New Jazz Releases – 01/29/2024

Moppa Elliott

I took last week off and am now playing catchup.  So hang on for 20 previews this week.  As you will read, I was taken with Moppa Elliott’s two slightly off-kilter new releases, large ensemble charts from Richard NelsonMarshall Gilkes and Adam Schroeder / Mark Masters, and an intergenerational new band lead by Ulysses Owens Jr.

Moppa Elliott’s Acceleration Due To Gravity – Jonesville(Hot Cup Records, releases 02/16/2024).  Bobby Spellman – trumpet, Dave Taylor – bass trombone, Matt Nelson – alto saxophone, Stacy Dillard – tenor saxophone, Kyle Saulnier – baritone saxophone, Ava Mendoza – guitar, George Burton – piano, Moppa Elliott – bass, Mike Pride – drums.

Bassist Moppa Elliott will release two sets on 02/16, this one is a swinging dance-oriented set performed by nine denizens of the New York scene.  The nonet features bass trombonist Dave Taylor (Bob Mintzer’s Big Band, Mingus Big Band), saxophonist Stacy Dillard (Marius Van Den Brink, Pete Zimmer, John Bailey, Jazzmeia Horn, Behn Gillece), guitarist Ava Mendoza (William Parker, Allen Lowe), pianist George Burton (Heidi Martin, Odean Pope), and drummer Mike Pride (Matana Roberts, Lisa Mezzacappa, Jon Irabagon).  The set includes four originals and three covers of early compositions by bassist Sam Jones (best known for his work with Cannonball Adderley) written for Jump Blues bands in the early 50s, as a tribute on the occasion of the centenary of Jones’s birth.  There is a feeling of controlled chaos to the proceedings as if Frank Zappa was conducting the 1955 Johnny Otis Review.  It reminds me of the extraordinary discs put out by the slightly smaller Microscopic Septet as the 80s turned into the 90s (a fertile time in the Downtown Scene.)  Inside / outside? Hard to label, but recommended – serious fun.

Moppa Elliott’s Advancing On A Wild Pitch – Disasters Vol. 2 (Hot Cup Records, releases 02/16/2024).  Sam Kulik – trombone, Charles Evans – baritone saxophone, Danny Fox – piano, Moppa Elliott – bass, Christian Coleman – drums.

In contrast to the freely-associated wackiness of Moppa Elliott’s Acceleration Due To Gravity, his quintet, Advancing On A Wild Pitch, takes a more traditional approach.  Inspired by the great hard bop recordings of the mid 50s to the mid-60s, this quintet presents the anticipated brass / reeds / piano / bass / drums format, but the off-kilter sensibilities of the leader brings us a trombone / baritone front line not trumpet / alto or trumpet / tenor pairing.  Following from their historical model, these recordings are single takes and relatively brief like the 45 minute LPs of the golden age of hard bop.  While other than the leader, I am unfamiliar with all these players, they make a very effective ensemble.

Richard Nelson and the Makrokosmos Orchestra – Dissolve (Adhyâropa Records, releases 02/02/2024).  John Carlson – trumpet, Jacob Varmus – trumpet, David Chamberlain – euphonium, Dale Turk – bass trombone, Marshall Sealy – French horn, Peter H. Bloom – flutes, Adam Kolker – tenor saxophone / clarinet, Tim O’Dell – alto saxophone / soprano saxophone, Alan Brady – bass clarinet, Arco Sandoval – keyboards, Rick Bassett – keyboards, Richard Nelson – guitar, Ken Filiano – bass, Matt Pavolka-b, Scott Neumann, drums, Rob Garcia – drums, Rex Benincasa – percussion.

The Makrokosmos Orchestra is a New York-based 15-piece big band co-led by guitarist / composer Richard Nelson and saxophonist Tim O’Dell.  Their new release features three long pieces composed by Nelson as a suite.  While narrative in scope, the pieces evidence less progression than ebb and flow.  Dan McClenaghan wrote on AllAbout Jazz, “Sweeping panoramas full of dark hues combine with a sense of agitation and aggression while maintaining a kaleidoscopic sweep of orchestral colors, sometimes dense, sometimes translucent.”  From strong and authoritative to gentle and introspective and everything in between.

