinations beyond catchy hooks and memorable grooves. They seek to strike a profound, vivid balance between the cerebral and the sensual, drawing inspiration from literature, philosophy and personal struggle. Nasser’s concept is best exemplified in two mini-suites at the core of Persistent Fancy: The Baroque Suite, a fugue-like romp that cleverly places a modern twist on classical devices, and Eros Suite, which explores impulses of deep-seated desire. The music on Persistent Fancy is cerebral without being pretentious, gnarly but far from vulgar. On “3-Way,” Nasser (on tenor), Filiú and Miles converge for a closely harmonized conversation where dense rubs are relieved by wider interval spreads and voices tend to wander in opposite directions when not moving in parallel.

Nasser hasn’t tried to reinvent himself for this impressive followup to his 2015 debut, Restive Soul. He’s clearly got something here, and he’s developed it carefully, with longer-sighted, more deliberate story arcs and more deeply felt sensuality.

Frank Sinatra

Frank Sinatra Sings For Only The Lonely (60th Anniversary Edition)
(Capitol)

For Frank Sinatra, 1958 was a very good year. Two of his studio albums received Grammy nominations for Album of the Year. In January, Capitol released a Sinatra travelogue album, Come Fly With Me, recorded with Billy May & His Orchestra. Then in September, the label released a distinctly different LP, one filled with somber torch songs: Frank Sinatra Sings For Only The Lonely, with orchestration and arrangements by Nelson Riddle. As if the title weren’t enough to convey the theme, the album cover depicts Sinatra as a weeping clown (à la Pagliacci), and 48 seconds into the opening track, Ol’ Blue Eyes croons, “The songs I know only the lonely know/ Each melody recalls a love that used to be.” Pianist Bill Miller’s coloration adds to the tearjerker mood of the title track, and listeners might require a handkerchief. (The late Frank Sinatra Jr. frequently quipped, “The album is so sad it should be sold by prescription only.”) The LP proved to be a chart-topping smash. Songs such as “One For My Baby (And One More For The Road)” and “Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out To Dry” became Sinatra concert staples.

Capitol’s 60th Anniversary Edition of Only The Lonely is available in multiple formats, including a double-CD deluxe set that includes the original 12-song program in both a mono mix and a new stereo mix, as well as four bonus tracks. Capitol’s 1987 CD reissue included the bonus tracks “Sleep Warm” and “Where Or When,” but those tunes aren’t a part of the new anniversary edition, which instead includes an alternate take of “Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out To Dry” and a poignant version of “One For My Baby” with just vocals and piano.

Sinatra fanatics will want to check out the two previously unreleased session takes. One of them finds the singer, a perfectionist, struggling with “Lush Life”—a tune that didn’t appear on Only The Lonely (or, notably, on any of his other albums). The other new nugget is a remarkable 17-minute collage in which Sinatra tries six times to tackle all or parts of “Angel Eyes”—a tune that did make it onto the official LP. At one point, a frustrated Sinatra barks to the control room, “I can’t find that note. I don’t know what the hell it is.” These fly-on-the-wall session recordings depict high-caliber musicians sweating the details, with Sinatra subtly improvising on each take, while orchestra members remained steadfast. All those bouts with “Angel Eyes” are a fascinating reminder that although Sinatra is now a timeless icon, he was also a mere mortal.

David Virelles

Igbó Alákorin (The Singer’s Grove) Vol. I & II
(Pi)

One of the most common misconceptions about classical music is the notion that there’s a level of self-abnegation in a performer’s deference to the composer. In this view, if you focus your performance on delivering what the composer intended, you’re somehow erasing your own contribution to the music. The reality is, of course, anything but; what truly great interpreters manage is to find their own voice within the both the composer’s vision and the tradition from which it descends. With immersion comes transcendence, and that’s precisely what David Virelles is after here.

Igbó Alákǫrin (The Singer’s Grove) Vol. I & II is one more in Virelles’ series of explorations into the legacy and possibilities of Cuban music. But unlike its predecessors, this album is more focused on the past than the future—no electronics, no abstractions, no classical crossover, just the decades-old sound of Santiago de Cuba. On a superficial level, the move seems calculatedly regressive, an attempt by Virelles to have his own Buena Vista Social Club moment. Listen closely, though, and it becomes clear that what Virelles actually is doing is extending his reach by laying deeper roots.

Igbó Alákǫrin is in two parts, the first featuring vocalists and large, big band-ish ensembles, the second just Virelles’ piano and Rafael Ábalos’ guiro. The brassy, percussion-driven punch of the album opening “Bodas De Oro” fuels an immediate burst of nostalgia, particularly given the saxophones’ wide vibrato and the old-fashioned thump of the drums. But when Virelles enters with a dissonant, rhythmically complex piano solo, the effect is anything but retro. Even so, it fits the groove and the mood, and Virelles’ phrasing is so perfectly idiomatic, it’s hard to imagine dancers pausing even for a beat.

Ultimately, that’s the magic here. Having grown up within the tradition of Santiago’s music, Virelles understands not only how to maintain it, but how to grow it. Even when he remains within a tune’s harmonic boundaries, as on “El Rayaero” or “Tres Lindas Cubanas,” his playing conveys a deep sense of the music’s rhythmic potential, an understanding that similarly has animated his more abstract efforts. In that sense, Igbó Alákǫrin might be Virelles’ most radical album yet, because here the music is moving in both directions—forward and backward—at the same time.

Michael Formanek Elusion Quartet

Time Like This
(Intakt)

There’s a woozy feeling emanating from bassist Michael Formanek’s latest leader date.

It’s not anything like staggering intoxication; more like a calm, yet unrestrained, creativity that seems to shift these eight tunes from section to reeling section with the assistance of limber-limbed Ches Smith scuttling a surprising clangor on his kit. Smith’s never overwhelming, though, just poignant and poised as pianist Kris Davis adds leagues of color to the spate of original tunes. That backdrop enables these impressionistic works to succeed so well.

Despite its lineup and track names—“This May Get Ugly” and “A Fine Mess”—Time Like This is a quiet, knotty set of tunes that wends its way through the complexities of its namesake bandleader’s capacious writing. Tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby functions as the featured voice here, though he’s never overbearing, meeting the music on its conspicuously collected terms. For as free as portions of “Culture Of None” and “The Soul Goodbye” might seem, if only for a few brief moments, the beauty cultivated, as Davis moves sprightly alongside Smith’s patter, seems almost miraculous. That it’s all achieved without boisterous theatrics speaks to not just the compositional mastery behind Time Like This, but also to these players’ abilities to foster Formanek’s vision while maintaining their individual sonic personas.

The BBB Featuring Bernie Dresel

Bern Bern Bern
(Dig It)

Drummer Bernie Dresel’s new album exudes a super-sized aesthetic: Bern Bern Bern offers more, more, more. For this 72-minute program, a 17-person iteration of the Bernin’ Big Band recorded 14 tunes—including two tracks that feature a nine-piece guest ensemble (The Los Angeles Clarinet Choir), plus a 15-minute take on Bill Cunliffe’s “Suite B.” Dresel is a sonic craftsman with a large assortment of tools. In the liner notes amid commentary on the band’s rendition of “Anything Goes,” Dresel writes: “On this cut you will hear washboard, backwards low guitars that blossom from trombones, sticks on upright bass, backwards slap bass, balalaika, ukulele, marimba, xylophone, 55-gallon metal drum, spiral cymbal, drum corps snare … and tap dancing!” Despite the diverse instrumentation and a large number of personnel, Dresel and his co-producer, Gary Reber, prevent any excesses from derailing their project. Reber has worked with Buddy Rich, and Dresel formerly was in Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band, so these two collaborators have ample experience in helping a large ensemble soar.

This album gracefully nods to tradition—via standards like “Body And Soul,” “A Night In Tunisia” and two Cole Porter tunes—while also refreshing the big-band concept, thanks to gifted musicians who look forward, not backward. Two BBB members composed songs in the program: Trombonist James McMillen contributes three compositions (“BBB Opener,” “Bern Bern Bern” and “The Summit”), and baritone saxophonist Brian Williams offers two (“Early Spring” and “ALL The Things!”). Other composers represented include former Tower of Power trumpeter Greg Adams (“Zuit Soot”) and trombonist (and Prince band alumnus) Michael B. Nelson (“New Dell Inn”).

A sparkling version of funk band War’s 1972 hit “The World Is A Ghetto” incorporates drumming influenced by Gene Krupa, an excellent soprano saxophone solo by Brian Scanlon and some trippy sci-fi sound effects—while still remaining sonically cohesive. The Los Angles-based studio musicians in the band prove themselves to be remarkably adaptable, whether playing traditional big band fare, a guitar-laced rock riff or music that feels like a film score. The overall result is a big-band gem for the current millennium.

Bern Bern Bern is available in four formats: vinyl, CD, digital download and Pure Audio Blu-ray Disc. Fans interested in the technical aspects of the recording can check out the detailed liner-notes essays about the microphones, production processes and tools used to make the album, including Auro-3D Native 9.1 Immersive Sound.

New York Standards Quartet

Heaven Steps To Seven
(Whirlwind)

Over the course of 13 years, fans have come to expect exquisite musicianship from the New York Standards Quartet. The band consistently is dazzling. Much of the charm on its impressive seventh album, Heaven Steps To Seven, lies in the quartet’s ability to deliver powerful straightahead sounds and blend them with “outside”-leaning segments within the same arrangement. One particularly compelling example is an eight-minute rendition of the standard “If I Should Lose You” that melds traditional swing with dynamic, verging-on-chaotic sections. An eight-minute reading of Cole Porter’s “I Love You” opens with a poignant bass solo segment and eventually unfurls with knotty, unpredictable twists.

In the year that marks the centennial of Leonard Bernstein’s birth, it’s fitting that the band—Tim Armacost (tenor and soprano saxophones), David Berkman (piano), Ugonna Okegwo (double bass) and Gene Jackson (drums)—would open an album with a clever, robust rendition of “Tonight” from West Side Story. Other tunes in the program include Porter’s “Every Time We Say Goodbye,” Charlie Parker’s “Cheryl” and Horace Silver’s “Peace.” A rendition of Bud Powell’s “I’ll Keep Loving You” features Berkman’s elegant pianism, Armacost’s mellow, romantic tenor tone and some fine, subtle brushwork from Jackson. On a reading of Herbie Hancock’s “The Eye Of The Hurricane” (from his 1965 classic, Maiden Voyage), Jackson gives a drum clinic as he combines overlapping cymbal crashes to fuel the locomotive thrust.

Standards remain standards because bands like NYSQ keep finding new avenues of meaning within them. Heaven Steps To Seven is a reminder that standards don’t necessarily reside in museum cases; living musicians can set the music free.

Josephine Davies’ Satori

In The Corners Of Clouds
(Whirlwind)

With an advanced degree in existential psychotherapy, UK-based saxophonist Josephine Davies pushes her Satori trio toward illumination through the exploration of small-group interplay.

In The Corners Of Clouds, a follow-up to 2017’s Satori (Whirlwind), finds the bandleader joined by bassist Dave Whitford and drummer James Maddren, who replaces Paul Clarvis from that earlier date. Here, Davies sketches eight open forms to benevolently move through as she whispers, pronounces and bleats during tracks like “Lazy” and the Coltrane-esque “Song Of The Dancing Saint.”

The title track opens quietly, as Davies enmeshes with Maddren. It doesn’t intimate an overwhelming display of technical prowess, but the track does show the bandleader in a seemingly reflective mode, Maddren poking around the kit tentatively, but in perfect unison with her mission. There’s such an easy-going intimacy on each of the nine tracks here, it’s tough to understand how Davies hasn’t made a bigger impact on this side of the Atlantic, with or without tour dates in the States.

The only real critique of In The Corners Of Clouds just might be that everything comes off at about the same tempo. But really, that could be attributed to Davies setting the tone and mood for her enlightened trio to explore a shared language.

Carol Liebowitz/Birgitta Flick

Malita-Malika
(Leo)

Carol Liebowitz is a specialist in one-on-one improvisation.

Of the pianist’s seven albums to date, five have been duo projects, mostly with saxophonists. And we’re not talking about quiet runs through a handful of standards; her duets tend to be collectively improvised, deeply conversational and quite fond of taking risks.

Malita-Malika, recorded with German tenor saxophonist Birgitta Flick, breaks with that model a bit. Flick—who’s probably best known through Flickstick, the quintet she co-leads with German trombonist Lisa Stick—is a strongly melodic player whose carefully shaped lines have a wistful lyricism that sometimes verges on melancholy, a sound that balances so naturally against Liebowitz’s intricately prodding piano that it would be easy to mistakenly assume that parts of improvisations like “Moon” and “Jasmine” were written out. The title track actually was (it’s one of Flick’s), yet the playing is so in character with the composition that the dividing line between reading and improvising all but disappears.

