by: Hobert Taylor
Glenn Tucker - Determination - (Detroit Music Factory)
Some of the freshest jams out now come from Detroit. There isn't a sense of trendiness in the releases of Glenn Tucker or De'Sean Jones, and no chasing after "radio friendly" cuts or homages to great artists from the past. Perhaps the fact that these artists are working with a little patronage from Mack Avenue Records and their sub labels like Detroit Music Factory, labels funded by a wealthy jazz lover who doesn't impose her own agenda on the artists, gives them the freedom to focus on quality rather than compromise.
Pianist/organist Tucker has an intense and jagged style in his compositions and performance. His tunes often contain abrupt punctuation, especially on the Hammond B3. Both the tonality of the recording and the focus and energy Tucker brings to his arrangements make this a standout release. Check out "Takin' It Back", "Keep On Turnin'", "E.M. Blues" and "Walk Like Warriors".
Kendrick Scott and Oracle - We Are The Drum - (Blue Note)
Drummer Scott and his band Oracle paint with a rich pallet of differing jazz colors. This is very much a group mind project with Pat Metheny style guitarist Michael Moreno, pianist Taylor Eigsti, and saxophonist John Ellis (check out his New Orleans band Double Wide for a real treat), all supporting the incredible sensitive and melodic rhythm section of Scott and bassist Joe Sanders. Ellis and Moreno contribute tunes to this project and the wonderful title tune lists all the principals and producer Derrick Hodge as co-writers. The tunes can be propulsive, meditative, or subtly endearing. I like "We Are The Drum", "Mantra", "The Long Shadow" the reprise of "Touched By An Angel", and the delicate tribute to Milton Nascimento, "Milton".
John Wojciechowski - Focus - (Origin Records)
Straight ahead jazz with smooth edges yet vibrant and engaging from this Chicago area saxophonist. I pick "Twirl", "Elegy", "Summon the Elders" and his cover of Monk's "Evidence" where he seemingly leaves out every other note. Drummer Dana Hall kicks it.
Hans Luchs - Time Never Pauses - (OA2 Records)
Young Chicago guitarist Luchs is sort of a Sybil. His picking personality is mercurial and shape shifting. He can be hard driving and percussive, delicate and wispy, dissonant and jangly, or full of swells all in the same tune. The trumpet work of Shaun Johnson provides gorgeous counterpoint and the entire ensemble is taut and intensely supportive. Check out the up tempo "Der Lumenmeister", the bluesy "January Spring", and "30 Rue Des Martyrs".
Ben Winkelman Trio - The Knife - (OA2 Records)
This is just delightful. Sharp and angular, full of fits and starts, these tunes driven by the shifting interplay of the the three musicians tickle the mind. There are Cuban and Brazilian elements in some of the melodies that add flavor, but the real point is that their tripartite balance.
Sinne Eeg and Thomas Fonnebaek - Eeg/Fonnesbaek - (Stunt Records)
Danish songstress Eeg along with guitarist bassist Fonnesbaek provides stripped down versions of familiar classics. Her phrasing and tonality are on the money. His staccato notes are like trees in the forest as her voice, an eddying breeze, floats by. My favorite cut is "Fellini's Waltz" (what a melody!), "You Don't Know What Love Is", and "Willow Weep For Me".
Dawan Muhammad - Gatekeepers Blues - (Lifeforcejazz)
Saxophonist Muhammad has been tending the jazz flame in San Francisco for decades. Issuing diy projects that are in touch with the street and the stratosphere, Muhammad ignores categories and touches on blues, straight ahead, funk and gospel influences as if they were all a part of a single tradition. My favorite cuts are Coltrane's "Dahomey Dance", his own compositions, "Gatekeeper's Blues" and "Timbuktu", and "L'ear" by the under appreciated arranger/composer James Leary.
Carter Calvert - it's a man's world - (self-released)
Jazz singer Calvert takes on pop/rock/soul tunes in a jazzy way. Backed by a killer band, produced by drummer Ulysses Owens, and featuring either Joshua Bowlus or Laurence Hobgood on piano providing wonderful fills, she takes this familiar material from Springsteen, Sting, and Stevie Wonder and swings with it.
Alexis Cole & Bucky Pizzarelli - A Beautiful Friendship - (Venus Records)
Ostensibly a showcase for jazz singer Cole, (and this is in no way belittles her performance), this collaboration really underscores the miracle of guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli. Like the late Les Paul, here is an artist who in his 90's plays with verve, energy, precision and joy. The whole project is grand, but standout cuts include "Honeysuckle Rose", Bucky's solo on "East of the Sun", "Just Friends" and "Stompin' at the Savoy".
Jeff Oster - Next - (Retso Records)
Produced by Windham Hill founder Will Ackerman, this ambient/electronica slightly Miles Davis influenced work by trumpeter Oster is super clean and features names like Nile Rodgers, Tony Levin, and Bernard "Pretty" Purdie. Sometimes it feels more like a sound than like music to me, but Oster's tone is rich and deep. I grokked "Night Train to Sofia, "Half a Cookie", and the drum and bass "Ibiza Sunrise".