by: Hobart Taylor
Matt Wilson - Honey and Salt: Music inspired by the poetry of Carl Sandburg - (Palmetto Records)
Releases sometimes come in thematic waves. Last year there were a lot of Hammond B3(organ) records. This year we have had releases celebrating poetry. Langston Hughes,(David Amram-Eric Mingus, Ron McCurdy,McGill Mchale Trio), Emily Dickinson (Jane Ira Bloom), William Butler Yeats (Sarah Jerrom reviewed below), and this stunning tribute to Sandburg are a fair sampling.
Drummer composer Wilson is a hero in the jazz world for his sensitive work as a part of various daring ensembles and as an educator. His work is often witty and heartfelt, and this release is no exception. Sometimes the tunes underscore recitations that are performed precisely and dramatically by other musicians (John Scofield, Rufus Reed, Carla Bley, Bill Frisell, Joe Lovano, and Jeff Lederer who plays incredible sax all over this project). Dawn Thompson also gloriously sings poems here.
The instrumental interpretations of Sandburg's work as an art commenting on art commenting of the act of reflections on nature and the human condition, at least 3 degrees of separation.
The variety of musical tropes, blues based riffs, African drumming under Sandburg himself reading his most famous poem "Fog", marches, folky meanderings, modal minor key musings, et al all add up to a reawakening of our sense just how elusive yet American quotidian Sandburg's work can be. As I said of Jane Ira Bloom's "Wild Lines", this is an important document in American literature, and damn fine music as well.
Sarah Jerrom - The Yeats Project - (Self Released)
Composer/singer Jerrom working with some of Toronto's most esteemed jazz and classical musicians, including the remarkable cellist Andrew Downing and drummer Ernesto Cervini, uses elements of Celtic music of course, but also explodes into swinging commentary, edgy minor key syncopated riffs, and recurrent melodic undulations, ebbs and swells. Pianist Carissa Neufeld links the classical string section and the jazz ensemble together to create seamless transitions between genres. The poem "Adam's Curse" is a profound feminist commentary exquisitely performed. Also standout arrangements include "Stream and Sun at Glendalough" and "Sailing to Byzantium".
Ernesto Cervini's Turboprop - REV - (Anzic Records)
Drummer Cervini is joined here two of my favorite saxophonists, Tara Davidson* and Joel Frahm, trombonist William Carn, pianist, Adrean (chop chop)** Farrugia, and bassist Dan Loomis. This is a true collaborative effort. Not only does Cervini compose two of the tunes, but Farrugia, Loomis and Carn contribute to the writing as well.
The tunes are often uptempo and joyfully performed. They chose a couple of rock tunes as covers, Blind Melon's "No Rain" and Radiohead's slow build the "The Daily Mail" which showcases Dan Loomis as a soulful interpreter on his solo. Throughout Cervini keeps the all the watches wound and in perfect ticking order.
* Check out "Duets" her 2014 release where she shares tunes with many of Toronto's best and brightest musicians
**("Chop Chop" is my new moniker for Farrugia who has lovely phrasing, and whose notes have just the right length to my ear)
Teri Parker - In The Past - (Self Released)
Also from Canada comes composer/pianist Parker. Working here with rhythm section Max Godfrey on bass and drummer Mack Longpre, and with Allison Au, saxophonist and Juno award winner (Canadian Grammys), Parker lays down elusive melodies that sometimes appear as serialistic gentle meanders, sometimes appear as jagged fits and starts. This is music one feels as well as hears. Au often takes the lead and her tone and dynamic range astound. I really like "On the Farm" a bluesy and thoughtful tune that set me to thinking of Billy Strayhorn. Don't ask me why. Parker's playing on the solo is just so comforting and reassuring.
Mike Downes - Root Structure - (Addo Records)
Yet more Canadians! Bassist Downes and guitarist Ted Quinlan, keyboardist Robi Botos and Larnell Lewis on drums, have a pretty straight ahead quartet. They swing or they quietly reflect, they expand tunes or play with tightness and precision, but they are always dedicated to clear melodic exposition. The tunes are not generically exploratory, but they are sweet and satisfying. "Miles" has a rock edge like the Larry Coryell fusion tunes that seems very cool. The title tune is also funky and catchy. A drum and bass riff it addresses the basic structure of building a tune from real roots, rhythm.
Gary Meek - Originals - (Self Released)
Tenor Saxophonist Gary Meek has a lot to say and says it well. The tunes feature highly structured changes. The bop and wail gets turned on periodically, and wise observation sneaks in as well. Drummer Terri Lynn Carrington and bassist Brian Bromberg are in genius mode here defining the genre. When they trade fours on the explosive opening tune "What Happened to my Good Shoes?" you know that these performances will be built on the most solid of foundations. Pianist Mitchell Forman is one of L.A.'s finest, and provides color and grace to the recording. And then there is Meek himself. His tone is vibrant and big. The tunes cover a variety of styles, but they all have fascinating intricacy. Check out "Suite for Maureen" the ballad "Spiritual for Iris", and my fave, "Mr. DG".
Bill Charlap - Uptown downtown - (Impulse)
The trio format in jazz, I posit, is like the string quartet in classical music, a structure that examines the dynamic between individual expression and cohesive collaboration. While jazz piano trios (since we call them piano trios) supposedly support the expression of the "leader", the pianist, the melodic torch bearer, they almost inevitably digress into dynamic explorations where the listener flits from instrument to instrument in an attempt to greet a unity that exists and doesn't. Peter Washington on bass, and drummer Kenny Washington, (they are not related), have been backing hard bop pianist Benny Green, but take a detour here to the sophisticated and high gloss world of Cafe Society, Charlap's corner of the idiom. Tunes like "Spring Can Really Hang You Up" and "There's a Small Hotel" drip like candle wax on the table cloth in the dining room of a Park avenue penthouse, but what floats my boat are tongue in cheek numbers like the title tune "Uptown Downtown" and "The One I Love Belongs to Somebody Else".