This Is Jazz Today: The straight-ahead edition


So, taking a look back over the last couple weeks and the music I’ve been writing about, with just a few exceptions, I’ve been hanging out on the fringes of Jazz… or just plain wandering into entirely different territory.  Time to calibrate and get back to the heart of things.  There’ll be no mistaking the music in today’s column for anything other than jazz.  It will sound familiar to you and remind you of the music of the past and trigger all kinds of potent nostalgia and warm memories.  That being said, the only way music is getting featured on this site is if that old language gets spoken as if new.  There’s words, but then there’s the conversational styles and approaches that give those words life and meaning and power.  The artists (and their albums) featured below hit that mark, which is why the music of the past is really the Jazz of Today.

This is Jazz Today.

Let’s begin…


Melissa Aldana – Back Home (Wommusic)

melissa-aldana-back-homeSaxophonist Melissa Aldana has an appealing conversational manner on tenor sax.  There’s a relentless quality to her dialog, a sense that forward momentum is something essential to the lifespan of each note in the stream.  But it’s never something that becomes pushy or so omnipresent that everything else falls off the radar.  That’s an especially big deal on her album Back Home, because she synchs up with a laid back cadence set down by the bass and drums duo of Pablo Menares and Jochen Rueckert, and that contrast of perpetual speed and innate patience is what frames every solo and structures each song in a way that presents a stream-of-conscious flow in a bound framework.

Artist site | Buy:  Amazon


Denny Zeitlin – Early Wayne (Sunnyside)

denny-zeitlin-early-wayneOf the many things to love about the music of Wayne Shorter, one is how the saxophonist was able to focus the intensity in a way that shaped the lyricism, provided it a sharpness and clarity even when his solo seemed to want to counteract those forces.  It’s why a streamlined motion was always there to pull the ear in the right direction even at the peak of getting lost in the thrilling details of a solo.  Pianist Denny Zeitlin captures that same characteristic on his solo take on Shorter’s songbook.  Recorded live at Oakland’s Piedmont Piano Company, Zeitlin summons up some intensity of his own as he launches off into improvisations that often wander far from Shorter’s originals.  The way that the melody of “Juju” keeps wandering back into the frame, each time wearing a different outfit, is particularly enchanting.  So is the heart-on-the-sleeve vulnerability of “Infant Eyes.”  Not your everyday kind of covers album, thank god.

Artist site | Listen | Buy:  AmazonBandcampeMusic


Kris Allen – Beloved (Truth Revolution Records)

Kris Allen - "Beloved"Light on their feet and in synch with each step, the quartet of alto saxophonist Kris Allen, tenor saxophonist Frank Kozyra, bassist Luques Curtis and drummer Jonathan Barber make for enviable dance partners on this solid quartet session.  And while the motion is pretty damn enchanting, it’s the original compositions that are arguably the album’s strength.  So many of these tracks have something familiar about them, as if they could be traced back to performances on classic jazz albums… even though they’re construction is clearly marked by the jazz of the present day.  Really an excellent example of how to make an old language speak like brand spankin’ new.

Artist site | Listen | Buy:  AmazonBandcamp


Michael Dease – Father Figure (Posi-Tone Records)

Michael Dease - "Father Figure"Trombonist Michael Dease can mix things up a little bit, with an affinity for showing how nuanced the concept of straight-ahead jazz can be.  But what’s particularly welcoming about his forays into this area is the genial soulfulness that so much of his music is infused with.  Even when it’s not a Hard Bop tune, it still seems to exude that presence of an enthusiastic hop and wide smile of a melody.  Definitely plenty of that on his newest.  Technically it’s a quintet session with Dease, vibraphonist Behn Gillece, pianist Glenn Zaleski, bassist Endea Owens and drummer Luther Allison, but Markus Howell and Immanuel Wilkins take turns on alto sax for almost all of the tracks, so really the magic number is six.  Good stuff.

Artist site | Buy:  Amazon


The Cookers – The Call of the Wild and Peaceful Heart (Smoke Sessions)

cookers-call-of-the-wild-and-peaceful-heartThat this ensemble of jazz giants continues to breathe new life into a hard bop body of work is more than a little impressive.  Their newest, on the always solid Smoke Sessions, sees them advancing on from an excellent hard bop unit to something that gets more demonstrative in the way it launches off from that form of expression.  There are moments on this recording that break out with a sound from when hard bop was transitioning into freer forms of expression and those that offered up more of an edge than a groove.  But that the septet can shift gears and land plumb with a gorgeous ballad or cheerful bop speaks plenty about how their talents can both incite and tame their sense of adventure.  To those new to jazz, fyi that trumpeters Eddie Henderson and David Weiss, alto saxophonist Donald Harrison, tenor saxophonist Billy Harper, pianist George Cables, bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Billy Hart are all names that will lead you to some of the best jazz you’ll ever hear.

Artist site | Listen | Buy: AmazoneMusic