by: Hobart Taylor
Vijay Iyer Sextet - Far From Over - (ECM)
Vijay Iyer: piano, Fender Rhodes
Graham Haynes: cornet, flugelhorn, electronics
Steve Lehman: alto saxophone
Mark Shim: tenor saxophone
Stephan Crump: double-bass
Tyshawn Sorey: drums
So composer/pianist Iyer checks off all the boxes. Intellectual with academic credentials, passionately committed to the study of history and traditions of African American musics, king of New York cool, etc. but that is all subservient to his ear, in my mind. His ear is precious. Working with some of the most exciting musicians playing, for example the astounding Tyshawn Sorey on drums, Iyer and crew evoke head and heart in precise proportionate measure, Miles' trick. Creative Music, a sobriquet for the unnamable, (real jazz, like that other J word, Jehovah, loses power once named), depends on controlled and passionate mastery of the vernacular in order to reveal the essential truths beneath it. On the hip-hop inspired "Nope", Iyer summarizes the the last 20 years of mid tempo jams in 5 minutes and 42 seconds. The horn player and master electronic musician Graham Haynes is a potent force here. His work adds a patina of contemporary sound to the classically dynamic chaos found in these compositions.
Liberation Music Collective - Rebel Portraiture - (Ad Astrum Records)
The Liberation Music collective is a large ensemble rather than a big band. This is no hard charging testament to machismo, or to arranging genius. These are a multitude of musicians listening to each other carefully and forming a common sound. These emerging musicians came mainly from the renowned University of Indiana music school in Bloomington. In the tradition of Charlie Haden and his Liberation Orchestra, political awareness is the organizing principle around the group. Using lyrics and poetic recitation to make their commitment explicit, "My friends and I are going to start some trouble", they nevertheless avoid didacticism, and shower the listener with a series of gorgeous melodies. Check out reflective tune "Kent State" and the quietly elegant "River of Life", and my favorite, the melodically rich dynamically unfolding "An Afterlife for Noxolo Nogwaza".
Jamie Reynolds - Grey Mirror - (Fresh New Sound Talent Records)
Pianist/keyboardist/composer Reynolds, records here on several tracks with the brass quartet The Westerlies and on others with the expansive guitar sounds of Matthew Stevens. The tunes often seem to start in the middle, focusing on grooves that set a mood before devolving into intense elaborations of cool reflections. The title tune, propelled by drummer Eric Doob, combines both of the aforementioned elements in a swinging homage to the best of the fusion generation, say Weather Report. The tunes with the Westerlies are pretty stately or feel delicately balanced, like Philippe Petite crossing between the twin towers("Lake Cycle").
Jim Gailloreto's Jazz String Quintet featuring vocalist Cheryl Wilson - The Pythiad - (Origin Classical)
Saxophonist Gailloreto is joined by a string quintet and a vocalist for this nine movement suite. With lyrics written by his son, Coleman, Gailloreto et al celebrate a series of minor Greek deities and demi-gods and draws parallels between their natures and struggles to contemporary concerns like gender fluidity. Wilson serves as therapist for these neuroses posing as personalities, and the total effect is haunting and links us to ancient forms of consciousness. Rounding out the disc are three superb covers, Jimmy Rowles' ballad, "The Peacocks", Jaco Pastorius lovely "Three Views of a Secret", and Joni Mitchell's classic "River".
Orbert Davis - Paradise Blue - (3Sixteen Records)
Chicago composer, conductor, and trumpeter Davis has composed tunes for acclaimed playwright Dominique Morisseau's Paradise Blue, a study of the evisceration of the black culture in post-war Detroit set in a jazz club. True to the be-bop tradition that would have been current at the time, Davis's tunes swing with jaunty humor a la Dizzy Gillespie or the reflective cool of a Charlie Parker ballad. This project suffers a bit in that in order to evoke the times the new tunes need be derivative, and it is in the musical commentary, like a trumpet prologue or tiny snippets of interstitial music that the freshest sounds occur. Still the tunes take you back to a time and place where the war in Europe and Asia was over and the war in Detroit had not yet begun.
Josh Lawrence - Color Theory - (Posi-Tone Records)
Trumpeter/composer Lawrence swings out hard bop, shapes moods like wet clay,and generally has a lot of good ideas. Setting himself to specific tasks, he fulfills a personal vision by using established jazz tropes to be a platform for what Rahsan Roland Kirk called "bright moments"... you know, something to pay attention to. I particularly like "RED!" for frequent changes inside an intense unified field. The slow jam "Purple (4 Prince)" is seductively elequent. The outlier, "On the Yangtze", is my favorite cut. It has the truest emotional authenticity for me.
Jane Ira Bloom - Wild Lines:Improvising Emily Dickinson - (Outline Records)
2 CD Set
Saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom, in just world, a world that honors innovation, passion, authenticity, skill, and devotion to one's art, would be as famous as Charles Lloyd, Art Pepper or Kanye. Ah, but women instrumentalists in jazz... it pisses me off no end. On her latest release, Bloom along with a superb ensemble, pianist Dawn Clement, bassist Mark Helias, Bobby Previte on drums, and recitations by Deborah Rush, honors American poet and icon Emily Dickinson. With concision, irony, American vernacular precision, and deep empathy for the unselfconscious but total self aware vision of one of this nation's keenest observers, the Belle of Amherst, Bloom et al do not hesitate to use their own musical lingua franca to comment on, react to, and grow via Dickinson's poems. Native American or African American rhythms merge with European neo-classical romanticism, free jazz explorations, or melodic elisions and modal explorations, all in the spirit of evoking the spare and cogent veracity of emotion redolent in the work. This is an important American document.
Yelena Eckemoff - In The Shadow Of A Cloud - (L & H Records)
[2 CD Set]
Pianist/composer Eckemoff has lived in the U.S. since 1991, but the Moscow born and bred artist has kept close to her classical roots and Russian melodic heritage. These are compositions, not improvisations, yet they allow for freedom of expression within their structures. She works here with hard core jazz players, especially the renowned woodwind artist Chris Potter, and guitarist Adam Rogers, who share in taking hold of the tiller with Eckemoff while navigating these melodic shoals. The titles refer to specific places, moods, or natural events, a recurrent trope in her earlier releases as well. Close listening offers a world of rewards.
Adrian Cunningham - Jazz Speak - (Arbors Records)
Woodwind artist Cunningham, (tenor sax, clarinet, flute), is a crowd pleaser. His flute has echoes of Herbie Mann vivacity, his sax, Ben Webster control. Even though his tunes in general, whether covers or original, stay pretty conventional, the record is not unsatisfying. On the title cut, "Jazz Speaks", and on other original songs, "Rachel's Dance" and "Janelle", there are sparks and shimmers.
John Beasley - Monk'estra Volo. 2 - (Mack Avenue Records)
Like those late '90's early aught Blue Note acid jazz compilations, Beasley(on one cut with an MC and hip hop touches) re-presents and represents Thelonious Monk's precisely skewed vision again to a world that so desperately needs it. Highlights are a taut reading of "Crepuscule With Nellie" featuring violinist Regina Carter, "Evidence", featuring Kamasi Washington, and "Criss Cross", but the whole release is a delight. These are great tunes re-invented...something Monk would do if he were here with us now.