New Jazz Releases – 02/26/2024

John Surman

In an international burst, this week we have a great new disc by iconic British saxophonist John Surman, three by Philippine-American saxophonist Jon Irabagon, two by Swiss saxophonist Sarah Chaksad and EIGHT by Icelandic bassist Tomas Einarsson.  Jazz the world over.

John Surman – Words Unspoken(ECM, release 02/16/2024).  John Surman – soprano saxophone / baritone saxophone / bass clarinet, Rob Luft – guitar, Rob Waring – vibraphone, Thomas Strønen – drums / percussion.

Multi-reedist John Surman at just short of 80 is a remarkably vital musician, capable of making stimulating and wonderful music with an ever widening circle of collaborators.  This time out (still on ECM after almost 50 years), Surman leads a band of American vibraphonist Rob Waring, British guitarist Rob Luft and Norwegian drummer Thomas Strønen.  What chops this player has!  He still makes the baritone sing.  Joshua Weiner wrote on AllAboutJazz, “The title track sets up echoing pads of guitar and vibes on which a typically searching Surman baritone solo arcs upward. The drumming is a highlight here, with a rumbling, booming bass drum taking the aural place of the absent double-bass, and beautifully-recorded gong-like cymbals… Surman certainly sounds ageless on Words Unspoken, his tone and agility undiminished…, and his quartet plays with sensitivity and grace.”  This is a treat.

Jill McCarron Trio – Gin (Jazz Bird Records, released 02/23/2024).  Randy Brecker – flugelhorn, Vincent Herring – alto saxophone / tenor saxophone, Ada Rovatti – tenor saxophone, Jill McCarron – piano, Paul Gill – bass, Chris Haney – bass, Andy Watson – drums, Chuck Redd – drums.

Pianist Jill McCarron held down the piano chair for sixteen years at the prestigious Harvard Club on Manhattan and has been working with her own trio since, making a debut recording last year.  Her trio mates are solid – Paul Gill (Ken Fowser, Cory Weeds, Behn Gillece) on bass and Andy Watson (John Sneider, Jim Hall, Jon Hendricks) on drums.  The new disc is largely a trio affair, but Vincent Herring, Randy Brecker and Ada Rovatti lend a hand on several tunes.  McCarron’s tune selections are great – Silver, Evans, Kern, Arlen, Zeitlin, Grolnick, Dorham – and her three compositions (the Gin Suite) are brief little gems.  She swings, struts and strides.  Recommended.

Jon Irabagon’s Outright! – Recharge The Blade (irabbagast Records, released 01/23/2024).  Ray Anderson – trombone, Jon Irabagon – soprano saxophone, Matt Mitchell – piano / Fender Rhodes / Moog, Ben Monder – guitar, Chris Lightcap – bass, Dan Weiss – drums, Chris Cash – drums / bass / guitar.

For his third edition of Outright!, power saxophonist Jon Irabagon has assemble an equally powerful quintet of like-minded New York players – Ray Anderson on trombone, Matt Mitchell on piano, Chris Lightcap on bass and Dan Weiss (who recently played Charlottesville on the CJS Charlie Ballentine show) on drums.  Given his propensity for high energy and challenging music, his ballad Nightshade may come as a surprise, a delightful one.  Mitchell, Nightcap and Weiss follow the leader on soprano through an extended rubato intro and then settle into a soothing groove, which eventually incorporates Anderson’s trombone in unison passages and eventually as steely solo.   Mark Corroto wrote on AllAboutJazz, “The brief (1:50) opening Kilgrave Part 1 finds whispering and popping soprano saxophone and trombone growl tracking Mitchell’s pointed piano poetry. Next, we are off with Blood Eagle an accelerated New Orleans woven funk track and Recharge The Blade which also trades in the creole sound, taken at a sprinting pace. Irabagon leaves plenty of space for his band to express themselves here, weaving their sounds around his soprano saxophone… Irabagon covers the standard We’ll Meet Again in a duet with Mitchell. Then there is The Trans-Atlantic Luxury Cruise Line Cigar Lounge All-Stars, a nearly sixty-member orchestral smooth jazz performance of Welcome Parade. Sure, it is wacky, it is weird. It is the world of Jon Irabagon.”  And you might love it, too, as I did.

Jon Irabagon – Survivalism (Irabbagast Records, released 01/23/2024).  Jon irabagon – soprillo saxophone / game calls.

