New Jazz Releases – 01/23/2023

John D’earth Quintet – Coin of the Realm (Cosmology Records, 01/2023).

John D’earth – Trumpet, JC Kuhl – tenor sax, Daniel Clarke – piano, Peter Spaar – bass, Devonne Harris – drums).

It is indicative of John D’earth’s musical generosity that the first plaintive cries you hear on his new disc Coin of the Realm are from his long-time bandmate JC Kuhl on tenor and the first solo two minutes in is from pianist Daniel Clarke.  John has been giving to this jazz community for the past 40 years and when he first solos three and half minutes in you hear a veteran player whose tone and characteristic playing is as familiar and comfortable as an old friend and yet still evolving and surprising.  With decades of playing together, especially in the consistent Thursday night residency at Millers, this is a bandstand tested unit of great sympathy and support.  And the recording captures that intimacy.  John is an emotional and tender ballad player (as are Kuhl and Clarke), and while a nightclub may not be the best place to experience that, in the privacy of your home, ballads like Mood and Dust resonate with great depth.  The program is entirely of originals, including old favorites like Sarah’s Bracelet (as heard in the Free Bridge Quintet’s Originals concert and on Kate Duntin’s Planet D’earth.). It’s great to get John’s own recording of that fine composition.  John’s stature in the regional music community has meant that he has the pick of the region’s players to work with and his rhythm section is one of the best.  Devonne Harris sparkles behind the kit while Peter Spaar is as melodic and inventive as always.  This one is an instant favorite.

Ben Wolfe – Unjust (Resident Arts, 02/2023).

Nicholas Payton – trumpet, Immanuel Wilkins – alto sax, Nicole Glover – tenor sax, Orrin Evans – piano, Addison Frei – piano, Joel Ross – vibes,  Ben Wolfe – bass, Aaron Kimmel – drums.

Wow!  I love this record.  Bassist Ben Wolfe (Orrin Evans, Wynton Marsalis, Tim Warfield, Ken Mahogany) has a crew of all-stars and deploys them in all sorts of combinations in a program of originals.  Nicholas Payton (who swings like mad) and newcomer Immanuel Wilkins make a first-rate old-school front line on The Heckler.  Tenor player Nicole Glover (now with Artemis) delivers a powerfully breathy (think Ben Webster) tenor presentation on Lullaby in D with Addison Frei in support.  On The Corridor, Joel Ross swings the vibes in a trio with Wolfe and Kimmel.  Wilkins and Ross are rapturously beautiful together on Sparkling Red.  You get the idea – eight musicians in twelve different configurations on twelve tunes.  The year is early, but this may be one of the best.  If not, it’s because we have a killin’ year of music ahead of us!

Tbone Paxton – Joys (Eastlawn Records, 01/2023).

Tbone Paxton – trombone, Matt LoRusso – guitar, Kurt Kranke – bass, Trevor Lamb – bass, Sean Perlmutter – drums, RJ Spangler – congas / percussion.

Trombonist Paxton and several players on this disc are members of the Detroit band Planet D Nonet, whose 2013 disc A Salute to Strayhorn was a tender tribute.  It doesn’t get much more old school than this.  Versions of Junko Partner, Lulu’s Back in Town and Jelly Roll Morton’s Millenburg Joys are a start.  Then they play Louis Jordon’s Pushka Pee Shee Pie (“It’s the new calypso be-bop”)!  Professor Bebop take note.  Generally the uptempo tunes are more effective, but the spirit of fun pervades.

Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad – Phil Ranelin and Wendell Harrison (Jazz is Dead, 01/2023).

Phil Ranelin – trombone, Wendell Harrison – tenor sax / bass clarinet, Andrian Younge – Fender Rhodes piano / synthesizer / guitars / marimba, / clavinet / electric sitar / alto sax / sopranino sax /  percussion, Ali Shaheed Muhammad – bass / conga, Greg Paul – drums.

