May 2 2016
Well, I’m gonna keep this intro short and forgo my normal stand-up routine bit, too. Everything is settled in the new digs, old music discovery routines are re-established, and the recommendations are practically writing themselves after a long absence. There’s a huge backlog of music to get to in the next few months, and while playing catch-up is tricky business, there’s too much good music to do otherwise.
We’ve got a nice ten-pack of recommendations for you today, so dust off your ears, flip the on switch and get to listening.
*** Album of the Week ***
The Watershed – Inhale/Exhale (Self-Produced)
A seriously intriguing album from the quartet of multi-reedist Christophe Panzani, guitarist Pierre Perchaud, drummer Karl Jannuska and Tony Paeleman on anything with keys. Songs alternate between sharp acerbity and dreamy tranquility. Guitarist Perchaud has been highlighted on this site a number of his times for his ability to conjure up the latter quality, so it’s nice to see him really light a fire under a song and etch it with burn marks. The one track that deviates from the one-to-one track ratio of edgy to peaceful is the title track, which hits both states within the front and back covers of the song. “Bright Sun” is all kinds of catchy, and shows how simple tunefulness can cut a wide path between opposing perspectives. A very cool album and a very easy pick as Album of the Week.
*** Also Featured This Week ***
Gavin Templeton – Ballast (Orenda Records)
It’s really not enough to say that alto saxophonist Gavin Templeton paints the melody in broad brush strokes, because there are plenty of times on his latest that he tosses the brush aside and just begins pouring straight from the bucket. Even the rare ballad like “Tether” displays an appealing looseness of form that instills a vagueness as to whether the heart in question is in love, broken irreparably or just plain bleeding out. But mostly what you’re gonna get on this one is wildly expressive tunes that can barely contain themselves as they tell their story. Joining the alto saxophonist are pianist Joshua White, bassist Richard Giddens and drummer Gene Coye.
Christopher Zuar Orchestra – Musings (Sunnyside Records)
Big fat beautiful harmonies are the big draw on this big band session, but it’s the way composer Christopher Zuar gets them to dance on the head of a pin that marks it as something special. He isn’t always successful; there are some missteps (so to speak), but even those moments that radiate less grace than their counterparts have plenty to offer by way of excitement. The orchestra is loaded with all-star talent… names like Brian Landrus, Alan Ferber, Pete McCann, Matt Holman, Jason Rigby, Lucas Pino (among many others)… who’ve earned repeated mentions on this site. This is the kind of album that confidently leaps off a cliff on the first note and immediately sets to flying.
John Raymond – Real Feels (Shifting Paradigm)
This trio set from the flugelhorn of John Raymond, guitarist Gilad Hekselman and drummer Colin Stranahan generates some strong undercurrents of electricity and tension, and harnesses it with admirable restraint. There is something deliciously elusive about the banter maintained by the trio, and it’s the way their three instruments sometimes speak in unison but, more often than not, weave together conversational asides, murmurs and shouts, stream of conscious phrasings and definitive thesis statements in a massively jumbled yet strangely coherent presence. Of note, “I’ll Fly Away” has an old-school Frisellian influence to it, simultaneously contemplative and chipper and the smoky rendition of “Scarborough Fair” gets seriously evocative. Really can’t call this a “horn album” or a “guitar album,” etc… all three musicians are given the space to speak far and wide on this solid recording.
Lucien Dubuis, Barry Guy, Alfred Vogel – Heavy Metal Rabbit (Boomslang)
All kinds of personality to this trio session of bass clarinetist Lucien Dubuis, bassist Barry Guy and drummer Alfred Vogel. Their conversational habits are rarely straight-forward, but all three musicians have immersed themselves in their individualistic craft of dialog, and it’s why their loopy melodies and unpredictable rhythmic outbursts are relatively easy to connect with. That said, there’s nothing normal about this music, and so when you walk in the front door of track number one and think, what did I just get myself into, don’t distress, it’ll all start making sense pretty quickly.
Will Bernard – Out & About (Posi-Tone Records)
What’s especially nice about the new one from guitarist Will Bernard is how his clipped melodic phrases attain such a fluid motion when riding atop the grooves and jams on this nifty post-bop quintet session. Some tracks have an almost airy presence as they build a rhythmic trail that perpetually doubles back on itself to build intensity skyward. Other tracks just get right into the thick of it and take that groove out for a cool stroll. Then there’s other tracks that slip into some old-school blues swing, deftly walking the dividing line between a casual ease and brisk motion. And that line-up of saxophonist John Ellis, bassist Ben Allison, organist Brian Charette and drummer Allison Miller… that’s not a band, that’s a fantasy sports team where Bernard held the first four picks in the draft.
Allison Au Quartet – Forest Grove (Self-Produced)
Likable quartet session from alto saxophonist Allison Au, bassist Jon Maharaj, drummer Fabio Ragnelli and Todd Pentney on all things keys. This is straight-ahead jazz here, though it’s a little from this and a little from that. When the straight-ahead form of expression is in the modern camp, the compositions reflect some nice artistry… but when the influence is the straight-ahead of the past, well, there’s nothing wrong with those tracks, but they don’t nearly stand out like their modern counterparts. Tracks like “Tides” and “Deluge” are where you’re gonna want to focus your attention.
Nolatet – Dogs (Royal Potato Family)
Tuneful set from vibraphonist Mike Dillon, pianist Brian Haas, bassist James Singleton and drummer Johnny Vidacovich. The rhythmic element is what’s gonna grab your ear, but it’s how they go about embedding melodic threads in that foundation that kicks this album up a notch or three. Another welcome characteristic of this recording is that, though built on the back of percussion, the quartet doesn’t rely just with a focus on the fireworks displays. Instead, they adopt an unassuming delivery on many tracks… one that feels more like gently falling rain than getting smacked in the face with a thunderstorm. It serves the album well, and it’s why this lively music could be your soundtrack for a get-up-and-go day or one spent kicking back in relaxation.
Avataar – Petal (Self-Produced)
Real easy to warm up to this tuneful recording from the ensemble led by saxophonist Sundar Viswanathan. It’s a nice mix of modern jazz, ambient fusion and Indian musics. The end result is a kind of vague World Jazz a la world jazz trailblazers Oregon… but much like the Oregon ensemble, Avaatar bursts with all kinds of personality, some of it quite magnetic. The rhythmic approach develops a nice chatter, but keeps to a casual demeanor, which is why so much of this music has a peaceful ring. The up-tempo “Monsoon” gets closer to a pop music sound than is advisable, but even that questionable tune stays within the boundaries of album cohesion. Felicity Williams’ wordless vocals are applied with a nice touch and definitely add a welcome textural layer to an album that’s got plenty to offer.
Turn – Waiting For Fred (Double Moon Records)
This trio of pianist Jonathan Hofmeister, bassist Florian Herzog and drummer Jan F. Brill is at its most interesting when they toy with tempo and shape the sense of time. It’s the kind of thing that keeps the ear on its toes, and where the characteristic of unpredictability reveals itself as a valuable commodity on an album that doesn’t actually try to do too much. That said, when the trio settle into a melody, things get all shades of pretty, with the side benefit of a welcome change of pace.
Have a great time digging through the list!
And remember, it’s simple: You like what you like.