Marshall Gilkes And The WDR Big Band – Life Songs (Alternate Side Records, released 01/26/2024). Andy Haderer – trumpet / piccolo trumpet / flugelhorn, Wim Both – trumpet / flugelhorn, Rob Bruynen – trumpet / flugelhorn, Ruud Breuls – trumpet / flugelhorn, Marshall Gilkes – trombone, Ludwig Nuss – trombone, Raphael Klemm – trombone, Peter Hedrich – trombone, Andy Hunter – trombone, Mattis Cederberg – bass trombone / tuba, Johan Hörlén – alto saxophone / soprano saxophone / flute / clarinet, Pascal Bartoszak – alto saxophone / flute / clarinet, Ben Fitzpatrick – tenor saxophone / clarinet, Paul Heller – tenor saxophone / clarinet, Jens Neufang – baritone saxophone / bass clarinet, Billy Test – piano, John Goldsby – bass, Hans Dekker – drums, Sabeth Pérez – vocals.

Trombonist Marshall Gilkes spent four years in the brass section of the great WDR Big Band from Koln and this is his third recording with the band.  His writing for large ensemble can be nuanced and elegiac as in My Unanswered Prayer or hard-driving as on the opener Fresh Start.  The arrangement of the lullaby All The Pretty Horses is very sweet with room for a beautiful solo from Hörlén on soprano, one of several terrific solos from Billy Test on piano and a touching vocal performance from Sabeth Pérez.  Gilkes is emerging as one of the premier big band composers of our time.

Joe Webb – Collblanc(Edition Records, released 01/26/2024). Joe Webb – piano, Will Sach – bass, Sam Jesson – drums.

New UK piano phenom Joe Webb has released an EP with his new trio, evidencing his significant chops, historical jazz roots and the influence of New York stride piano from the 20s.

Kirsten Edkins – Shapes & Sound (Cohearent Records, released 01/23/2023).  Lemar Guillary – trombone, Kirsten Edkins – saxophone, Gerald Clayton – piano, Ahmet Turkmenoglu – bass, Chris Wabich – drums.

This is the sophomore release for saxophonist Kirsten Edkins (also on CT! Adam Schroeder & Mark Masters Celebrate Clark Terry previewed below), featuring fine work by pianist Gerald Clayton (Vicente Archer, Bill Frisell, Bells on Sand – 2020).  Much is written about this disc being the first release from Kevin Gray’s Cohearent Records who record in a studio with an All-Valve (Vacuum Tube) recording system – old school to the max.  The set includes six swinging originals, one standard and one by drummer Chris Wabich.

Adam Schroeder & Mark Masters – CT! Adam Schroeder & Mark Masters Celebrate Clark Terry (Capri Records, released 01/19/2024).  Dan Fornero – lead trumpet, James Ford – trumpet, Aaron Janik – trumpet, Francisco Torres – lead trombone, Ido Meshulam – trombone, Lemar Guillary – trombone, Sal Lozano- alto saxophone, Bob Sheppard – tenor saxophone / soprano saxophones, Kirsten Edkins – tenor saxophone, Adam Schroeder – baritone saxophone, Edwin Livingston – bass, Peter Erskine – drums. 

In a seventy plus year career that spanned from the swing era through bebop to the twenty-first century, trumpeter Clark Terry played in big bands led by Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Quincy Jones, Dizzy Gillespie, JJ Johnson, Gerry Mulligan and others in addition to many notable small ensemble dates.  This release by baritone saxophonist Adam Schroeder and arranger Mark Masters taps 13 original compositions by Terry from his small ensemble recordings and performs them in a 12-piece large-ensemble setting, one that owes more to Gerry Mulligan and Quincy Jones than it does to Count or Duke.  A loving tribute that may not break any new ground, but swings like a pendulum.

