Nov 17 2015
Nothing quite says “we’re back” like a This Is Jazz Today column. Not for nothing, we’ve got a ton to catch up with. There are lists sitting around here just begging to get mined for the best albums and posted up on this site. We’ll get to them all, which means you’ll get ’em all, which means there’s a lot of music for all of us to listen to.
Just a crazy mix of sounds representing today’s column, and any attempt to generalize is a de facto attempt at sounding insane. Not even gonna bother with a stand-up routine today. Too much work ahead of us.
*** This Week’s Feature Album ***
Orrin Evans – The Evolution of Oneself (Smoke Sessions)
A perfect example of how an artist can deliver a wide-ranging series of expressions while remaining the entire time on a small patch of ground. This excellent trio set from pianist Orrin Evans, bassist Christian McBride and drummer Karriem Riggins hits notes that are straight-ahead, traditional and modern both, while also getting in expressions that take paths through R&B, hip hop, country and pop music territories. The thing of it all is that there’s no mistaking it coming from the same creative breath. Evans is one of the top pianists on the scene, and his newest further cements that position. Of no little importance, I might add, is that this recording breaks from the typical Smoke Sessions Records mold to a certain degree. This is a good thing. While Smoke Sessions Records has been a fantastic addition to the jazz label landscape, and pretty much all of their releases thus far have been solid through-and-through, with a few exceptions, there is an abiding homogeneity to those recordings. Again, not a criticism. But it’s nice to hear a release that isn’t cut from the same cloth. The album is bookended by three very cool, very different renditions of the standard “All the Things You Are,” and it really speaks to the album’s personality. That said, their version of “Wildwood Flower,” with Marvin Sewell sitting in on guitar, is an astonishing re-envisioning of the traditional folk song. But this album isn’t in short supply of astonishing moments.
*** Also Featured This Week ***
Get the Blessing – Astronautilus (Naim Jazz)
The Get the Blessing quartet is back with a solid follow-up to their breakout 2014 release Lope and Antilope, one of the very best things released that year. What really jelled for them on their previous recording was the way they were able to dive head-first into each melody in ways they hadn’t previously, while managing to incorporate their talent for thick, delightful grooves that could dance in the small space of the slightest nuance. Astronautilus sees the quartet leading out again with the grooves, but this time around the melodies thrive within rather than light the path. It’s an interesting twist to a similar story, and the result is more than a little bit fun. I’ll be posting a more lengthy write-up later this week, but for now, just dig in.
John Ellis & Double-Wide – Charm (Self-Produced)
All kinds of soul radiating from the newest from tenor saxophonist Ellis, and it’s just a question of whether the next expression will be thick with the blues or hopping around like it’s halfway through the night and it’s time to kick the celebration up another gear. For this session, Ellis pulls together a very strong quintet of trombonist Alan Ferber, organist/pianist Gary Versace, drummer Jason Marsalis and Matt Perrine on sousaphone. Sometimes the easy swaying music speaks to a New Orleans seaside patio and sometimes it echoes the warmth & groove of late-night NYC nightclubs, but no matter the geographical imagery the music elicits, this is an album that makes its mark in its motion and the way that motion lets all the soulfulness come pouring on out. So good.
Vula Viel – Good is Good (Self-Produced)
The most striking aspect of this ridiculously fun album is how some of the tracks, based on funereal music, still jump into the air with a joyful euphoria… a characteristic not unlike some traditional New Orleans jazz. Led by Bex Burch and her gyil (a Dagaare xylophone made of sacred lliga wood), this septet comprised of all-stars from the UK scene sets a foundation of Dagaare folk music, which they weave jazz, pop and electronica elements into through and through. Saxophonist George Crowley, keyboardist Dan Nicholls and vibraphonist Jim Hart have made repeat appearances in this column, and their presence on this recording is a good sign. Melodies are catchy as hell, but it’s the way they bounce up, down and all around on the surface of the rhythms that is most likely to delight. Cool stuff.
