Nasheet Waits Equality - Between Nothingness and Infinity

Darius Jones: alto saxophone; Aruan Ortiz: piano; Mark Helias: bass; Nasheet Waits: drums.

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Reinforcing his credentials as a bandleader, Nasheet Waits, an impressive drummer from New York, releases a stimulating album on the French label Laborie Jazz.

The percussionist has a flair for straight-ahead jazz and avant-garde categories but moves with equal confidence in post and neo-bop styles. Past collaborations include Antonio Hart, Mark Turner, Andrew Hill, Fred Hersch, David Murray, Jason Moran, and Steve Lehman, while more recently, his groundbreaking drumming techniques were put at the service of Logan Richardson, Miroslav Vitous, Avishai Cohen, Tony Malaby, and Ralph Alessi.

In his new album, philosophically entitled Between Nothingness and Infinity, he leads the completely renewed quartet Equality, which comprises high-caliber artists such as alto saxophonist Darius Jones, pianist Aruan Ortiz, and bassist Mark Helias. They replace Logan Richardson, Jason Moran, and Tarus Mateen, respectively, who were in the recording of Infinity (Fresh Sound New Talent) in 2008.

Waits’s “Korean Bounce” couldn’t be a more exciting opening, boasting an exuberant pulse that works as a recipient for Ortiz’s timely piano voicings and Jones’s rugged saxophone lines, intentionally imbued of Oriental flavor.

Helias’s “Story Line” flows through African-tinged percussive spells. The theme statement is supplied in unison by sax and piano, and the riveting improvisations make us alert at all times. Jones, whose slightly dissonant contortions are never gratuitous or frivolous, proves he’s a quick-witted explorer while Ortiz’s rhythmic sense and levels of inventiveness thrust him into the limelight of modern pianism.

An uncanny dark mood envelops the title track, a solemn piece composed by the bandleader to be performed by piano trio formation. It opposes to the Parisian charm of Andrew Hill’s “Snake Hip Waltz” whose bohemian feel is instantly absorbed. The amiable melodies blown by Jones, who opts for a post-bop language, encounter Ortiz’s titillating voicings. The pianist’s movements demand clever and intuitive responses from Waits, who nails it.

In Sam River’s “Unity”, you’ll find Jones and Ortiz dialoguing over a well-heeled bass-drums incitement while Nasheet is breathtaking on toms and cymbals.
Envisioning a diversity of pace and color, the quartet delivers “Kush”, a leisurely waltz that recalls Bill Evans, and Parker’s “Koko”, which has sufficient rhythmic variations to sound fresh. In the latter, Waits follows Ortiz’s piano mosaics, carrying his chattering percussive vibes before Helias embarks on a frantic walking bass that seems to ask for bebop scales, a request that Jones immediately refuses, engaging instead in an alternative and more interesting soloing concept with a focus on timbre.

Nasheet Waits unwraps an extraordinary body of work that serves as a showcase for his vibrant driving grooves and impeccable compositions. This is a hidden treasure that every fan of contemporary jazz should look for. Another highlight of the year.

Label: Laborie Jazz
Favorite Tracks: 
01 – Korean Bounce ► 02 – Story Line ► 07 – Koko


Angelica Sanchez Trio - Float the Edge

Angelica Sanchez: piano; Michael Formanek: bass; Tyshawn Sorey: drums.

As a natural sound explorer, avant-garde jazz pianist Angelica Sanchez couldn’t have found a better company for her intents than bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Tyshawn Sorey, two passionate and constantly in-demand adventurers from different generations that form a powerful and pliable foundation.

Float the Edge comprises only originals and was released on Clean Feed Records, a label that has been serving as recipient for the pianist’s latest artistic creations.

“Shapishico”, a mythical creature of the Amazonian jungle, is painted here with fine strokes of modernity instead of any ominous or mysterious sound portraiture. Tension and delicacy coexist in Sanchez’s ruminative prowls, triggering instinctive reactions in her associates, who swing along with plenty of freedom. It’s a gripping opening at the minimum.

In the title track, Sanchez scatters harmonics and knotty phrases over the dense texture weaved by Formanek’s buzzing arco and Sorey’s unflinching percussive craftsmanship.

The lucid “Hypnagogia” tries to step on the threshold of consciousness by setting up a watchful scenario composed of intriguing piano voicings, gliding bass gravitations, and elongate sounds of brushed cymbals to maintain us alert.

“What the Birds Tell Me” boasts a solo piano intro that’s simultaneously dreamy, mystifying, and contemplative in its conception. This floating ambiance is maintained, even after Formanek and Sorey add some more textural layers.

Inspired by the 1979 science fiction novel Shikasta by Doris Lessing, “Sowf (Substance of We Feeling)” is an elastic piece whose bass intro lands on a simple-yet-effective groove that is immediately enhanced by Sorey’s brilliant brushwork. With Sanchez’s brisk lines, the tune acquires a steaming pulse that doesn’t last too long. Step by step, the trio seamlessly changes direction, anchoring this time in a swinging groove that materializes with a fun boppish feel and rhythmic figures atop.

Moved by audacity and colored by a wise sense of action-reaction, “The Traveler” and “Black Flutter” flourish with extemporaneous interactions full of energy and inventiveness. The former seems an acerbic variation of “Caravan”, inviting us to a blind dance of pure astonishment; the latter, closes the album resorting to Coltrane’s epic tones.

Float the Edge spills thrills, overflowing with a spectral expressionism that is more enchanting than rebellious.
This music is filled with beautiful moments of clarity and open-ended dialogue. Listeners with avid ears will want to keep an eye on the following moves of Angelica Sanchez Trio.

Label: Clean Feed, 2017
Favorite Tracks:
04 – Sowf ► 07 – The Traveler ► 08 – Black Flutter


DKV Trio & The Thing - Collider

Ken Vandermark: reeds; Kent Kessler: bass; Hamid Drake: drums; Mats Gustafsson: reeds; Haker Flaten: bass; Paal Nilssen-Love: drums. 

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Joining two of the most well-established free/avant-garde jazz trios of our times on the same recording can be simultaneously bold and risky. However, the idea is not a novelty for DKV Trio, which already teamed up with AALY Trio in Double or Nothing (2002) and Gustafsson/Nilssen-Love/Pupillo in Schl8hof (2013). 
In Collider, the undamaged, piercing sounds of DKV and The Thing trios merge, evincing a high compatibility without losing a bit of identity. None of the formations superimpose to the other, but rather combine efforts for striking us through their bracing sonic textures.

The American DKV Trio, active since 1996, has drummer Hamid Drake, bassist Kent Kessler, and multi-reedist Ken Vandermark as its pillars while the nordic The Thing, whose debut was in 2000, is composed of Paal Nilssen-Love on drums, Haker Flaten on bass, and Mats Gustafsson on reeds. 

