New Jazz Releases – 01/08/2024
Jaimie Branch (1983 -2022)
In addition to releases from 2023 that have showed up over the holidays, we have been seeking releases that we missed during the year that have been featured on various Best Jazz Releases of 2023 lists. Mostly these are an edgy group of recordings with a lot to offer. So this week, we supplement our regular previews with a presentation of works we missed by Ambrose Akinmusire, Jamie Branch, Chris Potter, Todd Sickafoose, Matana Roberts, Yussef Dayes, Irreversable Entanglements and Vijay Iyer.
George Colligan – The Phyllis Wheatley Project(PJCE Records, released 12/29/2023). Noah Simpson – trumpet, George Colligan – piano, Garrett Baxter – bass, Dominick Branch – drums, Zyanna Melada – vocals.
Pianist George Collegan has teamed with vocalist Zayanna Melada in a tribute to 18th century literary prodigy Phyllis Wheatley, born enslaved in Senegal, educated in Boston and celebrated within her lifetime for her poetry. Wheatley’s poetry makes up the lyrics to a set of compositions by Collegan.
John Ellis – Bizet: Carmen In Jazz (Blue Room Music, released 12/22/2023). John Ellis – saxophones / bass clarinet, Gary Versace – piano, Reuben Rogers – bass, Jason Marsalis – drums.
Multi-reed player John Ellis (Manuel Valera, Jeb Patton, Eunmi Lee) has taken Bizet’s opera Carmen as the basis for this series of compositions for and performances by a reeds – piano – bass – drums quartet. Someone more versed in the subject material would perhaps find more delight in these themes as melodies ripe for interpretation. As a suite for jazz quartet, I find this at-times stiff and a bit disjointed. On the other hand, the ballad Card Song is a lovely vehicle for Gary Versace on piano and the leader on bass clarinet.
Ambrose Akinmusire, Bill Frisell & Herlin Riley – Owl Song (Nonesuch, released 12/15/2023). Ambrose Akinmusire – trumpet, Bill Frisell – guitar, Herlin Riley – drums.
After over a decade on Blue Note, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire has released his debut on Nonesuch, in a trio with Bill Frisell on guitar and Herlin Riley on drums. To mark the occasion, he has released perhaps his most thoughtful and delicate work yet, at times almost fragile. Frank Alkyer wrote on Downbeat, “[It is} a quiet rush of gorgeous sound where space, tone and beauty come together in one of the most impactful albums of 2023. For this outing, Akinmusire has chosen a definite less-is-more philosophy, beginning with his bandmates for the recording — a simple trio with guitarist Bill Frisell and drummer Herlin Riley. The music they make is nothing short of stunning. They weave in, out and through each other with grace, Frisell’s guitar serving up beautiful, often repeated, motifs; Riley’s drums keeping steady, fascinating rhythms. For his part, Akinmusire chooses long, lovely tones that squeeze feelings of love, loss and angst from every single note… This is one of the most interesting recordings to come along in a very long time by one of the most interesting artists of our time.” A critical favorite and deservedly so.
Margot Sergent – Douce France Sweet France (Zoho Music, released 12/08/2023). Linus Wyrsch – clarinet, Vitor Goncalves – accordian, Patrick Brennan – guitar, Alec Safe – bass, Ben Silashi – drums, Margot Sergent – vocals / harp.
French singer and harpist Margot Sergent has recorded a disc split between originals and classic French cabaret tunes with support from a clarinet – guitar – accordion – bass – drums ensemble. She is an accomplished harpist and beautiful singer (in both French and English). Thierry De Clemensat at Paris Move wrote, “What Margot Sergent brings to the entire album is a form of joy, almost naivety that softens all the tracks. Furthermore, her original compositions have a fun “musical theater” aspect, and the arrangements are often quite close to world music. So, this album Douce France/ Sweet France, to be taken as a small joy, outside of time, which would not have been the case if it had been composed solely of Margot’s compositions.”
