Recommended: Ran Blake – “Ghost Tones: Portraits of George Russell”

June 23, 2015


Ran Blake - "Ghost Tones"Ran Blake utilizes a skewed paradigm for his tribute album in honor of the music of George Russell.  On Ghost Tones, the pianist emphasizes the spirit of the Russell’s music more than the compositions themselves, sometimes even to the point where the renditions of some Russell compositions sound more reminiscent of their counterparts than the song being performed at the time.  It’s a holistic approach to an artist’s body of work, and it gets to where an admirable irrelevance is achieved as to whether a particular album track happens to be a George Russell composition or a Ran Blake original.

Case in point:  The Russell composition “Living Time” sees Blake in septet formation and charging ahead as the embodiment of tunefulness through sheer force of will, and yet the song structure and the impressionist flair during the solos kicks out a hazy picture that contrasts beautifully with the tempo’s clear focus.  “Biography,” on the other hand, a Blake original, flirts with an edge of space/cusp of nightmare quality that emanates from certain Russell recordings.  Both songs, in their way, honor both the music and the spirit of the tribute’s subject.

Other standout tracks:

“Alice Norbury” has all the shiny ingredients for a comforting soundscape, but Blake fashions the song into dangerous shards and offers, instead, an icy edge.

The cadence of “Jack’s Blues” tries to reflect an optimistic outlook, but the melodic incursions reveal a profound sadness simmering beneath the surface of things.

Violin and pedal steel get into the mix for the “Ballad of Hix Blewitt,” and it becomes a question of how much beauty of listener’s heart can hold before it breaks in two.

The shift between solo pieces and those with accompaniment flows nicely from track to track, providing welcome variation in tone and temper over the course of the recording.

Really just a fascinating album, possessing an impressive mix of intelligence and emotional punch.

Your album personnel:  Ran Blake (acoustic piano, Casio Priva PX-310 electric piano), Peter Kenagy (trumpet), Aaron Hartley (trombone), Doug Pet (tenor sax), Eric Lane (piano, Nord Electro, Fender Rhodes), Jason Yeager (piano), Ryan Dugre (guitar), Dave Fabris (pedal steel guitar), Rachel Massey (violin), Brad Barrett (acoustic & electric basses), David Flaherty (drums, timpani), Charles Burchell (drums, timpani, vibraphone) and Luke Moldof (electronics).

Released on A-Side Records.

Visit the artist site.

Listen to another album track on Soundcloud.

Available at:  CDBaby | Amazon


Recommended: Josh Nelson – “Exploring Mars”

April 16, 2015


Josh Nelson - "Exploring Mars"Exploring Mars is pianist Josh Nelson’s ode to the Red Planet, inspired by science, stories and space travel.  Opening track “Bradbury’s Spirit,” gets right to the heart of the matter.  Gentle but urgent guitar and brushwork is set to a reading from Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, reflecting the undercurrent of tension and fear united with the free-spirited adventurism of space exploration.  That Nelson marries fictional text with instrumentals mirroring the abstract, but very real big-picture emotions associated with the subject of space and space travel is an impressive feat.  It’s also a method that he uses to great effect throughout this excellent recording.

There’s a giddy anticipation to “Sojourner,” an emotion that surrounds every aspect of the satellite’s life.  Isn’t that what the engineer who built Sojourner must have felt during its construction?  And what about those at NASA control as it launched up and out of Earth’s orbit, the joy and awe they must have felt?  And those of us who sit at our computer screens and pour over the photos sendt back to Earth… is it not the same for us, too?

Nelson utilizes a deft mix of solo, small & large ensemble, instrumental and vocal pieces.  Solo guitar, piano, and drums & cymbals interludes create varying degrees of ambiance, from unsettled to serene, of glittering stars and red shifting sands.

The love song “How You Loved Me On Mars” is the reminder of the humanity that guides us no matter how far out we venture into space.  This is further accented by Nelson shifting between the spacey sound of electric keyboards and the organic soul of piano.