Collaborations with individual musicians are not uncommon practices for the trios - DKV had saxophonist Fred Anderson and guitarist/bassist Joe Morris on their side; The Thing joined forces with vocalist Neneh Cherry and Sonic Youth’s singer-guitarist Thurston Moore. 
The three extended tracks of Collider, driven by fluent, improvised melodic interactions and insane rhythmic locomotion, were recorded live in 2015 at Manggha Hall in Krakow, Poland.

The opening tune, “Cards”, shows a top-notch sextet dropping wild cards on the table and winning us over with an upfront attitude that brings raucous sounds wrapped in hard-and-groovy bass-drums contractions and expansions. The energy can be felt in every section, where the expansive languages of free jazz and rock music cross with an upbeat power funk of colossal intensity. We have the perfect notion that there’s a multitude of creative possibilities for these wild cats.

“Moving Map” is 24 minutes long and opens with two bowed basses and the clamant, high-pitched notes of Vandermark’s clarinet. They seem to be asking for Gustafsson’s tenor saxophone, inviting him to take part in the game. When that happens, the tune is immediately reshaped into an ultra-rapid rhythmic blast. Minutes later, it suffers another mutation, this time settling on a hypnotic African-style pulse with baritone ostinatos on top. A polyrhythmic dialogue between the drummers brings unexpected Latin aromas before the band returns to the relentless untamed spirit they are known for.

“Left And Left Again” draws darker atmospheres on the account of the bassists’ sinister lines. In order to frame this picture, industrial rhythms are put up with the same vigorous collective improvisations atop.

The impactful Collider is a delight for any enthusiast of the modern creative jazz genre. This is what happens when six members with this level of technique and creativity team up. They punch you in the face while keeping you dancing at the same time. 

Label: Not Two Records, 2016
Favorite Tracks: 
01 – Cards ► 02 – Moving Map


Michael Attias - Nerve Dance

Michaël Attias: alto saxophone; Aruan Ortiz: piano; John Hébert: double bass; Nasheet Waits: drums.

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In his new release entitled Nerve Dance, saxophonist Michaël Attias focuses on a set of 11 exuberant originals (two of them by Hébert) in the company of pianist Aruan Ortiz, long-time associate bassist John Hébert, and drummer Nasheet Waits.
This is Attias’s sixth album on Clean Feed as a leader, after Credo (2005), Twines of Colesion (2008), Renku in Coimbra (2009), Renku Live in Greenwich Village (2016), and Spun Tree (2012).
As a sideman, Attias has been a regular choice of pianist Anthony Coleman and lent his engrossing sax lines for punctual works by Anthony Braxton, Paul Motian, Tony Malaby, John Hébert, and Eric Revis.

The chemistry of the quartet takes immediate effect on the first tune “Dark Net”, a crossroad between Andrew Hill and Steve Coleman. Attias throws in complex-yet-attractive phrases while Waits is constantly on the edge, defying the limits of stability and infusing all his rhythmic force, especially during and after Ortiz’s inventive improvisation. Hébert throbs along, assuring a resilient foundation from below and everything ends up in a groovy vamp with a sax ostinato. 

“Nerve & Limbo” is clearly split into two sections. On the first one, the rhythm section prepares a modern-Latin pulse that waits for Attias’s ingress à-la Coltrane. This nervy rampage gives place to a minimalistic pianism to start the more reflective Limbo part.

There’s a sense of urgency in “Scribble Job Yin Yang”, which opens with Hébert plucking the bass strings heartily. The tune achieves an accordant balance between dark and light after some stormy inflections magnified by the bandleader’s rebellious attitude, Ortiz’s dancing chords, and Waits’s snare-drum gusts.

Variety is an important aspect in Attias’s body of work. Thus, significant differences can be found between “Moonmouth”, a floating ballad brought up with neo-classical intonations and a Threadgill-like approach, “Le Pese-Nerfs”, a deliberated experimental piece delivered with rhythmic displacements and bright-hued sax squeals, and Hébert’s “Rodger Lodge”, a post-bop portrayal with a charming thematic melody. 

All four members demonstrate an amazing sense of tempo and strong unity in the enigmatic and vindicatory “La Part Maudite” while in “Dream in a Mirror” we have beautiful solo incursions by Waits and Hébert for a start. Ortiz’s voicings delicately match Hébert’s notes and both welcome Attias’s Coltrane-influenced spiritual blows.
 
The record finishes with engaging reciprocities through “Nasheet”, a tune composed by Hébert and dedicated to Waits with whom he meshes so well. 

It’s inevitable to get stuck in this conceptual and textural web of sound and rhythm. Attias, stronger than ever, seems to have found his fabulous four.
Nerve Dance is a suburban ritualistic journey, an ear-opener, and an asset for any lover of contemporary jazz.

Label: Clean Feed, 2017
Favorite Tracks:
01 – Dark Net ► 09 – Dream in a Mirror ► 11 – Nasheet


James Brandon Lewis Trio - No Filter

James Brandon Lewis: saxophone; Luke Stewart: bass; Warren Trae Crudup III: drums + guests: Anthony Pirog: guitar; Nicholas Ryan Gant: vocals.

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James Brandon Lewis is a NY-based tenor saxophonist and composer with post-bop and avant-garde inclinations. Moving effortlessly with a scintillating articulation, he mixes elements of gospel (a strong background), hip-hop, and R&B.

After years playing as a sideman for renowned musicians of different genres, Lewis released his debut album, Moments, in 2010. However, it was with his sophomore Divine Travels, recorded with a powerhouse trio composed of bassist William Parker and drummer Gerald Cleaver, that he gained more visibility from jazz aficionados and media.
The following step was Days of Freeman, another critically acclaimed trio work, featuring Jamaaladeen Tacuma and Rudy Royston on bass and drums, respectively.

Faithful to the trio formation, his new album, No Filter, was built in the company of bassist Luke Stewart and drummer Warren Trae Crudup III. 
Impelled by an intoxicating natural force, “Say What” delves into a rock-inflated jazz where Lewis looses up striking patterns, showing off his considerable flair for incendiary improvisation on top of the thick carpet weaved by his trusty rhythm mates.

Cut from the same cloth, the title track adds a good slice of funk to the recipe. Lewis, questioning with vehemence and answering with exclamations, takes advantage of the natural disposition of Stewart and Crudup toward groove. The tune ends with Lewis’ voice saying ‘If the good Lord gave me these melodies, they need to be heard’.

“Y’all Slept”, a hip-hop statement featuring the MC P.SO the Earth Tone King, also gives the first welcome to the guest guitarist Anthony Pirog, who embarks on an ostinato whose melody is partially uttered by the bandleader at a faster tempo. With strenuous brio, the latter cooks his improvisation with sultry inventiveness.
 
“Raise Up Off Me”, relying on a provocative melody delivered almost entirely with a sax-bass unison, creates an in-depth, ardent, and passionate narrative flow.

The title “Zen” can be misleading. You won’t find this joyful chant so peaceful as the word might suggest. It’s pronounced with highly catchy melodies and upbeat refluxes of gospel and rock.