There also are some standards in the mix, two of which are sung by Liebowitz. She does a lovely job with the Harry Warren/Al Dubin chestnut “September In the Rain” (which is introduced by a playful rendition of Billy Bauer’s “Marionette”). But it’s her powerfully emotional rendering of “You Don’t Know What Love Is” that really makes the album. Where other versions tend to focus on the regret within the lyric, Liebowitz makes us also hear the anger bubbling beneath those words, not only in the edge in her voice, but in how the harmonies darken as she sings of having “kissed and had to pay the cost.” Add in Flick’s breathless blues abstraction, and it becomes the perfect torch song for the #MeToo era.

Yuhan Su

City Animals
(Sunnyside)

Having worked with both Brian Krock’s Big Heart Machine and Miho Hazama’s m_unit, vibraphonist Yuhan Su collects a quintet for City Animals, a follow-up to 2016’s Virginia Woolf-referencing A Room Of One’s Own (Inner Circle).

Exploring ideas that spring from Su’s experiences on the road and as a ballet accompanist, the title track embodies the bandleader’s engagement with New York, after arriving there in 2012 as a Berklee College of Music graduate. Dispensing bursts of notes to aurally capture the city’s mood, alto saxophonist Alex LoRe serves as a character in Su’s story; her vibes seem to portray Su gamboling through New York as drummer Nathan Ellman-Bell’s thrum reflects the city’s non-stop energy. Some of the rock-styled drumming on “Viaje” might roil purists, but the stylistic inclusion points toward the unending dialogue among jazz-world players, and diverse and personal influences. Of course, the rockist drumming endures only at brief interludes, as Su’s discordant harmonies with LoRe and trumpeter Matt Holman carry the following track, “Feet Dance.”

But it’s the three-part Kuafu suite that expands Su’s storytelling ambitions, as the bandleader reels off a skittering opening portion for “I. Rising” that might mirror the Chinese myth’s giant chasing after the sun. It’s followed by a sleepy nocturne, “II. Starry, Starry Night,” when the story’s namesake protagonist takes a break from his impossible task, and “III. Parallel Chasing,” still vibrant and bouncy, detailing the giant’s continued pursuit. Su, too, still is pursuing a goal, and as “Party 2AM” weaves in and out of three-part harmonies, listeners get the sense that she’s only written the first few chapters of her unfolding tale.

The Beatles

White Album (Anniversary Edition)
(Apple Corps Ltd./Capitol/UMe)

For its Nov. 16, 1967, issue, DownBeat put The Beatles on the cover—but the band wasn’t alone. A portrait of the Fab Four appeared in the upper portion of the cover, while a larger concert photo of saxophonist Cannonball Adderley appeared in the lower portion. John Gabree’s essay “The Beatles in Perspective” asserted that the ensemble responsible for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was overrated.

Released on May 26, 1967, Sgt. Pepper’s was an extravagant collaboration with studio wizard George Martin that involved intricate layers of overdubbed parts on multitrack tape. The Beatles’ eponymous 1968 album (commonly called The White Album because of Richard Hamilton’s stark album cover design) was an altogether different animal. The songs were more stripped down. In preparation for the studio sessions, the four musicians recorded demos—an unusual move for the band at the time. These demos provided a roadmap for the 30 tunes that would be recorded at Abbey Road and Trident studios and released on Nov. 22, 1968, as the double LP officially titled The Beatles.

To celebrate the album’s 50th anniversary, the surviving members of the band—Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr—worked with George Martin’s son, producer Giles Martin, to assemble multiple reissue editions, including the three-CD version that is reviewed here. The set’s first two discs offer a new stereo mix of the classic album. The third disc, titled the Esher Demos, is the juicy fruit that will have fans salivating. It contains 27 tracks that the band recorded at George Harrison’s bungalow in Esher, Surrey, after the quartet had returned from a sojourn to India, where many of these songs were composed. (Hardcore Beatles fans might be familiar with seven of the Esher Demos tracks because they appeared on the Anthology 3 compilation.) These acoustic demos vividly illustrate the band’s camaraderie and love of harmony. There was no drum set used, so percussion comes in the form of things like handclaps, shakers and tambourine. Because Harrison had a professional four-track recorder, the demos aren’t crude; some include double-tracked lead vocals and overdubbed instrumental parts.

Of the 27 demos, 19 are of songs that wound up on The White Album. Half a century later, fans get the “fly on the wall” experience of hearing the musicians jovially run through the tunes, some of which were still in development (such as “Honey Pie”). Even in demo form, “Blackbird” and “Mother Nature’s Son” were simply exquisite. The demo of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” includes a couple of verses that didn’t make it into the eternal version on The White Album. Elsewhere on the Esher Demos, the famous line “the walrus was Paul” doesn’t appear in the lyrics to “Glass Onion.”

Some of the Esher Demos tunes later would be recorded in the studio for other albums. “Mean Mr. Mustard” and “Polythene Pam” appeared on Abbey Road. Other tunes surfaced on the Beatles’ solo albums. “Junk” re-emerged on McCartney’s first solo album, McCartney. Particularly noteworthy is the gorgeous demo “Child Of Nature,” a tune for which John Lennon would later write new lyrics and record as “Jealous Guy” for his 1971 album, Imagine.

The three-CD edition will satisfy the longtime fan who wants to hear a new, vibrant stereo mix and ponder the drafts of iconic tunes (including “Dear Prudence,” “Happiness Is A Warm Gun,” “Rocky Raccoon,” “Julia” and “Yer Blues”). But dedicated Beatles fanatics will want to check out the Super Deluxe edition (six CDs and a Blu-ray disc with 5.1 Surround Audio and other mixes). That edition contains 50 additional recordings from The White Album studio sessions, including a 13-minute version of “Helter Skelter,” plus a 168-page hardback book. Purists who aren’t interested in studio outtakes will be drawn to the 180-gram, four-LP vinyl box set, which includes the new mix and the 27 demos. There’s also a standard two-LP version with no bonus tracks.

When Anthology 3 was released in 1996, some wondered how long Beatlemania could be sustained. The public’s reactions to the reissues of Sgt. Pepper’s in 2017 and The White Album this month seem to indicate that there’s no end in sight.

Woody Shaw Quartet

Live In Bremen 1983
(Elemental)

Trumpeter/flugelhornist Woody Shaw’s second quintet with trombonist Steve Turre, pianist Mulgrew Miller, bassist Stafford James and drummer Tony Reedus in the early 1980s was one of the great modern jazz ensembles of its time, grounded in the straightahead tradition of bebop, but embracing newer avant-garde concepts.

When the group performed in concert at Post Aula in Bremen, Germany, on Jan. 18, 1983, Turre was not present for some reason; the quintet was reduced to a quartet, with Shaw the sole front-line horn player. With Turre missing, the gig turned out to be as much a showcase for the well-established Shaw as it was for Miller, who would become a Jazz Messenger later that year and, like Shaw, eventually would develop into one of the best-of-the-best on his instrument.

Recently discovered and previously unreleased, the music on this new two-disc deluxe set from Elemental—originally recorded in pristine two-track stereo and bearing the production stamp of Shaw enthusiast Michael Cuscuna—is an interesting and exciting bit of jazz history. The group’s enthusiasm immediately shows on the opener, “You And The Night And The Music,” a standard that was new to the group’s repertoire at the time. Other memorable tracks include Shaw’s “Rahsaan’s Run,” a fierce blues full of invention; Miller’s “Eastern Joy Dance,” with its interesting melodic lines and unconventional song form; Miller’s “Pressing The Issue,” with its dramatic, darkly rhapsodic piano cadenza intro leading into a hard-driving, uptempo thrill-ride of challenging harmonic turns and impassioned soloing; and Shaw’s “The Organ Grinder,” on which the leader—who forever will be remembered as a master of technique and a wellspring of endless chops—reveals his ability to use tonal nuance, lyricism and finesse to make a powerful emotional statement.

Shaw’s son, Woody Shaw III, curated Live In Bremen 1983, as well as other recent releases in a series of historic recordings from Elemental that include newly discovered live performances by Shaw and other iconic bandleaders (including tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon)—all of which are highly recommended.

Michael Dease

Bonafide
(Posi-Tone)

More than just a celebration of the sliphorn, Bonafide reflects versatile trombonist Michael Dease’s commitment to and love for all things straightahead. His bonafide colleagues here include fellow trombonists Conrad Herwig (on three tracks), Marshall Gilkes (on three tracks) and Gina Benalcazar (on two), as well as an ace rhythm section of pianist David Hazeltine, bassist Todd Coolman and drummer E.J. Strickland, plus guest tenor saxophonist Sam Dillon (on two tracks).

Taking on various configurations, ranging from full-on four-piece ’bone section to a one-horn jazz quartet, the ensemble swings hard through a program that includes five Dease originals and a Hazeltine composition, as well as fresh arrangements of classics by Sonny Rollins (“Tenor Madness”), Phineas Newborn Jr. (“Theme For Basie”), Marcus Belgrave (“Batista’s Groove”), J.J. Johnson (“In Walked Wayne”) and Brazilian composer Johnny Alf (“Nós”). In the process, the trombonists absolutely tear it up, delivering fiery solo improvisations, neatly trading playful improvised phrases, indulging in gorgeously voiced tutti passages and dancing in delicate counterpoint. Hazeltine, Coolman and Strickland play consistently in the pocket and contribute impressive solos of their own, and Dillon enraptures when featured. The brainchild of Posi-Tone’s Marc Free, Bonafide presents Dease as a torchbearer for swing, blues, groove and soul who aspires to authenticity while revitalizing the trombone’s image.

Robert Walter’s 20th Congress

Spacesuit
(Royal Potato Family)

Beginning in the ’90s, when keyboardist Robert Walter started performing with the Greyboy All-Stars, the point of it all seemed to be recreating rare-groove moments and paying tribute to folks like Fred Wesley, who appeared on the troupe’s West Coast Boogaloo.

Through his time performing with Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe and extending his palette with a score of 20th Congress albums, Walter consistently has been devoted to working with performers who know how to find the pocket, and stay there, granting almost endless space to explore. But on Spacesuit, the bandleader looks to tour the cosmos. Tracks like “Posthuman” still might be slotted into the funky jazz canon, but weirdo production trickery and echoey dub moments broadcast Walter’s developing intentions. There’s a trenchant pulse on “Emanate,” but it’d be difficult to call the tune a jazz outing. Instead, the bandleader and drummer Simon Lott evoke weightlessness, with synthesizer coming to bear in sinister ways. The following cut, “Modifier,” turns to a kosmische sensibility, before segueing into an almost Southern rock conceit on “Chalk Giant.”

A surface reading of Spacesuit might lead listeners to figure Walter just digs NASA, but it’s just as likely that the bandleader simply sought a throughline that would enable him to indulge in his endlessly vast musical interests: jazz, funk, krautrock and maybe even a bit of library music thrown in for good measure.

Cuong Vu 4Tet

Change In The Air
(RareNoise)

Trumpeter Cuong Vu likes the sound of guitar. Not just the tasteful purr of an under-amplified archtop; Vu also relishes the snarl and bite of the guitar’s most electric aspects. For many jazz fans, that became clear with 2016’s Cuong Vu Trio Meets Pat Metheny (Nonesuch), but it’s Vu’s work with Bill Frisell in his current 4tet that truly drives the point home.

Change In The Air, the ensemble’s sophomore effort, is nothing if not a testament to the plasticity of both the group and Frisell’s electric palette. Things start off placidly enough with “All That’s Left Of Me Is You,” a wistful number by drummer Ted Poor that plays like a long-forgotten standard, with Frisell dutifully coloring within the lines while Vu evokes the lyric brilliance of Art Farmer’s late period. But things turn darker with the bluesy “Alive” (another Poor composition), with Vu digging into a rockish pulse, kicked up by Poor and bassist Luke Bergman while Frisell’s solo starts with pinging, feedback-tinged harmonics, and gets louder from there.

The 4tet maintains that balancing act for the bulk of the album, at times hewing close to mainstream jazz verities, at others tumbling gleefully into the melodic uplift of guitar rock. Except, of course, that neither extreme is quite that simple. Bergman’s “Must Concentrate” is easily the most pop-friendly number here; despite Frisell cranking it for some truly majestic power chords, the playing is still too smart to sound dumb. Likewise, Vu’s twitchy “The March Of The Owl And The Bat” is sufficiently rhythmically gnarled to make credible his claim that it was inspired by extreme metal band Meshuggah. But c’mon—nobody’s going to mosh to this.

Instead, what Vu, Frisell, Bergman and Poor do is repurpose the forms of jazz and rock to maximize their creative potential. That’s why the most satisfying track here might be “Round And Round (Back Around),” which blurs the line between composed and improvised music so completely that it’s hard not to be awed by the 4tet’s creativity.

