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Category: CD Reviews

Roll Call: September 11, 2020

I get a lot of music for my consideration, more than 360 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.

Think of Something to Say as a map that leads the listener directly to trombonist Matt Haviland‘s musical heart. He gets you there pretty quick, exploding out of the blocks with Freddie Hubbard’s “Arietis,” the adrenalized hard-bop workout that led off Hubbard’s “Ready for Freddie.” That classic Blue Note session was recorded in 1961, and Johnathan Blake’s muscular, post-Tony Williams drum style excepted, there isn’t much on “Something To Say” that couldn’t have been recorded then, either. That’s not a criticism if hot-blooded solos, slashing heads and Jazz Messengers-style thunder is your thing, as it is mine. Pianist David Kikoski, who absorbed the style with bop master Roy Haynes, sparkles in a brawny rhythm section with bassist Ugonna Okegwo. Haviland came up the way the hard-boppers did, in big bands, and his arrangements have the punch and swagger of beefier ensembles. Like his fellow big band vets, he makes the most of his solo spots, like a furiously uptempo take on Joe Henderson’s “Inner Urge” and the Sinatrian balladry of “Get Out of Town.” The session’s MVP soloist vote, though, goes to Vincent Herring, who’s a firestarter every time he brings his alto to his lips.

 

With Slipknots Through A Looking Glass,” bassist Eric Revis has delivered one of the year’s most quietly devastating releases. It’s not like we couldn’t see this coming. In every way it’s an extension, maybe an elaboration, of a direction he’s documented on five probing releases for Portugal’s Clean Feed label. Gathering the saxophonists Darius Jones and Bill McHenry from 2014’s “In Memory of Things Yet Seen” and drummer Chad Taylor, also on that session as well as 2017’s “Sing Me Some Cry,” casts “Slipknots” as the latest installment in an ongoing project. Pianist Kris Davis, on whose Pyroclastic label “Slipknots” appears, also returns from “Sing Me” and was on two other Revis-led Clean Feeds. That’s a lineup with no shortage of soloistic firepower, and the saxophonists unleash it on the scouring, frankly ugly duel that blazes up on “Shutter.” But “Slipknot” is ultimately an ensemble record, one shot through with shimmering, sometimes phantasmagoric textures, many created by Davis’ liberal use of prepared piano. At times, Revis’ compositions recall Ronald Shannon Jackson’s 1980s Decoding Society in the slippery dreamlike way that unison horn lines wander in as if from another composition in a different rhythm (is it a coincidence that Ron St. Germain, who engineered for Jackson, was at the dials for “Slipknots?”). Like Jackson’s underappreciated bands and the Surrealist visual art he admires, Revis creates music that holds multiple realities in the same space, and it makes “Slipknots Through A Looking Glass” feel like a culmination.

 

Vancouver-born pianist Cat Toren titled her new CD “Scintillating Beauty,” a quote from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham City Jail. There’s beauty here in abundance, but it’s more shimmering than scintillating. Still, don’t let titles such as “Radiance in Veils,” “Rising Phoenix” and “Garment of Destiny” (the latter from another King quote) fool you, though. This isn’t a dreamy, New-Age session, nor a rehash of loopy spiritual-jazz ethereality. Sure, “Radiance” might begin in a “1001-Nights” cloud of oud (Yoshie Fruchter), chimes and piano arpeggios, but when Xavier Del Castillo‘s tenor saxophone shifts from whispered mantras to tumbling, hortatory expression, the breadth of Toren’s vision becomes apparent. “Garment” follows a similar trajectory that eventually veers toward freedom (though never collapsing into chaos), and “Phoenix,” with its big build toward a luminous, “sunrise” theme, recalls Coltrane at his most ecstatic. Toren and her supple New York band, which also includes bassist Jake Leckie and Matt Honor on drums, is on to something new here: call it spiritual jazz for the head as well as the heart.

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Roll Call: September 4, 2020

I get a lot of music for my consideration, more than 345 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.

Trumpeter Michael Sarian was born in Toronto to Armenian parents, grew up in Buenos Aires and has lived in New York since 2012. Yet his sound is closest to lyrical European players such as Enrico Rava, Tomasz Stanko and Kenny Wheeler.

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Roll Call Extra: Big Band Edition, Sept. 4, 2020

I get a lot of music for my consideration, more than 345 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.

Yesterday I wrote about the gusher of big band recordings that have been an unlikely feast in this summer of musical famine. Now to the tastiest of them, which is also perhaps the most substantial.

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Roll Call: Big Band Edition, Sept. 3, 2020

I get a lot of music for my consideration, more than 325 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.

Labor Day is this weekend and the prospect of hearing ensemble jazz of any kind seems very far away. When the ensemble crowds more than a dozen players onto the bandstand, most of them playing instruments activated by the breath, big band performances are likely to be the last to return.

Yet at a moment when things couldn’t get much stranger or more ironic, here comes one of the richest crops of big band recordings in a long time.

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Roll Call: August 28, 2020

I get a lot of music for my consideration, more than 325 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.

