This Is Jazz Today: John Chin, New Focus, Kalle Kalima, Billy Hart and Ashley Kurkjian



John Chin – Fifth (Self-Produced)

It’s particularly enjoyable how pianist John Chin rolls out different facets of the album’s personality one at a time, and how over its duration, it slowly rounds out the composite whole.  There’s the jaunty “Edda” and its autumn-in-the-park crispness of color and the post-bop heat of “The Chase” and the moonlight serenade of “Still Water” and the space travel tune “Trajectory” and a handful of solo improvisations to boot, and none of it seems out of sorts with its counterparts.  This is straight-ahead jazz, even when it isn’t.  Chin gets his point of view out there, and when the vagaries of its personality tosses up a curveball, the abiding vision eclipses the temporary changes and the whole thing just snaps into place.  Footnote:  The song “I Won’t Argue With You” is sublime… a simple, but heartfelt tune that’s worth the price of admission alone.

Your album personnel:  John Chin (piano, Fender Rhodes), Stacy Dillard (soprano sax), Lawrence Leathers (drums), Spencer Murphy (bass) and Tivon Pennicott (tenor sax).

Artist site | Buy:  Bandcamp


New Focus – New Focus on Song (Whirlwind Recordings)

The duo of Konrad Wiszniewski and Euan Stevenson and their New Focus project return with a follow-up to their excellent 2012 self-titled release with something that embraces the melodies as tightly as possible.  And where their previous recording was just as reliant on the presence of thick melodies, it was utilized more often as a launching point into classical and jazz expressions.  But their newest takes a more direct route and expresses the melodies with a songbird delivery and shades them far closer to pop territory than before.  The result is a set of delightful tunes, and when combined with the return of the Glasgow String Quartet, it reveals a sweet personality, so very easy to warm up to.

Your album personnel:  Euan Stevenson (piano), Konrad Wiszniewski (tenor & soprano saxophones, clarinet, low D whistle), Andrew Robb (double bass), Alyn Cosker (drums, percussion) and The Glasgow String Quartet of William Chandler (violin), Jacqueline Speirs (violin), Ian Budd (viola) and Betsy Taylor (cello).

Artist site | Listen | Buy:  Bandcamp – Amazon – eMusic


Kalle Kalima – High Noon (ACT Music)

This country-jazz session from guitarist Kalle Kalima is very much in the spirit of Bill Frisell’s Nashville.  Kalima knows how to take a well-known tune and put a nifty spin on it, making it both personal and personable.  Speaking of Frisell, this session’s bassist, Greg Cohen, is a Frisell collaborator, so that couldn’t have hurt getting the right feel.  On the other hand, drummer Max Andrzejewski is involved in a bunch of oddball projects throughout the various European scenes, so it’s interesting to hear a different facet of his sound.  Plenty of warmth on this one, and several renditions that got a smile out of me.

Your album personnel:  Kalle Kalima (guitar), Greg Cohen (double bass) and Max Andrzejewski (drums).

Artist site | Listen | Buy:  Amazon


Billy Hart & the WDR Big Band – The Broader Picture (Enja Yellowbird)

When a big band is able to express the melody with such a delicate touch… as if a huge statement were made in a thought bubble… that contrast of huge sound and contemplative tone is the kind of thing that hits both head and heart.  It’s an emotional voltage that inspires all kinds of introspective musings.  There’s a welcome undercurrent of moodiness in tracks like “Song For Balkis” and “Lullaby for Imke.”  But this is an expressive album that hides not a bit of its personality, like with the shout-to-the-skies euphoria of “Naaj” and “Imke’s March,” where a classic big band presence doesn’t hold back, doesn’t even try to… just lets it all out and is as immediate and charming as a warm, wide smile.  The influence of both Billy Hart and Christophe Schweizer is evident throughout, as both artists have a proven history of excelling in projects that call for the generous use of silence or its total annihilation.

Your album personnel:  Billy Hart (drums, compositions), Christophe Schweizer (conductor & arranger) and the WDR Big Band.

Artist site | Listen | Buy:  Amazon


Ashley Kurkjian’s Different Era – Different Era (Self-Produced)

The debut EP from saxophonist Ashley Kurkjian is about what you’d expect from someone with the college experience (in this instance, Humber College) still part of their orbit… a number of different influences inform the recording, and there is an attempt to somehow get them all to fit into the same limited space.  So it’s not surprising that Different Era skips around and sounds like it’s trying to do too much.  It’s also pretty forgivable, especially in the context of there being several strong moments in the brief duration of this EP’s three tracks.  When the ensemble sticks to the peaceful end of the spectrum, they are at their strongest, and those that weave together elements of chamber and modern jazz shine particularly bright.  It’s a promising glimpse of what else may come from Kurkjian, and I wanted to a give it a brief mention as something to have on your radar.

Your album personnel:  Ashley Kurkjian (woodwinds), Daniel Stefan (tenor sax), Jordan Tunney (trumpet, flugelhorn), Nat Lazzarotto (trombone), Corey Clark (guitar), Milan Kozovski (bass) and Jose Hernandez Garcia (drums).

Artist site | Listen | Buy:  Bandcamp