Feb 21 2016
We’re really getting into the thick of it now. It’s to where there’s just not enough time or space to account for all the great new jazz recordings we’re discovering. As it is, this week’s batch of recommendations is gonna keep all of you busy for awhile… or, at least, until we come up with another This Is Jazz Today for you in just one week’s time.
There’s no way really to summarize or encapsulate this week’s collection. It’s all over the place, hitting pretty much every jazz sub-genre there is… so no matter how wide or deep your preferences are, you’re likely to find something in today’s column that will float your boat.
*** Album of the Week ***
La Resistencia – Eterno Retorno (Discos Pendiente)
Outstanding album by the quintet of trumpeter Sebastián Jordán, tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana, guitarist Nicolás Vera, bassist Pablo Menares and drummer Félix Lecaros. Melodies as thick as clouds and as limitless in the imagery their loveliness incites. Recorded live at January 2015 performance at the Thelonious Jazz Club, the sounds from the crowd and the city bleed into the audio, which, in fact, just add to the personableness of the recording and the intimacy of the music. The up-tempo tunes are all you could ask for if you’re looking for a thrilling ride, but it’s when this ensemble patiently works through a tune that it bleeds all kinds of feel. Emotive and substantive and sincere… this straight-ahead modern jazz session is the kind of reminder that an old form of language can sound brand spanking new in the present day. This was a strong week of new releases, but it was still an easy decision to name this Album of the Week.
*** Also Featured This Week ***
Michael Spiro, Wayne Wallace, La Orquestra Sinfonietta – Canto América (Patois Records)
This album absolutely floors me. With Wayne Wallace’s jazz quintet as its core and joined by La Orquesta Sinfonietta, this large ensemble session incorporates both Afro-Latin and Afro-Caribbean jazz with an orchestra environment… an army of strings, brass, reeds and percussion. Most appealing is how the ensemble meshes the Latin, chamber and jazz elements into one vision while allowing the different influences to shift their weight, each emerging as needed in varying strengths… it creates a sense of constant motion, of sands blowing back and forth on the shore occasionally washed over by the incoming tide. Their rendition of “Afro Blue” is going to remain on my playlist for a very long time. And that intro with the heavy strings? It could warm the entire North Pole.
Trio Da Paz – 30 (Zoho)
Just a wonderful recording from the long-time working trio of guitarist Roberto Lubambo, bassist Nilson Matta and drummer Duduka Da Fonseca. Some bossa nova, some Brazilian samba and a whole ton of richly textured rhythms and thick, warm melodies. Of their many amazing qualities, the thing I find consistently enjoyable from this trio (and, actually, their separate projects) is their ability to express Brazilian music in a fully integrated bop delivery system. There’s a sense of three layers… the Brazilian influence, the bop influence and then the combined effect of each element emphasizing everything so great about its counterpart. Another thing I enjoy about these musicians? The strong musicianship offered up without melodrama or unnecessary fireworks or a pushy look-at-me attitude. Cool, calm and confident in their expressions of creativity. Top shelf music.
Sunna Gunnlaugs & Maarten Ornstein – Unspoken (Self-Produced)
A nice balance of connecting with both heart and head on this duo collaboration between pianist Sunna Gunnlaugs and bass clarinetist Maarten Ornstein. There’s a certain intimacy to this music that makes it easy to embrace, but this is also very cerebral music in that it challenges you to analyze the emergence of its beauty as much as it simply allows you to just sit back and appreciate it for what it is. Renditions of Monk’s “Misterioso” and “Little Rootie Tootie” allow for some playfulness, contrasting nicely with tracks like “Lucky” and title-track “Unspoken,” with their thick imagery built for vivid daydreams. And then there’s the catchy song “Rehavi” with its simply delightful melody that dances with a bit of a flair for fun and formality, bringing together the album’s two qualities into one expression.
Ergo – As Subtle as Tomorrow (Cuneiform)
A strangely alluring album from the trio of trombonist Brett Sroka, pianist Sam Harris and drummer Shawn Baltazor. Rooted in ambient minimalism, this electro-acoustic project has an appealing drifting behavior, but the use of electronics, effects and prepared piano give it all kinds of texture and character and weight. Melodic fragments possessing a jaw-dropping beauty emerge from the cloudy fog of improvisation and formlessness, and this is the source of the album’s undercurrent of tension and outward expressions of beauty. Thankfully, they mix in some upbeat tunes to keep the serenity in check and to keep the ear guessing. I’ve been addicted to this recording since the very first notes introduced themselves to me.