Crystal Shawanda

VooDoo Woman
(True North)

On the blues album VooDoo Woman, the band is a powder keg, the singer is a blowtorch, and the artistry is positively explosive.

Canadian vocalist Crystal Shawanda opens this program of mostly blues classics with a medley of “Wang Dang Doodle/Smokestack Lightnin’,” wailing with intensity while her husband and lead guitarist, Dewayne Strobel, delivers fiery licks. Shawanda—who was born on the Wikwemikong First Nation reserve in northern Ontario—rose to fame as a country singer and 10 years ago was the subject of a CMT documentary series, Crystal: Living The Dream. Her 2014 album, The Whole World’s Got The Blues, signaled that she was poised to explore another genre, and her new disc, VooDoo Woman, makes it clear that she’s a bona fide blues belter, as evidenced by scorching renditions of “Ball And Chain,” “Hound Dog” and the title track, penned by Koko Taylor. A smoldering version of the Etta James classic “I’d Rather Go Blind” highlights Shawanda’s power as a balladeer and her reverence for standards. Shawanda and Strobel enliven the program with new arrangements of originals she had recorded before, including the barn-burner “Trouble” and a medium-tempo tune, “Cry Out For More,” that showcases Stephen Hanner’s fine harmonica work.

“Singing the blues is like letting a bird out of a cage,” Shawanda said in a press release. “This feels like what I’m supposed to be doing.” It sure sounds like it. (Shawanda, who is based in Nashville, will perform at that city’s Bourbon Street Blues and Boogie Bar on Nov. 30.)

Dave Anderson

Melting Pot
(Label 1)

With his recently formed group Melting Pot, saxophonist Dave Anderson seeks to celebrate musical styles brought from abroad to the United States. In so doing, the world-jazz ensemble demonstrates an ability to integrate disparate musical influences into a vital whole while making an anti-xenophobic statement about America’s current immigration climate.

Melting Pot’s lineup reflects the diversity of New York’s international creative music community: In addition to Anderson on alto and soprano saxophones, the aggregation features Colombian-American drummer Memo Acevedo, Venezuelan-American percussionist Roberto Quintero, tabla artist Ehren Hanson, sitarist/vocalist Neel Murgai, Austrian-American bassist Hans Glawischnig, Canadian pianist David Restivo, British trumpeter Bryan Davis and Israeli flutist Itai Kriss in configurations of varying sizes. The five original compositions on Melting Pot’s new self-titled album intermix straightahead and Afro-Latin jazz with Indian ragas and traditional Jewish, Mongolian and Brazilian influences. The three-movement “Immigration Suite” serves as the centerpiece of this cultural fusion, each piece inspired by a specific person who embodies a telling aspect of the immigrant experience, according to Anderson. The music, while geographically restless in its East-West blend, likely will sound completely natural to any jazz listener with a taste for world music. It all comes together in a way that’s both artistic and logical. There’s no force-fitting of genres or vocabulary going on here—just a coalescence of solid grooves, enticing melodies, exploratory improvisations and a full spectrum of exotic tonal colors. This is music for progressive thinkers, compassionate souls and world travelers (armchair or otherwise).

Miki Yamanaka

Miki
(Cellar Live)

Even if the song titles weren’t playful, pianist Miki Yamanaka’s writing would radiate a unique buoyancy across her jubilant debut.

After contributing to Roxy Coss’ The Future Is Female earlier this year, Yamanaka has issued Miki on Cellar Live. And the wholly acoustic endeavor finds the bandleader’s compositions frequently referencing something everyone can get behind: good food. With an early reference to pancakes, Yamanaka shuttles her quartet through a few tunes, including “Monk’s Dream,” on the way to “Sea Salt” and “Stuffed Cabbage.” That latter tune, which opens with shimmering cymbal work and a boisterous beat contributed by Bill Stewart, turns to a knotty progression before segueing into “Book,” a tune displaying Yamanaka’s pianistic elegance on an all-too-short composition.

Steve Nelson’s vibes prominently figure into “Wonder,” a late-in-the-program reminder that the veteran of Dave Holland’s troupe could have been used to fuller effect here. But by the time “What About Food” closes out the recording, there’s little else to object to.

“You have noticed by now how much I love food,” the pianist wrote in a description of her compositions. “All I wanted to express on this project was me, myself, Miki, who always thinks/talks about food.” After taking in the 10 cuts on this album, folks’ll definitely keep that in mind, as well as the undeniable promise displayed on Yamanaka’s first outing as a leader.

Ayn Inserto Jazz Orchestra

Down A Rabbit Hole
(Summit)

Composer and arranger Ayn Inserto enlisted three superb soloists for Down A Rabbit Hole, the first album in 10 years from her namesake orchestra. Trumpeter Sean Jones, tenor saxophonist George Garzone and trombonist John Fedchock add essential spice to the proceedings here. The three guests unleash fluid, powerful solos on the album opener, the nine-minute Inserto composition “Three And Me.” The album cover art—a Kendall Eddy painting—depicts Jones, Garzone and Fedchock as giants playing their instruments against the skyline of Boston, where Inserto, an associate professor of jazz composition at Berklee College of Music, is based.

The bandleader conducts an agile, 17-piece ensemble made up of peers, friends, longtime collaborators and even family. (Her husband, Jeff Claassen, is the lead trumpeter, and this recording features the work of three married couples.) Inserto has crafted a program that feels completely natural as big band music and includes five of her compositions. Some lesser orchestrators nowadays falter when they seize music originally penned for a combo and clumsily rework it with an arrangement that’s actually ill-suited for a large ensemble. But Inserto—who studied with Bob Brookmeyer (1929–2011)—delivers a program that gracefully exploits the strengths of big band instrumentation, as evidenced by her two-part suite titled “Part I: Ze Teach” and “Part II: And Me.” Elsewhere, Inserto offers a superb arrangement of Jones’ “BJ’s Tune,” providing a showcase for the trumpeter’s sumptuous tone. This album strikes the perfect balance between entertaining artistry and finely crafted arrangements that could be studied closely in the classroom.

Walking Distance

Freebird
(Sunnyside)

For its sophomore album, this young quartet took apart a bunch of Charlie Parker melodies and reassembled the pieces into something entirely different and considerably more modern. They took “Little Willie Leaps” and recorded it backwards, note-for-note. “Moose The Mooch” deliberately was torn to bits and transformed into a pointillistic mosaic. The band derived two minimalist pieces from “Ornithology” and based others on “Segment” and “Donna Lee.”

Throughout Freebird, Parker’s signature eighth-note triplets and bold chromatic turns emerge and just as quickly disappear as the bebop icon’s canon is cleverly, and lovingly, mutated. Alto saxophonist/trumpeter Caleb Curtis, tenor saxophonist/clarinetist Kenny Pexton, bassist Adam Coté and drummer/percussionist Shawn Baltazor form the core of Walking Distance. Having established a strong identity in the contemporary acoustic jazz realm with its 2015 debut, Neighborhood (Ropeadope), the group gets a boost on Freebird from guest pianist Jason Moran, who makes strong contributions to several tracks, and producer Ben Rubin, who had an equal voice as the instrumentalists in the creative process, making use of a variety of cutting-edge and time-tested studio recording techniques. (Eight microphone setups were used over the course of what Rubin describes as an epic two-day session.) The producer’s hands-on approach involved adding samples and ambient Mellotron to the mix, as well as affixing layers of presentation and storytelling seldom found on jazz albums. “Bigment,” one of the more radical and intense “derangements” on Freebird, features Jennifer Wharton on trombone and tuba amid a New Orleans funeral march that morphs into an urgent frenzy of postmodern bebop, before settling back into a traditional brass-band vibe and eventually dissolving into complete freedom.

Paul Simon

In The Blue Light
(Legacy)

Over the course of his storied career, Paul Simon, 76, has explored sonic textures in a way that has marked him as more artistically adventurous than many rock singer-songwriters of his generation. On his new album, In The Blue Light, some of those intriguing textures are provided by esteemed jazz musicians: trumpeters Wynton Marsalis and Marcus Printup, saxophonists Joe Lovano and Walter Blanding, guitarist Bill Frisell, pianist Sullivan Fortner, bassist John Patitucci and drummers Jack DeJohnette, Steve Gadd and Nate Smith. On this collection of 10 tunes that Simon previously recorded between 1973 and 2011, the singer offers new studio renditions that recast the material with fresh arrangements, and in some cases, different lyrics.

On Simon’s 1990 album, The Rhythm Of The Saints, the song “Can’t Run But” features talking drums, the Brazilian instrumental group Uakti and sly guitar work by J.J. Cale. On the arrangement of “Can’t Run But” on In The Blue Light, Simon is backed by the classical ensemble yMusic, giving the song a significantly different vibe. On 1980’s One Trick Pony, Eric Gale’s nylon-string guitar is a striking feature of “How The Heart Approaches What It Yearns”; on this new arrangement, Marsalis’ muted trumpet takes the spotlight, injecting a poignant mood. Pleasant surprises abound throughout the album: Marsalis contributes to the New Orleans flavor of “Pigs, Sheep And Wolves,” Lovano adds improvised lines to a jazz rendition of “Some Folks’ Lives Roll Easy” and Simon pursues a blues-inflected aesthetic on “One Man’s Ceiling Is Another Man’s Floor.”

This album is a powerful reminder that Simon often eschews easy-flowing, rhyming lyrics in favor of songcraft that is more musically intricate and intellectually stimulating. He zigs and zigs while other composers lazily zag.

Simon has had a momentous year: He completed what he has said will be his final tour, was the subject of a major biography (Paul Simon: The Life by Robert Hilburn) and delivered his 14th studio album—a gem that solidifies his status as a bold, striving, wholly unique tunesmith.

Tim Hecker

Konoyo
(Kranky)

Infusing instrumental, minimal and electronic music with meaning can be a fraught endeavor. A listener brings a litany of experiences to bear on any given work, and even if a performer stipulates a framework, it’s relatively easy to discard it, instead choosing to emotionally paint on what’s perceived as a blank slate.

With composer Tim Hecker’s work, which stretches back to the early 2000s and counts collaborations with folks like experimentalist Daniel Lopatin (Oneohtrix Point Never), there’s sometimes an eerie, icy feeling coursing through the recordings. His 2013 album, Virgins (Kranky), took on a political tinge, with Abu Ghraib being referenced on its cover and in a song title, and his 2016 release, Love Streams (4AD), included contributions by Kara-Lis Coverdale and the Icelandic Choir Ensemble, a shadowy current emerging, further darkened by ominous vocals.

Coverdale returns for Konoyo, which translates from Japanese to “the world over here,” and is joined by Tokyo Gakuso, a gagaku ensemble trucking in centuries-old court music. The wind instruments, Coverdale’s keyboards and Hecker’s guitar, keys and digital contributions merged in a temple near Tokyo for the recording, turning up jittery results, as on “Keyed Out.” No matter how processed or chiaroscuro the sounds here, Hecker’s collaborators help imbue the album with plaintive humanity; “In Mother Earth Phase” vibrates with what might be akin to profound realizations striking some deep thinker, or the sun briefly piercing the sky on an otherwise overcast day.

Greg Fishman Quintet

So You Say
(Self Release)

Call it “tenor gladness”: Two bebop devotees with serious street-cred join forces on a joyous romp through 10 straightahead tunes tailor-made for tag-team-style improvisation.

Chicago-based tenor saxophonist Greg Fishman and Los Angeles-based tenor saxophonist Doug Webb wrote all of the material for So You Say, an old-school blowing session recorded with a West Coast rhythm section of pianist Mitch Forman, bassist Kevin Axt and drummer Dan Schnelle. Their enthusiasm for the material is palpable as they swagger and zip their way through neatly harmonized, angular heads, only to leap off the page as they embark on extended solos steeped in the bebop vernacular.

These guys have thousands of licks at their disposal, and they know how to use them. Each saxophonist displays an uncanny knack for navigating even the most challenging harmonic turns and twists, as well as the wisdom to know when to burn, when to swing and when to play it cool. Forman is a wellspring of creativity who’s brilliant at spelling out the many nuances of sophisticated chord progressions, and his inspired, bop-informed soloing is on par with the two tenors. There’s no pretense or over-production to take away from the good vibes and simple pleasures on tap here. Not a moment on the album sounds planned: these guys are masters of jumping onboard and enjoying the ride, wherever it leads. Fishman will mark the release of So You Say with a free performance Sept. 11 at Chicago’s Jazz Showcase.

Barre Phillips

End To End
(ECM)

As much as any bassist in jazz—or even anyone on its periphery—California-born Barre Phillips has expanded the language and expectations for his chosen instrument.

He’s played a part in duo bass sessions alongside Dave Holland and organized an ensemble of three bassists and a drummer, in addition to putting together a succession of solo recordings that began in the late ’60s. There’s not time or space to reel off his accomplishments in others’ ensembles.

