Jan 11 2012
Recapping the Best of 2011, featuring: David Braid, Iro Haarla Quintet, Naked Truth, Paul Fox Collective, and Julian Lage.
David Braid – Verge
While many are talking about pianist Craig Taborn’s solo album, it’s worth noting that another excellent solo piano album was released in 2011. Under-the-radar pianist David Braid doesn’t (yet) have the name recognition going in his favor, or the backing of the ECM label (which carries a substantial reach and prestige), but his album Verge is no less deserving of recognition as one of the top albums of 2011, and his name should be getting mentioned in conversations about Jazz’s top pianists. Let’s try to balance the scales here a bit.
Braid seems to have a knack for recording flawless jazz albums full of exuberance and musicality. Two live releases, Zhen and Vivid, display Braid in sextet blowing sessions that embody everything that’s great about a straight-ahead jazz recording: thrilling improvisation, expert musicianship, and fun fun fun compositions. He also recorded Spirit Dance, where he’s joined by Canadian Brass for a set of Braid’s jazz-inspired compositions for piano and brass quintet.
And now he’s offered us Verge, a solo piano recording full of quiet moments that never threaten to elicit drowsiness, dramatic moments that never devolve into cheesiness, and some prepared-piano effects that never come off as gimmicky. It’s a wonderful effort deserving of more attention.
The album is self-produced, fifty minutes of solo piano. Jazz from the Toronto, Canada scene.
A free album track is available at AllAboutJazz, courtesy of the artist.
Available at Amazon: MP3
Iro Haarla – Vespers
Iro Haarla‘s music is just too damn beautiful. The Finnish pianist-harpist follows up on her excellent 2006 release Northbound with Vespers, a series of atmospheric, blissed out tunes that have the sonic effect of making all your worries go away. A tone is set with the opening notes that this is a recording that will reach thrilling heights, but it’ll be a slow unhurried build to get there. It’s a rough challenge she’s put to herself and her ensemble, but Iro proves up to it on an album that’s dripping with talent.
Your album personnel: Iro Haarla (piano, harp), Mathias Eick (trumpet), Trygve Seim (saxophones), Ulf Krokfors (double-bass), and Jon Christensen (drums).
All these guys make strong statements in the Euro-jazz scene, mostly on the ECM label. Mathias Eick has been written up on Bird is the Worm for his 2011 release Skala. If you’re looking for trails of breadcrumbs to discover new jazz, the personnel on this album are a great place to start.
But back to Vespers. These tunes shimmer with an epic beauty, like music filling the air around stained glass churches, out over snow peaked mountaintops. Eick and Seim trade long plaintive notes, reaching upward. Haarla’s piano buoys them up higher and her harp gives them wings. Christensen, who mans the drums on many classic ECM albums, shines here just as bright with his patented restrained touch to percussion comparable to how a soft lullaby can knock a child out cold, and bassist Krokfors keeps things close to the ground with his earthy tone. A beautiful album.
Released on the ECM label.
Naked Truth – Shizaru
Cuong Vu is on a roll these days. In addition to his excellent Leap of Faith, he joins the Naked Truth quartet for a sizzling set of avant-garde tunes. Vu’s trumpet is a singular voice, unlike anyone else on the scene, and I love hearing it juxtaposed against a variety of players, and in this instance, a variety of distinct and unconventional sounds. Walls of electronic effects, free jazz growling over rock flourishes, fiery singular notes peaking through waves of dissonance, resulting in an album that engages engages and engages.
Your album personnel: Cuong Vu (trumpet, electronics), Lorenzo Feliciati (guitar, electric guitar, keyboards, electric bass), Roy Powell (piano, Rhodes, various keyboards), and Pat Mastelotto (drums and percussion).
Quirky keyboard riffs over squiggly electronics, guitar pluck and static, poly-rhythmic battering rams, and Vu’s shuffle and wail trumpet. It’s a collective effort; not a lot of soloing, and everyone pulls their weight to build the tension from beginning to end. This stuff is way out on the fringes of jazz, but that’s insignificant in the face of this fascinating music. When I find music this engaging, that gets in my face and challenges me to try to weed my way through it, mundane topics like genre classification get shuffled to the bottom of the stack.
Released on the Rare Noise Records label, who have a very eclectic stable of musicians, and who offer all types of freebies and streaming opportunities. Well worth exploring their site.
A free album track is available at AllAboutJazz, courtesy of the artists and label.
Available at Amazon: CD | MP3
Paul Fox Collective – Submerging & Emerging
An enchanting set of modern jazz tunes. Very much with one foot in the indie rock tent, with its swirling melodies and rhythmic approach, but I’ve always been a big tent guy when it comes to jazz, so as long as one foot is on jazz territory, I’m all for inclusion. Besides, the sound on this album is becoming more and more commonplace in jazz circles (most notably on Brian Blade’s Season of Changes, which this album compares to favorably), and so it’s becoming an increasingly fuzzy measurement on where Jazz’s “center” is.
Your album personnel: Paul Fox (drums, compositions), Robert Kesternich (piano, Rhodes), Markus Ehrlich (tenor/soprano sax), Maurice Kuehn (bass), Zacharias Zschenderlein (guitar), and Stephanie Neigel (vocals)
Moody sound, but with a fighting spirit. Ehrlich’s sax, with its somber expressive tone, carries the day, but Kesternich on piano strikes some emotionally potent moments throughout. I’m not typically a fan of jazz vocals, but Neigel’s contributions on a few of the songs are quite enchanting and the album would’ve suffered without her. This album came out of nowhere for me, and months after I first heard it, I still relish the times when I see it’s up next in my stereo queue. This is one of those albums that can slip by unnoticed if you’re not careful.
Released on the Jazz ‘n Arts label. Jazz from the Luxembourg scene.
Stream most of the album on Fox’s myspace page.
Download a free album track from AllAboutJazz, courtesy of the artist.
Available at Amazon: MP3
Julian Lage – Gladwell
Guitarist Julian Lage wanted to create a concept album around the fictional town of Gladwell. After hearing the album, I know where I want to take my next vacation. Mixing back porch languor with front porch intrigue, Lage has constructed an abstract vision of this musical town from the soil up to the sky.
Your album personnel: Julian Lage (guitars), Aristides Rivas (cello), Tupac Mantilla (percussion), Jorge Roeder (bass), and Dan Blake (sax).
Lage is his own man on this album, his sound unique on a unique album. If I had to compare to anything, it would be the folk-jazz of Jeremy Udden or perhaps the quasi-bluegrass of Leo Kottke.
Dreamy guitar lines with an undercurrent of cello and hazy sax, choppy percussion the barking of neighborhood dogs on a lazy Sunday afternoon while the bass is the lawn mower off in the distance. Just a fantastic album that delivers the expansiveness of a city skyline and the solitude of a rooftop view of it.
Released on the Emarcy Records label. Jazz from the Boston scene.