With a discography as widely varied and as openly experimental as saxophonist Jon Irabagon’s, not everything is likely to resonate with everyone.  While I enjoyed the Outright set on soprano (above) and the solo Bird set on tenor (below), this solo set on soprillo sax missed the mark for me.  If you want music that leaves you guessing and not knowing what to expect, this might be for you.

Jon Irabagon – Bird With Streams (Irabbagast Records, released 07/02/2021). Jon Irabagon – tenor saxophone.

Saxophonist Jon Irabagon burst on the scene in 2008 as a Monk Competition winner, becoming a singular voice as a player and composer.  In 2021, he recorded his first album of jazz covers, appropriately the music of Charlie Parker, as a tribute to Bird’s 100th birthday.  Irabagon and his family fled New York for South Dakota, where they sheltered for the first eight months of the pandemic.  This record of his solo ruminations on Bird was recorded in various locations in Falling Rock Canyon.  This is the Master’s work as you are likely not to have heard it before, including extended techniques and other challenging sounds, but at it core it is a fine piece of playing.

Sarah Chaksad Large Ensemble – Together (Clap Your Hands, released 11/17/2023).  Hildegunn Øiseth – trumpet, Lukas Wyss – trombone, Paco Andrea – valve trombone / euphonium, Sophia Nidecker – tuba, Catherine Delauney – basset horn / clarinet, Sarah Chaksad – alto saxophone / soprano saxophone, Fabian Willmann – tenor saxophone / clarinet, Christopher Bosch – flutes, Julia Hulsmann – piano, Fabio Gouvea – guitar, Misagh Joolaee – kamancheh, Dominique Girod – bass, Eva Klesse – drums, Yumi Ito – vocals.

Saxophonist / composer Sarah Chaksad has been writing for, composing for and leading a full jazz orchestra and was on tour with her orchestra when the pandemic hit.  As she composed further music in solitary, she apparently heard it as a series of individual voices, not as big band sections, so this new release has thirteen players – one trumpet, one trombone, one euphonium, etc.  Once again one of these players is a vocalist, Yumi Ito, mostly performing wordless vocals.  Chaksad nicely balances improvisation with notated parts, as is, perhaps, facilitated by her choice of ensemble size, but also this is a measure of the quality of players with whom she has chosen to work.  Pianist Julia Hülsmann is particularly strong, especially on Green I, as is Paco Andreo on euphonium on Imagine Peace.  In fact, everyone has a voice and they are all top players.  Enjoy this.

Sarah Chaksad Orchestra – Tabriz (Neuklang, released 10/18/2019).  Hildegunn Øiseth – trumpet / goat horn, Charles Wagner, Jonas Winterhalter, Octave Moritz, Lukas Wyss – trumpet, Lukas Briggen – trombone, Paco Andrea – valve trombone, Lucas Wirz – bass trombone, Sarah Chaksad – alto saxophone / soprano saxophone, Andreas Böhlen – alto saxophone / soprano saxophone / clarinet / flute, Pepe Auer – alto saxophone / clarinet / bass clarinet, Cédric Gschwind – tenor saxophone / flute, Fabian Willmann – tenor saxophone / clarinet / baritone saxophone, Thomas Lüscher – piano, Valentin Hebel – guitar, Wolfgang Muthspiel – guitar, Sebastian Gieck – bass, Eva Klesse – drums, Julie Fahrer – vocals.

In 2019, Swiss saxophonist /composer / bandleader released her second large ensemble (18-piece) work and it it a pleasure to hear.  We missed this disc when it first came out and our colleague Steve Harris recently discovered it.  In addition to the standard big band instrumentation (trumpets – trombones – reed – rhythm) Chaksad features wordless vocals, a goat horn, shells, bass clarinet in a rich mix of sounds.  Steph Rohrbach wrote on HighResAudio, “The Sarah Chaksad Orchestra captivates the ear with a colourfulness richer than that of the Big Band in its distant heyday… The multi-layered songs of the composer / bandleader / saxophonist, the cleverly intricate rhythms interjected between driving beats and fine ballads and impressive Tutti-sections, the occasional dissonance that disrupts the cosiness at just the right moment, the chromatically superimposed brass sets, the clear voices and fantastic solos … all together, Sarah Chaksad’s album Tabriz proves to be a touching musical experience.”  Guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel guests beautifully on the title track and Pepe Auer takes a star turn on bass clarinet on The Flower.  Recommended.