Pirog returns for the closing tune, the sweeter-than-bitter “Bittersweet”, which also features the mellow voice of Nicholas Ryan Gant.

No Filter is a thrilling record from a young saxophonist who has so much to give. Not limited in genre, he has this get-up-and-go attitude that communicates spirituality and freedom in a very intense way.

Favorite Tracks:
01 – What to Say ► 04 – Raise Up Off Me ► 05 – Zen


Steve Swell / Gebhard Ullmann - The Chicago Plan

Steve Swell: trombone; Gebhard Ullmann: saxophone, clarinet; Fred Lonberg-Holm: cello, electronics; Michael Zerang: drums.

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Whenever American trombonist Steve Swell and German saxophonist/clarinetist Gebhard Ullmann get together for a new album or performance, one can expect pure energy within the creditable expeditions into the avant-garde/free territory. Assuring a diversity of attractive sounds, the moods adopted can rapidly shift from boisterous to reflective.

Their first recording together, as Ullmann-Swell Quartet, goes back to 2005 with Desert Songs And Other Landscapes (CIMP), proceeding in 2008 with Live in Montreal (City Hall), and again two years later with News? No News! (Jazzwerkstatt) In all three, they relied on a go-ahead rhythmic foundation laid down by bassist Hilliard Greene and drummer Barry Altschul.

In their new album, a celebration of a decade of friendship and musicianship, they resolved to expand their concept of sound and rhythm through approaches that lead to new possibilities. To achieve this, they renew the rhythm section by calling two skilled instrumentalists from Chicago, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, who is also in charge of electronics, and drummer Michael Zerang. The album/project gets the understandable title of The Chicago Plan.

Ullmann contributes with four compositions, including two parts of his magnificent suite “Variations on a Master Plan” whose Pt.3 fires up the recording. Making its way through an inebriating groove, this tune works as an irresistible invitation for what comes next. The reeds, always cheek by jowl, move in a zealous spiral whether playing untied polyphonies, uncanny unisons, or strolling with no accompaniment. Joy is all around even when Lonberg-Holm brings a slice of solemnity with his cello movements.

If Pt.3 is a sunny day, Pt.2 is a quiet night. The band generates a yearning chamber music that surrounds us with soberer tones. 
Swell’s 18-minute “Composite #10” oozes energy from everywhere and brings Anthony Braxton into mind, not only because of its title but also due to its structure and musical force. The first five minutes are filled with thoughtful spanks, bonks, and chomps of Zerang’s stiff-less drumming. He was just making room for the pugnacious and highly-rhythmic altercation that arrives next, where Swell and Ullmann expel brisk phrases that sometimes match, sometimes diverge. The band reserves a section for the apocalyptic white noise produced by Lonberg-Holm’s electronics.

Packed with excruciating musical venom, “Rule #1” accentuates the quartet’s impeccable sense of tempo. The reedists show off the virile and unorthodox avant-jazz jargon, having Zerang’s punchy rhythms in the background. The electrifying drummer shines once again in “Déjà Vu”, a more restrained tune devised with bouncy folk melodies, cacophonic murmurs, and precious silences.

These four staunch improvisers know how to make us alert, working the dynamics and textures with an impressive gusto. 
It might take a few years for the Ullmann-Swell Quartet reunite again, but until there, we have the creditable The Chicago Plan to rack our brains out.

Label: Clean Feed, 2016
Favorite Tracks:
01 – Variations on a Master Plan Pt.3 ► 04 – Rule #1 ► 05 – Deja Vu 


Tom Harrell - Something Gold, Something Blue

Tom Harrell: trumpet, flugelhorn; Ambrose Akinmusire: trumpet; Charles Altura: guitar; Ugonna Okegwo: bass; Johnathan Blake: drums; Omer Avital: oud.

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With more than 40 records under his belt and a career that spans nearly five decades, Tom Harrell, a deft cool-tone trumpeter and extremely skilled composer, has been spreading fragrances of quality within the jazz genre.
The multiple awards are a deserved recognition for his talent and dedication to an enthralling style that, despite centered on postbop and straight-ahead jazz, often searches for other sources of inspiration.

The variety of paces, textures, and moods found in Something Gold Something Blue, his new recording on HighNote Records, mirrors exactly that permissiveness and spirit of innovation. 
In order to perform the eight originals and a rendition of the classic ballad “Body and Soul”, Harrell convened a group of rousing musicians – trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and guitarist Charles Altura are categorical new acquisitions for the quintet, while bassist Ugonna Okegwo and drummer Johnathan Blake are recurrent choices with the important mission of assuring a sensitive, stabilized rhythm flow.

The opening number, “Circuit”, registers a short theme statement designed with horn alignments laid over the surefooted foundation built by Blake’s nervy drumming and Okegwo’s propulsive plucking. Among the soloists, Harrell stands out due to the playfulness and detachment of his gestures.

While “Travelin” accepts the term ‘song’ for itself in accordance to the exposed guitar chords and facile melodies, “Trances” is no less than an adventurous fantasy composed of rich harmonies, nuanced grooves, and seamless fluctuations in tempo. After the introductory percussive proclamation, Blake maintains composure between the alternating 6/8 and 4/4 sections with the help of Altura’s warmly-amplified voicings. Moreover, Akinmusire and Harrell’s trumpet solos coexist with color, purpose, and zero conflict.

Through the ethnic fusion of “Delta of the Nile”, a winding Middle Eastern narrative that counted on special guest Omer Avital on oud, Harrell takes us to other parts of the globe. Yet, the mood shifts again with “View”, an uplifting locomotion fabricated with complex and arresting accentuations, and with “Sound Image”, whose touches of funk and Brazilian bossa emit amiable vibes.
The swinging “The Vehicle”, moving in a more traditional way, closes the album.

Simultaneously, Harrell assures powerful individual contributions from his likes and exceptional group dynamics. 
His remarkable compositional creativity, instrument control, and musical adventurism are all here to turn this recording into a spellbinding modern classic. Mandatory!

Label: HighNote Records, 2016
Favorite Tracks:
03 – Trances ► 04 – Delta of the Nile ► 08 – Sound Image


John Ellis - Evolution: Seeds and Streams

John Ellis: piano, keyboards; Sam Healey: alto sax; Ellie Smith: trombone; Helena Jane Summerfield: tenor sax, clarinet, flute; Jali Nyonkoling Kuyateh: kora; John Haycock: kora; Jessica Macdonald: cello; Pete Turner: bass, synth; Rick Weedon: percussion. 

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First of all, I would like to clarify that this John Ellis is a British pianist, composer, and producer and not the better-known American saxophonist that you're probably thinking of. Ellis was a co-founder of The Cinematic Orchestra and one of the brains behind it. He also worked with Tom Jones, John Squire (The Stone Roses), Lily Allen, and Corinne Bailey Rae.