Scientists place the origin of the Romany people in Rajasthan in the northwest of the Indian subcontinent. In this context, one might view Rez Abbasi’s Django-shift as the latest in a series of interrogations of the guitarist’s South Asian heritage with musicians such as pianist Vijay Iyer, saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa and vocalist Kiran Ahluwalia, his partner. But Django Reinhardt, a Belgian-born Roma, is also a sometimes-overlooked part of the jazz guitar heritage, too.  Does that make “Django-shift” a tribute record? Maybe, but there’s no ventriloquism here, none of the distinctive chop-chop  of the Manouch rhythm that drove Reinhardt’s “gypsy jazz,” and no violin foil, either. Abbasi favors the lightly electrified tone of his predecessor, but he occasionally rocks out, too.  So does the band, which features Neil Alexander‘s electric keyboards and Michael Sarin‘s crisp, flexible drumming. Abbasi arranges “Django’s Castle” and “Douce Ambience” as lounge-y organ-trio features and Monk is invoked as often as Reinhardt, especially on the arrangement of Reinhardt’s “Diminishing.” On “Django-shift” Abbasi honors Django by being himself, and in so doing casts a fascinating new light on a player we shouldn’t forget.

 

There are times on Champian Fulton’s new Birdsong when her vocals linger so far behind the beat that I feared that the pianist couldn’t stay with her. Except that Fulton is the pianist, and she’s terrific, channeling not only Errol Garner rhythmic games of chicken, but also such pre-bop masters as Teddy Wilson and Billy Kyle. Few instrumentalists play like this anymore since this elastic approach to rhythm was all but swept away by the bebop charge led by Charlie Parker, whose centenary today this release celebrates. It didn’t disappear entirely, though, surviving in the vocal styles of Dinah Washington, Nancy Wilson and Betty Carter, who took rhythmic elasticity to an extreme. Fulton has a lighter, less bluesy voice than those luminaries, but she uses it playfully and is a fearless improvisor. Her musicmaking fairly overflows with joy on this program of 11 songs associated by Parker and it’s often thrilling to hear her highwire act.  Saxophonist Scott Hamilton is an old hand at this kind of material and Fulton’s father, Stephen, adds trumpet on a couple of songs. The rhythm team of bassist Hide Tanaka and drummer Fukushi Tainaka ticks along deferentially in a way that today’s more assertive rhythm sections abjure. If all this suggests a record that might have been made in, say, 1961, well, you’re not wrong.  But there is something almost radical in the way Fulton and her mates bring to this material something that jazz could use more of these days:  charm.

 

Who knew that the 17 melody notes of “Moonlight In Vermont” exactly fit the 5-7-5 metrical pattern of haiku? Violinist Tomoko Omura did and built her arrangement of the overplayed standard around 17-beat rhythmic cycle. It’s one of the many felicities built into her new Outside in Music release Branches Vol. 1Omura is a self-effacing leader, opening lots of room her airy rhythm section of guitarist Jeff Miles, Pablo Menares on bass and drummer Jay Sawyer and pianist Glenn Zaleski whose sparkling touch steals the show. Omura’s five originals , inspired by Japanese folktales, unfold with the clarity—and a bit of the mystery—of a Murakami short story.  The comparisons don’t end there; “Branches Vol. 1” clocks in at a brisk 36 minutes,  but it’s as light and refreshing as a bottle of sparkling rosé.

 

It’s tempting to call Matt Wilson the Clown Prince of Jazz, but that misses the point. Don’t get me wrong, there are moments on his new Palmetto Records release Hug! that are laugh-out-loud funny, and he fairly telegraphs as much with titles such as “Space Force March” (in a medley with Sun Ra’s “Interplanetary Music”) and “Man Bun.” That’s a bit of misdirection from the ebullient drummer who instead plants his flag with the title smack in the middle of the 11-cut program. It’s “Joie de Vivre”  by saxophonist Dewey Redman, in whose band Wilson broke in. Little surprise then that the music’s Ornette Coleman flavor goes beyond Wilson’s quartet lineup of two horns, bass and drums, one that Coleman popularized. Like Don Cherry, puckish cornetist Kirk Knuffke eschews the trumpet for a more pungent instrument, here the cornet. Jeff Lederer rolls out a velvety tenor saxophone tone on the dapper Redman tune, pipes brightly on soprano on the earwormy “Hamba Kahle” (not the Abdullah Ibrahim tune) and plays a droll clarinet on “King of the Road” (yes, that one). Chris Lightcap, replacing Paul Sikivie, adds his usual bounce on bass.  As for Wilson, has any drummer lifted a band like this since Billy Higgins? On sticks or brushes, his beat is almost giddy; he’s rhythmic helium. No bandleader in jazz communicates the unbounded joy of living and making music than Wilson does. Coming in the middle of the swirling dread of 2020, Matt Wilson’s bighearted, thoroughly wonderful “Hug!” might be the most subversive release of the year.

Two other releases that dropped yesterday, Mike Fahie’s “Urban(e)” and Manuel Valera’s “José Martí En Nueva York,” are big band dates that are so notable that they’ll receive their own review sometime this week–if the power stays on.

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