The Jazz is Dead series starts with a laudable premise “to foreground legends of the past.”  So far so good.  The musician-producers Younge (hip-hop composer-producer) and Muhammad (DJ-producer, A Tribe Called Quest) bring less-heard senior members of the jazz world to the studio to provide an opportunity to record and expand their audiences.  Detroit veterans trombonist Phil Ravelijn and reed player Wendell Harrison are the latest in the series and they perform admirably.  To my ears the musical support they receive just isn’t up to their level.  Ranelin and Harrison were important players in the 70s for their independent label, Tribe Records, and educational efforts.  They deserve a better format to bring their music back to us.

Lakecia Benjamin – Phoenix (Whirlwind Recordings, 01/2023).

Josh Evans – trumpet, Wallace Roney – trumpet, Lakecia Benjamin – alto sax / vocals / synthesizers, Victor Gould – keyboards, Anastassiya Petrova – Rhodes / organ, Orange Rodriguez – synthesizers, Patrice Rushen – piano, Jose Klein – violin, Laura Epling – violin, Nicole Neely – viola, Cremaine Booker – cello, Ivan Taylor – bass, Jamal Nichols – bass, EJ Strickland – drums, Negah Santos – percussion, Georgia Anne Muldrow – vocals / synthesizer, Dianne Reeves – vocals, Sonia Sanchez – poet, Angela Davis – vocals, Wayne Shorter – vocals.

After a couple of inconsequential releases, in 2020 Benjamin released Pursuance – The Coltranes and suddenly she was the rising star; the alto player to watch.  Phoenix doesn’t disappoint.  She says, “I was clear that this project was to feature women that I have looked up to my entire life who have a prominent place in jazz or in the community. I wrote each song around their skillset so they wouldn’t have to do nothing but be themselves.”  She features speech, vocals, and poetry from Diane Reeves, Angela Davis, Georgia Anne Muldrow, and Sonia Sanchez.  Additionally pianist Patrice Rushen contributes her composition Jubilation and anchors it with her wonderfully soulful pianism.  Benjamin’s alto is by turns glistening, fearless, bold, defiant and gentle.  Check this one out. 

Richie Goods and Chien Chien Lu – Connected (Richman Music, 01/2023).

Brett Williams – Rhodes / organ, Shedrick Mitchell – organ, BIGYUKI – keys, Mike King – Rhodes / organ, Chien Chien Lu – vibes, Quintin Zoto – guitar, Richie Goods – bass, Allan Medford – drums, Lil John Roberts – drums, David Frazier Jr. – drums, Danny Sadownick – percussion, Sy Smith – vocals, Jamison Ross – vocals, Pastor Dr. Adolfo’s Lacey – vocals.

Goods and Lu met in Jeremy Pelt’s band in 2017.  This, their first joint release, is a quiet affair, very atmospheric on the whole, but message-oriented as Goods and Lu reflect on Asian-hate crimes.  There is an intimacy to the music, especially when they reflect on their experiences in conversation.  Contemplative, personal and often quite beautiful.

Lisa Hilton – Paradise Cove (Ruby Slipper Productions, 12/2022).

Igmar Thomas – trumpet, Lisa Hilton – piano, Luques Curtis – bass, Obed Calvaire – drums.

On an almost annual basis, Lisa Hilton releases a record – quietly it seems sometimes.  She doesn’t get the broad attention of some of her fellow composer / pianist / bandleaders.  It’s time for that to change.  In a departure from her last three discs (all trios), Paradise Cove is a quartet with the addition of trumpeter Igmar Thomas, who first came to my attention for his soulful playing on Kamasi Washington’s The Epic.  Bassist Luque Curtis (Conrad Herwig, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, Orrin Evans) is a regular collaborator with Hilton and drummer Obed Calvaire (SF Jazz Collective, Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra) rounds out the quartet.  Matt Collar on AllMusic writes “With Thomas’ lithe trumpet framed by Hilton’s sweetly lyrical piano, much of Paradise Cove evokes a softer, contemporary version of celebrated small group sessions like Relaxin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet and the Clark Terry/Thelonious Monk record In Orbit; it’s an album of empathic give-and-take that makes for an intoxicating combination.”  The music is powerful, emotional and satisfying.  The program of seven originals and two covers (Gillespie’s Birk’s Works, Bacharach’s What The World Needs Now Is Love) allows for a range of presentations and tone.  Maybe this is the disc that brings Lisa Hilton greater exposure.

