by: Hobart Taylor
Ron McCurdy Quintet - Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods For Jazz (The Langston Hughes Project) - (Self Released)
Last year, neo-classical composer Laura Karpman created a sound collage inspired by Langston Hughes' poem cycle "Ask Your Mama". It incorporated Jazz, Blues, Lieder,Serialism, and other genres performed by a symphony orchestra and featuring the likes of The Roots and Nnenna Freelon. It was interspersed with selections from the poetry. It is a remarkable work.
Equally fascinating and truer to the original intent of the poet is this homage to the same group of poems that is clearly rooted in the Jazz vernacular that inspired it in the first place. Hughes wrote the poems at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1960 and had always intended to have them presented with music (to be written and arranged by Charles Mingus), and the poems' titles clearly reflect their connections to Jazz and Blues, "Bird in Orbit", "Jazztet Muted", "Horn of Plenty", and "Ode to Dinah", as well as parallel reflections on Black life in America.
Dr. Ronald McCurdy is a trumpeter of the first order. He is currently a professor at the Thornton School of Music at USC and previously director of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance. For this recording he is joined by a sensitive, supportive, and comprehending ensemble, pianist Eli Bruggemann, Gabe Noel, bassist, Peter Buck, drums, and percussionist Munyungo Jackson. McCurdy recites the poems, sometimes with accompaniment, sometimes alone. He brings a Jazz musician's awareness to the prosody of the the spoken words that deeply enriches the performance. The poems as literature are better served by this recording. Hughes' overarching intentions emerge clearly here, a demonstration of how Black daily life and Black musical culture are inseparable. This work will be performed live at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles November 6th.
Norah Jones - Day Breaks - (Blue Note)
KUCI has a policy that artists in the top 200 don't appear on our air and Lord knows Norah Jones has had her share of hits. That rule does not apply to Jazz artists, (the biggest stars in Jazz are lucky to sell 50,000 units), and since this is bona fide Jazz album on Blue Note, I'm gonna add it. Besides, it has WAYNE SHORTER, Brian Blade, and John Patitucci.
Jones may have a winning voice, but don't overlook her piano playing. It is sensitive and aware. Highlights include the sultry Billie holiday inspired "Burn", the uptempo driving tune "Flipside" (with Dr. Lonnie Smith on Hammond B3 organ), the title tune "Day Breaks" with one of the many tasty Shorter solos, the bittersweet "Once I Had a Laugh", and the thoughtful re-interpretation of Neil Young's "Don't Be Denied".
Madeleine Peyroux - Secular Hymns - (Impulse/Verve)
These songs could be addenda to the Great American Songbook. They come from a variety of traditions, New Orleans R&B, Texas Folk, Tom Waits' Art Songs, etc. but presented here in a simple yet subtly nuanced jazz setting with voice, guitar, and bass, the sassy jazz attitude that underlies them all sticks out like pee on snow.
Dave Liebman Group - Expansions Live - (Whaling City Sound)
Soprano saxophonist Liebman is a Miles Davis alum, (graduate school for America's top rank of Jazz Artists) as well as having toured with Chick Corea, but more importantly, he has been and is one of the most innovative players and improvisers around. Joined here by long time collaborator bassist Tony Marino, and his current flock of young lions, Matt Vashilshan, alto sax, Bobby Avey, piano and keys, and drummer Alex Ritz, he presents a two CD set of live performances, one acoustic, one electric. Both are filled with extraordinary compositions that connect to the everflowing river of deep Jazz. Echoes of Coltrane on the acoustic side, shadows of Ornette on the electric.
Maz - Idealist - (Verve)
From Snarky Puppy trumpeter Mike "Maz" Maher comes this atmospheric collection of songs that focus on his strong vocal talents. Sounding a lot like classic indie rock with a jazz sensibility, this is a confessional and politically opinionated record. For example the song "Picture" talks about the alienation of backstage encounters. Cleverly produced and thoughtful, this record could be played by any number of KUCI's DJs, from rock, folk and jazz.
Kevin Brunkhorst - Otherwise - (Armored Records)
Acoustic guitarist Brunkhorst has a relaxed yet deft touch that befits the dreamy melodies he plays accompanied by sax, bass and drums. This is basically modal Jazz, chordal chunks interspersed with conversational runs. It's got a lot to chew on.