New Jazz Releases – 02/12/2024

Joel Ross

Vibraphonist Joel Ross has a terrific new disc out topping a solid week of new releases.  Jason Anick and Matt DeChamplain has released a tribute to Stephane Grappelli and Oscar Peterson while Ben Allison, Steve Cardinas and Ted Nash have recorded compositions of Herbie Nichols.  This week also features strong Latin Jazz discs from Ruben Caban and Gustavo Cortiñas.  Enjoy!

Joel Ross – Nublues (Blue Note, releases 02/09/2024).  Immanuel Wilkins – alto saxophone, Gabrielle Garo – flute, Jeremy Corren – piano, Joel Ross – vibes / piano, Kanoa Mendenhall – bass, Jeremy Dutton – drums.

In planning for this release vibraphonist Joel Ross concluded that his previous efforts were heavy on time and tempo changes, written for the enjoyment of the musicians while sacrificing some level of communication with his audience.  Chris May wrote on AllAboutJazz, “Thinking about the album during pandemic-enforced social isolation, Ross says that the idea of communion with a wider base became increasingly attractive. Crucially, Ross has succeeded in this without dumbing anything down. The music is still grown-up and innovative but is injected with a heightened admixture of melodicism, balladeering and, as the album title suggests, the blues. The result is cerebral yet soulful, with enough depth to keep even the most demanding of Ross’ existing aficionados tuned in.”  This is the fourth release by Ross to include the alto saxophone of Immanuel Wilkins as they have also collaborated on sets by Johnathan Blake (twice), James Francies, and Ben Wolf – all in the past five years.  Ross and Wilkins are the dominant voices on the disc and as should be expected they make very comfortable music together.  A terrific set – one of the best so far in this brief year to date.

Mark Egan – Cross Currents (Wavetone Records, releases 03/07/2024). Shane Theriot – guitar, Mark Egan – bass, Shawn Pelton – drums.

Bassist Mark Egan (Pat Metheny, Linley Hamilton, Gil Evans) has assembled a guitar – bass – drums trio with first-call rock and pop sidemen for a jazz record of original compositions.

Jason Anick and Matt DeChamplain – Reverence: A Tribute to Stephane Grappelli and Oscar Peterson (Magic Fiddle Music, releases 03/01/2024).  Matt DeChamplain – piano, Matt Munisteri – guitar, Jason Anick – violin, Eduardo Belo – bass.

Pianist Matt DeChamplain and violinist Jason Anick focus this release on two masters who don’t get as much attention today as they might.  Stephane Grappelli, although he recorded into the 90s, will forever be defined by his work with Django Reinhardt in the 1930s.  Oscar Peterson, great virtuoso that he was, forged his own course from the mid-40s independent of be-bop and hard-bop, which puts him outside the post-bop mainstream.  Thierry De Clemensat wrote on Paris Move, “… violinist Jason Anick and pianist Matt DeChamplain come together to recreate the chemistry between these two jazz giants who played together in the 1970s. Precise arrangements combined with the spontaneity of a live studio recording bring out the best in Anick and DeChamplain. Their virtuosity and empathetic playing infuse each piece with the right mix of excitement, humor, and joy. Guitarist Matt Munisteri and bassist Eduardo Belo complete the rhythm section with equal finesse.”  Retro.

Brian Scarborough – We Need The Wind (Outside In Music, releases 02/23/2024).  Brian Scarborough – trombone, Matt Otto – tenor saxophone, Roger Wilder – Fender Rhodes, Jeff Harshbarger – bass, Brian Steever – drums.

This is Kansas City trombonist / composer Brian Scarborough’s sophomore outing as a bandleader and like many others, this is the composer’s reflections on the restorative healing process following the COVID pandemic.  Along with Scarborough in the front line is tenor saxophonist Matt Otto whose release Umbra (previewed 08/28/2023) was a highlight of last summer.  Otto’s release also showcased the deeply resonant playing of bassist Jeff Harshbarger who darkly colors the elegiac Strange Bird.  Scarborough, who wrote the nine tunes in the set, is the dominant solo voice on the set but Otto steps forward with lovely lines on Sevens another mournful piece.  Fine compositions, well played.

Ghost Funk Orchestra – A Trip To The Moon (Karma Chief Records, releases 02/23/2024).  Billy Aukstik – trumpet / flugelhorn, James Kelly – trombone, Mike Sarason – flute, Stephen Chen – baritone saxophone / tenor saxophone, Stuart Bogie – bass clarinet / clarinet / flute / tenor saxophone, Will Marshall – violin / viola, Seth Applebam – percussion / bass / organ / synthesizers / vibraphone, Megan Mancini – vocals, Rami Hanoch – vocals.

I am afraid I don’t know quite what to make of this.  According to the Bandcamp page, “The aim is to create a layered and collaged listening experience with more elements than you could possibly pick out in a single listen. The guitars are fuzzy and flooded with spring reverb, and the horns are arranged in a studio big band fashion. It’s full of big compositions with garage rock attitude. Influences range everywhere from Eddie Palmieri and Esquivel to The Lively Ones, Dusty Springfield, and War. The tracks are tied together by real recorded transmissions from the Apollo moon missions. The concept for the album is a story about a woman stranded on earth by her cosmonaut partner, left to ponder his whereabouts and whether or not he’ll make it back from the cosmos alive.”  See what you think.