His debut feature album as a leader, Evolution: Seeds and Streams may include some loose elements from these artists here and there, but has more to do with the Cinematic’s musical posture where the sonic descriptions are deeply connected with visual stimulation. However, the mood and sound here are quite distinct from that band, thanks to the addictive sounds of the kora, a 21-string lute-bridge-harp originally from West Africa.
The Evolution project gained expression in 2015, after the pianist’s collaboration with the emergent filmmaker Antony Barkworth-Knight.

Pushing us higher and higher in the sky, “Flight” boasts a soaring synthesizer ostinato, disciplined horns, boisterous piano fillings, a weeping cello, and tardy kora dances. It also features a stirring solo by the altoist Sam Healey, who steps forward once again in “Unidentical Twins”, a soul-healing celebration dominated by the exoticism of the kora’s elocution. A steady foundation, laid down by the intersection of Ellis’ keys, Pete Turner’s bass, and Rick Weedon’s percussion, ensures the appropriate stability and flow.

The comforting energies conveyed here are reutilized in “The Ladder”, a hypnotic and slightly spasmodic exercise filled with Eastern melodic phrases, where the excellence of the keyboardist’s gestures can be admired together with a nice solo by trombonist Ellie Smith.
Two interludes of dissimilar conceptions open the doors to “Unidentical Twins” and “The Ladder” - “Interlude One” can be compared to a little prayer of pensive cogitation while “Interlude Two” is a longer, more atmospheric combination of vibrating sounds.

The heartening “Poemander” starts by imposing sublime poetic articulations designed by piano and cello. It gains further density through the participation of kora and reed players.
The goodbyes arrive masquerade of melancholic tones and bathed in a shimmering radiance with “Arrivals”.
It’s not surprising that Ellis has been captivating many listeners with his compositional genius, adroit arrangements, and extraordinary musical vision.
 
Evolution: Steeds and Streams, a fruitful collection of instrumentals embroidered with strong emotional charge, has the facility to project us into stunning, distant landscapes and inflate our imagination.

Label: Gondwana Records, 2016
Favorite Tracks:
01 – Flight ► 03 – Unidentical Twins ► 05 – The Ladder


Jason Roebke Octet - Cinema Spiral

Jason Roebke: double bass; Greg Ward: alto saxophone; Keefe Jackson: tenor saxophone; Jeb Bishop: trombone; Jason Stein: bass clarinet; Josh Berman: cornet; Jason Adasiewicz: vibraphone; Mike Reed: drums.

jason-roebke-cinema-spiral-2016

A persistent curiosity is drawn when we hear the music of Chicagoan Jason Roebke, a forward-thinking avant-garde bassist who's conquering more and more space within the modern jazz styles.
Throughout a career that spans for 20 years, Roebke has recorded with drummer Mike Reid, trumpeter Nate Wooley, cellist Tomeka Reid, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, and the Chicago quartet Klang. The recordings under his own name are established with a variety of formations – solo, typical guitar and clarinet trios, and bigger ensembles. 

Just like High/Red/Center (Delmark Records, 2014), Cinema Spiral, released on NoBusiness Records, was recorded with his ebullient octet and comes fully equipped with challenging modern compositions structured to accommodate individual statements and high-flying collective divagations.
The octet's lineup didn’t change, maintaining a five-horn frontline with Greg Ward on alto saxophone, Keefe Jackson on tenor, Jeb Bishop on trombone, Jason Stein on bass clarinet, and Josh Berman on cornet. Joining him in the rhythm section are vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz and the intrepid drummer Mike Reed.

With the tunes connected as a suite, Cinema Spiral opens with “Looking Directly Into the Camera”, whose unconventional structure takes us to hallucinogenic cinematic universes. Roebke roams through an early solo, corroborating with the idea that, for that particular moment, an unobtrusive atmosphere is worthier than a stormy agitation. Layers get thicker after the reed players arrive.

In the stimulating “Focusing”, the behavior of the rhythm section makes the 4/4-swing feeling less obvious. In addition to the highly aesthetic vibes of Adasiewicz, the multi-horn aggregation provides for creative meddling. 
We are immediately transported to quieter territories with “For a Moment”, which for a few minutes is governed by the soothing trumpet melodies of Berman. After Roebke’s visionary improvisation, the tune becomes luxuriant, yet invariably consistent.

Both “Getting High” and “People Laughing” have riotous interactions in common. While the former gradually changes from musing to riotous, the latter does the opposite, serenading the rambunctious brassy whirlwinds as it moves forward.

“Waiting” is a strong one. It features solos by Bishop and Stein, whose rhythmic idea get prompt responses from his likes. The individual improvisational passages are interspersed with invigorating collective cacophonies. 
Roebke finalizes with “L’acmé”, a fanciful tempo-shifting inspiration that highlights polyphonies and unisons, encouraging free interplay.

Packed with liberating densities and asymmetries, Cinema Spiral feels like a stony trip into the vagueness. Taking into account the quality of his compositions and style, Roebke deserves to stand above the radar, side by side with other hyper-creative fellow bassists such as Mario Pavone, Joe Fonda, and William Parker.

Label: NoBusiness Records, 2016
Favorite Tracks:
02 – Focusing ► 06 – Waiting ► 07 – L’acmé


Ellery Eskelin / Christian Weber / Michael Griener - Sensations of Tone

Ellery Eskelin: tenor saxophone; Christian Weber: double bass; Michael Griener: drums.

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A contemporary sax-bass-drums trio formation makes of diversity its raison d’être. It’s even more enticing when we realize that American saxophonist Ellery Eskelin is part of it, accompanied by a European rhythm section composed of Swiss bassist Christian Weber and German drummer Michael Griener.

I was always a big fan of Eskelin’s music, especially that unforgettable trio with Andrea Parkins and Jim Black that delighted countless avant-jazz fans in the 90’s and 00’s. Recently, I had the pleasure to hear him conjuring up rough-hewn aesthetics in Rhombal, a highly groovy project led by the bassist Stephan Crump.

Adventurous by nature, the three musicians are not estranged to one another and that factor weighs in the interactive easiness they exhibit. Here, they focus on exploration-improvisation, and, surprise!, early jazz classics.
They got down to business and came up with the idea of mixing on the same recording avant-garde and traditional jazz, digging it with their personal style and vision.

In Sensations of Tone, Wiener and Griener combine in perfection, creating diversified textures whose consistency is a tonic for Eskelin’s conversational fluency pelted with colorful facets. Although the album title derives from von Helmholtz’s work on sound and acoustics dated from 1863, it’s more than natural to think of the grainy, warm tones of Eskelin’s tenor as part of the process. 
You’ll find four urban avant-garde pieces, apparently inspired by some streets and places of New York (according to its titles), evenly intercalated with four gorgeous renditions of traditional swinging jazz songs.

Probing different sonic concepts, “Orchard and Broome” is audacious in nature, opening with the deeply reverberant sounds of Griener’s drums, which soon have the company of Weber’s grumbling bowed bass. Eskelin’s intriguing phrasing blossoms, whether with calmness or turbulence until we reach the boiling point where the voracious power of his tenor can be felt. The outbreak eventually stabilizes for the finale.