Santi Debriano and Arkestra Bembe – Ashanti (JoJo Records, 11/2022).

Emile Turner – trumpet, TK Blue – alto sax, Tommy Morimoto – tenor sax, Ray Scro – baritone sax, Andrea Brachfeld – flute, Mamiko Watanabe – piano, Andrian Alvarado – guitar, Santi Debriano – bass, Robby Ameen – drums.

Panamanian bassist Debriani developed this disc from jam sessions that he hosted during the COVID lockdown.  The result is a collection of largely easy-going new works inspired by African and Afro-Caribbean roots.  An international cast of New York-based musicians contribute solid and sometimes inspiring solos, all over an ensemble driven by the leaders compelling bass playing. 

… And catching up of some older releases, new to our music library

Josh Sinton’s Predicate Quartet – 4 Freedoms (Possibility Recordings, 10/2022).

Jonathan Finlayson – trumpet, John Sinton – baritone sax / alto flute / bass clarinet, Christopher Hoffman – cello, Tom Rainey – drums.

For his third release of 2022 (solo, trio, quartet), John Sinton put together an accomplished quartet of similarly minded avant-garde players – Jonathan Finlayson (Steve Coleman, Mary Halvorson) on trumpet, Christopher Hoffman (Henry Threadgill, Anna Webber) on cello and Tom Rainey (Nels Cline, Jon Irabagon) on drums.  Although a quartet, the sound is spare as much of the time the musicians are playing solo, in duets and in trio configurations, so there is plenty of room for improvisation … and space.  The interplay between the two low-register instruments (baritone sax or bass clarinet and cello) provides a firm foundation for Finlayson’s soaring and chattering trumpet.

Jim Witzel – Feelin’ It (Joplin Sweeney Music, 09/2022).

Dan Zinn – woodwinds, Brian Ho – organ, Jim Witzel – guitar, Jason Lewis – drums.

Because of a busy university teaching schedule (San Francisco State), Witzel last recorded 30 years ago.  Let’s hope the next release doesn’t wait that long.  This set of three originals and five covers is a swinging affair.  One of the covers is a drop-dead gorgeous version of I Loves You, Porgy, where the guitarist accompanies himself on rhythm guitar without the rest of the band.  Dan Zinn sits in on tenor on three tunes and makes the most of the familiar tenor – organ – guitar – drums format.  Brian Ho (also on the recent Mimi Fox set) is everything you could ask for in the organ seat, a swingingly confident soloist and subtle background accompanist.  Straight ahead and warm.

Benjamin Lackner – Last Decade (ECM, 09/2022).

Mathias Eick – trumpet, Benjamin Lackner – piano, Jérôme Regard – bass, Manu Katché – drums.

Lackner, for the past 16 years has recorded in a piano trio format enhanced with the use of electronics. In a departure, this release, his ECM debut, is a melodic acoustic effort that features ECM stalwart Mathias Eck.  It is a good sound for the pianist.

James Brandon Lewis Quartet – MSM Molecular Systemic Music Live (Intakt Records, 09/2022).

James Brandon Lewis – tenor sax, Aruan Ortiz – piano, Brad Jones – bass, Chad Taylor-drums.

James Brandon Lewis’ 2021 disc Jessup Wagon was rightly considered one of the best discs of the year.  While this 2022 release didn’t reach those heights, it is a fine recording of one of the best saxophone quartets out there captured in a live setting.  Some of the fire may come in response to the long lay-off from live performance leading to this May 2021 gig, which tracks the compositions from the 2020 release Molecular Systemic Music.  Critics placed the disc in the Top 40 of the 17th Annual Jazz Critics Poll.