Ruben Caban – Kangana (Self Produced, releases 02/12/2024).  James Hacker – trumpet, Francisco Dimas – trumpet, Francisco Dimas – trumpet, Ruben Caban – trombone, Norberto “Tiko” Ortiz – tenor saxophone, Mark Small – tenor saxophone, David Fernandez – tenor saxophone, Eric Chacon Sanchez – flute, Nestor Torres – flute, Tal Cohen – piano, Peter Wallace – piano / B3 organ, Kemuel Roig – piano, Camilo Velandia – guitar, Agustin Conti – bass, Eric England – bass, David Chiverton – drums, Ludwig Afonso – drums, Waldo Madera – drums / shaker, Edwin Bonilla – percussion, Brian Potts – percussion, Ramses Araya – percussion, Richard Bravo -percussion, Roxana Amed – vocals.

Puerto Rican-born trombonist Ruben Caban, who grew up in the South Florida Latin music scene, has released a record that mixes Latin Jazz, salsa and funk into a hybrid fusion.  Caban wrote two of the pieces and the set also includes tunes by Shorter (Yes and No – a standout), Metheny and Jobim.  Thierry De Clemensat wrote on Paris Move, “This ability to blend genres is a hallmark of today’s great jazz artists, and the similarities between Latin music and African-American music are apparent. However, it is Caban’s unique treatment of these genres that makes his style impressive and unpredictable, executed with precision akin to a Jedi master wielding a lightsaber… Thus, we have before us one of the great albums of this prolific early year in the jazz scene, which embodies pluralism and innovation.”

Yosef Gutman Levitt – The World and its People (Soul Song Records, released 02/09/2024).  Omri Mor – piano. Tal Yahalom – guitars, Yoed Nir – cello, Yosef Gutman Levitt – bass.

Bassist Yosef Gutman (Levitt) released a disc last summer with Lionel Loueke (Soul Song, previewed 02/05/2024) that I really liked for its deeply melodic collaborations colored by West African rhythms.  This release, also featuring pianist Omri Mor, falls short of that mark, also featuring strong melodies but without the rhythmic swing.

Gustavo Cortiñas – Live in Chicago (Desafio Candente Records, releases 02/09/2024).  Drew Hanson – trumpet, Matthew Davis – trombone, Artie Black – tenor saxophone, Joaquin Garcia – piano, Kitt Lyles – bass, Gustavo Cortiñas – drums.

The new release from drummer / composer Gustavo Cortiñas is live and recorded beautifully.  Cortiñas’s long-time sextet is overflowing with talent although most of the players are unfamiliar to me except authoritative bassist Kitt Lyles (who joins the leader on both releases from fellow Chicago player and Central Virginia native Emily Kuhn).  Cortiñas writes terrifically for the three-horn front line reminding me of high points from the Jazz Messengers back in the day.

Pepa Niebla – Renaissance (Hypnote Records, releases 02/09/2024).  Maxime Moyaerts – piano, Toni Mora – guitar, Alex Gibson – bass, Daniel Jonkers – drums, Pepa Niebla – vocals.

Singer / songwriter Pepa Niebla has assembled an international ensemble for her latest release – guitarist Toni Mora from Madrid, pianist Maxime Moyaerts from Belgium, Frenchman Alex Gilson on double bass and Dutch drummer Daniel Jonkers.  She wrote five of the tunes and Mora contributed one in addition to two standards – God Bless The Child and Our Love Is Here To Stay.  The leader has a lovely voice both in the service of lyrics and wordless vocals.

Marlon Simon and the Nagual Spirits – On Different Paths (Truth Revolution Records, released 02/05/2024).  Michael Simon – trumpet, Alex Norris – trumpet, Kevin Newton – French horn, Peter Brainin – saxophone, Monica Ellis – bassoon, Edward Simon – piano, Boris Kozlov – bass, Marlon Simon – drums / percussion, Roberto Quintero – percussion.

Drummer / composer Marlon Simon (Hilton Ruiz, Fort Apache Band, Chucho Valdez, Bobby Watson) has joined forces with his younger brothers trumpeter Michael and pianist Edward (Femeninas, previewed 06/12/2023 – one of my favorites of 2023). In addition to a predictable start for a Latin jazz ensemble (trumpet – trumpet – sax – piano – bass – drums – percussion) Simon has invited in French horn and bassoon, which makes for a different sound. Thierry De Clemensat wrote on Paris Move, “On Different Paths is Marlon Simon’s seventh album, and once again, it is a grandiose work, almost a symphony / jazz fusion. As a drummer and composer, Marlon delves into the depths of his musical education, and one can clearly see the influences of classical music, which seem to be the foundation of his art, overlaying his Venezuelan and American cultural background for the jazz aspect. For example, the dynamic titular track blends elements of Venezuelan joropo, Brazilian samba, and Cuban rhythms in 6/8 within the complex interplay of drums and congas underpinning modern jazz harmonies with a forward-looking perspective.”  Sometimes uptempo and joyous, sometimes moody and dark, always well-played.