Various Artists – Jazz is Dead 20 (Jazz is Dead JID020, released 12/01/2023). Tony Allen, Mophoro, Theon Cross, Ben Ru, Katalyst, Melanie Charles, Jean Carne, Shabaka Hutchins, Henry Franklin, Tall Black Guy, Kaidi Tatham, Lonnie Liston Smith, L.O & Disk, Garrett Saracho, DJ Nyack, Phill Ranelin.
Jazz is Dead is on a mission to give exposure to under-appreciated artists from the 70s and 80s through new recording opportunities. It is clear that they enjoy participating in the process with these iconic heroes of their past. After a prolific three years, they have now mined their catalog of 19 releases for a remix release, with contemporary producers and artists in the control room. If you have been enjoying their releases over the years, you might find this one to your liking as well.
Rich Halley – Fire Within (Pine Eagle Records, released 12/01/2023. Rich Halley – tenor saxophone, Matthew Shipp – piano, Michael Bisio – bass, Newman Taylor Baker – drums.
For almost a decade, Matthew Shipp, Michael Bisio and Newman Taylor Baker have been a piano trio recording unit. Now for the third time they have recorded with Rich Halley on tenor (2020’s The Shape of Things, 2019’s Terra Incognita). Mike Jurkovic wrote on AllAboutJazz, “A triumph for the collective, Fire Within pursues the unmapped unknown with a pirate’s flexible ease and need of forward motion. Listen to the saxophone scream on Angular Logic and how Shipp, like some lost Marx Brother, replies to those cries. The indefinable swing defines the whirlwind closer, Following the Stream. It is old school head playing to the nth degree. Perception vs. confession…. Like a fire next door, there is not a moment of the fifty-five or so minutes of Fire Within unworthy of attention; be it the tone of voice, the cadence of the language, or the tone of each instrument being pummeled or caressed, the chronology of creation forges a galvanizing tale.”
Simón Willson – Good Company (Fresh Sound New Talent, released 10/13/2023). Jacob Shulman – tenor saxophone, Isaac Wilson – piano, Simón Willson – bass, Jonas Easter – drums.
Chilean bassist Simón Willson (Kevin Sun) has been a New York sideman for a decade and now has released his debut with a collection of up-and-comng players. Thomas Conrad wrote on Stereophile, “Ten Varied, engaging Willson compositions showcase the breadth of artistic aptitudes contained within this ensemble … On every track, you feel the shaping influence of Willson. He leads this band from within. His rich, deep bass lines are woven all through the music, as unifying threads. His group of volatile improvisers creates within his organized arrangements, plays with cohesion and wastes few notes. The most concentrated track is My Respects, a three-minute through-composed “elegy for victims of injustice.” No one solos, but within its tight structure, everyone discovers and conveys his own empathy.”
Darrell Grant’s MJ New – Our Mr. Jackson (Lair Hill Records, released 10/06/2023). Darrell Grant – piano, Mike Horsfall – vibraphone, Marcus Shelby – bass, Carlton Jackson – drums.
Mimicking the line-up of the great Modern Jazz Quartet, pianist Darrell Grant pays tribute to Milt Jackson with his new band MJ New. Jack Bowers wrote on AllAboutJazz, “Those familiar with the MJQ will pretty much know what to expect. While imitation presumably was not the goal, the MJ New sounds very much like the MJQ Old. One difference is at the piano, where Grant’s strapping two-handed approach seldom bears any resemblance to [John] Lewis’ spare single-note runs. As for Horsfall, he might pass for Jackson in a blindfold test. Shelby and Jackson? They may as well be [Percy] Heath and [Kenny] Clarke (or [Connie] Kay) … Even though many of the numbers on Our Mr. Jackson will be well-known to fans of the MJQ, it is always a pleasure to hear them again, especially when they are played with such expertise and insight. The temperament and musicianship on the album are excellent, as must be its over-all grade.” Nostalgic fun and recommended.
Itamar Borochov – Arba (Greenleaf, released 09/08/2023). Itamar Borochov – trumpet / vocals / effects, Rob Clearfield – piano / Rhodes / B3 organ, Avri Borochov – oud, Rick Rosato – bass, Jay Sawyer – drums / percussion.