Alina Bzhezhinska & HipHarpCollective – Reflections (BBE, 09/2022).

Jay Phelps – trumpet, Tony Kofi – sax, Alina Bzhezhinska – harp, Ying Xue – violin / viola, Mikele Montolli – bass, Julie Walkington – bass, Adam Teixeira – drums, Joel Prime – percussion, Vimala Rowe – vocals, Sanity – vocals, Tom They/Them – vocals).

Somehow, I missed Bzhezhinska’s debut, 2018’s Inspiration (time to find that), so Reflections is my first exposure to this fine harpist.  Suddenly, with Brandee Younger, we have two young harpists playing at the highest level.  The ensemble is strong, especially saxophonist Tony Kofi.  Chris May wrote, in AllAboutJazz, “On Inspiration, Bzhezhinska demonstrated that she had oodles of soul, a quality not usually associated with harpists, who can be a tad wafty. She plays to this strength on Reflections, in the manner of her playing, her choice of material and her arrangements. There are hip hop beats, funk beats and backbeats in general, and little straight four/four. The material itself, all of which places great store in melody, is a mixture of originals and tunes written by or associated with John Coltrane (Alabama and Afro Blue), Alice Coltrane (Fire, co-written by Coltrane and Joe Henderson), and that other great American harpist, Dorothy Ashby (Soul Vibration … and Action Line). Duke Ellington’s African Flower is given an exquisite reading.”

Julia Hulsmann Quartet – The Next Door (ECM, 08/2022).

Uli Kempendorff – tenor sax, Julia Hülsmann – piano, Marc Muellbauer – bass, Heinrich Köbberling – drums.

Julia Hülsmann  recorded 2019’s Not Far From Here with terrific quartet and now after spending several years on tour, they are back, tighter and more in synch than ever.  On Jazz Times, Ken Micallef writes, “The compositions that she shares with the rest of her road-hardened quartet—Uli Kempendorff (tenor saxophone), Marc Muellbauer (double bass), and Heinrich Köbberling (drums)—are given buoyancy and expression in small shifts of varying pressure that create demonstrable actions and emotions. The quartet creates a dense, liquid sound that bathes the listener in a sense of comfort, and intense adventure … While some assert that ECM’s current releases can sound glacial and abstract, The Next Door is anything but. It’s a rich, swinging, at times modal journey, with all the intricacy, texture, and warmth of a symphony orchestra gathered round a campfire.”

Janel Leppin – Ensemble Volcanic Ash (Cuneiform, 07/2022).

Sarah Hughes – alto sax, Brian Settles – tenor sax, Kim Sator – harp, Anthony Pirog – guitar, Janel Leppin – cello / keyboards, Luke Stewart – bass, Larry Ferguson – drums).

Janel Leppin is best known as half of the improvisational duo Janel and Anthony, with Anthony Pirog who is featured on this disc.  The rest of the musicians come from the new music scene in DC.  Ensemble Volcanic Ash is a release that accepts no boundaries, just as likely to present lyrical jazz offerings as shreading frenzy.  The quiet moments can be quite emotional and feature some beautiful cello playing by Leppin, the shreading moments most likely feature Pirog, but these are not boundaries as everything is open to experimentation.  Chris Richards in the Washington Post describes the group’s polymorphous sound as ““embodying all the complexity and grace of human cooperation — that intuitive, empathetic, semi-telepathic teamwork thing that helps set us apart as a species.”  Jazz Times included the disc in its top 40 jazz discs of 2022. 

Nate Wooley – Ancient Songs for Burlap Heroes (Pyroclastic Records, 06/2022).

Nate Wooley – trumpet, Mary Halvorson – guitar, Susan Alcorn – pedal steel guitar, Matt Maneri – violin, Trevor Dunn – bass, Ryan Sawyer – drums).