With more or fewer levels of abstraction, we have “Cornelia Street”, a true proof that experimentation sometimes leads to ebullient swinging grooves, “Ditmas Avenue”, where Weber displays his penetrating round sound and exceptional technique, and “Dumbo”, whose mood is more alarming than playful.

The classics are Jelly Roll Morton’s “Shreveport Stomp”, whose start recalls the Muppet Show theme, “China Boy”, a popular song from the 20’s that ends up with Eskelin trading fours with Griener, Bennie Moten’s “Moten Swing”, and the widely known “Ain’t Misbehavin”, which sparks with Eskellin’s motivic approach and Griener’s invitation to a tap dance.

The trio’s idea of putting together austere melodic material with ear-pleasing pieces was clever. 
Regardless if searching for similarities between styles, the alternation of moods provides agreeable and less exhausting musical dissections. 

Label: Intakt Records, 2017
Favorite Tracks: 
01 – Orchard and Broome ► 03 – Cornelia Street ► 04 – China Boy


David Binney - The Time Verses

David Binney: alto saxophone; Jacob Sacks: piano; Eivind Opsvick: bass; Dan Weiss: drums - Guests: Jen Shyu: vocals; Shai Golan: alto saxophone.

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Long-revered altoist phenomenon David Binney is certainly proud of having created a very personal style within the modern jazz. In the course of his remarkable career, he has joined forces with other ingenious artists such as Chris Potter, Bill Frisell, Donny McCaslin, Craig Taborn, Scott Colley, Edward Simon, Brian Blade and Kenny Wollesen. Those collaborations spawned truly exhilarating albums - Free to Dream (Mythology, 98), Welcome to Life (Mythology, 04), Out of Airplanes (Mythology, 06), and Graylen Epicenter (Mythology, 11) should be on the shelves of any jazz lover. The brand new The Time Verses is out now to join them.

His compositional structure and patterns are immediately identifiable in “Walk”, which flows with a rock pulse for a while until decelerating toward an oneiric passage efficiently controlled by the rhythm section. The final part thrives with cyclic harmonic sequences, so appropriate for Binney’s resolute attacks and imaginative phrases replete with intervallic wisdom. Vocal samples and electronics are tastefully added.

Airing a folk-ish melody, “Arc” is a ballad that grows athletic muscle throughout Binney’s improvisation, returning to the soft primary movements in order to conclude. However, the Zen trophy goes to “Seen”, a soaring balm for the spirit and mind, earnestly sung by Jen Shyu, who also wrote the lyrics. After Opsvik’s empathic solo, Binney sets off on a soulful, quasi-metaphorical improvisation that defies time and space. His wise sense of resolution, especially after ‘outside’ flights, is a rare gift.

A jittery intro of sax and drums in “The Reason to Return” seems to push us into heavier territories. Despite more saturated in color, the tune remains faithful to the bandleader’s philosophy as he embarks on edgy declarations congested with melodic awareness, well followed by Weiss’s graceful rhythmic drives and Sacks' exciting piano swirls.

“Where Worlds Collide” is a typical-Binney creation, well structured from roots to branches and rejoicing with plenty of life. Weiss enchants with his percussive clear-sightedness, and after the tremendous saxophone bursts, Sacks shows why he’s one of the most rhythmically daring pianists on the scene. This particular tune features guest saxophonist Shai Golan on the theme statement.

A bracing swing takes hold of “Fifty Five” whose title makes reference to the 55 Bar in NY where this quartet often plays. The tune intersects Binney’s fluid language with moods of Wayne Shorter and Sam Rivers.

The Time Verses gives us everything we could expect from a visionary saxophonist of multiple talents and resources as David Binney. This is his most brilliant work in years.

Label: Criss Cross, 2017
Favorite Tracks: 
06 – Seen ► 08 – The Reason to Return ► 11 – Where Worlds Collide


Rich Halley / Carson Halley - The Wild

Rich Halley: tenor saxophone, wood flute; Carson Halley: drums.

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Rich Halley, a tenor saxophonist and composer born and based in Portland, is a confessed enthusiast of asymmetric compositions and an inveterate improviser whose approach ranges from mildly melodic to unruly powerful. 

Since 2011, he has released at least one album per year, most of them with his quartet known as Rich Halley 4, which includes trombonist Michael Vlatkovich, bassist Clyde Reed, and drummer Carson Halley, his son. The latter conceived the rhythmic structure in The Wild, a duo album with his father, released on Pine Eagle Records.
Last year, Rich decided to extend the band into a quintet, with the inclusion of multi-reedist and frequent collaborator Viny Golia. The resultant album, entitled The Outlier (Pine Eagle, 2016), was one of the most satisfying avant-garde works of the year, deserving a lot more exposure.

The Wild is a collection of eight free-form improvisations where father and son explore their interactive affinity with ample vision.
The first two tracks, “Wild Land” and “Progenitor”, take us to the universes of Coltrane and Ayler, bursting with forcefulness and often humor. In the latter, Carson modulates taut drum chops, culminating in a great solo moment, while Rich starts with a dark, low-pitched tone that, at intervals, changes to fleshy and sparkling.

The adjective wild can be perfectly applied to “Cursorial”, a piece where Rich explores sonic possibilities, phrasing vigorously on top of an uptempo beat well-marked by hi-hat and snare drum. Carson adorns it with revolutionary fills. I love how this tune ends.

The opulence of mutable African grooves drives Rich’s fiery saxophone throughout the disquieted “From Memory”. In turn, “The Stroll” vibrates with syncopated funk-rock pulses while evincing the audacity of the saxophonist who, despite freewheeling, doesn’t abstain from introducing tractable melodies. 

More reflective are “Fat Plane of the Sky”, which plays with silence and sound, and “The Old Ways”, which takes us to exotic and ancient countries through the sounds of Rich’s wood flute and Carson’s primitive approach.

The Wild serves as a showcase for father and son to explore multiple textures and timbres within a unique musical approach.
It’s always challenging to make saxophone and drums sound consistently good, but the Halleys felt at 'home', with sufficient space for their creative freedom.

Label: Pine Eagle Records, 2017
Favorite Tracks: 
02 – Progenitor ► 05 – Cursorial ► 07 – From Memory


Tigran Hamasyan - Atmospheres

Tigran Hamasyan: piano; Arve Henriksen: trumpet; Eivind Aarset: guitar; Jan Bang: sampling.

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Tigran Hamasyan is an Armenian pianist and composer whose unparalleled music is strongly built with elements of folk music from his country of origin.
The double-disc Atmosphéres, his ninth album and the second for the ECM label, has a trio of Norwegians in its lineup: Arve Henriksen on trumpet, Eivind Aarset on guitar, and Jan Bang on sampling.

