by: Hobert Taylor
Cassandra Wilson - Coming Forth By Day - (Sony Legacy)
In my last batch of reviews I said that my favorite of the many Billie Holiday tribute releases celebrating the 100th anniversary of her birth was the Jose James "Every Day I Have The Blues". Immediately after I hit "send" I go to the mailbox and I find amongst the bills and solicitations a mailer from Sony containing this, Cassandra Wilson's masterwork. I have had it less than 24 hours and I've played it through three times. Produced by Nick Launay (Nick Cave), this is as moody and atmospheric and deeply moving as... as... as well a Billie Holiday record. There are seemingly oxymoronic elements in the arrangements, psychedelia, Philly soul, chamber music, and the junkie vibe is as strong as Lana Del Rey's or of course Nick Cave's.But these aren't so out of place . If Billie Holiday were here now I think her sound, her essential sound, her yearning, burning, I am beyond learning, sound would be something like this.
Charles Lloyd - Wild Man Dance - (Blue Note)
For over fifty years tenor player Charles Lloyd has been among one of the most spiritual performers in all jazz. These recordings done in 2013 feature a stellar ensemble, Gerald Clayton-piano, Joe Sanders-bass, Gerald Cleaver-drums, and frequent new sidemen, Greek musicians Sokratis Sinopoulos-lyra and Miklos Lucaks-cymbalom. Like Coltrane,Lloyd taps deep into the God well. This suite has strong romantic compositional elements, Debussy comes to mind, juxtaposed with swinging bop, and occasional improvisational departures that unify the performances.
Jovan Alexandre - Collective Consciousness - (Xippi Records)
While Lloyd has been on the scene since the late '50s's this tenor player's just getting going although you couldn't tell by listening. With dynamic and electrifying bop arrangements that are reverential but fresh, Alexandre promises to be someone to watch. Best cuts:" To Music" dig the controlled chaos on the solo (shades of Marshall Allen), the funky "The Formula", "Red Blues" and "Reconnaissance".
Anat Cohen - Luminosa - (Anzic Records)
Luminous indeed is "Luminosa". Israeli/American reed player Cohen, (tenor sax and various clarinets), leads a crack ensemble of Brazilian and American musicians in a mixture of her own tunes influenced by central /eastern European folk melodies and jazz-rock fusion, Brazilian tunes composed by icons like Milton Nascimento and Romero Lubamo (whose masterful guitar work is heard on four of the cuts), and even a Flying Lotus tune. A favorite moment for me is the duet between Cohen and Lubambo in her "The Wein Machine". Other cuts that leap out are "Happy Song", "Beatriz" and "Lilia".
The LaLama Brothers - The Crepuscule Variations - (Self Released)
Crepuscule means evening, twi-light. And these songs are meant to evoke the timelessness of the in between times; light and dark, life and death, memory and experience. The songs on this disk are great American songs (Mercer, Mandel, Bachrach, Gershwin(s), Van Heusen, etc.) performed with keen virtuosity and deep soulfulness by brothers Ralph (tenor sax) and Dave (piano) Lalama, and singer (on selected cuts) Nicole Pasternak Lalama. The simple instrumentation belies the complex and nuanced arrangements that get to the heart of the melodic sophistication of their choices. A lot to chew on here.
Jose James - Yesterday I Had The Blues (The Music of Billie Holiday)
- (Blue Note Records)
Billie Holiday's 100th birthday was April 7 of this year. Several recordings of covers of her tunes have recently been released. This Don Was production is the best one I've heard so far — except perhaps for Cassandra Wilson's Coming Forth By Day (reviewed above).
James has been a subtle integrator of the jazz and hip hop genres in his most recent releases. Here he focuses on his blues/jazz chops echoing Lou Rawls and indeed Lady Day's clean tone and vernacular drawl. He emphasizes Holiday's trademark phrasing; slightly behind the beat, evocative crescendos, and elisions. The selections focus mainly on the ballads, and all are among the most familiar of her songs. While faithful to the spirit of the songs, James adds his own contemporary sensibilities to some of them, and these work best for me. His down home "Fine and Mellow", the turbo-charged up tempo version of "What a Little Moonlight Can Do" featuring Jason Moran's stinging piano work, and the deeply personal feel in "I Thought About You" are my favorite examples. Oh yeah, the three piece backing him is extraordinary, Moran, bassist Patiucci, and drummer Eric Harland.
The Susan Krebs Chamber Band - Simple Gifts - (GreenGig Music)
Using a chamber music ensemble/ art songs approach and then dropping in drums and jazz vocals is the successful formula Krebs has created to provide new perspectives on jazz standards and should be standards. Supported by the violins/violas of Paul Cartwright , the piano of Rich Eames, and the woodwinds of Rob Lockart this record occasionally gets a little poppy for my taste, but the waltz "Once Upon a Summertime", the Steve Swallow /Stanley Kornfeld tune "Saving Grace", Abbey Lincoln's "Throw It Away" (with a middle-eastern vibe), and the sublime "For All We Know" are really fine.