Ada Rovatti – The Hidden World of Piloo (Piloo Records, released 01/19/2024).  Randy Brecker – trumpet / flugelhorn, Ada Rovatti – tenor saxophone / alto saxophone / soprano saxophone / baritone saxophone / flute, Simon Oslender – organ / piano, Tom Guarna – guitar, Dean Brown – guitar, Guilherme Monteiro – guitar, Larry Saltzman – dobro, Meg Okura – violin, Tomato Akaboshi – violin, Judith Insell – viola, Rubin Kodheli – cello, Jeffrey Carey – bass, Claus Fischer – bass, Tim Dudek – drums, Cafe Da Silva – percussion, Niki Harris -vocals, Fay Claasen -vocals, Alma Naidu -vocals, Kurt Elling -vocals.

Multi-reed player / singer / songwriter Ada Rovatti has released a diverse set of original compositions with a broad cast of players including trumpeter Randy Brecker and Kurt Elling.  Leaning a little too heavily into the pop for my taste.

Jun Iida – Evergreen (Origin Records, released 01/19/2024).  Jun Iida – trumpet, Josh Nelson – piano / Rhodes, Masami Kuroki – guitar, Jonathan Richards – bass, Xavier LeCouturier – drums, Aubrey Johnson – vocals.

LA / Seattle trumpeter Jun Iida celebrates his Japanese heritage on a couple of tunes, including Akatombo, a song from his childhood sung in Japanese by Audrey Johnson.  Nicholas Mondello wrote on AllAboutJazz, “Iida’s trumpet delivers a lush, mellow tone. His improvisations are thoughtfully presented, surprisingly inventive, and highly inflected with ornamentations both classic jazz and Japanese… He swings in a style which is totally unique. Johnson’s voice is a gymnastic feast; her unison scatting is dead-on pitch, and adds shimmer to accompanying horn lines… Evergreen is a texturally-varied debut album from Iida and his exceptional musicians. It is colorful and, at times, enchanting, stimulating both ear and mind.”

Francesco Crosara – Circular Motion (OA2 Records, released 01/19/2023) Francesco Crosara – acoustic piano / synthesizer, Clipper Anderson – acoustic bass, Mark Ivester – drums, Farko Dosumov – electric bass, D’Vonne Lewis – drums, Osama Afifi – electric bass, Xavier Lecouturier – drums.

Pianist Francesco Crosara has capped 40 years of composing with a trio set of compositions dating to all periods of his career.  Three distinct trios are engaged and the acoustic trio with Clipper Anderson on bass and Mark Ivester on drums is the most interesting to my ears.  The notes suggest that we can hear the transition from a young and inexperienced composer to the seasoned professional of today, although I confess that this wasn’t obvious to me.

Peter Erskine and the Jam Music Lab All-Stars – Bernstein in Vienna (Origin Records, released 01/19/2024).  Robert Unterkofler – saxophone, Bertl Mayer – harmonica, Danny Grissett – piano, Andreas Varady – guitar, Cozy Friedl – violin, Danny Ziemann – bass, Peter Erskine – drums.

Drummer Peter Erskine (Weather Report) has some terrific timing, recording a set of beautiful compositions by Leonard Bernstein that coincides with the film Maestro.  Bernstein sets have been imbedded in jazz since Manny Albam (1957) with highlights including Andre Previn (1959), Cal Trader (1960), Dave Brubeck (1960), Stan Kenton (1961), Oscar Peterson (1962), Dave Liebman (1990), Richie Cole (1996), Bill Charlap (2003), Joe Policastro (2013), Bobby Sanabria (2017), Ted Nash (2018), Pete Malinverni (2021).  A solid effort in good company.

Bill Anschell – Improbable Solutions (Origin Records, released 01/19/2024).  Bill Anschell – piano / electronics, Brian Monroney-g, Chris Symer – bass, Jose Martinez – drums, KJ Sawka – drums, Jeff Busch – percussion.

Over the past 40 years, you could count on releases from pianist Bill Anschell (Nneena Freelon) to be acoustic piano fare … until now.  While the additional layer of sonic busy-ness didn’t do anything for me, Dan McClenaghan of AllAboutJazz thought otherwise, “The results of Anschell’s “out of his comfort zone” project is gratifying. He uses the electronics deftly, adding washes that sound like cool breezes wafting down the river valley, eerie warblings issuing an invitation to the Twilight Zone, and spare symphonic backdrops that elevate the piano trio segments to perfection. Improbable Solutions is a terrific set, perhaps Anschell’s best outing to date.”  Different strokes…

Ethan Iverson – Technically Acceptable (Blue Note, released 01/19/2024). Ethan Iverson – piano, Rob Schwimmer – theremin, Thomas Morgan – bass, Simón Willson – bass, Kush Abadey – drums, Vinnie Sperrazza – drums.