Phillips’ initial foray into solo bass, alleged to be the first of its kind, was issued under three distinct titles in three separate markets during 1969 and 1970: Journal Violone, Unaccompanied Barre and Basse Barre. Another solo dose of Phillips working over his instrument came on 1983’s Call Me When You Get There. And now, the longtime denizen of Southern France intends End To End to serve as the denouement of his solo bass odyssey.

The ECM release is segmented into “Quest,” “Inner Door” and “Outer Door,” each suites unto themselves, working through melody and bowed textures. Perhaps the most resonant statement is repeated on “Quest, Pt. 4” and “Inner Door, Pt. 4.” Creeping up that second time, Phillips’ reiteration of the progression might inspire some momentary confusion, a sort of déjà vu of the ear. But any listener with the patience for these pieces to unfold and allow themselves to be transported by the power of a single performer’s ability to entertain will find new worlds to explore on subsequent listens.

Rob Dixon Trio

Coast To Crossroads
(Self Release)

Being based at various times throughout his career in Atlanta, New York and Indianapolis likely has strengthened Rob Dixon’s silvery tone on alto and tenor saxophone.

On Coast To Crossroads, an album that deals with the bandleader’s travels, he’s joined by Headhunters’ drummer Mike Clark, guitarist Charlie Hunter and trombonist Ernest Stuart, each contributing a dose of funky congeniality to this 11-track album. Dixon’s previous work with both Clark and Hunter make what already would have been a recording stacked with lustrous moments an even more easy-grooving clutch of music.

“Memphis Bus Stop,” a composition prompted by Dixon’s stopover during a trip from New York to San Antonio, Texas, finds Hunter gently comping on his 7-string guitar, while Dixon and Stuart purr out the tune’s melodic material. It’s a bed of music, gently pushed forward by Clark’s uncomplicated work behind the kit, granting Dixon space to spin his travelogue. The troupe shuttles out to the West Coast on Tupac’s “California Dreaming,” before getting the “Flat Tire Blues” and eventually speeding off at “87 MPH.”

With his work as an educator and role as artistic director of the Indy Jazz Jest, the fact that Dixon finds the time and desire to issue work with this sort of narrative thread and unhurried finesse should show the world that the Midwest has stars of its own.

Spanish Harlem Orchestra

Anniversary
(ArtistShare)

Salsa fans can’t go wrong with the Spanish Harlem Orchestra. The Grammy-winning band, which was founded 15 years ago, marks the milestone with its sixth album, the aptly titled Anniversary. Led by pianist, composer and arranger Oscar Hernández, this salsa powerhouse presents a generous, 68-minute program that highlights the compositions of its members, including high-octane, dance-worthy tunes by Hernández and singers Marco Bermúdez, Carlos Cascante and Jeremy Bosch (who also plays flute), as well as conguero George Delgado. The band also offers fresh renditions of three salsa classics: Cheo Feliciano’s “Guaracha Y Bembé,” Ruben Blades’ “Y Deja” and José Alfredo Jiménez’s “La Media Vuelta,” with a Hernández arrangement that showcases three-part vocal harmonies.

Throughout the disc, the emphasis is on the ensemble’s collective sound, but the precise, complex arrangements do allow room for some suburb solos by Hernández (“Goza El Ritmo”), trombonist Doug Beavers (“Yo Te Prometo”) and baritone saxophonist Mitch Frohman (“Dime Tú”). Special guest Randy Brecker injects a muscular trumpet solo into Hernández’s original tune “Somos Uno.” This album is filled with infectious, uptempo music, so Hernández’s arrangement of Osvaldo Farrés’ “Tres Palabras” is a rare breather—a slow tune that will give listeners a moment to catch their breath and grab a beverage before returning to the dance floor.

The Spanish Harlem Orchestra will visit California later this month, with a Sept. 22 performance at the Monterey Jazz Festival and a Sept. 29 set in Los Angeles at Councilmember Gilbert Cedillo’s 5th Annual Latin Jazz & Music Festival.

Vincent Peirani

Night Walker
(ACT)

Just as Béla Fleck has done for the banjo and Grégoire Maret has done for the harmonica, French musician Vincent Peirani has emerged as an important advocate for the accordion. He gloriously illustrates that in the right practitioner’s hands, an instrument can break free of any pigeonholing and be effective in a diverse array of settings. Like Fleck and Maret, Peirani is interested in a variety of genres, not just jazz. Fans of classic rock might get lightheaded when glancing at the track list for Peirani’s Night Walker, which contains a suite that combines his original composition “Opening” with two Led Zeppelin songs: “Kashmir” and “Stairway To Heaven.” The album also includes interpretations of Henry Purcell’s 17th-century piece “What Power Art Thou” and Sonny Bono’s 1966 pop-noir tune “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down),” popularized by Cher and Nancy Sinatra.

The bulk of this album, however, consists of Peirani’s adventurous original compositions. Despite the leader’s variegated tastes, the program here feels cohesive, thanks to his gifted bandmates: Émile Parisien (soprano saxophone), Tony Paeleman (keyboards), Julien Herné (electric bass, electric guitar) and Yoann Serra (drums). This agile ensemble recorded Peirani’s 2015 ACT album, Living Being (which explains why the full title of the new album is Living Being II–Night Walker).

On “Unknown Chemistry,” Peirani and Parisien gracefully demonstrate how the timbres of the accordion and soprano sax can complement one another and blend to create majestic results. Parisien’s solo on “Falling” gives the subtle ballad a powerful emotional punch, while Paeleman’s aggressive improvisation on Fender Rhodes adds fireworks to the fusion-flavored title track. Peirani’s intoxicating lines on “Bang Bang” have a feel reminiscent of Astor Piazzolla, and on “Enzo” he plays the infrequently heard accordina, adding intriguing texture to a tune that would be appropriate for the soundtrack to a suspenseful thriller. As he showed on his 2016 duo album with pianist Michael Wollny, Tandem (ACT), Peirani is a sensitive musician, a talented collaborator and an artist whose work can surprise and delight in equal measure.

Tony Bennett & Diana Krall

Love Is Here To Stay
(Verve/Columbia)

Part of the reason that Tony Bennett, 92, has remained artistically vital over the decades is his willingness to work with unexpected vocal partners, as evidenced by A Wonderful World (his 2002 collaboration with K.D. Lang), Cheek To Cheek (his 2014 release with Lady Gaga) and his series of Duets albums (which included contributions from Paul McCartney, Aretha Franklin, Amy Winehouse and Marc Anthony). On Bennett’s new album—devoted to the compositions of George and Ira Gershwin—his vocal partner is of the more expected variety, given her long history of interpreting the Great American Songbook: Diana Krall. Bennett and Krall have, in fact, recorded duets before, on his albums Playin’ With My Friends: Bennett Sings The Blues (2001) and Duets: An American Classic (2006). But Love Is Here To Stay marks their first album-length collaboration. One unusual twist here is that Krall doesn’t play piano on the session, instead focusing on vocal duets with the master, while the instrumentation is provided by pianist Bill Charlap’s impeccable trio. The result is a gem that showcases not only the longevity of the material, but of Bennett himself, who found fame after serving in the Army during World War II.

Bennett and Krall offer 10 delightful duets—including “I Got Rhythm,” “Do It Again” and “Nice Work If You Can Get It”—and each vocalist delivers one solo rendition; his is “Who Cares?” and hers is “But Not For Me.” Just as salt and pepper can work together in a recipe, Bennett’s authoritative vocals and Krall’s more delicate delivery complement each other, and several tunes conclude with a delicious bit of unison singing. On the album opener, “’S Wonderful,” there’s a brief segment in which Krall very quietly scats beneath Bennett’s lead vocal. That moment, along with Bennett’s chuckle at the end of “I’ve Got A Crush On You,” illustrates the singers’ chemistry and camaraderie. On “Somebody Loves Me,” there’s a slight reversal of typical roles, as Krall is more exuberant and Bennett is more subdued. These vocalists’ performances are a master class in the art of listening, reacting and then listening even more closely before responding. A swinging version of “My One And Only” features Charlap’s fluid pianism, drummer Kenny Washington’s compelling brushwork and a sturdy bass line from Peter Washington. It also features the type of clever lyrics that made Ira Gershwin such an important partner to George: “I tell you, I’m not asking any miracle/ It can be done, it can be done/ I know a clergyman who will grow lyrical/ And make us one, and make us one.”

Hardcore Gershwin fans might want to seek out the Target Exclusive version of this album, which contains two additional solo tracks: Bennett’s reading of “Oh, Lady Be Good!” and Krall’s rendition of “How Long Has This Been Going On?”

Miho Hazama & Metropole Orkest Big Band

The Monk: Live At Bimhuis
(Sunnyside)

Thelonious Monk effortlessly referenced disparate developments in jazz history, moving from bop back to stride during any given session. And it’s the capacious nature of his practice that conductor Miho Hazama captures in her seven arrangements of Monk tunes for the Metropole Orkest Big Band.

One of the date’s most endearing musical moments, though, comes during a sprightly spotlight: Most of the band drops out, leaving just the rhythm section and a lone trumpeter to linger in the chords behind “Ruby, My Dear.” Of course, Hazama’s conducting seamlessly brings the entire band back to lovingly ply the well-worn work in the end. “’Round Midnight” rarely has sounded as forlorn as it does a few tracks on, and “Epistrophy,” as wonky as ever, swings with blustery humanism. This is a work of fellowship and camaraderie, and it’s readily apparent.

The source material, of course, was a good place to start, but Hazama’s previous efforts—Journey To Journey (2013) and Time River (2015)—bolster a blossoming reputation. Even if this had arrived without her past work for context, The Monk: Live At Bimhaus comes off as a good-natured reflection of both its namesake’s personality and Hazama’s as she charts an astute course through the jazz landscape.

Kandace Springs

Indigo
(Blue Note)

Singer-songwriter and keyboardist Kandace Springs’ new r&b album will appeal not only to fans of her excellent Blue Note debut, Soul Eyes (2016), but also to fans of releases such as José James’ 2017 disc Love In A Time Of Madness (Blue Note), where the vocals are spare, but soulful, and the production is savvy and high-tech. Springs recruited an outstanding crew for the recording sessions, including drummer/producer Karriem Riggins, bassist Burniss Travis II, flutist Elena Pinderhughes, drummer Chris Dave, bassist Robert Hurst and guitarist Anthony Wilson (the latter two are Riggins’ frequent bandmates in Diana Krall’s group). On the album’s most jazz-leaning track, the original tune “Unsophisticated,” guest Roy Hargrove provides some potent trumpet work.

Onstage and in the studio, Springs’ original compositions and taste in covers reflect a deep understanding of the history of r&b, rock and jazz. Her original tune “Fix Me” includes the line “When I miss you, doves cry,” a nod to her mentor Prince. Springs’ version of The Stylistics’ 1972 hit “People Make The World Go Round” features her fine piano work, as well as guest Nicholas Payton’s contributions via bass, Fender Rhodes and chord reharmonization. It takes guts to tackle Ewan MacColl’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” not only because of the shadow cast by Roberta Flack’s classic 1972 version, but also because the song has been interpreted by such estimable singers as Lauryn Hill, Jennifer Hudson and Celine Dion. However, Springs’ interpretation—recorded with Hurst, Riggins and guitarist Jesse Harris—now enters the debate concerning the all-time-great versions.

The program also includes a rendition of Gabriel Garzón-Montano’s “6 8,” a tune that Drake samples on his track “Jungle.” Fans unfamiliar with Springs should check out the elegant video for her graceful, transcendent version.

Springs’ tour dates include The Troubadour in Los Angeles (Oct. 1), the Vancouver International Jazz Festival (Oct. 7), Sony Hall in New York (Oct. 28) and the Forum Leverkusen in Germany (Nov. 13), where she’ll perform with the WDR Big Band.

Miguel Zenón

Yo Soy La Tradición
(Miel)

The eight chamber pieces for alto saxophone and string quartet that constitute Miguel Zenón’s Yo Soy La Tradición pair structural beauty with emotional urgency while celebrating Puerto Rico’s cultural, religious and musical traditions.

The hour-long suite originally was commissioned by Chicago’s Hyde Park Jazz Festival, where it made its premiere in a September 2016 concert that featured the San Juan-born saxophonist in collaboration with the locally based Spektral Quartet. Now available as a studio recording featuring the same lineup of artists, Yo Soy La Tradición runs far deeper than your typical horn-plus-strings album. Spektral Quartet, known for its fearless outlook and a proven ability to create seamless connections across centuries of classical music, is a driving force on the album, interacting directly with Zenón as the saxophonist develops motifs and improvisations drawn from more than a decade’s worth of field research into Puerto Rican traditions. While folkloric in its origins, the music here is decidedly modern, a complex, multi-layered weave of new music and progressive jazz that marks a high point of Zenón’s ever-evolving oeuvre. It all comes together beautifully. Yo Soy La Tradición makes a profound statement about finding common ground between seemingly disparate musical genres and discovering the spiritual source of one’s artistic identity.

