by: Hobart Taylor
Ernest Dawkins New Horizons Ensemble (featuring Vijay Iyer) - Transient Takes / Live the Spirit - (Residency)
In jazz, Folks pay a lot of attention to auspicious emerging talent, folks honor matriarchs and patriarchs who define historical traditions, but those who are riding the crest, artists who have found their groove and who comfortable in their own skins yet continue to grow and refine their music, mid-life artists, often get passed over. There is no finer saxophonist in than Chicago's Ernest Dawkins. You can extol the virtues of Kamasi Washington or Sonny Rollins, grand artists both, but don't lose sight of musicians like Dawkins, especially when they are at the height of their powers.
On this release, Dawkins on tenor and alto works in the classic quartet format with his core musicians, drummer Isaiah Spencer, the astounding Junius Paul on bass, and guest artist and jazz insiders superstar, New York pianist Vijay Iyer. Iyer, who leads his own renowned ensembles, settles in here as a true compadre, supporting the Dawkins' visions both intellectually and emotionally. In fact, that's what makes this music so compelling. It's impossible for me to determine if this release is smart from the heart or full of joy and pain from the brain.
Stylistically, the tunes are deep improvisations in the creative music tradition, Art Ensemble of Chicago etc, But these are improvisations from tunes that feel ongoing, like they are always around hovering in the air around us like radio waves or ambient light. Occasionally Dawkins et al pick up their instruments and focus those energies. Extraordinary. Gorgeous. Soulful.
George Freeman - 90 Going On Amazing - (blujazz)
From out the vaults emerges this perfect gem, club jazz as it should heard, languorous, sensuous, soulful, and swinging. Guitarist Freeman, joined by house musician from the late lamented Underground Wonder Bar in Chicago, (710 N. Clark),takes on classics with a panoply of styles, echoes of his contemporaries like Wes Montgomery and Grant Green, sure, but rapid staccato play a la Les Paul, or bluesy riffs abound as well.
Freeman and his brother Von, the late grand patron and mentor of generations of Chicago musicians ,link to the deepest traditions of the idiom. George Freeman played with Charlie Parker for Pete's sake. There is a virtuoso take that beautifully display Freeman's distinct personality as a player, "Trees".
Dawn Clement - Tandem - (Origin)
Seattle's Clement is a pianist/composer/and singer who is so much her own self in her music that one can forget that one is listening and just sort of feel good all over for no apparent reason. Slyly humorous akimbo riffs cascade and gambol occasionally supplanted by dreamy interludes of charmed reflection. Each selection on this release is a duet. Julian Priester, trombonist, saxophonist Mark Taylor, drummer Matt Wilson, bassist Michael Glynn, and singer Johnaye Kendrick each engage in musical conversations with Clement that, whether they refine classics, "In The Wee Small Hours", "Bemsha Swing" or elucidate her original tunes, always delight.
Bill Cunliffe - Bachanalia - (Metre Records)
The happy jazz sound, the bouncy soundtrack to breezy French films, Eurojazz,is based so much on applying Bach's engaging mathematics to swing. Performed here by stellar L.A. studio musician and the fine jazz singer Denise Donatelli, Cunliffe takes his big band through neo-classical melodies, re-inventions of music by De Falla and Prokofiev, as well as standards from the Great American Songbook. The arrangements are clean and allow listeners access to all the wonderful individual performances on this recording.
Elliot Mason - Before, Now, and After - (Archival Records)
Mason is a trombonist with the Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra. Stepping out on his own he demonstrates a deep connection with eastern and central European melodic tropes and polyrhythms as well as Latin music. He also is swing meister. A key component of his sound on this disc is the enveloping singing of Sofja Knezevic often doubling his melodic lines. I particularly enjoyed a selection featuring tenor player extraordinaire Joe Lovano and the keen brush work of drummer Ali Jackson, "& Then There Were <3".