by: Hobart Taylor
Milton Marsh - The Music of Milton Marsh Revisited Vol. 1 - (Alankara Records)
On a clear day I can see downtown L.A. fifty miles or so away when I am perched on a hill top parking lot of a park near the UCI campus. Look to my left, there rises an alabaster icon of commerce known as Fashion Island. At eleven o'clock there are the piers of Corona del Mar, Huntington Beach, and the Rancho Palos Verde peninsula. Straight ahead lies Long Beach. Then there is L.A. or a cloud of smog, depending, followed slightly to the right by the 405 freeway and Santa Ana, and on the far right Saddleback mountain. I often come here to listen to newly released music. Two days ago I was transported from that place to another place via the speakers of my car stereo. A place where I connected to the deepest eddies in the river of jazz composition.
I had never heard of Milton Marsh, which of itself is not surprising. I am constantly discovering virtuosi with every new batch of releases. I am only one person and there is so much music.
What was surprising to me was that I had never heard of him despite the fact that his music is so radiant and transcendent in the Coltrane tradition, and is also so astutely arranged that I would have assumed that these were jazz classics, touchstones, timeless pieces that could be found in all the best "fake" books.
With the exception of "Great Expectations", a mildly didactic poem set to music, every cut on the record hearkens to the discipline and reverence for melody that the classic "jazz" composers of the mid 20th century excelled in. Influenced by the "third stream" movement, (the blurring of the lines between Eurocentric 20th century classical composition and jazz), Marsh uses strings and orchestral woodwinds not as overlay or sweetener, but as central to musical dialogues ensconced in the pieces. Think Dolphy.
"Subtle Anomaly", "Tears of Joy are More Precious than Pearls", "Dialogue", and "By Design" are not just evocative titles. They are compositional masterworks.
Jeff Denson Quartet - Concentric Circles - (Ridgeway Records)
Bassist Denson backed by bassoon, piano, and drums, alternates between hard driving bop, edgy ballads (his singing is sweet and lulling), and neo-classical broken time think pieces. My favorite cuts are "Anticipation", the bouncy "21st Century Blues", "Once the Door Opens", and the gorgeous deconstruction of the Ellington classic "I Got It Bad".
Will Goble - Consider The Blues - (OA2 Records)
Bassist Goble leads a crackerjack ensemble featuring tenor player Gregory Tardy and pianist Louis Heriveaux (recently reviewed here). These mainstream reworkings of classic blues changes are delightful and sometimes exciting. I like "Dirge Blues", "The Ants Went Marching One by One but They didn't Come Back", and the "Kirtipur Suite".
Kandace Springs - Soul Eyes - (Blue Note)
Maybe the next big thing a la Norah Jones. Balanced on the knife edge of pop and classic jazz vocals, at best this has the qualities of the '50s singer based jazz, Sarah Vaughn, Nancy Wilson, Dakota Staton, early Dionne Warwick. It is produced by Larry Klein, (Billy Childs, Joni Mitchell, Celine Dion). I find the singing better than the songs in general. "Soul Eyes" and the Shelby Lynne classic, "Thought it Would Be Easier" point to the way to the great record that's probably in her future.
Sabrina Starke - Sabrina Starke - (Sony/Red Records)
From the Netherlands of Surinamese heritage comes this genre bending singer/songwriter. Soul, jazz, blues, folk, and deep Afro-feminism make this a bold and bodacious release. Hammond organ throughout take you to church and the messages of love, hope, and doing better, are equally inspirational.
Reginald Cyntje - Spiritual Awakening - (Self Released)
Trombonist/composer Cyntje has basically composed a jazz mass. It is inspiring, engaging, deeply moving, profound, meditative, and fulfilling.