Zenón and the Spektral Quartet will perform the piece as a benefit concert for Puerto Rican hurricane relief on Sept. 21 at the Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center in Chicago.

Amy Cervini

No One Ever Tells You
(Anzic)

Singer Amy Cervini spikes her new album with unexpected twists that make it a gem. As the title of her 2014 album, Jazz Country (Anzic), implies, Cervini likes to mix her jazz with a rootsy, Americana flavor. The 10-song program on No One Ever Tells You includes fresh arrangements, often with slower tempos than the tune’s more famous renditions. Cervini’s version of “The Surrey With The Fringe On Top” transforms the happy tune from Oklahoma! into a nearly existential meditation. Rarely have those yellow wheels, isinglass curtains and bright sidelights been described with such a haunting delivery. Similarly, a molasses-tempo reading of “One For My Baby (And One More For The Road),” which features Hammond B3 organ work by Gary Versace, invites the listener to conjure the bar scene Cervini so carefully has crafted. While “Hit The Road Jack” frequently is offered as a barnburner, Cervini converts it into a lament.

The singer’s choice of material is just as remarkable as her ability to inject new energy into old tunes. There are hundreds of rock and blues tunes about a male rambler who tells a woman that he can’t stick around, because he’s got to hit the highway. And jazz singer Blossom Dearie (1924–2009) flipped the script on that tale with “Bye-Bye Country Boy,” about a touring female vocalist who bids adieu to a male fan. Cervini infuses the lyric with emotional power in a stellar performance, augmented by top-tier instrumental support from Versace and guitarist Jesse Lewis. The leader’s other excellent collaborators here are Michael Cabe (piano), Matt Aronoff (bass) and Jared Schonig (drums).

The program includes one Cervini original composition, “I Don’t Know,” a relationship tune with a potent twist in the lyrics: “I don’t know why I did it/ And I don’t know why you’d stay/ I don’t know how to fix it/ All I can do is say that I love you/ Then get down on my knees and pray/ And I don’t pray.” This tune, like the entire album, was expertly recorded by Cervini’s longtime producer, Oded Lev-Ari (who is also her husband). Lev-Ari’s overall production technique—combined with the microphone placement by tracking and mixing engineer James Farber—gives the listener the wonderful sense of sitting right there in the control booth as this superb music was made.

Fay Victor’s SoundNoiseFunk

Wet Robots
(ESP-Disk)

Anyone capable of turning both a Stooges song about shooting smack and a Kinks ode to the sun into free-jazz finery is worth a listener’s time.

Fay Victor hasn’t issued a bunch of music as a leader, and when she has, it’s largely been through her own Greene Avenue Music imprint. So, the New York vocalist hooking up with ESP-Disk for Wet Robots is a notable move. Her troupe here, augmented by guitarist Joe Morris, rumbles through aggressively artful free maneuvers, occasionally touching on minimal passages, as on “Whistling On A Skateboard,” when Victor summons guttural harmonies in tandem with Sam Newsome’s soprano saxophone.

Drummer Reggie Nicholson, Victor’s compatriot in various SoundNoise configurations, does an admirable job holding all of this together, and adds poignant detail to the bandleader’s spoken word and sound poetry.

Victor wields an outsized personality, and however ecstatic her group gets, the ideas she works to impart to listeners refuse to be overwhelmed by the churning backdrop. On “Information Highway,” the singer delves into the uses of religion and where it came from, tossing off some Spanish and German phrases before explaining the inner workings of the human brain. It might just short circuit, like a wet robot’s, she claims.

However rigorous the compositions and performances are here, folks who let Victor’s lyrics warp their minds might reap the finest reward.

Dexter Gordon Quartet

Tokyo 1975
(Elemental)

This previously unreleased live recording captures Dexter Gordon (1923–1990) in concert with perhaps his finest, and most consistent, rhythm section.

Pianist Kenny Drew, bassist Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen and drummer Albert “Tootie” Heath—the house band at Jazzhus in Copenhagen, where Gordon lived and played regularly for 14 years during the 1960s and ’70s—joined the towering tenor saxophonist for this performance at Tokyo’s Yubin Chokin Hall on Oct. 1, 1975. The well-seasoned group gets right down to business, kicking off the set with “Fried Bananas,” a signature Gordon original that was first recorded on his 1969 album More Power! The rest of the set includes two standards—“Days Of Wine And Roses” and “Misty”—plus the show closer, Billy Eckstine’s innuendo-rich “Jelly, Jelly,” the lyric of which Gordon sings, to the audience’s delight.

The tunes all run nice and long, thanks to a plenitude of meaty, extended improvisations from all onboard. Gordon is in top form, quote-happy as ever, peppering his swaggering hard-bop solos with well-placed bits of humor, huge dollops of blues and forever-clever turns of phrase. Pedersen’s breathtaking solo on “Days Of Wine And Roses” is a highlight, as is Drew’s flourishing ride on “Misty.” Bonus tracks on the album include a live 1973 performance of Thelonious Monk’s “Rhythm-A-Ning,” recorded in Holland with Norwegian Espen Rud on drums, and a live version of the standard “Old Folks” from a 1977 concert in New Haven, Connecticut, with Gordon’s “homecoming” band of pianist Ronnie Mathews, bassist Stafford James and drummer Louis Hayes. The sound quality of these live recordings can be spotty at times, but the brilliant content of the performances makes the entire album—available on CD and vinyl—a surprise treat for Gordon fans.

Harold López-Nussa

Un Día Cualquiera
(Mack Avenue)

Fans of Cuban pianist Harold López-Nussa’s 2016 disc, El Viaje (Mack Avenue), certainly should check out his new album on the same label: Un Día Cualquiera. The title of the previous disc translates to “The Journey,” and on this new outing, his artistic evolution continues—but in a trio setting. He recorded the album at Boston’s WGBH Studios with his younger brother Ruy Adrián López-Nussa (drums, percussion) and Gaston Joya (bass). The album’s title translates to “Just Another Day,” and in press materials, Harold explains the title’s significance: “The idea is to put the music and the trio together in a studio and just play, the way we three do every day, any day—like a concert in the living room of your house.” And what a memorable concert it is. The stripped-down setting showcases Harold’s dynamic pianism and mastery of tempo, whether he’s delivering a dazzling, lightning-fast flourish or spotlighting his elegant touch with a ballad.

All three band members obviously relish the opportunity to interpret two songs by the great Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona (1895–1963): “Danza De Los Ñáñigos” and “Y La Negra Bailaba,” which Harold has described as being a piece that’s “somewhere between Cuban son and danzón styles.” Elsewhere, Harold pays tribute to another Cuban icon with the original tune “Una Tarde Cualquiera En Paris (To Bebo Valdés),” which begins in a meditative mode but shimmies, shifts and builds to a fiery dance tempo that the late Valdés surely would appreciate. Potent bass and drum solos enhance this track in a way that the master pianist also would have approved. On the original tune “Preludio (To José Juan),” the combination of Harold’s light touch, his brother’s agile transition from brushes to sticks and Joya’s poignant arco work results in a radiant performance that bears revisiting.

Indeed, many of these tracks feel like short films that one yearns to study repeatedly in order to absorb all their nuances. With Un Día Cualquiera, a superb trio honors the tradition of Cuban jazz, while pushing the music forward via terrific chops and impressive individualism.

Mwendo Dawa Trio

Silent Voice
(LJ)

The endless terrain any good piece of music can summon in the mind’s eye seems easily traversed by this sonically expansive Swedish troupe.

Since debuting in 1979 with Basic Line, Mwendo Dawa’s issued more than a dozen albums. But Silent Voice is the band’s first release since the death of saxophonist Ove Johansson (1936-2015), who founded the group with pianist Susanna Lindeborg. He, presumably, is the voice that’s been silenced, even as four of his compositions appear among the spate of original tunes.

“The first year after Ove passed away—2016—was more or less a period to mourn, and to think about the musical future. There were some concerts we did as a trio,” Lindeborg wrote in an email about dealing with the loss and paring down the lineup. “After this, we decided that our musical world and ideas were still in development. So, the trio wanted to continue its journey. ... So, we wanted this CD to be a tribute to Ove and all the inspiration he has given us.”

Along with bassist Jimmi Roger Pedersen and drummer David Sundby, Lindeborg pushes through electro-acoustic maneuvers that might be aural representations of anything from a treacherous mountain pass to some pastoral setting, a stream calmly running through it.

“Bass Nagging,” the disc’s second track, is all rumbling and electronic filigree, Lindeborg’s chording adding menacing profundity. “Hesitation,” as its name would suggest, seems to have trouble getting started. But as the trio searches for something thematic to grasp at, the open spaces—occasionally filled by electronic bleeps and gurgles—offer an intimate glimpse into the working relationship of these performers. And the following “Inside” turns up fiery results amid a similar gambit.

The Swahili phrase “mwendo dawa” translates to “the way to a special goal,” and listeners might easily be carried along that path, while being inspired to explore the band’s hefty catalog.

Royal Krunk Jazz Orkestra

Get It How You Live
(Ropeadope)

Trumpeter Russell Gunn has been delivering thought-provoking, high-octane, genre-exploding musical goodness since his introduction in 1995 with the album Young Gunn. From Gunn Fu to Russell Gunn Presents… Bionic: Krunk Jazz to his amazingly charged Ethnomusicology series of albums exploring the black experience, Gunn isn’t wearing someone else’s jazz. He’s created his own voice, one where jazz, hip-hop, r&b and pop get up from the family dinner table and dance together in the living room.

The Royal Krunk Jazz Orkestra is perhaps his greatest vehicle for laying down complex, beautiful music for the masses. Get It How You Live is a thoroughly modern big-band recording, and what’s amazing is how Gunn pulled this together by being slightly outside the limelight. Living in Atlanta, the bandleader played a weekly gig at the St. James Live club for more than a year to develop the feel, language and musical material that appears on the album. Once comfortable, he recorded the 19-piece RKJO at The Ray Charles Performing Arts Center at Morehouse College in Atlanta. For those new to “krunk,” it’s a hard-hitting sub-genre of hip-hop that has also spawned an equally hard-hitting form of dance. And this is a record to make you do just that: dance.

The set kicks the doors in with “Sybil’s Blues,” a get-down-and-dance tune that features fellow trumpeter Theo Croker as a guest and some in-your-face soloing by trombonist Saunders Sermons. Gunn summons the spirits with his take on Shai’s 1992 hit “If I Ever Fall In Love,” his trumpet cutting sweet, pure and powerful over a horns-only arrangement that just breathes beauty. “The Critic’s Song” hits hard with the rhythm section of Che Marshal on drums, Tabari Lake on bass and Ali Barr on percussion. But Brian Hogans on alto and Mike Walton on tenor serve up killer solo work—all speed, power and rage. Walton trades eights with vocalist Dashill Smith in a hip-hop/jazz exchange that delivers big time. Beyond this, there are great vocal spots all over this record. Dionne Farris is an incredible singer, who brings her cool neo-soul vibe to tunes like “Fair,” “Hopeless” and “Ballad Of The Sad Young Men.” But the star here is Gunn himself. He’s thinking and making music on a very grand scale. One minute, he makes you want to jump out of your seat and move, the next, he’s got you wiping away a tear.

Gunn is a beautiful trumpeter, but on Get It How You Live, he proves once again that he’s also a massively talented producer, conductor, arranger and talent scout. Get It How You Live is a rare, wonderful achievement—an organic, beautiful vision of what modern music can be.

Michael Leonhart Orchestra

The Painted Lady Suite
(Sunnyside)

Michael Leonhart’s new album is a testament to his glorious, unbridled ambition. He composed, arranged and conducted all the music on The Painted Lady Suite, an album that he also produced. He recruited more than 30 musicians—including guitarist Nels Cline and tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin—for the recording sessions, during which he played trumpet, bass trumpet, French horn, mellophonium, electric bass, organ, pump organ, mellotron, accordion, bass harmonica and bass melodica. The bulk of this album consists of the seven-part titular suite, which was inspired by Leonhart’s fascination with migrating swarms of painted lady butterflies, an insect that can embark on a 9,000-mile round-trip journey that involves multiple generations (due to its limited lifespan).

Song titles like “The Experimental Forest, North Dakota,” “The Arctic Circle” and “1500 Feet Above The Sahara (Night)” illustrate the depth of Leonhart’s research into the butterflies’ migration, while also nodding to the enormous scope of his sonic palette. And even if you’re not someone who geeks out on nature documentaries and butterfly minutia, you still can revel in the esoteric textures of this suite, which is fueled by a nine-piece brass section and a 10-piece group of saxophones and woodwinds. With this suite, Leonhart eschews easily digestible melodies in service of something quite complex and mysterious; this is music befitting its intriguing inspiration.