Pianist Ethan Iverson (ex of The Bad Plus) has recorded a set of seven tunes with Thomas Morgan (bass) and Kush Abadey (drums), two with Simón Willson (bass) and Vinnie Sperrazza (drums), one with Rob Schwimmer (theremin – yup, really), and a three-part solo sonata.  This is a richly varied release.  Mike Jurkovic wrote on AllAboutJazz, “Technically Accepted is Iverson’s second album for Blue Note and boasts the first theremin performance [Round Midnight] and piano sonata that the label has ever released. From the racing fanfare of Conundrum, the jumpy, Kansas City shaded Victory Is Assured (Alla Breve), the Picasso drawn title arabesque, and the funky lope of the marvelously twisted It’s Fine To Decline, Iverson comes at the listener with everything he has got and then some… The album concludes with that previously mentioned piano sonata wherein Iverson thinks it all through as he goes, all the glorious while conjuring a wholesome and spirited mix of harmonics and hijinks ala Aaron Copland, George Gershwin, and the Harlem stride of James P. Johnson. It is joyous and it is fun and it is exactly what we need in these funless and joyless times.”  A fine release.

Peter Hand – Blue Topaz (Whaling City Sound, released 01/19/2024).  Eddie Allen – trumpet / flugelhorn, Houston Person – tenor saxophone, Dan Braden – tenor saxophone / soprano saxophone / flute, James Weidman – piano, David Janeway – piano, Peter Hand – guitar, Harvie S – bass, Steve Johns – drums.

Guitarist Peter Hand has recorded a fine ensemble featuring Eddie Allen (Craig Harris, Houston Person) on trumpet, Don Braden (Earth Wind And Wonder, Volume 2 previewed 07/10/2023) and Houston Person (Emmet Cohen Featuring Houston Person previewed 10/23/2023) splitting the tenor duties, pianist James Weidman (T.K. Blue), drummer Steve Johns (Ray Blue, Hod O’Brian) and the ubiquitous Harvie S on bass.  Jim Hynes wrote on Making A Scene, “[Hand] has issued three acclaimed big band recordings. Blue Topaz, though represents a new step forward for Hand, working with a surefire small combo to deliver his straight-ahead originals, jazz standard interpretations, as well as Latin and Brazilian offerings. Hand originally comes from a blues and R&B background, which is evident in this predominantly hard bop/soul-jazz repertoire… The album closes with a nod to Monk both in the title and tune itself in the hard swinging Curioso with the full sextet engaged in a series of turns from Braden’s tenor to Allen’s trumpet to Hand’s guitar and Weidman’s piano, highlighted by the trading on fours with drummer Johns. You can hear the enthusiasm of the players here as the track forms a kind of bookend to the hard bop opener [Hand Me Down Blues].  Straight ahead and enjoyable.

Ulysses Owens Jr. and Generation Y – A New Beat(Cellar Music, released 01/18/2024).  Benny Benack III – trumpet, Anthony Hervey – trumpet, Sarah Hanahan – alto saxophone, Erena Terakubo – alto saxophone, Luther Allison – piano, Tyler Bullock – piano, Philip Norris – bass, Ryoma Takenaga – bass, Ulysses Owens Jr – drums, Milton Suggs – vocals.

Ulysses Owens Jr (Christian McBride, Matthew Whitaker, Michael Dease) is the Small Ensemble Director at Julliard which surrounds him with emerging talent.  Modeling his new band on The Jazz Messengers or Miles Davis Quintet (1965 and forward), Owens has created an ensemble of younger players that he imagines will evolve in personnel with new talent over time.  Among the fresh faces are pianist Luther Allison (Diego Rivera, Michael Dease, Markus Howell), trumpeter Anthony Hervey whose debut (Words From My Horn, previewed 05/29/2023) was produced by Owens, bassist Philip Norris (Emmet Cohen, Isaiah Thomas, Jr.) and Jackie McLean-influenced alto player Sarah Hanahan. Starting with a bass feature for Norris, the band is at its best on a tribute to Roy Hargrove (his tune Soulful), with lovely turns by Hervey, Allison and Hanahan.  And make sure you are firmly grounded when they rip into Jackie McLane’s Bird Lives.  I look forward to hearing this band evolve.  