Just by considering the instruments involved in this recording, one may expect to find accessible or even conventional music. But that’s not the case since Hamasyan’s compositions go beyond the expected. Moreover, Henriksen and Aarsen use their instruments in peculiar ways. The trumpeter, whose career has been highly influenced by minimal Japanese music, often sounds like a flutist. The guitarist, a manipulator of sound in the true sense of the word, opts to draw soft textural layers at every stroke.

The 15 pieces that populate this artistic work are divided into two subsets. The first comprises 10 originals from the quartet entitled “Traces”. The remaining five are compositions by Komitas, an Armenian priest, musicologist, and composer who is considered the founder of the Armenian national school of music.

The original compositions vary considerably in tone and structure. “Traces I” and “Traces III” are both gently textured. The first part maintains a dreamy atmosphere along the way while the third is a weeping song. 
“Traces II” is far more provocative in its conception, moving straight ahead through stirring sequences of piano notes and floating trumpet melodies. It contrasts with “Traces IV”, which asks for a meditation with the sunset on the horizon, and “Traces X”, a darker song that arrives from somber realms. 

“Traces VI” and “Traces VII” are great avant-garde compositions. The former brings some madness and the right amount of ambiguity to an instrumental conversation; the latter, is oddly percussive, strategically layered, and becomes minimalist as it moves forward.
The airy “Tsirani Tsar” and the meticulous “Shushiki”, both by Komitas, are inevitably strong highlights.

Through the erudite interpretations of the quartet, we are able to experience a different culture and apprehend its sounds. It’s almost as if we were physically visiting another world. Once there, we can’t escape the dazzle caused by exotic scents and the sight of stunning landscapes. 
Atmosphéres will reward those who don’t give up at the first listening.

Label: ECM, 2016
Favorite Tracks:
02 (cd1) – Tsirani Tsar ► 07 (cd1) – Traces VI ► 01 (cd2) – Traces VII


Winston Byrd - Once Upon a Time Called Right Now

Winston Byrd: trumpet, flugelhorn, trombone; Mahesh Balasooriya: piano; James Santangelo: piano; David Sampson: guitar; Julian Coryell: guitar; Steve Graeber: tenor saxophone; Mark Zier: keyboards; George Rabbai: trumpet, vocals; Nick Rolfe: keyboards, synth; Mike Boone: bass; Mychael Lomas: bass; Donzell Davis: drums; Gene Lake: drums, etc.

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Winston Byrd is a versatile trumpeter who developed his own language while playing on the road in small and big bands. Despite the past collaborations with David Murray and Oliver Lake, his musical instincts are not oriented to the styles of those two. In Once Upon a Time Called Right Now, he rather blends straight-ahead and traditional jazz, hard bop, soul, and funk in considerable amounts, joining the influences of Dizzy Gillespie and Arturo Sandoval, and the jazz fusion of Larry Coryell and Blood, Sweat & Tears, with whom he played before.

Ornette Coleman’s “Ramblin” is a thrilling festivity that oozes wha-wha funk and bracing sound effects from every pore. It ends up with an unabashed collective improvisation and bass solo.

Retrieved from the musical Evita and arranged by Joel Martin, “On This Night Of A Thousand Stars”, a composition by Andrew Lloyd Weber, is an excellent showcase for Byrd’s virtuosity. The interesting treatment this song was subjected to, includes multiple changes in pace and groove, and also features the crisp rumbles of Steve Pemberton on drums.

An electrifying version of Frank Loesser’s “Brotherhood of Man”, where the bandleader has the company of George Rabbai on trumpet and James Santangelo on piano, makes us jump, while Eric Otis’s “Grandma Jo’s House”, transforming a 3/4 into a 4/4, cools the temperature down with its moderate swing.

Anticipating Dave Brubeck’s “Blue Rondo A La Turk”, in which the pianist Mahesh Balasooriya lets out a mix of classical and jazz temperaments, we have the crossover jazz of “Borrowed Time”.

In “Anne Rising”, an illuminated ballad, Byrd embarks on a duet with the pianist Steve Rowlins. He accelerates the pace in “Mumbles”, a provocative bebop blues composed by Clark Terry, where he scats with Rabbai. The tune culminates with Byrd saying: ‘love ya grandpa Clark!’.

The following couple of tunes are the product of the collaboration between Byrd and his right hand, Giovanni Washington-Wright, who besides composing, also produced, arranged, and orchestrated in this recording. “Times”, the first original of the recording, is dominated by the eloquent guitar by Julian Coryell who sounds pretty much like Gary Moore. The second and last, is “Brown Eyes”, a smooth funk that invites us to a deep breath while relaxing to the cool sounds of the band. 

Winston Byrd’s third record will cheer you up with its moods, grooves, and gracious amplitudes. From the arrangements to the interplay, the quality and consistency of the whole are guaranteed by the participants’ synergies and dynamics.

Label: Ropeadope, 2016
Favorite Tracks:
01 – Ramblin ► 03 – Brotherhood of Man ► 10 – Brown Eyes


Akua Dixon - Akua's Dance

Akua Dixon: baritone violin, cello; Freddie Bryant: guitar; Kenny Davis: bass; Victor Lewis: drums + Ron Carter: bass; Russell Malone: guitar.

Born and raised in New York, cellist-composer-arranger Akua Dixon boasts a silky jazz style solidly anchored in African and Latin roots. 
With an enviable musical background, Ms. Dixon recorded/performed with a panoply of superior artists, from the jazz masters Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie to pop icon David Byrne to soul diva Aretha Franklin.
In the 90’s, she led the Quartette Indigo, a chamber-jazz group that included violinists Regina Carter and Marlene Rice, and violist Ron Lawrence.

Akua’s Dance is her third album, a decorous follow-up to her 2015 eponymous CD, which besides famous jazz standards, included music from Mingus, Mancini, and Piazzolla.  
In comparison to the previous, the new album shows a stronger personality since Ms. Dixon, besides jazz standards and pop hits, resolved to include a considerable number of exotic originals. In order to achieve a more full-bodied sound, she opted to play baritone violin in many of the songs.

Seven of the 10 tracks feature her habitual trio: guitarist Freddie Bryant, bassist Kenny Davis, and drummer Victor Lewis. On the remaining three tunes, guitarist Russell Malone and bassist Ron Carter contribute with their special touch and expertise.

“I Dream a Dream”, melodically driven by the epicurean Eastern-like sounds of Dixon’s baritone violin, is stimulated with a Brazilian rhythmic accent, in a clear incursion into world music.

Honoring the trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie through a mix of swinging groove and Latin American beams, “Dizzy’s Smiles” is a gentle and hybrid compliment to the master. It features clear-spoken solos by Davis and Dixon, whose melodies, intentionally or not, reminisced the great standard “How About You”.

“If My Heart Could Speak To You” is a ballad that straddles between “Tenderly” and “Body and Soul”, while Abbey Lincoln’s “Throw It Away” is the only tune where we can listen to Dixon’s warm voice.
 