Following the suite are three tracks that show a more accessible side of the composer. “In The Kingdom Of M.Q.” has a groove akin to a march, with an arrangement spiced by a muscular McCaslin solo. “Music Your Grandparents Would Like” lopes along in a woozy, cough-syrup sort of way before Cline erupts with some gnarly guitar work transmitted from a spaceship. “The Girl From Udaipur” concludes the album with an enticing, drone-like mood, a compelling brass-section riff and the acoustic bass work of the composer’s father, Jay Leonhart.

Mikkel Ploug & Mark Turner

Faroe
(Sunnyside)

Danish guitarist Mikkel Ploug and New York tenor saxophonist Mark Turner team up as a duo on this inspired collection of tailor-made Ploug originals.

Having toured Europe together for 10 years in a Ploug-led combo, they scaled things way down on Faroe in order to allow more subtle musical interaction and intensify their mutual focus on melodic and chordal development. In this calmer, more delicate environment, the nuances of Turner’s dry tone and Ploug’s resonant guitar emerge to form an emotionally stirring, tonally balanced picture. Their individual voices dovetail gracefully as saxophone and guitar explore their individual roles and come together to achieve a level of creative flow that’s the goal of any artistic pairing.

The music is an advanced study in musical styles and moods, at turns somber (“Faroe”), melancholy (“The Red Album”), dreamy (“Highland”), mysterious (“Warmth”), saudade (“Como”), playful (“Sea Minor”), anxious (“Steps”), flirtatious (“Celeste”) and ceremonious (“Wagner”). Incredible chops aside, Ploug and Turner succeed in tapping into the awesome power and extreme beauty of hushed, intimate interaction on Faroe. Listen to it loud for maximum enjoyment.

Mattson 2

Play A Love Supreme
(Spiritual Pajamas)

Even as his posthumous Both Directions At Once: The Lost Album takes John Coltrane higher on the Billboard charts than he’s ever been, there’s an argument to be made that his A Love Supreme is one of the most crucial jazz albums ever recorded. The disc was—and remains—a devotional edict, something that proclaims Trane’s adamance in finding a bit of peace on earth. And that’s maybe what’s made his landmark album endure—and be as frequently covered as it has been. The latest jazzers to undertake a reworking of the music are a set of Southern California twins: percussionist Jonathan Mattson and multi-instrumentalist Jared Mattson.

In various pressings, Coltrane’s recording has been diced up into three or four tracks. Mattson 2, though, offer five distinct cuts, with an interlude slipped into the playlist that comes off like psych-folk band Woods jamming impromptu. But “Acknowledgement” appropriately opens with that recognizable bass figure propping up the brothers’ groove. It’s at least a step away from transcendence, but wrenching this thing out of history is a tough task. The duo swings hard in places, “Pursuance” being a notable nu-fusion display. And if nothing else, Jared dubbing in guitars, bass and keys is a herculean task few would dare, especially on material with a past like this.

Mattson 2’s Play A Love Supreme likely won’t make anyone pitch their Coltrane vinyl. But it wasn’t supposed to. The compositions here lend the Mattsons a framework to get free, while acknowledging the remarkable feats of their forbearers.

JD Allen

Love Stone
(Savant)

Tenor saxophonist JD Allen had only one goal in mind—to play “pretty”—when he set out to record an album consisting entirely of ballads. He put the brainier aspects of his craft to the side and opted to feed his emotional core, focusing on melody and tone while making a personal expression of empathy for the human race. Allen also took off his composer hat for this project: He draws from a repertoire of classic siren songs (including “Stranger In Paradise,” “Until The Real Thing Comes Along,” “Why Was I Born,” “Come All Ye Fair And Tender Ladies,” “Put On A Happy Face,” “Gone With The Wind” and others) in a nine-track program that’s presented as a love letter to the listener.

Allen’s long-running trio with bassist Gregg August and drummer Rudy Royston becomes a quartet with the addition of guitarist Liberty Ellman, who adds essential colors and textures. Allen indulges the lower range of his horn in particular on Love Stone, tapping the meaty resonance of his instrument’s bottom notes and subtoning with old-school breathiness. He doesn’t just play “pretty,” but deliberately as well, adding a strong sense of conviction to his message. And throughout Love Stone, he succeeds in getting directly to the heart of the matter. Allen has come a long way since making a strong initial impression when he emerged on the New York scene during the 1990s; Love Stone makes it clear that he now is fully possessed of his own singular voice.

John Bailey

In Real Time
(Summit)

The time trumpeter John Bailey spent performing in bands helmed by pianist Arturo O’Farrill and percussionist Ray Barretto only sparingly come to bear on this set of 9 tunes, which includes renditions of Milton Nascimento’s “Morro Velho” and Gilberto Gil’s “Ensaio Geral.”

Bailey, here performing in a quintet, replete with guitar, marks his first album as a leader after decades as a sideman with bop’s buoyancy on quickstep compositions like “Triplicity,” “Blues For Ella” and “Stepping Up,” that last tune coming off as a work that would have been well-suited to a player like Clifford Brown. It also provides ample space for saxophonist Stacy Dillard to reel off a sizable solo, before guitarist John Hart gets in a few quick bars.

Just three tunes on In Real Time slow the tempo—two being that pair of aforementioned covers—giving Bailey time to emote in a less frenzied context. It’s the anomalous “Lovely Planet,” which opens with a hefty bass feature from Cameron Brown, that exemplifies the capaciousness of Bailey’s work. The five-minute tune, which doesn’t turn toward ensemble play until almost halfway through, seems to find the band mournfully considering what’s in store for Earth—or at least wondering what folks walking around every day might be thinking and feeling.

While each of Bailey’s compositions on In Real Time provide a setting for the bandleader’s performative agility, it’ll likely leave listeners desirous of a follow-up, where he might offer some additional stylistic diversity.

The Jamie Saft Quartet

Blue Dream
(RareNoise)

The rigorous pursuit of musical virtue can lead to any number of places within jazz’s ever-expanding borders. And keyboardist Jamie Saft embodies that notion, refusing to turn out a succession of recordings that might be thought to placate a single, certain type of listener.

If you want to hear an organ trio render dub in the 21st century, listen to Bad Brains frontman H.R. let loose over top of that same group or take in Cyro Baptista’s squiggling percussion across the troupe’s Jamaican-derived simplicity, Saft’s New Zion Trio is there to help. Need a stunningly beautiful and evocative set of acoustic solo piano? Saft recently issued Solo A Genova (RareNoise). Maybe a bit of jazz-rock stuff? He can do that, too.

What his quartet does consistently on Blue Dream, though, is swing while displaying an all-encompassing capacity for mood and dexterous interplay. Here, Saft’s troupe—saxophonist Bill McHenry, bassist Bradley Jones and drummer Nasheet Waits—turn in 12 rangy tunes, meandering from the spiritual side of things on “Vessels” and “Equanimity” to classic jazz on “Violets For Your Furs” and on to some baroque jazz pieces, as on “Walls.”

With the release of such a strong recording just months after that intimate solo disc, the only thing listeners should be wondering is just how many more near-perfect statements of purpose are comming from Saft in 2018?

Mark Kavuma

Kavuma
(Ubuntu)

Kavuma is the kick-ass debut album by Uganda-born, British-raised trumpeter Mark Kavuma. If you’re a fan of the hard-bop tradition, and want to hear how this indelible musical movement has been infused with the energy of a new generation of creators from across the pond, you’ve got to check this out.

Let’s start with Kavuma himself. He’s a 23-year-old trumpeter and an up-and-coming voice on the new British jazz scene. That said, he has been on the radar here in the States for some time now. He was named the best soloist at the Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition and Festival back in 2012, which led to a guest soloist spot with Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. Since then, he’s continued to work on his craft. He leads his own quartet. He plays in the house band for the Floor Rippers’ Element Jam, a recurring showcase in London that merges jazz with hip-hop and dance. And he leads Kavuma & The Banger Factory. With his debut, Kavuma surrounds himself with many of the musicians from these worlds. Take, for example, drummer Kyle Poole. The set opens with Poole driving a 70-second drum solo before the rest of the band kicks in. He’s all over this album in a featured role—and, somewhere, Art Blakey is smiling.

But the entire cast here is sensational. Mussinghi Brian Edwards and Ruben Fox kill it on saxophones; Artie Zaitz is a guitarist with a remarkable sound and technique; Reuben James is a sensational pianist; and Conor Chaplin is a bassist full of style and attitude. Kavuma is a terrific trumpeter, and an even better ringleader. He certainly knows how to craft a great program of music. The originals are awesome, and so are the covers. “Carolina Moon,” a tune he heard Thelonious Monk play, is a fantastic throwback, featuring James’ awesome honky-tonk piano. “Barbar G” is an achingly beautiful ballad. And “Church,” which features guest artist Michela Marino Lerman in a tap-dancing role, just tears it up. Throughout the recording, you’ll hear players whooping, howling and cheering on great solos. They’re having a great time, and so will the listener. This is one of the best debuts I’ve heard in a long, long time. It’s full of joy, soul and swagger.

Adrian Cunningham and Ken Peplowski

Duologue
(Arbors)

A co-leader project often is an opportunity to hear an old favorite in a new context—and perhaps to discover a new favorite musician. Such is the case with Duologue, icon Ken Peplowski’s album with fellow clarinetist Adrian Cunningham, an Australian native now based in New York who has collaborated with other acclaimed bandleaders, including trombonist Wycliffe Gordon and bassist Vince Giordano.

But the title of this excellent straightahead disc is somewhat misleading because the project involves a flexible, collaborative quintet, and the other three band members made essential contributions, adding one composition apiece to the recording. Acrobatic pianist Renee Rosnes gave this program “Jimmy Up Jimmy Down,” a gem she composed for saxophone legend Jimmy Heath. Bassist Martin Wind offered “Looking Back,” which adds a supremely memorable melody to a program filled with them. Gregarious drummer Matt Wilson supplied “Sonic Garden,” an avant-leaning piece that demonstrates how musical elements from Earth can meld well with those from Saturn. The co-leaders’ shared affinity for Brazilian tunes is evident: The band transforms Pixinguinha’s “Carinhoso” into a brilliant flute showcase for Cunningham, while Rosnes and Peplowski’s duo reading of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Luiza” illustrates why the clarinet master is invited to perform at festivals around the globe.

Elsewhere on this 12-track album, Cunningham and Peplowski offer authoritative dual-clarinet segments, particularly on the buoyant “Dois Grandes Gringos.” (Other woodwinds factored into the recording sessions as well, with the co-leaders contributing tenor saxophone and bass clarinet.) This album’s smile-inducing renditions of Duke Ellington’s “I’m Just A Lucky So And So” and Fats Waller’s “Alligator Crawl” will be catnip for fans of classic jazz. Additionally, this project showcases Cunningham’s sense of humor, not only in the song title of his “Mozart After A Few Beers,” but also in his liner notes essay: “Ken’s idea to record the album entirely [with the musicians] drumming on reclaimed Tupperware was suggested, and put aside … as was his idea of having us play underwater, with only the bubbles of air recorded as they hit the surface. (Preliminary bathtub tests proved unsuccessful.)”

All jokes aside, this album is terrifically successful.

Various Artists

Tribute: Newly Recorded Blues Celebration of Delmark’s 65th Anniversary
(Delmark)

Postwar Chicago blues is a sturdy house, and Delmark Records helped build its foundation.

Founded by Bob Koester, Delmark released a few albums by legendary vocalist/harmonica player Junior Wells, including the monumental classic Hoodoo Man Blues (1965), as well as Southside Blues Jam (1970) and On Tap (1975). So, it is fitting that this new collection—titled Tribute: Newly Recorded Blues Celebration Of Delmark’s 65th Anniversary—opens with a fiery rendition of a tune that Wells recorded for Delmark. Singer and blues harpist Omar Coleman unleashes a sizzling version of the On Tap track “Train I Ride,” which is fueled by Willie Hayes’ locomotive drums and punctuated by Hank Ford’s tenor saxophone work.

Most of this album’s tracks are new versions of tunes that are part of the deep Delmark catalog, and the liner notes indicate which vintage artist is being saluted with each performance. Jimmy Johnson and Dave Specter interpret “Out Of Bad Luck” (a tribute to Magic Sam), Mike Wheeler does a version of “So Many Roads” (Otis Rush), Demetria Taylor sings “Riverboat” (Big Time Sarah) and Lurrie Bell tips his cap to his father, Carey Bell, with “One Day You’re Gonna Get Lucky.”

