by: Hobart Taylor
Kei Akagi - Contrast & Form - (Time & Style Jazz)
Recorded last summer in Japan with his Japanese trio, Shunya Wakai, bass and Tamaya Honda, drums, UCI's Chancellor's Professor Akagi presents chamber jazz of the highest order.
Goethe allegedly said,"Architecture is frozen music..." to which Quincy Jones responded, "If architecture is frozen music, then music must be liquid architecture."
This set of songs for me is deeply synaesthetic. What I hear triggers various images, some geometric and some organic.
At times the melodies are well defined, deeply evocative of traditional jazz and classical traditions, and then in deep contrast come lightning bursts of de-construction and apparent but fervently controlled chaos, you know sort of Renzo Piano (an architect). My apologies for the pun, but if you have seen the Pompidou Center in Paris, St. Giles Cathedral in London, the Sydney Opera House, or the new Whitney Museum in New York, you'll get what I mean.
Often the tunes begin with meditative passages that invite you in to a safe an inviting place, and then incredibly rapid and precise contrapuntal melodies emerge juxtaposed against primal rhythms, the jazz heartbeat. The unified effect is consistently gorgeous.
Billy Childs - Rebirth - (Mack Avenue Records)
Pianist/composer/arranger Childs has been a longtime promoter of cross genre jazz. Not that he doesn't swing or hang out with the cats, but he he is not constrained by genre as his previous two releases demonstrate, "Map to the Treasure", a Laura Nyro tribute album presenting her work as elaborately produced art songs, or his 2005 and 2010 releases of jazz chamber music as well as his recent commissions with the Ying and Kronos Quartets. On this recording working notably with long time collaborator Steve Wilson on saxes, and a super rhythm section, Hans Glawischnig, bass, and Eric Harland, drums, Childs has returned to his straight ahead roots and made as clean and pop accessible and yet intricate and alluring jazz record as I have heard in a while.
Max Richter - Three Worlds: Music From Woolf Works - (Deutsche Grammophon)
Richter as a composer is a serialist, layering melodies and instruments and then stripping them away to reveal profound emotional resonances. He often begins with piano, violin, and other traditional acoustic instruments in melodies redolent of classicism and then seamlessly shifts to electronic effects. Here he is responding to the writings of Virginia Woolf. This music can blanket you, lull you into the shadow worlds of memory and dreams and daily life epiphanies which are often subjects of her writing.
Lara Downs - America Again - (Sono Luminus)
In solo piano works ranging from Lou Harrison to Irving Berlin, Duke Ellington to Ernest Bloch, Downs brings deep sensitivity to an alternative view to the 20th century American classical piano literature. I am particularly enamored of her take on Dan Visconti's "Noctunre from Lonesome Roads", Leonard Berstein's "Anniversary for Stephen Sondheim", and the wonderful composition "Fantase Negre" by often neglected African American woman composer Florence Price. There is a short Aaron Copland piece here, "Sentimental Melody", that is one minute and thirty five seconds of sheer perfection.