“Afrika! Afrika!”, marked by Dixon’s penetrating cello intro, Malone’s gallant guitar solo, and cool African vibes is probably the recording’s most pungent and absorbing song, together with “Akua’s Dance”, which features a sumptuous bass groove and acoustic guitar.
With no remarkable traits, Sade’s pop hit “The Sweetest Taboo” is also on the roster. 
 
Dixon convenes a superb ensemble of top musicians to back her ideas and facilitate melodic expressiveness. 
The sultry passion of Akua’s Dance will better please fans of mainstream and Latin jazz rather those seeking for something daring and unusual. 
The force of the rhythmic cadences compensates the predictability of the harmonic passages, and you may tap your feet to the beat.

Favorite Tracks:
05 – Akua’s Dance ► 07 – Afrika! Afrika! 


Jeremy Cunningham Quartet - Re: Dawn (from afar)

Jeremy Cunningham: drums; Jeff Parker: guitar; Josh Johnson: alto saxophone; Dustin Laurenzi: tenor sax; Andrew Toombs: wurlitzer, piano; Matt Ulery: bass.

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Chicago-based drummer/composer Jeremy Cunningham leads a debutant sextet composed of Josh Johnson on alto saxophone, Dustin Laurenzi on tenor sax, Jeff Parker on guitar, Andrew Toombs on Wurlitzer and piano, and Matt Ulery on bass, whose sonic maneuvers deserve to be urgently assimilated.
The bandleader, who considers Elvin Jones and the music of Coltrane his great inspirations, also reveals compositional adroitness. 
Cunningham displays pliant drumming skills, which adapt to different styles as we had the chance to confirm in a couple of albums by trumpeter Marquis Hill.

His debut album, Re: Dawn (from afar), was released on Ears&Eyes Records and unwraps a wonderful tune to open it. “Bémbé” flows with a straightforward African-samba-rock pulse that only eases on brief calmer passages. The theme’s melody is designed alternately by sax and guitar, suggesting a fair trade of ideas. As for the solos, Parker shows to be equally comfortable playing within the traditional and unconventional, Johnson thinks quickly and executes with agility, while Toombs seamlessly adapts himself to the funk direction assumed for the last minutes.

“Pulses” places sax-bass unisons on top of jittery African cadences. Cunningham drives with a steady hand as the tune gets a boost through majestic improvisations – rock-solid in the case of the guitarist, winding when it comes to the saxophonist.

A slow-yet-consistent 7/4 groove is laid down by the rhythm section in “Leaves Rain”, which despite the epic propensity, ends up in a shimmering vamp painted with Brazilian watercolors.

Both the title track and the last tune, “Visions”, linger in the air for quite awhile. The former is a ballad where the great communication between Cunningham and Ulery becomes evident, while the latter is a downtempo 4/4 piece, strongly accentuated by snare drum on the third beat.

The quartet expresses its love for pure, melodious jazz in the colorful “Constituent” whose breezy hooks are much appreciated.

Whether playing fistfuls of chromatic clusters on top of challenging rhythms or simple melodies on top of refreshing textures, this band never ceases to captivate.
Re: Dawn (from afar) is the type of debut album that many newcomers would like to do. Despite the few recordings, Cunningham reveals maturity and sensitivity galore.

Label: ears&eyes Records
Favorite Tracks:
01 – Bémbé ► 02 – Pulses ► 07 – Visions


Adam Schneit Band - Light Shines In

Adam Schneit: tenor saxophone, clarinet; Sean Moran: guitar; Eivind Opsvik: bass; Kenny Wollesen: drums.

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Based in Brooklyn since 2005, Adam Schneit is a saxophonist, clarinetist, and composer whose musical past is directly related with the eclectic jazz quartet Old Time Musketry, as he once was its co-leader and an influent composer. After two albums released and several years of performances, the band’s life cycle reached an end, but Schneit didn’t waste time and immediately started working out on his career as a leader. His debut feature album, Light Shines In, is now available on Fresh Sound New Talent label. 

Schneit picked excellent partners to be part of his cohesive quartet. If guitarist Sean Moran has been trying to gain prominence through his interesting ensemble Small Elephant Band and a chamber jazz quartet called Four Bags, Eivind Opsvik and Kenny Wollesen are two experienced heavyweights who, more than rhythmic stability, guarantee inventiveness and superior dynamics from below.
And that’s exactly what they do in “Different Times”, a steamy ride electrified by Moran’s guitar groans. The transition from Moran’s solo to Shneit’s fits hand in glove, with the saxophonist catching the guitarist’s last phrase on a rousing moment and giving it a lucid sequence.

Prior to this tune, we had the unhurried “A Clearer View”, which dabbles in the colorful meadows of pop music and blurs the line of genre by adding pinches of jazz and folk-rock. Despite distorted, the guitar chords of Moran are perfectly contextualized with the soft-textured foundation deftly conjured by Opsvik and Wollesen. The trio created the ideal conditions for the bandleader to exhibit his articulated language and blatant relationship with melody.

Titled with the name of his former band, “Old Time Musketry” clasps an entrancing 7/8-metered groove and features solos by Schneit, who spontaneously assimilates bop passages in his swift phrasing, and Moran who opts for a more cerebral approach.

With “Hope for Something More” and the title track, the quartet embraces a conciliatory relaxation, allowing us to imagine contemplative landscapes. The former’s melody sticks in our minds due to its beauty, and not even the torrent of notes that fly from the bandleader’s clarinet removes its affectionate temper. 

The pace and intensity are raised again in “My Secret Hobby”, a tune that encourages musical freedom and boundless creativity, in a sort of Tim Berne-meets-Marc Ribot experience.

The final track, “Song for Silence”, feels like a tastefully jazzified pop/rock ballad that oozes integrity and gravitas. Even wrapped in slightly dark tones, the light is still there.

Light Shines In is an auspicious debut whose content conveys an immense musicality. 
My empathy for this quartet increases with the number of listenings, telling me that Adam Schneit, whose compositions go beyond the traditional jazz scope, is here to stay. 

Label: Fresh Sound New Talent, 2017
Favorite Tracks:
02 – Different Times ► 04 – Hope for Something More ► 06 – My Secret Hobby 


Craig Taborn - Daylight Ghosts

Craig Taborn: piano; Chris Speed: tenor saxophone, clarinet; Chris Lightcap: acoustic and electric bass; Dave King: drums and percussion.

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In addition to an admirable technique, postmodernist pianist Craig Taborn owns an enviable versatility that makes him one of the most in-demand musicians of our times. Although feeling comfortable in any genre, his preferences are clearly steeped in modern creative jazz and free improvisation. Throughout his explorations and reflections, we may identify a compound of other genres such as funk, classical, electronic, and less often Eastern music.

His third album of originals on the ECM label, is entitled Daylight Ghosts and features Chris Speed on reeds, Chris Lightcap on bass, and The Bad Plus’s Dave King on drums, all of them consistent bandleaders who have nothing to prove at this point.

