by: Hobart Taylor
Orrin Evans - #knowingishalfthebattle - (Smoke Session Records)
Pianist/composer Evans is joined by star guitarists Kurt Rosenwinkel and Kevin Eubanks who load the disc up with classy fills, and reed player Caleb Curtis who plays with casual grace. There are vocals from M'balia, but Evans' totally in the moment playing takes the starring role. On the Carla Bley tune "Calls" you hear the immediacy of a Mingus or Monk live set. This has the same freshness as Robert Glasper, Greg Tate, Marcus Strickland, and Marc Cary etc...a part of the next wave that is coming on strong. Highly recommended.
Michael Blanco - Spirit Forward - (bju ((Brooklyn Jazz Underground)) Records)
Okay, so bassist Blanco may lead this all star line-up playing his very fine tunes but all the parts of this quartet are in perfect balance. The fingers all curl up into a tight fist then one by one they open up and massage the prefrontal cortex.
Saxophonist John Ellis, a force in New Orleans and New York plays with relaxed authority. Virtuosso pianist Kevin Hays currently holds an inside straight in the jazz piano players' world series of poker. The phenomenal Clarence Penn on drums punctuates these musical essays with a precision that is definitive. And Blanco blithely dances on top of the melodies setting tempos like the middle bear's porridge that are "just right".
It's all wonderful, but I am crazy about "Last Stable Orbit","Notes From Underground", and "The Mystic Chord".
The Westerlies - The Westerlies - (Songlines
This brass choir, two trumpets and two trombones mimic the nuanced complexity of a string quartet. They explore the most evocative or the most startling harmonic possibilities or sometimes both at once. Folk music? Classical? Jazz? The sound track of dreams? All of the above and about 378 other things as well. Two disc set. check out "A Nearer Sun", "So So Shy", "Where's the Music", "Rue de Rosiers" and "Songs My Mother Taught Me".
Walter Kemp 3 - darkcon!nent - (blujazz)
If I were to invent a genre for this, it would be avant funk. All the way live in the studio, super dry and upfront in the speakers, it sounds like a demo that was so good they had to release it. This power trio led by pianist/organist Walter Kemp III with Rishell Odel Northington playing blistering leads on bass and rat a tat machine gun drummer David "Teasponn" Hulett can also get all meditative on you with deeply resonant melodicism on the slow jams. It basically a smart and soulful debut by the best thing to come out of Buffalo since chicken wings. Check out "Club Talk".
Gene Ess - Absurdist Theater - (Simp Records)
Guitarist Ess with vocalist Thana Alexa has created a moody meandering suite suffused with vocalese (wordless singing). There is a sort of surreal quality to the music; it seems familiar but off kilter. Sometimes it is spooky, sometimes comforting. My faves: "Out of the Ashes", "Jade Stones", and especially "Forkbill (For Ornette)". The drummer is the amazing Clarence Penn.
Rale Micic - Night Music - (Whaling City sound)
Another guitarist strolling down the dark alleys of the mind. Micic in a quartet setting (piano or electric piano,bass, and blistering drumming) has a dynamic sound, totally in control and ethereal at once. The tunes are brilliant, and deeply evocative. They follow a sleepless night starting at "Hotel Insomnia" later answering a "Late Call" going on to an "After Party" and ending after "Sunrise" while studying "The Color of the Sun".