Dave Douglas has picked up another trumpeter for his Greenleaf label, a trumpeter with a conversational tone and deep roots in the traditional music of North Africa and the Middle East. Jerome Wilson wrote in AllAboutJazz, “Trumpeter Itamar Borochov is originally from the Middle East but is part of the New York jazz scene. He plays a quarter-tone trumpet which helps bring an unusual expressiveness and calm to his sound, This is well-suited to the music he plays which is steeped in the chords and scales of the Mediterranean area where he grew up… Borochov’s melodic sense gives a feeling of serenity to this album which carries through whatever setting his rhythm section provides. The playing of the entire quartet creates music with a haunting lyricism and quiet power.” The leader sings both wordlessly and with lyrics in a manner that reinforces the vocal tone of this playing. Recommended.
Jaimie Branch Fly or Die Fly or Fly or Die ((world war)) (International Anthem, released 08/25/2023). Jaimie Branch – trumpet / voice / keyboard / percussion / happy apple, Lester St. Louis – cello / voice / flute / marimba / keyboard, Jason Ajemian – double bass / electric bass / voice / marimba, Chad Taylor – drums / mbira / timpani / bells / marimba.
Trumpeter / composer Jaimie Branch died at 39 in 2022, leaving a very incomplete legacy, full of potential and marked by searching and change. Her last recorded effort (from April 2022) with her signature band Fly or Die came out in 2023 and it was instantly a critical favorite. Of the third release from the group, Gio Russinelli wrote in the New York Times, “It is just as electrifying as the group’s first two LPs, but with a wider sonic horizon and more parts in motion. And there’s a triumphant streak running through it that only heightens the pain of Branch’s demise. She was moving fast and riding high when we lost her… If we’re lucky, Branch’s impact will be felt for years. Not just in the sound of improvised music, but in the fervor and hope — the all-on-the-table abandon — that improvisers put into attacking their craft.” One of my favorite releases of 2023.
Chris Potter – Got The Keys To the Kingdom (Edition Records, released 02/17/2023). Chris Potter – tenor saxophone, Craig Taborn – piano, Scott Colley – bass, Marcus Gilmore – drums.
The Village Vanguard was the venue for the recording of two of the greatest tenor records ever – Sonny Rollins’s A Night At The Village Vanguard and John Coltrane’s Live At the Village Vanguard. This year we have seen a worthy successor from Mark Turner (Live at the Village Vanguard previewed 08/21/2023) and now Chris Potter. This is Potter’s third release from this hallowed club and his first of all covers, and an unusual collection of covers it is – Mississippi Fred McDowell’s You Gotta Move, Jobim’s Olha Maria and the Brazilian folk song Nozani Na are rarely covered and provide rich fodder for Potter and his extraordinary band. Of the new release, Felipe Freitas wrote on Jazz Trail, “Got the Keys to the Kingdom displays refreshing non-original material that bolsters the bandleader’s versatility, huge sound, and sophisticated language. Potter is backed by a stupendous rhythm section composed of inventive pianist Craig Taborn, confident bassist Scott Colley, and intrepid drummer Marcus Gilmore.” Another one of my favorite releases of 2023.
Todd Sickafoose – Bear Proof(Self Produced, released 09/29/2023). Kirk Knuffke – cornet, Ben Goldberg – clarinet, Erik Deutsch – piano, Rob Reich – accordion, Jenny Scheinman – violin, Adam Levy – guitar, Todd Sickafoose – acoustic bass, Allison Miller – drums.
Todd Sickafoose has released an ambitious work, conceived as a suite of nine parts and performed straight-through as a single take in the studio. The band consists of five of the six members of the classic line-up of Allison Miller’s Boom Tic Boom (cornetist Kirk Knuffke, clarinetist Ben Goldberg, violinist Jenny Scheinman, drummer Allison Miller and the leader) plus piano, guitar and accordion. Jerome Wilson wrote on AllAboutJazz, “There are lovely solo passages throughout by all the players, but the real beauty of the music is the way Sickafoose arranges the instruments into a rich melodic tapestry out of which soloists emerge briefly and recede. This quietly intense work is the kind of music that reveals its power the more one listens to it. It takes the listener on a journey from optimism to dashed dreams over 62 minutes in an engrossing and entertaining fashion.” This is only Sickafoose’s second disc as a leader, leaving me wanting more.