When you see this lineup, it would be reasonable to think of tempestuous rhythms and burning interaction, but what you’ll find here is of more cerebral nature. This doesn’t mean it’s less intense or passionate, and “The Shining One”, the auspicious first tune of the recording, is there to demonstrate that. As expected, Taborn’s piano doesn’t join the rhythm section in a typical way, but rather juxtaposes as a textural layer, rambling freely without ever losing direction. Brief-yet-swift melodic lines are occasionally thrown in by Speed, building aesthetics, and the tune ends up in an elucidatory unison.

Feathery breaths of wind slide into “Abandoned Reminder” and “The Great Silence”. Their soothing ambiance would be better absorbed if you close your eyes and empty your mind. However, while the former gets more adventurous in its final section, mixing avant-jazz and modern classical within a bold 6/8-metered pace, the latter, embellished by Speed's clarinet, acquires a gentle percussive flow.

This mood is turned aside by a couple of gratifying dances – the insidiously Latinized “New Glory”, which sways along with elegance and thrives through Taborn-Speed strange dialogue, and “Ancient”, well anchored in an unflinching cool groove and African pulse that feeds a crescendo. On both these tunes, Lightcap shows off his influential conducting capabilities and superior musicianship.

The title track is a lyrical poem that advances at a swooning 4/4 tempo, transiting to a 5/8 when King’s steady beat together with Taborn's ostinato and Lightcap’s bass pedal are triumphantly superimposed. At this phase, hopeful tones prevail over the previous wistful ones. 

Highly contrasting are the plaintive rendition of Roscoe Mitchell’s “Jamaican Farewell” and the last track, “Phantom Ratio”, a half-hypnotic half-psychedelic electronic-tinged voyage propelled by a robotic pulse.

Suffused with finesse and lyricism, Daylight Ghosts bristles with great dynamics and a very personal character, feeling pretty urban and contemporary. It shows Taborn in its maximum force and a quartet that corresponds accordingly. The power of the collective, overriding any individual moment, leads us to unexplored trajectories and magnificent discoveries. 

Label: ECM Records, 2017
Favorite Tracks: 
01 – The Shining One ► 03 – Daylight Ghosts ► 04 – New Glory


Iro Haarla - Ante Lucem

Iro Haarla: piano; Trygve Seim: saxophone; Hayden Powell: trumpet; Ulf Krokfors: bass; Mika Kallio: drums.

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I’ve always had a huge respect for the Finnish pianist, harpist, and composer Iro Haarla, admiring her approach to music (including composition and arrangement) since the time she used to work with her late husband, the avant-garde drummer Edward Vesala. 
Classically trained, she prefers the contemporary to traditional as she seamlessly interweaves modern classical and chamber-style jazz.

Two years ago, we could find her interpreting wonderful psalms and prayers in Kirkastus (Tum Records), a duo album recorded with the saxophonist/flutist Juhanni Aaltonen.

Ante Lucem, her third album for the ECM Records, was written for symphony orchestra and jazz quintet and mirrors all the musical qualities of the artist in four separate, yet highly-connected pieces.
It was recorded at the Concert Hall of NorrlandsOperan in Umea, Sweden, with her competent quintet composed of habitual collaborators - Trygve Seim on saxophones and Ulf Krokfors on bass - and a couple of new additions - Hayden Powell on trumpet and Mika Kallio on drums, who replaced Mathias Eick and Jon Christensen, respectively.

“Songbird Chapel”, a compound of sweet-tempered jazz and zealous classical music, gains epic dimensions with the time. Seim had the permission to give one step forward in order to speak frankly through his timbre-oriented drives. Strong emotions are set free when the orchestra pushes the mood to befit wondrous cinematic frames. 

Haarla, who had unleashed breezy harp sweeps in the previous tune, switches to a dramatic piano in “Persevering with Winter”, a 19-minute piece whose first step is given with slightly ominous tones, triggering instantaneous clouds of obscurity. It’s like opening a web-covered ark full of secrets. Beautiful unisons and sophisticated textures can be found inside. The horn players have a preponderant role here, whether soloing individually or plunging into noisy collective maneuvers.

The final piece, “Ante Lucem: Before the Dawn” has a slow, harmonious awakening. In an early phase, its conduct oscillates between contemplative and dreamy. However, and even before halfway, there’s a radical turn triggered by rumbling percussion, firm bass lines and sparse piano voicings. This environment couldn’t be more propitious for the horn section to explore with confidence and pleading attitude, before all returns to the initial melancholy.

Pushing the boundaries of modern composition, Haarla intersperses light and darkness within a structured sound essay that can be teasing, glacial, or methodically declamatory. 
This album is simultaneously evocative and revivifying.

Favorite Tracks:
02 – Persevering With Winter ► 04 – Ante Lucem: Before the Dawn


Megumi Yonezawa Trio - A Result of the Colors

Megumi Yonezawa: piano; John Hébért: bass; Eric McPherson: drums.

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Hokkaido-born pianist, Megumi Yonezawa, summoned the consistent bassist John Hébért and the reliable drummer Eric McPherson to be part of her trio. A Result of the Colors, released on Fresh Sound New Talent, is the product of their musical experience and chemistry, and love for the music. 
The pianist’s refined musicality has enchanted not only Jason Moran, who wrote her a deserved recommendation, but also Greg Osby, with whom she played in his 2004 album Public alongside trumpeter Nicholas Payton, bassist Robert Hurst and drummer Rodney Green.

Yonezawa’s debut album opens elegantly with the sophisticated title track, which outspokenly tells us with which colors she intends to fill this nine-track palette. “Children of the Sun”, a rhythmically audacious song with interesting melodic accentuations, instantly triggered a favorable reaction in me. Spreading class over the ballroom, the trio arranged this one as a dissimulated jazzistic bossanova. This first couple of tunes is decorated with Hebert’s sculptural bass solos. 

“Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hide” reflects the mutability of the characters it makes reference. Hebert and McPherson throw themselves at a vivid swing that serves as a tight guideline for the pianist’s bright melodic incursions.

The shortest piece of the recording, “Sketch”, is enveloped in a peaceful yet experimental musicality, in opposition to the unique cover of the album, “For Heaven's Sake”, a well-defined ballad written by Don Meyer, Elsie Bretton and Sherman Edwards in 1958.
Embarking on a fantastic instrumentation, the trio fabricates “Nor Dear or Fear”, making us rejoice through a juxtaposition of hard-bop breezes and Monkish postures. 

Challenging in her approach, Yonezawa possesses a strong technique with flexible, independent hands constantly seeking to choose the right notes and weaving propitious textures to compose the whole. 
Strongly influenced by Thelonious Monk, Keith Jarrett, Greg Osby, Jessica Williams and Bach, the pianist proved capable of speaking with her own voice. 
A Result of the Colors is a fearless, positive debut, objectively oriented to captivate and make us ask about Yonezawa’s future moves.

Favorite tracks:
02 – Children of the Sun ► 04 – Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hide ► 07 – Nor Dear or Fear