Ken Fowser – Standing Tall (Posi-Tone)
Nice straight-ahead session from the quintet of tenor saxophonist Fowser, trumpeter Josh Bruneau, pianist Rick Germanson, bassist Paul Gill and drummer Jason Tiemann. The album starts out with some hesitant steps, but gains its footing a couple tracks in. The cool blues of “Filling in the Blanks” drawled out with a nifty casual attitude, the hard bop of “Off the Path” with it’s warm embrace and willingness to show it has some teeth are the first indications that the album is gaining some momentum. The ballad “Hanging On” finds the right balance between a light touch and emotional weight and the way “Brick’s Tune” is able to maintain a groove while hyperactively bouncing off the walls echoes the Blue Note Records classic hard bop era. This is the kind of album that grows on ya… imperceptibly at first, but then in great leaps.
Moppa Elliot – Still, Up In the Air (Hot Cup)
I’ll admit right up front that when I’m presented with a solo bass recording, my default position is one of skepticism. This holds true even when it’s a musician like MOPDTK member Moppa Elliott, who has plenty credibility in my eyes. But his new recording is massively hypnotizing. He finds the sweet spot between rhythmic engagement and melodic enchantment. Perhaps no better example of his craftiness on this recording is the track “Sequence Eleven,” where he goes from snow flurries to extended growls to playfully songlike strokes of arco to a gentle, quiet landing that’s practically a drone with a hint of dissonance. Not all tracks go through quite so many changes, but even the tracks that stay steady are just as mindful of the rhythmic-melodic tipping point that marks this intriguing album.
Lenny Sendersky/Tony Romano Quartet – Intersection (LeTo Records)
The thing about this recording from the quartet of alto/soprano saxophonist Sendersky, guitarist Romano, bassist Steve LaSpina and drummer Matt Kane is that, from a compositional standpoint, it’s a relatively straight-ahead recording, but the wrinkle of Romano’s acoustic guitar provides the music the most lovely airy ambiance, so that even during the up-tempo burners, there’s a sense of delicate grace. That goes a long way and resonates a lot stronger than perhaps my words will sufficiently illustrate. But the balance the acoustic guitar provides the thicker presence of saxophone and bass-drums rhythm section really elevates this album up a notch.
Egopusher – Egopusher (Qilin Records)
The duo collaboration between violinist Tobias Preisig and drummer Alessandro Giannelli is out on the fringes of anything resembling jazz. It’s also a very fun and very cool album. Heavy on the electronic effects and offering up all kinds of thick melodies and deep grooves, the two of them jam out on one enjoyable track after the other. I’ve covered Preisig previously. If you want to hear something a bit more straight-ahead from him, read up on Drifting (LINK).
*** Other Albums of Note ***
Myra Melford + Ben Goldberg – Dialogue (BAG Production)
Emphatic duo collaboration between pianist Melford and clarinetist Goldberg. Different tones of conversation are adopted throughout, though each tune displays an eloquent vocabulary and an abiding sparseness… even when the conversation grows most lively. Clipped phrases and high kinetic energy typically rule the day here, but then they exhale out a track like “Moonless Night,” and all that hyperactivity is cloaked by the imagery of a gentle breeze flowing over forest leaves. “Chorale” isn’t representative of the bulk of the recording, but it will end up on your “early morning music” playlist. It’s built for a sunrise.
Swiss Jazz Orchestra – Pools (Mons Records)
Recorded live at the 2015 Jazz Festival Bern, this nifty recording nicely highlights how varied and nuanced this ensemble can get. Just enough pop influence to be catchy, just enough minimalism for a touch of introversion, just enough folk for a salt-of-the-earth demeanor and all the abounding warmth and massive sound you could ask for from a big band. Vibraphonist Matt Mainieri and drummer Peter Erskine guest.
Shun Ishiwaka Band – Clean Up (Somethin’ Cool)
A seriously enjoyable debut from drummer Ishiwaka, whose ensemble sticks mostly to a straight-ahead sound, though sometimes it brings a classic swing and sometimes a modern post-bop edge. One of the many interesting things about this recording is how Ishiwaka suddenly breaks a song down and guts it, as if he were dissecting the anatomy of a bop tune during the performance… then quickly puts it back together as if nothing had happened. They also mix in some freer interludes and some milder nu-jazz fusion tracks (think: Brian Blade Fellowship’s contemplative moments or Pat Metheny’s ambient tunes) and those provide some nice differentiation to the more boisterous tracks. By way of example, “A View From Dan Dan” is about as pretty as it gets.
Daniel García Diego – Alba (Nuba Records)
You gotta appreciate when a young artist takes a huge swing on his or her debut, regardless of how it ends up. On pianist Diego’s Alba, he makes pretty good contact, and the result is a sprawling set of tunes that hit various forms of Latin Jazz, flamenco and modern jazz. There’s straight-ahead tunes fit for any solid piano trio recording, and there’s some fusion tracks that take advantage of a studio’s ability to add electronics and effects, and there’s songs that fall in line with established traditions of folk music. It can be a bit dizzying the way Diego shifts between forms of expression, but that’s part of the fun. Neat album.
Have a great time digging through the list!
And remember, it’s simple: You like what you like.