Bassist / composer / bandleader Tómas R Einarsson is an important jazz player in his native Iceland, but was unknown to this listener until a disc showed up at WTJU several weeks ago (Shades of Blue previewed 01/15/2023), sparking the interest of fellow announcer Steve Harris, who contacted the artist.  Einarsson generously furnished us with a sample of his prodigious output over the past twenty plus years.  Einarsson began to record in the 80s and was very active through the 90’s.  In 2002, he released Kúbanska, bringing Icelandic-made Latin Jazz to the Land of Ice and Fire, apparently for the first time.  This became a prominent theme of his output since.

Tómas R. Einarsson – Kúbanska (Reykjavik Havana) (Blanott, released 2002, re-released 2017).  Kjatan Hakonarson – trumpet, Samuel J Samuelsson – trombone, Eythor Gunnarsson – piano, Hilmar Jensson – guitar, Tómas R Einarsson – bass, Mathias MD Hemstock – drums, Petur Gretarsson – percussion.

This is the first of four discs in a package (Reykjavik Havana) that includes three important Latin releases from the oughts plus a selection of live recordings.  This release features a septet of Icelandic players performing a variety of Latin themes, ranging from the brassy Títómas to the stately Rómans.

Tómas R. Einarsson – Havana (Reykjavik Havana) (Blanott released 2003, re-released 2017).  Daniel “El Gordo” Ramos – trumpet, Juan Carlos Marin – trombone, Emilio Morales – piano, Cesar Hechevarria – tres, Tómas R Einarsson – bass, Jorge Luis Reyes – guiro / maracas, Arian Angel Gomez – bongo, Manuel Alejandro Mayor – congas / timbales.

Recorded in Havana surrounded by a suite of Cubano musicians, Einersson produced a beautiful latin record from full percussion-heavy salsa raves and lovely boleros.

Tómas R. Einarsson – Romm Tom Tomm (Reykjavik Havana) (Blanott released 2006, re-released 2017).  Kjartan Hakonarson – trumpet, Samuel J Samuelsson – trombone, Oskar Gudjonsson – saxophone, Omar Gudjonsson – guitar, Tómas R. Einarsson – bass, Matthias MD Hemstock – drums / percussion, Gisli Galdur – scratching, Petur Gretarsson – percussion & Daniel “El Gordo” Ramos – trumpet, Samuel J Samuelsson – trombone, Osvaldo Perigo – piano, Cesar Hechevarria – tres, Tómas R Einarsson – bass, Jorge Luis Reyes – percussion, Alvin Gonzales – timbales, Jorge Yearns Silage – congas / bongos.

Updated with scratching and shredding guitar, even the compelling hot salsa feel isn’t enough to keep my interest.  Oskar Gudjonsson  takes a bar-walking attitude to the sax – honking and groaning.  Might be your thing.

Tómas R. Einarsson – Reykjavik Moskva Havana Live (Reykjavik Havana) (Blanott, released 2009, re-released 2017).  Eybor Gunnarsson-piano, Hilmar Jensson – guitar, Tómas R Einarsson – bass, Matthias MD Hemstock – drums, Petur Gretarsson – percussion & Samuel J Samuelsson – trombone, Oskar Gudjonsson – saxophone, Omar Gudjonsson – guitar, Tómas R. Einarsson – bass, Einar V Scheving – drums / percussion & Daniel “El Gordo” Ramos – trumpet, Kjartan Hakonarson – trumpet, Samuel J Samuelsson – trombone, Oskar Gudjonsson – saxophone, Cesar Hechevarria – tres, Omar Gudjonsson – guitar, Tómas R. Einarsson – bass, Jorge Yeranis Silego – percussion, Einar V Scheving – percussion, Andrea Gonzalo Davilian – percussion, Jorge Luis Reyes – percussion & Kjartan Hakonarson – trumpet, Samuel J Samuelsson – trombone, Oskar Gudjonsson – saxophone, David Por Jonsson – piano, Omar Gudjonsson – guitar, Tómas R Einarsson – bass, Matthias MD Hemstock – drums, Petur Gretarsson – congas, Gunnlauger Briem – percussion, Magnus Tryggvason Eliassen – percussion.