Considering the subject of space travel is the theme of the recording, it’s especially refreshing to see Nelson use restraint and subtlety as his tools rather than a more cliched approach of grand, melodramatic statements.  The fleet-of-foot “Opportunity” digs into a thick groove, but keeps its motion wound up in a tight focus so that it doesn’t begin to flail wildly and uninhibited.  Closing track “Spirit” is a reprise of the opener, and its catchy skipping cadence is delightfully nuanced.

And then there’s the simple piano & vocals of “How You Loved Me On Mars,” which keeps to the size of a candle flame but resonates as strongly as it would on the darkest of starless nights.  And the solo piano piece “Mars, the Bringer Of War” expresses both joyful and ominous tones in a way that gives the sense of one long continuous breath.

It’s an album with a huge thematic scope and a quirk personality.  Those are two qualities that don’t often work so well together, and rarely does their combination result in a piece as exhilarating as Exploring Mars.  Count it amongst the best released thus far in 2015.

Your album personnel:  Josh Nelson (piano, trumpet, Nord Electro 3), John Daversa (trumpet, EVI), Larry Koonse (guitar), Dave Robaire (bass), Dan Schnelle (drums), Alan Ferber (trombone), Brian Walsh (bass clarinet) and guests: Kathleen Grace (vocals) and Larry Goldings (B3 organ).

Released on Origin Records.

Explore more of Nelson’s music on his Soundcloud page.

Jazz from the Long Beach, California scene.

Available at:  eMusicAmazon


Recommended: Wesseltoft Schwarz Berglund – “Trialogue”

April 14, 2015


Wesseltoft Schwarz Berglund - "Trialogue"The most compelling characteristic of Trialogue, the trio effort of pianist Bugge Wesseltoft, bassist Dan Berglund and computer whiz Henrik Schwarz, is the way in which the prevalent elements of melodic contemplation and rhythmic ebullience feed off one another.  There is a back and forth between the two elements that never allows them to unite at any one moment, and the resulting conflict between the two creates all kinds of tension and imagery to keep the ear riveted.

“Valiant” is the first to delve into those qualities.  The quavering bass arco opening is swept up by the occasional melodic flourishes of piano.  When the tempo finally unfolds, it possesses a slow, almost ponderous gait that does as much to accentuate the atmospherics as it does the shape of the song.

The jaunty cadence of “Headbanger Polka” is instilled with the melody’s sense of urgency, and conversely, the melody adopts a bit of the rhythm’s joyful bounce.  Similarly, “Take a Quick Break” is a matter of shared propulsion.

“Movement 11” continues the symbiosis of urgent melodies and cheerful tempos, but given new life with huge washes of harmony from guest bass trombonist James Kent and a string trio from the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg.  Its counterpart, “Movement Seventeen,” swings in the opposite direction, with tranquility and a coasting tempo ruling the day.

However, the roots of this collaboration extend further back to Wesseltoft’s and Shwartz’s exploration of the places where a Nordic-style jazz serenity come together with highly-charged electronic music.  And so while the album’s final two songs give the impression of a movie that goes in an entirely new and unexpected direction for its conclusion, it’s really not that huge of a surprise.

The first of the album’s final two songs is the electric groove & effects of “This Is My Day.”  It continues the album trend of toying with tempo and slippery cadences, and its use of voice sampling and a near-contemporary jazz sheen present a song that is nothing like anything that preceded it.  The album concludes with a similar approach but a different sound with an intriguing electro-acoustic take on Monk’s “Round Midnight.”  It makes for a more satisfying diversion than “This Is My Day,” which really puts a dent in the album’s cohesion.  Even the album’s opening track, “Interlude,” with its electric fuzziness and hazy atmospherics keeps beneath the album’s enfolding canopy.

But this is a small criticism of an album that provides all types of reasons to dive right in and enjoy.

