FACE THE MUSIC [INTRICATE VOICES IN MODERN JAZZ]

Ambrose Akinmusire, THE IMAGINED SAVIOR IS FAR EASIER TO PAINTTrumpeter and composer Ambrose Akinmusire returns with the release of the imagined savior is far easier to paint, an impressive and expansive new album that broadens the palette of his firebrand quintet with the addition of guitarist Charles Altura, the OSSO String Quartet, and vocalists Becca Stevens, Theo Bleckmann, and Cold Specks. Akinmusire s quintet features saxophonist Walter Smith III, pianist Sam Harris, bassist Harish Raghavan, and drummer Justin Brown a close-knit group of longtime friends and frequent collaborators that breathe a remarkable collective identity.

the imagined savior is far easier to paint delivers on the promise of Akinmusire s widely acclaimed Blue Note debut When The Heart Emerges Glistening, which Nate Chinen of The New York Times named his #1 album of 2011. The New Yorker has called him a thrilling young trumpeter and astute bandleader [who] has a unique spark in his playing. On the new album which Akinmusire produced himself he subtly shifts the focus away from those thrilling trumpet solos to his compositions (Akinmusire wrote 12 of the albums 13 tracks) while still leaving ample room for the band to stretch out and improvise.

Hearing vocals and lyrics set to his music was a different experience for Akinmusire, who often writes elaborate storylines and unspoken characters as inspiration for his instrumental compositions. With each of the vocal songs Akinmusire gave the vocalist the sketch of an idea and allowed them to flesh out lyrics based on that idea. Stevens returned both the music and lyrics for Out Basement (ed) while Bleckmann and Cold Specks set lyrics to Akinmusire s music on Asiam (joan) and Ceaseless Inexhaustible Child (Cyntoia Brown), respectively. ~Editorial Review | Amazon

Stefon Harris, EVOLUTIONEstablished jazz artists like vibraphonist Stefon Harris hold it on faith that their fans–and maybe some critics, too–will follow them when they gravitate toward the commercial side of the tracks with pop-informed albums. Still, even taking into account the need to reach a broader audience at a time when instrumental jazz has fallen out of favor, Evolution seems like a step backward, not forward. As contemporary jazz–if not Contemporary Jazz–goes, this album is a cut above. Harris has a great ear for melody, a gift for intoxicating, offbeat arrangements, and a knack for sublimating influences ranging from funk to fusion. (He is abetted in the latter style by Marc Cary, who often sounds like Return to Forever-era Chick Corea on electric piano.) But even if some of the performances get under your skin with repeated listening–a cover of Sting‘s ballad “Until” casts a sneaky spell–too much of the album is bland and predictable. While it’s nice to hear Harris return from the rarified heights of his Grand Unification Theory suite and play with a working band again, he’s capable of more evolutionary sounds than these. ~Lloyd Sachs  | Amazon

Billy Childs Ensemble, LYRICAfter about two decades of releases as a leader, Billy Childs continues to produce cutting edge performances of his compositions and arrangements at the highest level of musicianship. This latest recording is his most solid work as a leader. It is worth a listen for anyone who is interested in serious music with lyric qualities.

For the past several years, Billy has not released any CDs with himself as a leader that primarily feature his own compositions, but “In Carson’s Eyes” gets things off to a hypnotically beautiful start by telling a musical story that is full of brilliant intricacies. “Goodbye, Friend” and “Prelude in Bb Major” both demonstrate his uncanny ability to move effortlessly between classical music and jazz while at times seeming to give a nod of acknowledgment to Pat Metheny. “Into the Light” is a Grammy Award-winning composition that demonstrates a torrent of virtuosity and unpredictable intensity that would be worthy of an artist whose skill reminds the listener of Chick Corea without sounding like Chick Corea in any way.