More melancholic or elegiac than ecstatic, Wooley’s latest disc runs from beautiful to baffling.  Wooley’s trumpet, Halvorson’s guitar and Alcorn’s pedal steel guitar often combine forces with Sawyer’s drumming running counterpoint.  One selection each features Maneri on violin or Dunn on bass adding depth to the offering.  There is a glacial pace to most of the recording putting more emphasis on those select passages where time accelerates and the soloists step forward.  The composition is a single hour-long piece with atmospheric interludes. 

Ches Smith – Interpret It Well (Pyroclastic Records, 05/2022).

Craig Taborn – piano, Bill Frisell – guitar, Mat Maneri – viola, Ches Smth – drums.

Karl Ackerman wrote in AllAboutJazz, “Ches Smith’s extraordinary Path of Seven Colors (Pyroclastic Records, 2021) was a breakout recording that placed the drummer/composer at the top of many year-end lists. His sophomore outing on Kris Davis’ label bears little similarity to his Pyroclastic debut beyond the artist’s knack for discovering unexplored terrain. Interpret It Well reunites the trio of pianist Craig Taborn, violist Mat Maneri, and Smith (The Bell (ECM, 2016) and adds guitarist Bill Frisell …  With these master improvisers in place, Smith confidently lays out a foundation and allows his colleagues the liberty to dig deeper; they frequently extract unanticipated results.”  Strong response from critics put this release in the Top 10 of the 17th Annual Jazz Critics Poll.

Oded Tzur – Isabela (ECM, 05/2022).

Oded Tzur – tenor sax, Nitai Hershovts – piano, Petros Klampanis – bass, Johnathan Blake – drums.

Picking up where he left off with his well-recieved ECM debut in 2020, Here Be Dragons, Israeli-born, New York-based tenor player Oded Tzur and his established quartet keep improving.  Chris May of AllAboutJazz writes of the five-original release, “Exquisite, tender lyricism, composed and improvised, is punctuated by carefully controlled crescendos of full-throated vocalized passion. It is an intoxicating, uplifting combination from a unique stylist leading a marvellously empathetic band.” 

Sylvie Couvoisier & Mary Halvorson – Searching for the Disappeared Hour (Pyroclastic, 10/2021). 

Sylvie Courvoisier – piano, Mary Halvorson – guitar.

In their second duet record, Sylvie Couvoisier and Mary Halvorson celebrate the rarity of piano – guitar duos (think Bill Evans and Jim Hall’s Undercurrent.). J.D. Considine writes in JazzTimes, “That the two voices share little in the way of timbre, particularly when Halvorson uses her pedalboard, only reinforces the aesthetic common cause they share … Courvoisier and Halvorson reach across the specifics of their approach to celebrate a mutuality of taste: of melodic shapes, of rhythmic structures, of harmonic color.” This release placed in the Top 25 of the 16th Annual Jazz Critics Poll, foreshadowing Mary Halvorson’s dominance in 2022 with her Amaryllis disc.

John Bailey – In Real Time (Summit Records, 01/2018).

John Bailey – trumpet / flugelhorn, Stacy Dillard – tenor sax / soprano sax, John Hart – guitar, Cameron Brown – bass, Victor Lewis – drums / cymbals.

John Bailey is a veteran of Arturo O’Farrill’s The Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra and the El Palermo Big Band. With this and two other releases as a leader, he shows not just a beautiful tone and inventive soloing, but a real affinity for classic hard bop quintets.  With Stacy Dillard in the front line with him, they channel historic pairings of Donald Byrd & Hank Mobley / Lee Morgan & Wayne Shorter / Blue Mitchell & Junior Cook.  Bailey’s 2023 release Time Bandits has sent me scrambling for the rest of his discography.

So much great music.  I hope this helps you discover something new.

Russell Perry

Jazz at 100 Now!


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