by: Hobart Taylor
Richard Johnson Trio - Music is Business - (Self Released)
Pianist composer Johnson has a fluid and propulsive sound. Backed by a razor sharp rhythm section, bassist Barry Stephenson and drummer Quincy Phillips, Johnson is a master of straight ahead melody based jazz on standards like "My Romance" and "Skylark", playing with a joyful lilting touch in the Tatum/Peterson realm. His singing is soulful and sophisticated at once, sort of a post modern Bobby Short. Occasionally he cuts loose and on originals like "Dohaism", his tribute to his new (and presumably lucrative new home Qatar), he shows just how articulate and imaginative he can be as a composer.
Elsa Nilsson - Salt Wind - (Self Released)
Happy Sunny Sweet Neo Africana/Brazilian Euro Classical tinged Jazz. A new category for this Swedish flautist. If you are not hip to the glorious fusions of Herbie Mann in the 60's, then catch this next wave now. This is life affirming music, thoughtful and not ponderous, joyful and not superficial. She can mine minor key broken time spookiness, and still leave you feeling refreshed, engaged, ready to encounter whatever. The neo punk tune "Hedning" on which she sings and plays exemplifies the consistency of her vibrant spirit in any genre.
Adam Schneit - Light Shines In - (Self Released)
Brooklyn based saxophonist Schneit with Sean Moran, guitar, Eivind Opsvik, bass, and Kenny Wollenson (Sex Mob) on drums, has crafted a free jazz/soul jazz/punk jazz style like his west coast counterparts Throttle Elevator Music. And like Kamasi Washington in that project, he lays down gorgeous melodies in de-constructed settings. Moran's conversational responses on guitar are poignant and smart.
Cory Weeds/Jeff Hamilton Trio - Dreamsville - (Cellar Live)
A master class in cool, this understated but tightly controlled release has relaxed authority. Tenor player Weeds is always deeply in the pocket. The vibe is dreamy and sophisticated on the ballads, and persuasively swinging on the up tempo numbers.
Pacific Mambo Orchestra - Live From Stern Grove - (Self Released)
From the Bay Area comes this all star line-up of leading jazz artists who occasionally come together to perform Cuban big band music. Master percussionist Sheila E, most famous for her collaborations with Prince, is among the artists who define the Bay Area Latin music scene, and she is an integral contributor to this recording.
There are classics here, Tito Puente's "Ran Kan Kan", adaptations of jazz and pop standards including salsafied versions of "Mona Lisa" and "The Pink Panther Theme", and befitting the supremely cosmopolitan nature of Northern California, "Sakura". Finally there are some original tunes written by trumpeter Steffen Kuehn and Keyboardist Christian Tumalan. Highlights include "Naturaleza" and "Storm", and the instrumental version of "Sakura".
Clifford Lamb - Brothers and Sisters - (Weber Works)
Also from the Bay Area comes pianist Lamb, joined here by drummer Cindy Blackman Santana, Buster Williams, bass, trumpeter Nicholas Payton, vocalist Laura Vall, and poet Chaim Dunbar. Like many of this year's releases, this work is in part a reaction to last year's election. Calling for compassionate commitment, the tunes with titles like "Hold the Line", "Brothers and Sisters", and a cover of Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On", use a '60's post-bop aesthetic, modal and meditative, reminiscent of classic Herbie Hancock.
Jim Buennig - It's Like This. - (Self Released)
This swings. Buennig plays sax, not saxophone, the way Byron Berline fiddle, not violin. Maybe because he is far away from the big city scene in Iowa, he is relaxed,not derivative or chasing fashion, and perpetually in the groove. Supported by a band of what sounds very much like friends, he drops a panoply of originals in multiple traditions, be-bop, Latin, balladry,post-bop, free jazz. They are all well crafted and deeply engaging.
John Stein/Dave Zinno - Wood and Strings - (Whaling City Sound)
Guitar and bass, Stein and Zinno. Standards and originals that sound like standards. Dextrous. Evocative. My faves, the Brazilian "Modinha" and the blues, "Birk's Works".