David Gibson – Fellowship (Imani Records, released 01/15/2024).  David Gibson – trombone, Davis Whitfield – piano, Joseph Lepore – bass, Kush Abadey – drums.

David Gibson, best known for his trombone work in large ensembles like Orrin Evans’s Captain Black Big Band, has released a quartet disc produced by Evans on his Imani imprint.  David Emmanuel Noel wrote on Occhimag, “Gibson is joined by the boundless talents Davis Whitfield (piano), Kush Abadey (drums), and Joseph Lepore on bass to share an album that exudes just that. Full of upbeat tempos, slow thought-provoking melodies, unflawed unison passages, and arresting grooves, there is a release of fun, togetherness, and musical synergy. Gibson continues to exhibit his musicality with an album that captures his ability, consistency, and worth on the jazz terrain. It’s an enjoyable listen for the ears.”  It is sweet to hear Gibson fronting a small ensemble.  A lovely release.

Félix Lemerle – Blues For The End Of Time (Tzim Tzum Records, released 11/01/2022).  Bertha Hope – piano, Samuel Lerner – piano, Félix Lemerle – guitar, Ari Roland – bass, Jimmy Cobb – drums.

Transplanted from Paris to New York, guitarist Félix Lemerle has recorded his debut in the company of the great Jimmy Cobb (1929 – 2020), in one of his last sessions. Evan Harris wrote, “…Lemerle leads a band of the highest order through a suite of his original compositions (bar two), which are as diverse as they are coherent. The compositions incorporate deliberate melodies, playfully poetic in their construction and reminiscent of Elmo Hope and Herbie Nichols, yet imbued with the angularity and asymmetry of Thelonious Monk. Also of note is Lemerle’s masterful rhythmic cadence, which is articulated through a nuanced interplay of melody and countermelody, taunting and jibing one another as two conflicting energies.”  Give this a listen.

Brian Melvin – Søren Lee – Mads Søndergaard – Tranesformation (Storyville Records, released 10/23/2023).  Mads Søndergaard – organ, Søren Lee – guitar, Brian Melvin – drums.

American drummer Brian Melvin has joined forces with two Danes – organist Mads Søndergaard and guitarist Søren Lee – for a soul jazz take on tunes associated with John Coltrane.  This is an affectionate, comfortable and bluesy take on the master.

Neal Caine – Skip To My Lou (Self Produced, released 10/10/2023).  Andrew Fisher – piano / Fender Rhodes, Neal Caine – bass, Henry Connerway III – drums.

Bass-forward sophomore release from Neal Caine in a piano – bass – drums trio featuring players with whom I am unfamiliar.  Eight of the fourteen selections are originals and the covers include some surprises like Chim Chim Cheree and If I Only Had A Brain along side of Goodbye Pork Pie Hat, Nature Boy and Shiny Stockings.

Jack Jones Featuring Joey DeFrancesco – ArtWork (BFD, released 07/14/2023).  Tom Scott – tenor saxophone, Joey DeFrancesco – B3 organ / tenor saxophone / trumpet, Tamir Hendelman – piano, Graham Dechter – guitar, Jon Hammer – bass, Jeff Hamilton – drums, Jack Jones – vocals + Big Band.

For 60 years, Jack Jones has recorded middle-of-the-road pop music, often in big band settings.  Now at 85, his instrument has declined and the strong musical background (Joey DeFrancesco!) isn’t compelling enough to rescue this release.

Enough for today.  I hope there are some things here to tickle your ears.

Russell Perry, Jazz at 100 Now!

Choosing your favorite musicians is like getting to pick your own parents. In a very real way you are now one of their descendants.” Ted Gioia  


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