The track that radio stations would most likely play is “Scarborough Faire” because people would recognize it, it has many of the same beautiful and hypnotic qualities of “In Carson’s Eyes“, and it is also the shortest track on the CD. At the end of the CD, Billy shakes things up with “American Landscape“. It features exciting playing from all of the musicians and unpredictable development of the composition itself. Hopefully, more tunes will be like it on future recordings. ~Customer Review | Amazon

Fabian Almazan, PERSONALIITIESPianist and composer Fabian Almazan, a native of Cuba now residing in New York City, found his musical roots as a child in his homeland of Havana where he first became involved in the classical piano tradition. In 2002, Almazan was selected to perform with the National 2002 Grammy High School Jazz Combo. During the completion of his bachelor s degree at Manhattan School of Music, Almazan immersed himself in the realm of orchestral composition studying instrumentation and orchestration. In the spring of 2009 he received a master s degree from MSM, selected as a recipient of the Michael W. Greene Scholarship, studying privately with Jason Mora. Recent awards and residencies include the Cintas Foundation 2010/11 Brandon Fradd Award in Music Composition, an award that has been historically granted to Cuban artists who have gone on to play an influential role in the development of Cuban cultural heritage, and the Sundance Composer’s Lab 2011, where Almazan studied with such acclaimed film composers as Harry Gregson-Williams, Alan Silvestri, George S. Clinton, Christopher Young, Ed Shearmur and Peter Golub. For the past four years, Fabian has been the pianist for the Terence Blanchard Group and has toured North and South America, Asia and Europe extensively. Fabian Almazan has had the opportunity to share the stage with such artists as Gretchen Parlato, Ambrose Akinmusire, Paquito D Rivera, Christian Scott, David Sanchez, Kendrick Scott and Stefon Harris among others. ~Product Review | Amazon

Wayne Escoffery, THE ONLY SON OF ONEAlthough he is originally from Great Britain, he has spent most of his life in the northeastern part of the United States. Born in London on February 23, 1975, Escoffery was only 11 when he left the U.K. with his mother and moved to New Haven, CT in 1986. That year, he joined the New Haven Trinity Boys Choir, and it was also in 1986 that he began studying the tenor sax with saxophonist/clarinetist Malcolm Dickinson. Escoffery was still in his teens when he met the famous alto saxophonist Jackie McLean, who Escoffery has described as a mentor and a major inspiration in his life; Escoffery studied with McLean extensively at the Hartt School, a performing arts school in West Hartford. After that, he attended the New England Conservatory in Boston and graduated from that institution with a Masters in 1999 before moving to New York City the following year at the age of 25. ~Product Review | Amazon

The Bad Plus, PROGYou have to hear the Bad Plus’s lush, lovely instrumental approach to Tears for Fears’ hit “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” It’s a slowly-evolving meditation on the tune that clearly is in love with its melody and structure. It might be the finest jazz cover of an ’80s song since Miles Davis cut Cyndi Lauper’sTime After Time” back in the day. The other covers, especially their florid take on Rush’sTom Sawyer,” may be likely to get the most attention of anything on the album. But they rely too much on irony, on people’s previous perceptions of the music, and do not seem quite as enamored of the original. They’re jokes that are funny the first time but not so much the second or third. As with the Bad Plus’ previous releases, the group’s original compositions are the meat of the album: “Giant” and “Physical Cities” carve out huge walls of sonic space with abandon. This is rockist jazz, a postmodern fusion that relies greatly on tricky time signatures and mashups of seemingly incongruous sound. It’s not likely this music will age spectacularly well, but so what? If you’re looking for some engaging and conversation-inducing dinner music preceding an evening spent watching Napoleon Dynamite or any Wes Anderson flick, this is just the thing. ~Mike McGonigal  | Product Review | Amazon

Allison Miller, NO MORPHINE, NO LILLIESMILLER, Allison. No Morphine, No Lilies. Foxhaven. 2013. $12.72. AM’s Boom Tic Boom: AM, dr; Myra Melford, p; Jenny Scheinman, viol; Todd Sickafoose, b. Guests: Steven Bernstein, slide tpt; Ara Anderson, tpt; Erik Friedlander, cello; Rachel Friedman, voc.

