by: Hobart Taylor
Hoaxer - Crash Test - (Illicit Productions)
From Minnesota's twin cities comes an alternative path forward for jazz. Charlie Lincoln, Will Kjeer, Edmund Catlin, and Peter Goggin all whom have just reached or are about to reach legal drinking age, play with a spirit of abandon while maintaining a keen ear for astute summation. As their report card presumably says, "they play well together". Tunes occasionally emerge from their colloquies, (the ethereally gorgeous "San Juan Island County Fair"), some of theme profoundly melodic, and these are captivating. But the essence of their work is the fine attunement of multiple sensibilities and spirits. While so many young musicians pay reverent homage to traditions, or assert their egos in proficient performance, it is always exciting to hear folks just getting together to have fun relating to each other. This release is authentic, casual, and a great listen.
Sherman Irby - Cerulean Canvas - (Black Warrior)
Stepping out front from his perch in the Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra, (under the direction of Wynton Marsalis), lead alto saxophonist Irby occupies the eye of the storm that is jazz tradition. Exquisitely calibrated blues based straight ahead tunes swing with authority. Like a Basie small ensemble, Irby, pianist Eric Reed, bassist Gerald Cannon, drummer, Willie jones III, and trombonists either Vincent Gardiner or Eliot Mason, (and Marsalis on trumpet for two tunes), refine classical jazz into platinum perfection. Highlights include a delicate and nuanced Mulgrew Miller tune worthy of Ellington, "From Day To Day", the beautiful Wayne Shorter tune, "Contemplation", and the Kansas City blues, "John Bishop Blues", and the outlier and least literal composition, Vincent Gardiner's tone poem "Blue Twirl: A Portrait of Sam Gilliam".
Jason Marsalis and the 21st Century Trad Band - Melody Reimagined: Book 1 - (Basin Street Records)
This recording by vibraphonist Marsalis is a wonderful extension of a critical idea in jazz, going from here to there. Improvisation often is the re-creation of melody and chord changes through a process of constant mutation. In the liner he writes, (after describing how at gigs he would spontaneously re-arrange standards), "...a concept for an album was born: original compositions based on the harmonic structure, or chord changes, from other songs". This process is nothing new, he notes, Charlie Parker's "Ornithology is based on the harmony for "How High The Moon". These "reimagined" tunes are rich and vibrant...and get to the heart jazz as a verb.
Jeff Baker - Phrases - (OA2 Records)
Art song singer/songwriter Baker fleshes out extraordinary tunes with an all star cast (drummer Brian Blade, saxes Steve Wilson and Geof Bradfield, trumpeter Marquis Hill, bassist Clark Sommers, pianist Darrell Grant, guitarist Gregory Uhlmann, and a string quartet). On top of the cunning lyrics and compelling melodies that make up these tunes is Baker's voice. While it is assured and authoritative, there is a intimacy that adds a final layer of identification and authenticity. Oh yeah, that voice is also supremely musical. This is the record Sting has been trying to make for years. Sting may have the fame. Baker has the chops. And his record is all killer, no filler.
Nerina Pallot - Stay Lucky - (Idaho Records)
You may be surprised to see this as a jazz release, but English singer/songwriter Pallot's sensibilities goes place musically that are more adventurous and innovative than the well trod pop landscape. The ballads "Come Into My Room" has Laura Nyro's precision in the changes, and "The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter" is a tune that has a timelessness that is the essence of the ephemeral.
Black Gardenia - Lucky Star - (Self Released)
Twenties style jazz, gypsy guitar and tight ensemble arrangements behind a sultry and alluring singer, Daphne Roubini. A champagne cocktail on the veranda, the air kissed with sweet summer fog.
Alphonso Johnson - Metaphors - (Self Released)
Bassist Johnson is a pro from Dover, Phil Collins, Weather Report, etc. While a lot of this is poppy and not moving to me, he can really play, and when he commits to a song as a singer,like his version of Annie Lennox's "Cold", he can be soulful. There is a tune though that really stands out, the funkified poetry of "Moisten Harmony". This points to a place I hope he goes... out there where the air is untainted by the miasma of the overheard.