For fans around the globe, this style of muscular Chicago blues has been the soundtrack to many Saturday nights, as well as the salve that has helped them through tough times. Fortunately, it does not seem as though Delmark itself will endure tough times in the foreseeable future: Koester recently sold the label to Chicago-based musicians/educators/arts advocates Julia A. Miller and Elbio Barilari. Spinning the album Tribute is an entertaining way to explore Delmark’s rich history and the current Chicago blues scene—while Miller and Barilari ambitiously plot the label’s plans for the next decade and beyond.

Jerry Vivino

Coast To Coast
(Blujazz)

Saxophonist Jerry Vivino demonstrates his wide range—geographically and instrumentally—on this swinging, straightahead album of original tunes and jazz standards.

Known as a sideman to stars (e.g., Tony Bennett, Dr. John, Lyle Lovett, Donald Fagen) and a longtime member of the house band for TV talk show host Conan O’Brien, Vivino has formed strong musical connections over the years in New York and Los Angeles. He recorded with players from both coastal regions during the sessions that ultimately became Coast To Coast, an album that showcases his chops and personality on tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, alto flute and voice.

Three tunes were cut with nonagenarian guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli during an easygoing East Coast quintet session that helped get this project underway. A second East Coast session yielded the jazz waltz “Miracles,” a tune Vivino co-wrote with his daughter Natalia Vivo and pianist Ken Levinsky. Back home in L.A., Vivino decided to embrace the coast-to-coast approach and recorded three more tracks, this time with pianist Andy Langham (who co-wrote two tunes), bassist John Leftwich, drummer Bernie Dresel and trumpeter Ron Stout (featured on two tracks).

Three pre-existing tracks—one from 2014 with L.A. pianist Mitchell Forman and bassist Kevin Axt, and two recorded in a quintet setting with the late New York trumpeter Lew Soloff circa 2007/’08—round out this highly enjoyable, finger-snapping collection of pocket grooves, boisterous improvisations and gorgeous ballads.

Alice Coltrane

Lord Of Lords
(Superior Viaduct)

It’s unlikely that back during her days in Detroit Alice Coltrane (née McLeod) knew what was on the horizon.

Her career overlapped with jazz luminaries so frequently that any attempt to rattle off an all-encompassing list would fall flat. And her personal, musical and spiritual connection to her husband, John Coltrane, resulted in not just an impressive progeny still holding sway over the jazz world, but recorded collaborations that continue to garner admiration.

Following John’s death in 1967, Alice (1937–2007) would go on to issue a decade’s worth of work that moves from harp-led spiritual jazz to organ noodling of the highest order and devotional music that gained notoriety last year with the release of World Spirituality Classics 1: The Ecstatic Music Of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda (Luaka Bop).

In pursuit of better illuminating some of her lesser-known works, Superior Viaduct reissued 1971’s Universal Consciousness in 2015. Lord Of Lords, the second of three consecutive recordings the bandleader would put together with a string section, finds Coltrane in a grandiose mode, hedging toward full-on orchestral maneuvers.

Opening with the descending melody of “Andromeda’s Suffering,” Coltrane weaves 25 stringed instruments in and out of jazz passages rendered here with bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Ben Riley. The seamless virtuosity of her compositions, conducting and performances across Lord Of Lords and its pair of related albums is only more astounding when contrasted with the ensemble work Coltrane recently had concluded with Pharaoh Sanders on albums like Journey In Satchidananda.

The luminous spirituality each track’s imbued with on Lord Of Lords might be overwhelming to the uninitiated. But hearing Coltrane make use of such a broad palette of sound, even before subsequently leaning heavily on synthesizer (though she makes prominent use of the instrument on “Excerpts From The Firebird”), illustrates that her writing truly was a boundless wonder.

Allegra Levy

Looking At The Moon
(SteepleChase)

Cleverly conceptualized and elegantly executed, vocalist Allegra Levy’s new album is a lunar excursion through the Great American Songbook.

On this 58-minute disc, nearly all of the tunes have the word moon in the title. One exception is the closer, “I’ll Be Seeing You,” the lyrics of which supply the album with its title: Looking At The Moon. Levy’s previous two albums focused on her original compositions, but this outing is all about enlivening the classics. The opening track, Levy’s arrangement of “Moon River,” is surprisingly fresh and offers a different tempo than some of the famous renditions of this Johnny Mercer/Henry Mancini classic. Bassist Tim Norton’s arrangement of “Moon Ray” provides an ideal setting to showcase Levy’s graceful phrasing and nuanced, less-is-more delivery, as well as her skills in scat-singing.

On this 13-track program, lovely, carefully sculpted versions of Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” (1992) and Cat Stevens’ “Moonshadow” (1971)—as well as an adventurously creative reading of Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon” (1972)—fit nicely alongside standards from the 1930s and ’40s, such as “Moonglow,” “Moonlight In Vermont” and “I Got The Sun In The Mornin’.” Thanks to the exquisite musicianship of Levy and her band—Norton, pianist Carmen Staaf and guitarist Alex Goodman—the concept behind this album doesn’t eclipse the artistry. In lesser hands, this project could have felt like a contrived effort to fulfill a flimsy theme. Instead, it’s a cohesive set of excellent performances that will inspire listeners to take a meaningful glance up at that shining orb with renewed wonder.

Rocky Yera

Just Practice
(Self Release)

Rocky Yera issues an invitation to exhilaration with the release of his debut album.

The Chicago-based tenor saxophonist whips up a whirlwind of excitement and mines the depths of sentimentality on Just Practice, a showcase for his formidable chops, improvisational daring, skillful writing and mastery of electronic effects. An ace instrumentalist who won two DownBeat Student Music Awards back in his high school and college days, Yera has crafted a unique voice for himself by processing his sound with guitar pedals and manipulating the effects in real time. Saxophonist Jeff Coffin, whose own experiments with electronics inspired Yera to explore new sonic possibilities, makes a guest appearance on “Mr. J.C. And The Baby Maker,” his funky alto contribution seriously upping the thrill factor.

The small-group instrumentation of Just Practice varies from track to track as Yera surrounds himself with peers of the highest order, most notably trumpeter Victor Garcia, organist Pete Benson, guitarist Aaron Lebos, pianist Darwin Noguera, bassist Josh Ramos and drummers Juan Pastor and Xavier Breaker. The all-original program features a balance of straightahead acoustic bebop, syncopated Latin grooves and electrified contemporary jazz-funk. For those seeking respite from the forward-leaning urgency that propels much of Just Practice, dig the laid-back swinger “Good Old Songs” and the feel-good, down-home vibe of the title track, where Yera reveals the jaw-dropping expanse of his altissimo range.

Eric Binder Trio

The Malcolm Cecil Project
(Ropeadope)

Sometimes the story’s better than the music, and sometimes the music’s better than the story. Rarely are they both gripping.

For The Malcolm Cecil Project, though, its namesake’s back-story is just as intriguing as this batch of stalwart bop standards. After inventing a unique strain of modular synthesizer that Cecil would use while working with Stevie Wonder, the multi-instrumentalist also set about engineering albums by folks like Gil Scott-Heron and writing alongside the Isley Brothers and Billy Preston. His spacey recordings with Tonto’s Expanding Head Band during the ’70s deserve plaudits of their own, as does his jazz career, which stretches back to the ’50s. Studio work has taken up much of the bassist’s time since then.

Now 81, Cecil has set about recording with a rather traditional acoustic trio. The tunes, running the gamut from Coltrane to Pettiford and Shorter, all are pristinely rendered. Saxophonist Joel Frahm makes this date seem like his own, even as Cecil and drummer Eric Binder hold down the rhythm section admirably. Frahm doesn’t offer up any overly theatrical runs here, but does enliven Thad Jones’ “Three And One,” resulting in a track that genuinely could be confused with period recordings; Cecil’s bass solo here belies his age.

Even if it’d be tough to turn the standards here into clunkers, The Malcolm Cecil Project’s eight tunes could supplant the need to reach for one of those bop-era LPs stashed away in the stacks.

Michael Kaeshammer

Something New
(Linus)

Michael Kaeshammer is the type of photogenic, multitalented artist who, a couple of generations ago, might have been tapped to host a variety TV show in the United States.

A native of Germany now based in Canada, Kaeshammer is a powerful vocalist, a terrific pianist and an excellent composer. He’s also a gracious bandleader who’s eager to share the spotlight with his gifted collaborators, as he does repeatedly and to great effect on his 12th album, Something New. There’s an infectious undercurrent of Crescent City flair here, which is to be expected on an uplifting album that partially was recorded in New Orleans and whose personnel includes such NOLA luminaries as bassist George Porter Jr. and drummer Johnny Vidacovich. Neville Brothers member Cyril Neville also makes an appearance, offering compelling lead vocals on the ballad “Heaven And Earth.” Elsewhere, Curtis Salgado’s lead vocals and harmonica pack a punch on the rousing “Do You Believe?” Bria Skonberg shows her tender side with some poignant, muted-trumpet work that adds even more sizzle to the heat generated by Kaeshammer’s sly vocals on the amorous “Forbidden Love.” Each guest spot on this album enhances the track’s overall arrangement, and none of them feel gimmicky.

The album concludes with a couple of instrumental numbers, highlighting Kaeshammer’s elegant pianism: A rendition of “Sweet Georgia Brown” (the only non-original number in the 11-track program) showcases his fleet, fluid chops, while the gorgeous, slow tune “Weimar” feels like the perfect soundtrack accompaniment for the closing credits of a tearjerker.

Shawn Maxwell’s New Tomorrow

Music In My Mind
(OA2/Origin)

The all-original program on Shawn Maxwell’s Music In My Mind conveys the vision of a composer who’s confident in his artistic vision, and comfortable with the wide array of colors on his instrumental palette.

Maxwell—who plays alto saxophone, clarinet and flute here—recruited 11 supporting musicians for his ensemble New Tomorrow. And on his eighth album, Maxwell’s merger of written passages and improvised segments feels logical and coherent, but not overly predictable. He’s pulled off a feat that many 21st-century bandleaders strive to achieve: the creation of fresh, head-bobbing music that avoids a tiresome groove and that gives band members room to soar.

Throughout the 49-minute program, twists and shifts in time signatures elevate this music in a brainy, yet accessible, manner. The bandleader has surrounded himself with talented accompanists, and Dee Alexander’s wordless vocals on three tracks showcase Maxwell’s superb skills as an arranger. Two tracks—“King Bill” and “Glamasue”—appeared on his 2005 debut, Originals, and are recast here with arrangements that reflect Maxwell’s maturation as an artist. On “He Gone,” Maxwell’s flute, Corey Wilkes’ muted trumpet and Matt Nelson’s fusion-flavored work on Fender Rhodes give the track an engaging vibe that is retro but not outdated. A few other tracks, including the seven-minute “Another Monday,” feature distinct sections that make the songs sound like mini-suites. In Maxwell’s hands, a musical segment might seem abrupt when it initially arrives, standing in contrast to what preceded it, but by the song’s conclusion, the listener has grasped an overall sonic cohesion. It’s a feeling that grows with repeated spins of this excellent album.

Jarod Bufe

New Spaces
(OA2/Origin)

During the last several years, tenor saxophonist Jarod Bufe—long known in the Windy City for his expertise as a horn repairman—has developed a body of exquisite original compositions for the quartets and trios he leads at Chicago-area venues like FitzGerald’s and Elastic Arts. New Spaces is the debut album by Bufe’s quartet with guitarist Tim Stine, bassist Matt Ulery and drummer Jon Deitemyer, all frequent collaborators whose intuitive group aesthetic makes for the ultimate creative “space.”

Bufe’s sound has a solid, deeply resonant core that brings to mind the maturity and patience of seasoned tenor veterans. His use of tasteful vibrato and subtle dynamics adds lyricism to the melodic lines of his sophisticated compositions, which frequently steer the listener in unexpected directions en route to enlightening destinations. Bufe solos with fleetness and flexibility, maintaining poise and confidence while conversing freely with his bandmates and searching out ever-fresh ideas. Deitemyer is impeccable behind the kit. Stine serves as both sensitive accompanist and improvisational foil for Bufe. And Ulery, when not extracting gorgeous solo lines from the upright, lays down a pulse that’s felt as much as it is heard.

New Spaces conveys creative vitality through and through, and jazz listeners hungry for new content certainly will find satisfaction in this well-mixed, pristinely recorded collection of finely crafted tunes.

Jin Jim

Weiße Schatten
(ACT)

Heavy guitar chording opens Weiße Schatten, bolstering a flurry of flute lines and illustrating why Jin Jim is part of the ACT imprint’s “Young German Jazz” series.

If the intial aggression of the quartet’s second album intimates that cosmic psychedelia is on tap, cuts like the restrained “Exploration” feature the band in relatively subdued territory, pulsing confidently behind the beat. “Days Of September” continues to showcase the band’s control of dynamics, even as a wah-wah guitar feature stamps out the composition’s mood about halfway through. “Mankafiza,” like “Duende” a bit earlier in the program, adds a Latin feel to the group’s interplay while exemplifying how rhythm sections don’t need to be flashy, just tight. But the feel of it all is that of a band searching for a distinct persona, even if the several evidenced here all have moments of near flawlessness.