Wow! What a group this is! Boom Tic Boom is essentially drummer Allison Miller’s quartet augmented by whatever musicians she needs to color the individual pieces they play. Eight out the eleven compositions are by Miller, one by pianist Melford (a real bear of a musician), one by someone I don’t know, and the last, a vocal, lyrics and melody by singer Rachel Freidman in the one weak cut of an exceptionally strong album. It’s senseless to go over the album cut by cut. Suffice it to say that the cuts are interesting, exciting, and, a decided asset, varied in approach, melody, solos, harmonies and rhythm. This is a really superior album. ~Customer Review by David Keymer | Amazon

Chris Potter Underground Orchestra, IMAGINARY CITIESImaginary Cities is not just another jazz album. And it is not just another great jazz album! And… it is not just another great Chris Potter album!! It represents something transcendent… something historic. Living in the most privileged city in the world for jazz, you get to hear just about all the greats passing through. Then, besides all the players with unimaginable chops, there are some great jazz orchestral composers. It’s become more common for many of the great players to dabble in orchestration. But tonight at the Jazz Standard Chris Potter achieved something remarkable… something I’ve never seen. Not band music adapted for the orchestra, but orchestral music which was a marriage of modern jazz and classical and world elements that worked seamlessly together… more…they worked synergistically together! It was some of the most thrilling and imaginative and deeply moving jazz that I’ve been exposed to in a lifetime of jazz and perhaps the best jazz-classical orchestral composition I ever heard. It was a moment in jazz history and I will not soon forget I was there. ~Customer Review by K. Gracia | Amazon

Regina Carter, PAGANINI. AFTER A DREAMIt might only be May, but Ms. Carter’s new release, “Paganini: After a Dream” should be at or near the top of all the critics’ lists come December. While this reviewer has greatly enjoyed all of her other releases, this recording is by far one of the best made by any artist in the past thirty years. Ms. Carter (one of the best musicians in any genre playing in the world right now) and her ensemble evoke such profound emotion on all of the tracks, but two particularly stand out: Ravel’s “Pavane pour une infante defunte” and Morricone’s “Cinema Paradiso” theme. These works defy musical category; they are simply statements of pure artistic brilliance on the part of Ms. Carter and her colleagues, and listening to them will leave a lump in your throat. An absolutely extraordinary emotional statement. ~Customer Review  by (Unknown) | Amazon

Terence Blanchard, BREATHLESSTerence Blanchard and the E-Collective set off on a new musical journey with his new album Breathless. An innovative and electric exploration into the fusion of jazz, funk, R&B and blues featuring Oscar Seaton on drums, Donald Ramsey on bass, Charles Altura on guitar and Fabian Almazan on keyboard/piano/synths. Produced by Blanchard and his manager Robin Burgess and executive produced by Blue Note president Don Was, the adventurous 13-tune recording zeroes in on several Blanchard originals, an epic-length piece by Almazan and a scattering of covers, sung by soothing and soulful vocalist P.J. Morton (a member of the band Maroon 5). ~Editorial Review | Amazon

Yellowjackets, GREENHOUSELook, Yellowjackets got a bad rep they don’t deserve. True, they started off as a more rock-oriented fuzak unit but the good news is, they grew up. This CD is the proof of that assertion. Ferrante proved himself to be a fine composer and with the addition of Bob Mintzer’s ballsy tenor, this unit finally pulled away from the smooth jazz arena they had languished in. Not to disparage the other guy, but in the end, he was a lick player. Mintzer is the real deal, a jazz player with a big vocabulary who really knows his stuff. And he can write! And arrange.

This is a mature effort with not a single dud track. None other than Vince Mendoza did the string arrangments and for those in doubt, these are NOT empty sweetening, but amazingly challenging and creative parts that augment the tunes without getting in the way or diluting quartet sound. And William Kennedy is simply the best drummer around for this kind of music. He makes it all feel great. As Gary Burton once said, “you only sound as good as your drummer.” No wonder the ‘Jackets never sounded better. When they lost William, they lost their heartbeat.

Pity this is out of print. It is one for the ages, and easily the most ambitious and best Yellowjackets recording of their entire output. This is NOT timid jazz. ~Customer Review by Brian Whistler | Amazon

Rachel ZRachel Z, ROOM OF ONE'S OWN, a talented young keyboardist, sticks to acoustic piano and varies the personnel and instrumentation from track-to-track on this interesting set. In addition to a woodwind section, such players as violinist Regina Carter, tenor saxophonist George Garzone, bassist Charnett Moffett and drummers Terri Lyne Carrington and Cindy Blackman are among the supporting cast. Rachel’s ten originals (which are dedicated to various women ranging from her mother and a 17th-century painter to Billie Holiday and Joni Mitchell) cover a lot of moods with the emphasis on relaxed and thoughtful pieces. Although her own piano playing sometimes recalls Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea (along with touches of Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett), Rachel Z is gradually developing her own style. This is the type of record that needs to be heard several times to be fully appreciated for Rachel Z’s subtle playing and moody themes contain much of value beneath the surface. Well worth checking out. ~AllMusic Review by Scott Yanow