Mary Halvorson – Meltframe (Firehouse 12)
There’s an argument to be made that guitarist Mary Halvorson is the most divisive musician in jazz today. Listeners of her music fall into one of two groups. There’s those who hear her music and believe her to be a genius before her time and those who hear her music and immediately recoil and demand that somebody, anybody turn it off. And then there’s the second group, the sane group, that when they hear her music, they just don’t know what to make of it. I count myself as a member of that second group. Well, most of the time anyway. Her album Illusionary Sea received a slot on this site’s Best of 2013 list, and that was well earned, but that qualifies more as the exception than the rule when it comes to my ears. Her newest is a solo guitar project originally intended to give her unique take on jazz standards, but instead evolved into renditions of compositions of a (relatively) more recent vintage. So, among the composer credits, you’ll see names like Chris Lightcap, Tomas Fujiwara, and Roscoe Mitchell alongside more typical influences such as McCoy Tyner and Duke Ellington. What does it sound like? Well, it sounds like a Halvorson recording. There’s strangely captivating passages of unsteady tranquility, there’s the grind and crunch of electric overdrive, there’s the tongue-tied fretboard runs of the cerebral puzzle challenges, and I dare you to tell me that any of it makes any sense to you. I haven’t even decided if I like this recording, but, like so many of Halvorson’s recordings, there’s the undeniable truth that it makes me feel plenty, and any time an artist is able to generate such a sincere, immediate reaction, that’s a quality that should never be undervalued. So, as long as Halvorson keeps doing that to me, I’ll keep mentioning her new albums in these columns, no matter how incomprehensible I may find the recording at the time.
I embedded the Chris Lightcap composition “Platform,” originally on his excellent album Deluxe.
Ramiro González Quintet – Sonata para el Bebé Colibrí (Self-Produced)
This one emanates a real strength from within, even as it sometimes delivers the music with a casual touch. Saxophonist Ramiro González touches upon Coltrane’s mid-period Impulse Records sound, where form and structure coexisted peacefully with formlessness and flirtations with chaos. It’s why much of this recording remains unmistakably contemplative in nature even as it throws out one conflagration after the other. González is one of two saxophonists on the session, and rounds out the quintet with piano, bass and drums. He also brings his Latin music background into the fray, even while keeping the music in that pocket situated between hard-bop and avant-garde… not unlike the direction Gato Barbieri was taking back in ESP-Disk days. This venture, too, is a successful one.
Torbjørn Sletta Jacobsen Kvintett – Biting Tails (Curling Legs)
Really enjoyable Nordic Jazz session from saxophonist Jacobsen’s quintet. Strong emphasis on the lyricism with which well-crafted melodies are expressed, allowing conversational tempos to snap right into place.
I recently gave this a much more thorough write-up, so follow THIS LINK to read more.
Grey Wing Trio – Amoroso (Jazzhead)
This one is just swimming in serenity. A trio of pianist Luke Sweeting, trumpeter Ken Allars and drummer Finn Ryan have a tone and temperament for drifting peacefully from first note to last. Even where the trio applies just a little bit of extra pressure on the gas pedal, as they inevitably do on each track, it barely creates a ripple in the prevailing tranquility. This is jazz from Australia, but it’ll appeal to many of you Nordic Jazz fans, especially those who would be happy if Mathias Eick put out a new album every month… that’s the kind of sound you’ll find here.
Fred Hersch – Solo (Palmetto)
This solo set from veteran pianist Hersch features renditions from a lot of familiar names: Jobim, Monk, Robert Schumann, Jerome Kern and even Joni Mitchell. But the sense of familiarity that is most striking about this lovely recording is the singular sound developed by Hersch over a lifetime of playing. This album is unlikely to fool anyone versed in his music on a blindfold test, which, for a Fred Hersch recording, is a pretty good reason to gravitate to it. Need something to fill the air with sound on a sublime Sunday morning? Go scoop this one up.
Jacob Garchik – Ye Olde (Self-Produced)
A new album, a new theme for trombonist Jacob Garchik. Following up on his excellent solo trombone recording The Heavens: The Atheist Gospel Trombone Album (which received a slot on this site’s Best of 2012 list), Garchik brings in three guitarists (Brandon Seabrook, Mary Halvorson, Jonathan Goldberger) and drummer Vinnie Sperrazza to fulfill his vision of a band of wanderers exploring a strange alternate-universe New York City.
I recently gave this a much more thorough write-up, so follow THIS LINK to read more.
Matteo Bortone – Time Images (Auand)
Quirky album from bassist Bortone, who presents something of a collage where sharp angles, massive clutter and well-timed melodic jabs all cohabit the same space. Of interest, however, is when the clash of those elements create disturbances in the fabric of the music, and the resulting tension formed as the ear waits to see how it all shakes out. Joining Bortone on this recording are multi-reedist Antonin-Trio Hoang, drummer Ariel Tessier, and guitarist Francesco Diodati, whose name pops up in the column a couple times a year every year.
Have a great time digging through the list!
And remember, it’s simple: You like what you like.