Matana Roberts – Coin Coin Chapter Five – In The Garden (Constellation Records, released 09/29/2023). Matana Roberts – horns / harmonicas / aux percussion / vocal / wordspeak, Darius Jones – alto saxophone / tin whistle / vocal, Matt Lavelle – alto clarinet / pocket trumpet / tin whistle / vocal, Stuart Bogie – bass clarinet / clarinet / tin whistle / vocal, Cory Smythe – piano / vocal / tin whistle,Kyp Malone – synthesizers, Mazz Swift – violin / vocal/ tin whistle, Mike Pride – drums / auxillary percussion / vocal, Ryan Sawyer – drums / aux percussion / vocal, Gitanjali Jain – text collage
Matana Roberts has released the fifth chapter in her acclaimed Coin Coin series that started in 2011. Thom Jurek wrote on AllMusic that Chapter Five “follows previous entries, juxtaposing folk songs and avant jazz, free improv and post-bop, spoken word, noise, and post-rock. Her tentet offers a great variety of sounds, textures, and colors in a complex yet illustrative narrative. This album expressionistically chronicles the tragic aftermath of an ancestor’s terminated pregnancy, echoing poignantly across time into the 21st century when the Supreme Court invalidated Roe v. Wade.” Politics are never far from the surface in Roberts’s work and this latest is no exception. This release was among the most frequently named in various Best of 2023 lists, and for good reason.
Yussef Dayes – Back Classical Music(Brownswood Recordings, released 09/09/2023). Venna – saxophone, Charlie Stacey – keyboards / synthesizers, Rocco Palladino – bass, Yussef Dayes – drums, Alexander Bourt – percussion with Chronixx – vocals, Masego – vocals, Jamilah Barry-doc, Tom Misch – guitar, Elijah Fox – keyboards, Shabaka Hutchings – reeds, Miles James, Sheila Maurice Grey – trumpet, Nathaniel Cross – trombone, Theon Cross – tuba, Chineke! Orchestra.
British drummer and producer Yussef Dayes has released his debut as a leader. It is complex piece, covering a lot of ground and has been very well-received, landing in the top spot as the year’s best debut on the comprehensive Annual Francis Davis Jazz Poll. Although acknowledging highpoints, I was not as thrilled as these critics. Among the highpoints are title tune of which Dan Paton wrote on London Jazz News, “The opening title track has a propulsive drive and urgency suggesting that Dayes has engaged not just with the imposing vibe of Kamasi Washington, but also with hard bop, Latin grooves and composer performers such as Kenny Garrett. It is not, however, completely representative of the album as a whole.” Generally, I found the arrangements overly lush obscuring the virtuosity of the performers with artificial synth sounds.
Irreversible Entanglements – Protect Your Light (Impulse! / Verve, released 09/08/2023). Irreversable Entanglements (Aquiles Navarro – trumpet / percussion / synthesizer, Keir Neuringer – alto saxophone / synthesizer / percussion / vocals, Janice Lowe – piano / vocals, Lester St. Louis – cello, Luke Stewart – bass / percussion, Moor Mother – vocals / percussion / synthesizers, Sovel – vocals.
After three releases on International Anthem, free-jazz quintet Irresistible Entanglements has debuted on Impulse! with a disc recorded at the fabled Rudy Van Gelder studio. The change of label, the storied studio and their maturity as a group is audible in their art. Matthew Ismael Ruiz wrote on Pitchfork, “Irreversible Entanglements is a band built on improvisation, five jazz virtuosos … coalescing around an idea and discovering where it takes them. Their live shows are typically presented as a single piece of music, one movement seamlessly evolving into the next as they explore their anti-colonial and anti-fascist politics through sound. Their albums so far have mirrored this approach … Their fourth album, Protect Your Light, represents a departure from this free-flowing process. Recording across several days, the ensemble leaned into the tools of the studio, reexamining material and layering overdubs with help from multi-instrumentalist Shahzad Ismaily. The list of production credits dwarfs the lyrics sheet; each member wields multiple instruments, producing an album that sounds bigger than the five-piece group that created it. Cymbals crash, saxophones scream, horns swirl, and basslines walk confidently before tumbling down the stairs. But the chaos is controlled.” Some may find this music challenging and as do I, but careful listening will reward the patient.