Expansive tastes clearly are a part of what makes Jin Jim an intriguing troupe. And as its players further settle into their work, a distinct character, balancing some of the more bombastic, fusion-inspired moments with its more introspective tendencies, should yield up a vision of the band more cohesive than the span of Hawkwind to Herbie Mann.

Dave McMurray

Music Is Life
(Blue Note)

Dave McMurray has a driving, propulsive groove behind his tenor saxophone playing—always. He’s a jazz musician rooted in the beat. He’s a jazz musician steeped in the groove. It’s that spot-on bounce that’s made McMurray a go-to sideman for the likes of B.B. King, The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan in the pop world, as well as Herbie Hancock, Geri Allen and Bob James in jazz.

On Music Is Life, McMurray steps out as a leader on his Blue Note debut. It’s no accident that he wound up on one of the greatest jazz labels in the world. He and Blue Note President Don Was are fellow Detroit natives and have a long musical history together; McMurray was a member of Was’ terrific band from the ’80s, Was (Not Was).

Music Is Life comes steeped with all the groove dedication and no-nonsense melodicism that has made McMurray a cult hero around the Detroit music scene. “Every time I hear an instrumentalist from Detroit play, it feels like they are singing,” McMurray said in his press materials. “I don’t care if it’s Yusef Lateef, James Carter or Kenny Garrett. All of those saxophonists incorporated incredible technique, too. But they had this singing quality in their playing.”

His originals—like “Naked Walk,” “Freedom Ain’t Free” and “Bop City D”—ooze with that Motor City power, grit and longing to connect. His tone strikes a swagger that gets in your face, almost daring you not to get up and dance. McMurray is helped out on these proceedings by longtime bandmates Ibrahim Jones on bass, and drummers Ron Otis and Jeff Canady. They know each other well, and it shows. On the tune “Paris Rain,” McMurray also enlists the help of strings to give it just the right touch of throwback to ’70s pop. And the man knows how to pick cover tunes. On this set, there are two: George Clinton’s funk standard “Atomic Dog” and The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army.” Both, in a word, rock. And that’s the point of this record. Music Is Life is something we all can use right now, a feel-good, groove-driven, pop record with the guts to be damn good jazz, too.

Buddy Guy

The Blues Is Alive And Well
(Silvertone/RCA)

In many ways, the Buddy Guy of 2018 is the same dynamic fellow who delivered a stunning, eye-popping performance in the rock documentary Festival Express, filmed in 1970. For a staggering 60 years, Guy has been dazzling fans with a potent style of blues that includes nods to both B.B. King and Jimi Hendrix. Decades ago, Guy’s grit, chops and authenticity inspired many British Invasion rock musicians, including Jeff Beck, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards—all of whom show up as guests on this remarkable new album.

Aptly titled The Blues Is Alive And Well, this disc is no reinvention of the wheel, but producer/songwriter/drummer Tom Hambridge keeps things lively. With Hambridge’s assistance, Guy delivers what one would expect from an 81-year-old elder statesman (albeit one who performs like someone half his age). This album is filled with Guy’s trademark, stinging electric guitar solos—each packing enough power to peel paint off a house. Guy’s guitar heroics attract so much attention that his vocal prowess has long been underrated, and his voice remains in superb shape, a supple instrument with impressive range. Neither Jagger (harmonica) nor Richards (electric guitar) contributes vocals on their respective guest tracks, but when the lead singer in question is Guy, there’s no need to get in the way of the boss. Guy trades vocal lines with James Bay on the slow-burning “Blue No More,” and the young British singer and guitarist comports himself quite well. One track that certainly will have classic rock fans buzzing is “Cognac,” which name-checks Muddy Waters and finds Guy, Richards and Beck all injecting nasty guitar licks on this ode to brandy and blues. The album concludes with a naughty, 56-second lesson on animal husbandry, blues history and double-entendres—“Milking Muther For Ya”—which calls to mind Memphis Minnie’s “Dirty Mother For You.”

Mary Lattimore

Hundreds Of Days
(Ghostly)

Mary Lattimore criss-crosses the nation, harp in tow. She’s lugged it up flights of stairs to play smaller venues, trucked it out for much larger engagements alongside folks like Sonic Youth founder Thurston Moore and brought it along for recordings by singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten.

Since 2011, Lattimore’s steadily beamed out her own recordings, occasionally accompanied by Philly-based producer Jeff Zeigler. And while a few releases find the harpist benefiting from his synthy accompaniment, Hundreds Of Days springs solely from Lattimore’s fingertips. Devised, in part, during a residency at the Headlands Center for the Arts in Sausalito, California, the harpist sought to expand her own quiver of instruments for the project. Sweeps of synth float around during the album’s second track, “Never Saw Him Again,” tying it to those earlier works with Zeigler. But brief batches of bass propel the song beyond any new-agey impasse.

A few tracks on, “Baltic Birch” is both maudlin and triumphant, Lattimore somehow folding a lifetime of emotion into a 10-minute track. But it’s her guitar work on “Their Faces Streaked With Light And Filled With Pity” that’s likely to appease listeners who might be resistant to taking in a harp-centric affair. It’s not a rock track, to be sure, but as Lattimore continues cycling through settings for her main instrument, her ever-broadening palette could deepen what she’s able to impart to those adventurous enough to follow her swelling talents.

Anat Cohen & Fred Hersch

Live In Healdsburg
(Anzic)

Anat Cohen and Fred Hersch are two of the world’s finest improvising artists—tasteful, thoughtful and fluid musicians who follow their muses while creating breathtaking music.

When they toured as a duo in 2016, that beauty was on full display with the give-and-take facility of two friends having a deep conversation about the world. Thankfully, that music has been captured for the ages and presented on Live In Healdsburg, recorded on June 11, 2016, at the Healdsburg Jazz Festival in Healdsburg, California. With Hersch on piano and Cohen on clarinet, this is an intimate album that invites the listener in on a thousand little secrets of lyrical nuance and magical interplay. Listen closely to songs like Hersch’s “Child’s Play” for a lesson on the power of ... listening. Cohen takes the volume of her instrument so low, she barely makes a sound, as Hersch follows with the quiet plunking of a single note in response. They weave the movement into a slowly building, tag-you’re-it, call and response befitting the music’s title. It’s one part laid-back, one part exhilarating.

During this eight-song set, the duo plays two other terrific Hersch tunes, “A Lark” and “Lee’s Dream,” as well as Cohen’s classically bluesy “The Purple Piece.” Both are wonderful songwriters, but they also know how to dig into the jazz songbook. Billy Strayhorn’s “Isfahan” sparkles with quirky lyricism. Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz” serves as an opportunity for Cohen and Hersch to play a little game of serve and volley, improvising in, over and through the tune’s melody. The Jimmy Rowles classic “The Peacocks” is this album’s true “wow” moment, an enduring portrait of restraint and longing handled with incredible grace and insight. The set closes with a slow-tempo, closing-time version of Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo.” It’s a smile-and-a-sigh trip into the heart of what makes jazz great.

Live In Healdsburg is like having coffee with an old friend: It wraps itself around your ears and reminds you there is so much beauty in the world. This would be a great show to see live. Cohen and Hersch will play at New York’s Jazz Standard on May 8, and at the Lensic Performing Arts Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on May 31. Here’s hoping they add more dates.

Jared Gold

Reemergence
(Strikezone)

Most jazz fans have encountered the unfortunate scenario of being thrilled by the names on an album cover but then being disappointed by the music. That is definitely not the case with the new leader project from Jared Gold, which showcases the versatile organist and his all-star band: guitarist Dave Stryker, drummer Billy Hart and trumpeter Jeremy Pelt. Stryker, who also produced the album, has a 14-year history with Gold, and his simpatico rapport with the organist spices up the proceedings, as each musician frequently adds clever coloration when the other is unleashing a sturdy solo. Hart—whose subtle brushwork is just as mesmerizing as his powerful stick-work in this program—demonstrates the mastery that has made him a legend. Pelt, who adds potent brass to three tracks, elevates this disc: Without him, these sessions might have yielded a memorable trio disc, but with him on board, the result is one of the strongest straightahead discs of the year thus far.

This band certainly can burn, as evidenced by the title track (which was penned by the leader), but a poignant reading of The Beatles’ “She’s Leaving Home” reflects Gold’s ability to tug at the listener’s heartstrings with a melancholy mood. Gold has curated a wonderful, eclectic program that features two Gershwin tunes (“It Ain’t Necessarily So,” “How Long Has This Been Going On”), Ornette Coleman’s “Blues Connotation,” Stevie Wonder’s “Lookin’ For Another Pure Love” (from 1972’s Talking Book) and “One For John A,” a swinging, original tribute to the late guitar icon John Abercrombie, with whom the organist worked for years. Gold and Stryker can ignite fireworks at will, but on this rendition of “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” both musicians coax a vocal timbre out of their respective axes. Nicely done, gentlemen.

Jim Snidero & Jeremy Pelt

Jubilation! Celebrating Cannonball Adderley
(Savant)

Alto saxophonist Jim Snidero and trumpeter Jeremy Pelt share a deep appreciation for the canon of Cannonball Adderley, the hard-bop/soul-jazz icon who died in 1975 at age 46. Their devotion to that legacy is on full display on Jubilation! Celebrating Cannonball Adderley, where they’re joined by pianist David Hazeltine, bassist Nat Reeves and drummer Billy Drummond in a quintet that recalls the hard-swinging groups the alto-playing Adderley co-led with his cornet-playing brother Nat starting in 1957.

Cannonball Adderley’s music balanced sophistication and serious chops with joyful spirit and soulful earthiness. Snidero, Pelt and company celebrate that vibe and contribute to its continuum on the straightahead jazz timeline with this blissful new release, mixing their interpretations of the classic Adderley repertoire with originals. The album opens with Pelt’s “Party Time,” a feel-good groove that reveals the quintet’s easygoing chemistry and provides the first of many opportunities for the instrumentalists to stretch out with strong individual solo statements.

The group then dives deep into the Adderley catalog, putting their personal spin on “Del Sasser” (from Adderley’s 1960 album Them Dirty Blues), “Wabash” (from 1959’s Cannonball Adderley Quintet In Chicago) and the Frank Perkins/Mitchell Parish ballad “Stars Fell On Alabama” (also from the Chicago album), which features Snidero at his laid-back best. Other highlights include “Sack Of Woe” (from 1960’s Cannonball Adderley Quintet At The Lighthouse), Snidero’s “Ball’s 90th” (marking Cannonball’s milestone anniversary this year) and “Work Song,” a major Nat Adderley-penned hit from the 1960 album of the same name.

Jubilation! Celebrating Cannonball Adderley offers something for hard-bop aficionados and soul-jazz fans alike. It honors an esteemed DownBeat Hall of Famer whose music perpetually satisfies and whose example continues to inspire serious, fun-loving players like Snidero and Pet.

Andrea Brachfeld

If Not Now, When?
(Jazzheads)

In the promotional materials for her new album, the flutist Andrea Brachfeld says, “If you want to play jazz, you have to be able to get the articulation of Charlie Parker, to make the instrument sound like a trumpet or saxophone. With a lot of flute players, I don’t hear those articulations.”

As evidenced on If Not Now, When?, Brachfeld’s playing has a muscular flair and bite. She’s not here merely to make “pretty” flute music; she’s here to dig deep. (Eric Dolphy was an early influence.) But that’s not to say she’s incapable of crafting the type of romanticism that many fans traditionally have expected from a flutist. For Brachfeld, a beautiful timbre is not enough; a pleasant tone must be in service of an engaging instrumental narrative. A great example is “Deeply I Live,” which combines Brachfeld’s lovely, breathy lines with an intricate flurry of boppish fury, as well as fine solos from bassist Harvie S and drummer Jason Tiemann—and, most importantly, compositional acumen. The 10-minute, multi-part tune conveys a sonic journey and demonstrates the compositional chops that earned Brachfeld a grant from Chamber Music America’s 2017 New Jazz Works program (funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation). The grant provided a boost that helped her complete this album, which features nine original songs and a splendid rendition of “Amazing Grace.”

The band also includes Brachfeld’s longtime collaborator Bill O’Connell (piano), who augments the leader’s elegant sense of drama, merging thrilling escapades with carefully placed respites. In one portion of “Anima Mea,” Brachfeld plays at a slower tempo than her bandmates, building a dramatic arc of musical tension that is resolved in brilliant fashion. This band’s balance of taut cohesion and adventurous improvisation is mighty impressive.

On May 18 (the date of the album’s release), Brachfeld, O’Connell, Tie