Your album personnel:  Bugge Wesseltoft (grand piano, rhodes, synthesizers, percussion), Dan Berglund (double bass), Henrik Schwarz (computer, percussion) and guests:  James Kent (bass trombone), Damien Pardeon (violin), Jean-Marc Apap (viola) and Laurence Vautrin (cello).

Released in 2014 by Jazzland Recordings.

Music from Oslo, Norway.

Available at:  Amazon


Recommended: Jean-Marie Machado Danzas – “Lagrima Latina”

March 24, 2015


Jean-Marie Machado - "Lagrima Latina"An album that I’m very taken with lately is Lagrima Latina, the new one from pianist & composer Jean-Marie Machado.  Seeking to highlight the musics of the Mediterranean as well as those that influenced him during his childhood, his compositions are situated firmly in folk music with jazz as just one element of the entire mix.  Three vocalists, Sardinian, Portuguese and French, each add their language to the proceedings, which is backed by the Danzas orchestra.

Machado offers up an abundance of liveliness with this recording, finding ways to develop a big sound by focusing on the tiny details.  The swift transitions between regional influences, and the flow of these changes from track to track leads to a series of thrilling moments.  Possessing a riveting lyricism, the music jumps with enthusiasm and purrs with the sweetest melodic passages.

It’s an album whose beauty develops from its rich personality.  Go scoop this one up.

Your album personnel:  Jean Jacques Machado (piano), Simonetta Soro, Claudia Solal, Sofia Ribeiro (voices), Antonio Placer (poetic libretto), Didier Ithurssary (accordion), Jean-Charles Richard (soprano & baritone saxes), Joce Mienniel (flute), François Thuillier (tuba), Cécile Grenier (viola), Claus Stötter (flugelhorn, trumpet) and Stracho Temelkovski (percussion, mandolin).

The album is Self-Produced.

Jazz from the Paris scene.

More listening

Available at:  eMusic | Amazon


Recommended: Bram Weijters – Chad McCullough Quartet – “Abstract Quantities”

February 17, 2015


Bram Weijters, Chad McCullough - "Abstract Quantities"There is a workmanlike quality to the magic this quartet creates with each recording.  Abstract Quantities is the third album from the quartet led by pianist Bram Weijters and Chad McCullough, and much like the two that preceded it (2011’s Imaginary Sketches and 2012’s Urban Nightingale) they go about their job of crafting expert melodies and seamlessly fusing them into place with logical rhythms and harmonies that achieve their function with a remarkable precision.  The result is a series of striking tunes that give the sense of possessing no beginning and no end, and radiating an individuality that draws the focus on the song of the moment with no regard to what has come before and what’s up next.

The album sets a tone immediately with “Billions,” with its rhythmic surges of intensity and a gentle melodic caress, establishing a balance to their influence that borders on perfection.

There’s a captivating way that “Glorious Traffic Jam” switches between tuneful sections that sound perched outside on the church steps and discombobulated passages that sound suddenly broken free from a pressure chamber.

The album also finds room for the moonlight reveries of “Hesitation” and the subtle, but determined undercurrents of “The Same But Different,” as well as the pop song sweetness of “Little Song (for Mirthe)” and the self-reflective “Winter’s Lament.”  And though none of them present themselves as having any connection with one another, the quartet snaps each of those magical little gems into place, side by side, with the skill of an artisan.

There are three short pieces that serve as introductions to the songs that follow them, but each with so much story and so very immensely captivating in the telling, they stand alone as proper songs.

The album ends with the swinging “Acceptance or Denial,” an upbeat tune that seems strangely out of place with the rest of the album, and, thus, just as strangely, serves as a perfect, satisfying choice for a credits roll.

Yet another solid, absorbing album, in what’s becoming a regular thing for this quartet.  This qualifies as their best so far.

Your album personnel:  Bram Weijters (piano, keyboards), Chad McCullough (trumpet), Piet Verbist (bass) and John Bishop (drums).

Released on Origin Arts.

Jazz from the Antwerpen, Belgium and Chicago, IL scenes.

Available at:  Bandcamp | Amazon