Blue Cranes – My Only Secret (Jealous Butcher Records, released 08/11/2023). Reed Wallsmith – alto saxophone / keys / percussion, Joe Cunningham – tenor saxophone / keys / percussion, Rebecca Sanborn – keyboards, Jon Shaw – bass, Ji Tanzer – drums with James Powers – trombone, John Savage – flute, Nicole McCabe – clarinet, Timothy Young – guitar.
This Portland quintet has been together in a variety of formats for 20 years – no small feat. To the core front line of tenor and alto, the band adds several quests on trombone, flute, clarinet and guitar on various tracks. Jim Hynes wrote on Making a Scene, “The shifting tonal center of Wallsmith’s Semicircle seemingly lands squarely on bassist Shaw before the two horns flesh it out in grandiose style. These constant shifts continue in Wallsmith’s Forward which benefits from contributions to the expanded tonal palette from Powers [on trombone], Savage [on flute], and McCabe [on clarinet], a palette drenched in sorrow and a few gasps of dissonant anger, especially in the resonant chords as they reflect on the 2016 election results.” The more I listen, the more there is to hear and the more I like this.
Arooj Aftab – Vijay Iyer – Shahzad Ismaily – Love In Exile (Verve, released 03/24/2023. Vijay Iyer – piano / keyboards Shahzad Ismaily – bass / synthesizer, Arooj Aftab – vocals.
One of the most celebrated releases of 2023 is this trio release from pianist Vijay Iyer, bassist Shahzad Ismaily, and vocalist Arooj Aftab. Bhanuj Kappal wrote on Pitchfork, “Recorded live in a New York studio and released with minimal editing, the album’s six tracks retain the unhurried, conversational feel of improvisation, but without any of improv’s attendant looseness. Iyer’s intricate piano phrases and Ismaily’s pulsing bass and drones move in intuitive cycles, with textures and melodies slowly coalescing out of the interplay between their instruments. Aftab’s powerful voice fits seamlessly into these soundscapes, melancholy melismas languidly unfurling like ink dropped into water. At moments—when Iyer’s piano melody weaves serpentine shapes around Aftab’s voice on Sajni, or Ismaily’s sepulchral Moog synth shares space with Iyer’s delicate topline on Eye of the Endless—their connection seems telepathic, three seasoned musicians breathing together as a single organism.” What a lovely piece.
Quartette Oblique – Quartette Oblique (Sunnyside Records, released 10/12/2018). Dave Liebman – tenor saxophone / soprano saxophone, Marc Copland – piano, Drew Gress – bass, Michael Stephans – drums.
Drummer Michael Stephans assembled a foreword-thinking quartet of David Liebman on saxophones, Marc Copland on piano and Drew Gress on bass for a live recording of standards, an unusual choice for these players. Mostly these days, we hear Liebman on soprano and here his tenor work gets featured, to great effect on what is some of his most accessible playing in years. Doug Ramsey wrote on Arts Journal, “The album rewards close listening to its two Miles Davis pieces, Nardis and So What, but also to the late guitarist John Abercrombie’s Vertigo, and Duke Ellington’s In a Sentimental Mood. Gress enhances the contemplativeness of his composition Vesper with a bass solo that elevates the thoughtful mood. Copland’s shimmering piano on the piece melds into Liebman’s quiet, deep, improvisation on tenor, as opposed to the controlled frenzy that he generates on tenor and soprano sax elsewhere in this rewarding album. Nowhere is he more contained or, by contrast, more expansive, than in Dietz and Schwartz’s imperishable 84-year-old You And The Night And The Music. The piece highlights a quartet album that is itself a highlight.” It is not clear why this 2018 release is just reaching us, but let’s just be thankful it did.
Lot’s to consider here. Next week, we’ll begin to look at new music from 2024.
Russell Perry, Jazz at 100 Now!