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Roll Call: April 24, 2020

I get a lot of music for my consideration, more than 174 new releases so far this year. Almost all of them are notable for something, and I’d like to give them their due. So every week, I’ll do quick hits on the releases of the preceding seven days. it’s a great writing exercise, and a lot of fun, too.

Grdina Marrow Safar-E-DaroonThough it probably wasn’t what he had in mind, Gordon Grdina has certainly earned a break from the pace of his busy spring on the recorded front. Already this year, the Vancouver guitarist/oud player has released three CDs under his own name with three different groups, Nomad, Resist (which I reviewed here) and now Safar-Al-Daroon” from yet another band. This one, called Marrow, features a dark-hued string trio with a couple of New York ringers, bassist Mark Helias and cellist Hank Roberts, and the impressive and versatile young Canadian violinist Josh Zubot. Hamin Honari contributes colorful and propulsive grooves on Persian goblet and frame drums.

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Roll Call, April 22, 2020

I get a lot of music for my consideration, more than 160 new releases so far this year. Almost all of them are notable for something, and I’d like to give them their due. So every week, I’ll do quick hits on the releases of the preceding seven days. it’s a great writing exercise, and a lot of fun, too.

This year’s anniversary of the release of Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew” is a reminder that what was once called jazz-rock fusion music is now 50 years old. That’s a point when many of us start to show our age, but even in middle age, the danceable rhythms, electric instrumentation and virtuoso soloing continue to inspire.

Bartosz Hadala Group European-born players such as Joe Zawinul, John McLaughlin and Jean-Luc Ponty bought early tickets on the fusion train. Polish-born pianist Bartosz Hadala keeps it rolling on Three Short Stories.” His athletic, Toronto-based band touches the usual bases: bigfoot funk, technical  brilliance and pretty balladry. Cuban-born alto saxophonist Luis Deniz adds some welcome spice and drummer Marito Marques locks down the Steely Dan vibe with the Pretty Purdie triplet shuffle feel under Hadala’s playful “Monk’s Unfinished Symphony.” If fusion music has two sides, both earth and sky, body and spirit, “Three Short Stories” honors the former.

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Roll Call, April 21, 2020

I get a lot of music for my consideration, more than 160 new releases so far this year. Almost all of them are notable for something, and I’d like to give them their due. So every week, I’ll do quick hits on the releases of the preceding seven days. It’s fun and it’s a great writing exercise, too.

Young jazz instrumentalists have it relatively easy. When they record, say, “Caravan” or “‘Round Midnight,” they’re competing with everybody who’s recorded those tunes, which is, well, everybody. The jazz singer universe is much smaller, and comparisons, odious though they may be, are easier to make. If a young singer chooses to sing “Strange Fruit,” she’d (most jazz vocal releases I get are by women) had better put her own spin on it.

Leslie Beukelman and Naama Gheber are two young jazz singers who have waded into the deep waters of the Great American Songbook on their most recent records. All 12 songs on Gheber’s “Dearly Beloved are from that ancient well, while Beukelman divides her nine-song program on “Golden Daffodil between five standards and four originals. Neither woman has a “jazz” voice in the mode of Sarah Vaughn, Carmen McRae or Betty Carter. Both approach improvisation and scatting sparingly. Both are backed by excellent piano trios on their self-produced CDs and Gheber adds vibist Steve Nelson on some tracks.

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CD review: Art Hirahara: Balance Point

I’ve got to stop being surprised by Art Hirahara. Every other year since 2014, Posi-Tone Records has released a delightful CD by the Bay Area-born pianist. This year’s Balance Point is the best yet.

Like a younger Kenny Barron, Hirahara is a pianist of freshness and clarity, a sparkling improvisor and a sensitive accompanist who never overplays. His compositions are smart and engaging and have the kind of juicy melodies that no one seems to want to write anymore. So, why on earth is this guy not on more recordings?

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Roll Call – April 10, 2020

I get a lot of music for my consideration, more than 150 new releases so far in 2020. Almost all of them are notable for something, and I’d like to give them their due. I have a lot of time on my hands as my biggest gig, previewing events for a local newspaper, has evaporated. So every week, I’ll do quick hits on the releases of the preceding seven days. It’s fun and as a writing exercise, it’s a great way to learn to make a point quickly and decisively. Like all roll calls, this will proceed in alphabetical order, starting with . . .

John DiMartino - Passion Flower Just like the Tuscan dialect of Dante gradually became the accepted Italian language, the New York style of playing is the NPR accent of mainstream jazz. That doesn’t imply a lack of a recognizable character necessarily. In the right hands,  New York jazz is immediately identifiable for its refinement, urbanity and professionalism. And that’s what you get on pianist John DiMartino‘s Passion Flower (Sunnnyside Records). The 14 Billy Strayhorn compositions are mostly well known (except “Absinthe,” which was new to me at least) and DiMartino’s arrangements avoid needless interventionism. So do bassist Boris Kozlov and tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, who are solid throughout. Drummer Lewis Nash, alert, creative and supremely musical, steals the show. It’s what New York drummers are supposed to do.

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