by: Hobart Taylor
Christian Sands - Reach - (Mack Avenue)
Christian Sands in his own words admires musicians "coming from the tradition of bringing people into the music, but also moving it forward into new directions". This 27 year old composer/pianist/virtuoso embodies that idea. There is nothing too "difficult" in these tunes, but that does not mean that they are not complex and satisfying. Sands composes and plays with subtle grace and persistent imagination. Various echoes are here, gospel, classical romanticism, jazz standards, hip hop, Latin, etc. What holds the project together is Sands' ardent command of the material shaped to his coherent vision of music that can be both popular and supremely substantive.
Cameron Graves - Planetary Prince - (Mack Avenue)
Pianist Graves neo-funk with Rachmaninov sound is very alluring. He plays his ass off. It is very hard to keep various body parts still while listening to these jams. Sax master Kamasi Washington is all over this recording, as is Phil Dizack, trumpeter and Ryan Porter on trombone, and they help make this a wild ride indeed. Graves alternates between staccato percussiveness underlined by the fluid drumming of Ronald Bruner Jr., and highly romantic runs. There are lots of references to Spanish music, and in many ways this disc felt to me like a 2017 version of Miles' "Sketches of Spain". A very exciting release.
Ray Lyon - Trinity One - (Burning Blue Records)
Keyboardist Lyon has composed a suite for jazz trio inspired by various Bible verses and the result is melodically skew yet mysteriously coherent. You have no idea where these tunes are going, but when they get there it all seems to have made sense. It's a little like holding a fistful of sand. If you relax and let the grains sift through your fingers the sensation is deeply satisfying. On the surface these are pop jazz tunes,deeply melodic etc but while moment to moment a listener can feel secure in the familiar resonances new themes pop up from know where, dolphins in mid leap.
Ernie Watts Quartet - Four plus Four - (Flying Dolphin)
So I was helping out cleaning out the music office the other day and found this release from 2009 that we should have added. Better late than never :-). Tenor saxophonist Watts is the classic journeyman. Whether playing with the Stones or Zappa or Charlie Haden or Cannonball Adderly , whether as a stellar session player or supporting small elite jazz ensembles, Watts has been a part of the bedrock of the jazz planet. Because he utilizes so many different playing styles, from out there to Euro jazz, from blues based honks to deeply spiritual reflection he is not popularly recognized as an archetype for this style or that. Watts is something better. He has such control of his instrument that he can play anyway he wants to, in any style, with ease and authority. On this recording he plays with two different ensembles. He leads a quartet based in Europe, and a second based in the States. On one cut, "Through My Window", he combines them by multi-tracking. This recording reflects his versatility, his mastery, and I repeat, his authority.
The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (With Wynton Marsalis and Jon Batiste) - The Music of John Lewis - (Blue Engine Records)
John Lewis and his ensemble The Modern Jazz Quartet were, along with Monk and Mingus, the intellectual progenitors of blues based jazz that compositionally reached the level of nuance and sophistication that appealed to listeners of classical music.Now here is the Lincoln Center Orchestra under the direction of Wynton Marsalis with Jon Batiste taking Lewis's piano parts, I have this love hate thing going on with Wynton and Jazz at Lincoln Center. They play the charts with supreme precision, with the fidelity of The Berlin Philharmonic reading a Brahms score. This leaves the music sometimes feeling
overcalculated and cold. However, strangely enough, considering that Lewis was about exerting Bachian counterpoint and control over the blues in order to reveal the melodic majesty deep with his tunes, Wynton lets the band swing. Ironically, the result goes to the root of Lewis's tunes, deep blues, and thus we come full circle. Neat.
University of Toronto 12tet - Trillium Falls - (Self Released)
Expansive large ensemble jazz of the spacey 70's John McLaughlin variety predominates with classic jazz pop tunes and straight ahead classics thrown in. It is delightful in performance but breaks little new ground.Stand out cuts are Billy Strayhorn's "Isfahan", "Hat Music" which made me ticklish, and the ghostly title cut "Trillium Falls" which really gave me something to chew on.
Organissimo - B3atles - (Big O Records)
Organist Jim Alfredson, also playing synths, with guitar and drums, blueses up 12 Beatle tunes. It's easy to say "been there,heard that", but subtle variations in timbre and rhythmic shifts revive these all too familiar melodies.
Yolonda Raybun - Yolonda - (Self Released)
She got the pipes. On "Be My Husband", the first cut she comes out the box a strong and determined presence. While the arrangements a little too poppy for my taste, when she eschews the smooth jazz sound, like when she goes the organ/sax route on "Love is Here to Stay", man oh man.
Ensemble Novo - Look to the Sky - (Frosty Cordial Records)
Vibrphonist Behn Gillece , guitarist, Ryan McNeely, multi-reed player/producer Tom Moon. bassist Mark Przybylowski, and drummer Jim Hamilton, take Brazilian jazz as an inspiration, but extend the tunes into their own realms. This is especially true on the Lobo/Jobim tune "Vento Bravo", the Nascimento/Bastos tune, "Cravo e Canela", and on my favorite , Moon's "Columbia Waltz". This is very seductive record.