Pat Methney Unity Group, KINIn 2012, for the first time since 1980, guitarist Pat Metheny recorded with a band that highlighted tenor saxophone. Unity Band, which went on to win Metheny his 20th Grammy Award, featured Chris Potter on sax and bass clarinet, longtime collaborator Antonio Sanchez on drums, and Ben Williams on bass. Metheny added another musician, multi-instrumentalist Giulio Carmassi, and christened the ensemble Pat Metheny Unity Group. Their first record is Kin ( ). The vinyl includes two 140-gram LPs pressed at Pallas MFG in Diepholz, Germany, and a CD of the album.

Metheny says of this Group, “The core quartet of Chris, Ben, Antonio, and me played more than 100 concerts over the year that followed the release of our Unity Band record. Over the course of that period, the band became one of those rare combinations of players where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts; it gelled in every way, and that just seemed to beg for expansion and further research.” He continues, “Simultaneously, I had been itching to write using more of a lush and orchestrated kind of concept that went beyond the sonic limits of what a straight-ahead quartet might invoke. But I really didn’t want to lose the energy, focus, and intensity of what this band had developed. I wanted to take it further. If the first Unity Band record was a thoughtful, black and white documentary of four musicians in a recording studio playing, this record is more like the Technicolor, IMAX version of what a band like this could be but with that hardcore thing still sitting right in the middle of it all.” ~Editorial Review | Amazon

William Parker, GREAT SPIRITGreat Spirit again makes abundantly clear William Parker’s multi-faceted talents as bassist, composer, poet, bandleader and songwriter. Raining On The Moon is the extraordinary group which seamlessly fuses all of these prodigious gifts: his long-standing Quartet with Hamid Drake, Rob Brown, Lewis Barnes is here exquisitely augmented by singer Leena Conquest breathing further compassion & dignity into William’s lyrics, and pianist Eri Yamamoto for expert chordal support.

Corn Meal Dance (AUM043) is one of the most beautiful, potent, luminous, and true albums of all-original song ever made. The indelible melodies and rhythms; the words, unyielding and uplifting in equal measure; the performances by all six musicians; the recording quality itself. All are strictly top shelf. The January 2007 studio session which yielded that album was extraordinarily productive, and Great Spirit presents the entire balance of material recorded on that wonderful day. ~Editorial Review | Amazon

Jonathan Finlayson, MOMENT & THE MESSAGEWhen listening to other albums (Steve Coleman, Steve Lehman, David Virelles, Henry Threadgill) I regularly found myself wondering who was on trumpet. The input from the trumpet player was clean, inventive, crisp, all the while never standing outside the form of ‘ensemble’. His interplay with Steve Coleman on Steve’s latest release, Functional Arrhythmias, seemed telepathic and was completely in sync with Mr. Coleman, and often (in my feeble mind), standing out. It simply insisted I listen. As it turns out, over and over. His new album, Moment & the Message, is a fantastic listen. Its complexity of composition requires numerous listens to fully realize the music. It’s incredible musicianship from all involved requires only 1 or 2 listens to appreciate their abilities and interplay. From honoring Mr. Threadgill on a couple of compositions and Mr. Coleman on several more, Mr. Finlayson has not only shown where he came from, but also where he is now, and where he’s going. Other musicians in his camp should pay attention to what he’s doing, as this will surely not be his last album with his name on top. I can, without hesitation, recommend this album to those who enjoy Henry Threadgill, Steve Coleman, Vijay Iyer, David Virelles, Matthew Shipp, Tim Berne, William Parker and many others in similar veins. It will not disappoint. ~Custom Review by Kenneth Pyron | Amazon

Jeremy Pelt, PROFILETrumpeter Jeremy Pelt hails from Los Angeles. After graduating from Boston’s Berklee College of Music in 1988, he moved to New York and has paid his dues with several mainstream organizations. Now, his recording debut offers a larger audience the opportunity to hear this rising star. With his clarion tone and persuasive technique, Pelt rides a creative wave of straight-ahead dreams. Ballads and up-tempo romps take on his personal attitude. Passion and energy build his performance. Undoubtedly, Miles and Freddie and Chet and Booker and Lee came from the same roots as young Jeremy Pelt. Its all from the heart. On top of that, he’s surrounded himself with a winning team. This years top ten list wouldn’t be complete without Profile. Tune in as soon as you can.” ~Jim Santella (All About Jazz) – Fresh Sound Records