Live sets from 2002, 2006 and 2009 with varying sound quality from mid-size ensembles.  From the 2009 set, Dakíri / Daiquirí is a stirring mid-tempo swinger with strong participation from pianist David Por Jonsson, saxophonist Oskar Gudjonsson and trumpeter Kjartan Hakonarson, while the four-piece percussion section keeps driving it forward.  Havanablús / Blue Havana is also memorable.  Lots to like in this set.

Ómar Guðjónsson & Tómas R. Einarsson – Bræðralag(Blanott, released 2015).  Ómar Guðjónsson – guitar, Tómas R. Einarsson – bass.

Einarsson’s 2015 release is a duet with guitarist Ómar Guðjónsson, who is featured on many of these discs.  Here we have a chance to hear the bassist’s stately and dignified playing free of overpowering context.  C. Michael Bailey wrote on AlAbout Jazz, “The disc departs the Latin jazz realm for more jazz noir climes. The music is precise as detected on Pratt Fyrir Allt. Gudjonsson chooses a dry-ice, slightly reverberated tone [reminding this listener of Bill Frisell at times] that adds a shadow to the Einarsson composition. There are not many places to hide in a duet, and neither artist attempts to do so. Einarsson solos with a full-throated, well-defined tone that eschews wild and aimless improvisation. He always prefers to make sense.”  Quiet and powerful, I love this one.

Tómas R Einarsson – Bongó (Blanott, released 11/03/2016).  Snorri Sigurðarson – trumpet, Samúel Jón Samúelsson – trombone, Rósa Guðrún Sveinsdóttir – baritone saxophone / vocals, Davíð Þór Jónsson – piano / organ, Ómar Guðjónsson – guitar, Tómas R. Einarsson – bass, Kristófer Rodriguez Svönuson – bells/bongos, Siggi Baldursson – congas, Einar Valur Scheving – Timbales / maracas, Sigríður Thorlacius – vocals, Bogomil Font – vocals.

Following a three-week visit to Santiago de Cuba, home to many Cuban musicians, Einarsson returned to Iceland and recorded Bongo with Icelandic players, many who have graced others of his releases.  Solar Latin Club wrote, “Returns the master bassist that makes the snow smelt…Bongó is the perfect companion to his Havana (2004). In that occasion the bassist from Reykjavik went to Havana to record with musicians like the tres-guitar player César Hechavarría from Santiago de Cuba and the pianist Emilio Morales, a.o. The differences between the two records are obvious. In Havana one could hear more cooking and up-beat tunes that represented the noise and the speed of the capital, in Bongó, Einarsson takes his foot off the accelerator and plays cha cha cha and more relaxed son, characteristic of this eastern city of Cuba… There is a high level of soloing throughout.”  No, that’s not Spanish that they are singing.

Tómas R Einarsson & Eyþór Gunnarsson – Innst Inni (Blanott, released 2017). Eyþór Gunnarsson – piano, Tómas R Einarsson – bass.

A couple of years after his guitar – bass duo disc Bræðralag, Einarsson sets aside his Latin vibe for another duet, this time with pianist Eyþór Gunnarsson, As with most (all?) of Einarsson’s releases, this is a set of original tunes and his compositional chops are in full force.  These ballads are sweet and well-paced.  C. Michael Bailey wrote on All About Jazz, “Cool and isolated climes give way to warm and inviting nocturnal musical musings on Innst Inni. This is a wonderfully quiet, consonant recording that is perfect with that glass of Cab after a hectic day at work. Consisting of 11 Einarsson originals, Innst Inni is decidedly untethered to any particular nationalistic or music point of origin. It is simply music…uncomplicated and soothing. Both men adopt a light touch for the recording as if walking in stocking feet as to not awake their lovers. This is more than music, it is a mood, and environment where all is okay, at least for the duration. Allow this recording to give way to peace.”  These players are well matched and well synched.  Lovely.

Tómas R Einarsson – Gangandi Bassi (Blanott, released 10/24/2019).  Óskar Guðjónsson – saxophone, Ómar Guðjónsson – guitar, Tómas R Einarsson – bass, Sigtryggur Baldursson – percussion / congas / bells.

After many ensembles with several horns up front and, on the other end of the spectrum,  duets with guitar and piano, here is Einarsson in a tenor – guitar – bass – percussion quartet, perhaps returning to form in a more mainstream jazz presentation.  There are various Latin influences here but there are also blues, bebop, and swing.

Great music keeps coming our way.  I hope you find some that moves you

Russell Perry, Jazz at 100 Now!


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