by: Hobart Taylor
Roscoe Mitchell - Discussions - (Wide Hive)
One way of looking at the creative arts is to assign a hierarchy, one that is arbitrary, mutable, and literally definitive, to the contributions of their makers. This process is labeled criticism, and it ostensibly is meant to contextualize abstractions that resonate but are beyond easy comprehension. So when I call Roscoe Mitchell a "great artist", I may arbitrarily condemn him to a category by making such a critical judgment and thereby strip him of what I sense is his incredibly deep and intense humanness. Humanness: The personal synthesis of an individual or individuals of the sum of their experiences, reveries, and immediate reactions to the stimuli that make up existence itself. (My on-the-fly definition).
Roscoe Mitchell has shared "discussions", real time compositions, (labeled improvisations by most critics and listeners), for half a century. He has done so along with a panoply of creative musicians and philosophers in formal (Association for the Advancement of Creative Music, The Art Ensemble of Chicago, Creative Arts Collective), and ad hoc settings. He has, of course, also shared those discussions with those of us who listen. He has through the body of his performances, teaching, and recorded work kept it real.
So, my definition of greatness for the purpose of this review is not based on an aesthetic analysis, of which I have limited qualifications for anyway. I choose to label this recording great because it moves me deeply. From the get go, this work links to breathing, being, feeling, and finds deepest form in its humanness, not its musicality, even though it sound is profoundly musically innovative and fascinating.
These "discussions" emerge from life. They are not reflections of life expressed through sonic metaphor alone.
Chicago/London Underground - A Night Walking Through Mirrors - (Cuneiform Records)
Rob Mazurek (cornet/electronics) and Chad Taylor (drums/percussion) are two of Chicago's most renowned and prolific improvisational creative musicians. They join with two of London's like-minded confreres, Alexander Hawkins (piano) and John Edwards (bass). The resulting collaboration is playful, enervating and engaging as these artists share their exploratory encounters.
Kermit Ruffins/Irvin Mayfield - A Beautiful World - (Basin Street Records)
Like waves off the wake of a Mississippi River barge slowly ambling down to the delta, generations and generations of New Orleans musicians keep rolling on. Trumpeters Ruffins and Mayfield play that tradition out ("don't never change").
Buddy Bolden didn't die, he just disappeared into the air they all they breathe down there.
Yet each and every one of the cousins, (every native musician in New Orleans is some other musician's sibling, cousin, parent or child, it seems), adds a slightly different spice to the gumbo. Hip hop, soul, blues, avant garde jazz, country and western, classical, and a plethora of other elements and admixtures as well as personal idiosyncrasies subtly differentiate specific artists but a consistent historical thread connects most of the working artists there to the ghosts of Bechet, Armstrong, Bartholomew, Fess, and Toussaint.
On this CD these two current luminaries along with a constellation of local stars, (Cyril Neville, Dr. Michael White, John Boutte, Rebirth Brass Band, Bill Summers, Jason Marsalis, etc) share mainly tune snippets that provide a sample of a sweet set in Snug Harbor. There are spoken word introductions and the whole project sounds like it could be played in its entirety as a radio show for a lazy but hip DJ. There are a lot of great tunes here, and my personal picks are "Just Playin", "Allen Toussaint", "Do Whacha Wanna" and the incredible duet, "Trumpet Bounce".
Willie Jones III - My Point is... - (WJ3 Records)
Drummer Jones, joined by venerated musicians bassist Buster Williams, trumpeter Eddie Henderson, pianist Eric Reed, and saxophonist Ralph Moore, shares his own compositions along with those of Reed, Williams, Horace Silver and Herbie Hancock. The results are jazz perfection. Jones constantly comments via fills while keeping or altering tempos at will. Turnarounds abound without any untoward effects on melodic through lines. The level of play here is exemplary. Check out Reed's solo on "Blues For That Taz", Williams' work on "The Maze" and the tunes "Peace" and "My Point is ...".
Anat Cohen Tentet - Happy Song - (Anzic Records)
Israeli composer/clarinetist Cohen and her collaborator Oded Levi-Ari have found the sweet spot between pop and folk genres and wildly creative arrangements that leave room for the musicians, especially Cohen, to swing.
Whether echoing Klezmer, West African music, or blues, Brazilian music or old timey waltzes, the careful listener is always rewarded with nuanced and thoughtful innovation.
My picks, the atmospheric Levi-Ari tune "Trills and Thrills", "Kenedougou Foly" written by Mali's Neba Solo, and the title tune, the aptly named "Happy Song".
Ron Francis Blake - Assimilation - (Hi Speed Horns Records)
Trumpeter Blake, true to the title of this release, uses Cuban jazz as a basis to explore large ensemble arranging and composition. These are mostly his originals, and while they hew closely to tradition, they have a clean '60's edge to them, like a Lalo Schifrin film score. My faves, "Night Dreams", (African undertones here),"Saura de Nazareth" a guitar, trumpet, percussion whimsical gem, and Joanna Newsom's lovely waltz melody "You and Me and Bess".
Eliana Cuevas - Golpes y Flores - (Alma Records)
I don't like the designation "World Music". At best it means an artists has woven together elements of musical performance and compositional traditions from a variety of geographic and ethnic traditions and it suits her or him and the music. At worst it means "Non-Western pop music or elevator music". There is a lot of space between those two poles.
Venezuelan/Canadian Cuevas has a soulful and sincere voice, and her tunes are deeply informed by her South American origins and the indigenous and African influences there, but she also embraces electronica, jazz elements and a very contemporary performance style. These are wonderful songs. Let's forget the labels and leave it at that.
Negroni's Trio - New Era - (Sony Music Latin)
Pianist Jose Negroni along with Nomar Negroni and Josh Allen are a Latin Jazz pop act, safe as milk. Covers of George Duke, Stevie Wonder, and Paul McCartney, and much synth work give this a swinging '70's feel. But damn, they can play. The Latin ballad "El Imcomprendido" sung by Pedro Capo is gloriously arranged with lots of jazz and classical filigree. "Perfidia" is also a standout.