Vijay Iyer Trio, ACCELERANDOHere we have the newest offering from one of jazz music’s most creative & original piano trios the Vijay Iyer Trio. Last year their previous trio album Historicity was on many best-of lists. The trio features the talents of Marcus Gilmore on drums, one of the most in-demand drummers on the modern jazz scene. Gilmore slices & dices the beat with mathematical prowess but above all makes the music groove. Stephen Crump on acoustic bass is the glue holding it together. On this album, Vijay gives the listener his usual singular arrangements of interesting cover material such as Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature” which Iyer investigated on his first solo piano album Solo & Duke Ellington’s “The Village of the Virgins” which closes the album on a grooving note. The title track “Accelerando” demonstrates that musical term to a tee using tempo shifts allowing the whole group to slow down & accelerate perfectly in sync with each other. It makes for some of the coolest piano jazz & ensemble concepts that I’ve ever heard. ~Excerpt from Jonathan Guarriello (AmazonCustomer Review)

Dayna Stephens, THAT NEPENTHETIC PLACE2013 release from the internationally renowned saxophonist/composer/educator. A fluid, vigorous soloist with a warm, soulful sound, Dayna has also proven himself a master of composition and arrangement, a highly acclaimed band leader and an “in-demand” sideman for some of Jazz’ contemporary masters, such as Kenny Barron, Idris Mohammed, Taylor Eigsti. In recent years, Stephens has appeared on stage with numerous major musicians, including Terence Blanchard, Herbie Hancock, Albert “Tootie” Heath, Matt Wilson, Carlos Santana, Stefon Harris, Stevie Wonder, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Tom Harrell, Roy Hargrove, Gretchen Parlato, and many others. He is a graduate of Berklee College of Music and the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance. ~Editorial ReviewAmazon

Orrin Evan's Captain Black Big Band, MOTHER'S TOUCHBig band jazz is not the most lucrative style of music: after paying twenty guys for the gig, you re lucky if there s anything left over for you. But some of the most exciting composers in jazz persist in writing and recording large-ensemble pieces. Darcy James Argue is probably the most cutting-edge. Of all the purist, old-school, blues-based big bands playing original material, pianist Orrin Evans Captain Black Big Band is without a doubt the most powerful and entertaining. For those who don t know his music, Evans is a vigorously cerebral tunesmith and one of this era’s most distinctive pianists: think of a young Kenny Barron with more stylistically diverse influences and you’re on the right track. Evans initial recording with this band was a roller-coaster ride through lively and often explosive, majestically blues-infused tunes. His new one, Mother’s Touch, is arguably even better, and has a broader emotional scope. Evans and this mighty crew play the album release show at Smoke jazz club uptown (Broadway between 105th and 106th) with sets at 7 and 9 PM on April 28. Get there early if you re going (a seat a the bar is your best bet) because this will probably sell out. The album s slow, torchy first track, In My Soul, is amazing. It s the most lavishly orchestrated oldschool soul song without words you’ll ever hear. Evans gentle, gospel-infused piano, Marcus Strickland’s searching tenor sax solo, and an artfully arranged conversation between groups of horns lead up to a joyously brass-fueled peak. ~Excerpt (Review by Lucid Culture  @Amazon.com)

Kenny Garrett, BLACK HOPE

The “other Kenny G” is Kenny Garrett, an alto and soprano saxophonist, has graduated from the top jazz schools in the country: the Duke Ellington Orchestra, the Mel Lewis Orchestra, the Freddie Hubbard Quintet, Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers and the very last Miles Davis band. He applies the lessons of that education to his mostly acoustic and altogether fine new album, Black Hope. The seven numbers that feature conga drummer Don Alias tend to have a steadier R&B groove, and the album’s title cut is a transparent tribute, complete with background chatter and conga groove, to Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.” On these numbers, Garrett uses the tender, wounded sound that was Davis’ signature to imitate a gospel soul singer yearning for something just beyond reach. —Excerpt (Jeffrey Himes  – Review at Amazon.com)

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