Myles Wright – Gamer (Self Produced, released 02/05/2024).  Wayne Bergeron, Dan Fornero, Aaron Janik, Jeff Bunnell, Rob Schaer – trumpets, Alan Kaplan, Ido Meshulam, Ryan Dragon – trombones, Craig Gosnell, Steve Trapani – bass trombones, Laura Brenes, Dylan Hart, Allen Fogle, Katie Faraudo, Teag Reeves – French horns, Doug Tornquist – tuba, Jeff Driskill, Sal Lozano, Bob Sheppard, Brian Scanlon, Jay Mason – reeds, Alan Steinberger – piano / synthesizer, Jeff Babko – synthesizers, Kay-Ta, Andrew Synowiec – guitars, Andrew Synowiec – banjo, Kevin Axt – bass, Jamey Tate – drums, Wade Culbreath, Brian Kilgore, Pete Korpela – percussion, Houman Pormehdi, Randy Gloss, Amir Sofi – Persian percussion.

Composer Myles Wright grew up on video games and uses themes from Plok!, Prince of Persia, Super Mario and others as the basis for jazz orchestral compositions.  Not being of the video game generation, the themes are not familiar to me, which may have dampened my enthusiasm for this set.  Thierry De Clemensat wrote on Paris Move, “…the CD contains 16 breathtakingly orchestrated pieces that can be described as reimagined and meticulously arranged. Such creative work involves taking sounds out of their original context and reinterpreting them without degradation, and in this regard, Myles Wright is an expert. Although the arrangements are appealing, some may observe a lack of originality in the treatment of the works, resulting in a sound more akin to classical music than jazz.”  There is a definite film score vibe to this release.

Ches Smith – Laugh Ash (Pyroclastic Records, released 02/02/2024) Nate Wooley – trumpet, James Brandon Lewis – tenor saxophone, Oscar Noriega – clarinets, Anna Webber – flute, Jennifer Choi – violin, Kyle Armrest – viola, Michael Nicolas – cello, Shahzad Ismaily – bass / keyboards, Ches Smith – electronics, programming, vibes, drums, tubular bells, glockenspiel, timpani, tam tam, metal percussion, Shara Lunon – voice.

We can expect the unexpected from drummer / vibraphonist / composer Ches Smith and we have gotten it again.  His new release Laugh Ash blends chamber music, Haitian rhythms, hip hop, rock, jazz, improvisational avant garde – it’s all over the map.  Jim Hynes wrote on Making A Scene, “The opener Minimalism obviously draws from [composer Steve] Reich but also has [vocalist Shara] Lunon’s blend of rock and hip-hop vocal against teeming strings and a driving Moog arpeggio. [Tenorist] James Brandon Lewis blows against the complex rhythm patterns of Remote Convivial which morphs into a relatively calm string led passage that then blossoms into an all-out funk attack resembling Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time.  Sweatered Webs (Hey Mom) begins with flowing chamber music, Smith’s vibes, and ethereal tones before Lonon enters with a vocal set against a fat bass-drum rhythm that evokes his Haitian strains of We All Break as next sequence pairs Lewis’s tenor with the vocal. [Trumpeter Nate] Wooley gets a brief say toward the end too.”  Lots to consider.

Ben Allison – Steve Cardenas – Ted Nash – Tell The Birds I Said Hello, The Music of Herbie Nichols (Sonic Camera Records, released 02/02/2024). Ted Nash – tenor saxophone, Steve Cardenas – guitar, Ben Allison – bass.

Every couple of years bassist Ben Allison, guitarist Steve Cardinas and tenor player Ted Nash get together to honor their musical heroes with a new trio release.  They recorded the music of Jim Hall and Jimmy Giuffre on Quiet Revolution (2016), Leonard Bernstein on Somewhere Else (2019), Carla Bley on Healing Power (2022) and now Herbie Nichols (1919 – 1963) on Tell It To the Birds.  This time around they are playing six Nichols selections that have been recently discovered and have not been recoded previously plus two tunes that were not recorded until 2000.  A contemporary and friend of Thelonious Monk, Nichols is known for unpredictable melodies and harmonies as reflected here in tunes like She Insists and the swinging Van Allen Belt.  Their now familiar tenor – guitar – bass lineup gives this project its unique sound.

Geoffrey Dean – Foundations (AMP Music, released 02/02/2024). Justin Copeland – trumpet, Geoffrey Dean – piano, Harish Raghavan – bass, Eric Binder – drums.

Pianist Geoffrey Dean has been playing with trumpeter Justin Copeland and drummer Eric Binder for a decade and has added bassist Harish Raghavan (Walter Smith III, Ambrose Akinmusire) to the mix for this set of lesser known hard bop compositions. The quartet recorded two Sonny Clark tunes including the very groovy Blue Minor, and Andrew Hill’s Yokada Yokada (originally from Hill’s 1964 Judgment).  Great material.

Thanks everyone for your support of and contributions to the WTJU Folk and Roots Marathon last week!

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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