New Jazz Releases – 02/19/2024

Chris Potter

This week we hear another excellent release from consistent poll-winner Chris Potter with an All-Star quartet (Brad Mehldau, John Patitucci, and Brian Blade.  We have also received a trio of excellent trios from pianists Lynne Arriale, Steve Ash, and Vijay Iyer.  And saxophonists Amanda Gardier and Diego Rivera each put out another strong release.  Lots to hear.  Make sure your ears are ready.

Chris Potter – Eagle’s Point (Edition Records, releases 03/08/2024). Chris Potter – tenor saxophone / soprano saxophone / bass clarinet, Brad Mehldau – piano, John Patitucci – double bass, Brian Blade – drums.

Its always a treat to greet another Chris Potter release, especially with this kind of excellent band – Brad Mehldau on piano, John Patitucci on double bass, Brian Blade on drums.  Tracing the intersections of these four musicians over time would be a lengthy exercise as they are all at the top of their game, in demand as collaborators and in synch with each other.  Potter just won the AllAboutJazz poll as the greatest living saxophonist and, at a minimum, he would have to be on just about everyone’s top five.  I love hearing Potter on bass clarinet and his ballad Indigo Ildikó is a prime example of his facile lyricism.  That tune also features a beautiful passage from Mehldau who only makes excellent records to my ears.  The set includes eight Potter originals, each one more compelling than the last.  While this disc doesn’t release until March 8, It will certainly be a favorite for jazz record of the year.

Nina Simone – Nina’s Back (Verve Records, releases 03/15/2024 ).  Ray Brown – trumpet, George Bohanon – trombone, Allan Barnes – saxophone, Nina Simone – piano / vocals, Hense Powell – synthesizer / trumpet / cornet, Arthur Adams – guitar / bass, Luke Metoyer – percussion, The Waters Family – backing vocals.

After a long hiatus, Nona Simone resumed recording in 1985 with Nina’s Back, which is newly reissued.  Simone is a terrific singer and interpreter of songs, but this disc is so over-produced as to be cringe-worthy.  The producer should be charged with malpractice and their headphones confiscated.  Any other Nina Simone record is a better documentation of her unique talents.  Even completists can (should) skip this one.

Lois Deloatch – Love Always (Self Produced, releases 03/15/2024).  Ernest Turner – piano, John Brown – bass, Donovan Cheatham – drums, Lois Deloatch – vocals.

Blessed with a rich contralto, vocalist Lois Deloatch brings a background in soul, jazz, folk and spirituals to original songs plus classics like Amazing Grace and Lift Every Voice and Sing

Toine Thys’ Orlando – Betterlands (Hypnote Records, releases 03/15/2024).  Toine Thys – saxophones / bass clarinet / electronics, Maxime Sanchez – piano, Florent Nisse – double bass, Teun Verbruggen – drums.  

Orlando is a French – Belgian quartet led by multi-reediest Toine Thys, whose diverse catalog includes releases from trios and Arabic / Brazilian ensembles, with an interest in electronics and circus music.  There are some electronics here, tastefully done, stopping short of distracting, which is good because the underlying acoustic playing is strong.  Some of the selections are quite solemn (Thurst Day with a lovely contribution by pianist Maxime Sanchez) and others are delightfully joyful (Happy Five).  

Daggerboard – Escapement (Wide Hive Records, releases 03/08/2024).  Erik Jekabson – trumpet / flugelhorn, Mike Rinta – trombone / tuba, Jonathan Ring – French horn, Sheldon Brown – bass clarinet / clarinet / flute, Kasey Knudsen – saxophone, Matt Clark – piano / Rhodes, William Winant – marimba / timpani / glockenspiel, Mads Tollen – violin, Evan Price – violin, Rachel Andreana – violin, Liana Baryba – violin, Cullen Luper – violin, Ben Davis – cello, Henry Franklin – bass, Mike Clark – drums, Mike Hughes – snare drum, Babatunde Lea – congas, Gregory Howe – cymbals.

Daggerboard brings together members of Throttle Elevator Music (bassist Henry Franklin, trumpeter Erik Jekabson, and percussionist Gregory Howe) and members of Headhunters (pianist Matt Clark, and drummer Mike Clark) and a bunch of others in an interesting fusion effort with ever-present strings.  Dee Dee McNeil wrote on Making A Scene, “ Daggerboard offers us a pretty ballad [The Balance Board] with Jekabson’s trumpet introducing the melody and sirens echoing ominously in the background.  I flashback to the Peter Gunn television series, a popular detective series that ran from 1958 to 1960. That hit TV show utilized jazz as their music of choice and that was a first.  The bass of Henry Franklin is distinctive beneath Clark’s piano solo and throughout their arrangement. Mike Clark shows off his brilliance on drums, building the suspense in the song. This is perfect music for that new series, Mr. & Mrs. Smith or any detective show.”  A little over-orchestrated for my taste, but full of fine playing.

Lynne Arriale Trio – Being Human(Challenge Records, releases 03/01/2024).  Lynne Arriale – piano, Alon Near – bass, Lukasz Zyta – drums.

Pianist Lynne Arriale has released a suite of originals describing, in combination, what it means to be human, with titles like Passion, Courage, Love, Faith … you get the idea.  Additionally, each composition is dedicated to a specific individual or a group of people – Passion to Greta Thunberg, Courage to the people of Ukraine.  Bruce Lindsay wrote on London Jazz News, “Three tunes stand out for their immediately engaging positivity. Curiosity is dedicated to Jacob Barnett, a young mathematician and physicist. It’s a skittish, jagged, little tune, full of playful exploration as all three musicians improvise after the brief opening melody, a tune that for me conjures visions of kittens or puppies in energetic play rather than the earnest study of a scientist but may well be a reflection of Barnett’s own personality. Soul is a gentle but uplifting number, its seemingly effortless swing combining with a strong melody. Joy is just that, four minutes of calypso-based jollity that hits from [drummer Lukssz] Zyta’s first flourish on percussion and carries on to the final bar.“

Dave Friesen – This Light Has No Darkness, Vol. 1(Origin Records, releases 03/01/2024).  Paul Lees – grand piano, David Friesen – bass, Charlie Doggett – percussion, Rob Moore – percussion + 33-piece Chamber Orchestra.

Bassist / composer David Friesen, an American artist with Ukrainian roots, created this suite for performance by the National Academic Symphonic Band of Ukraine with a premier set for May 2022.  When that became impossible, arranger Kyle Gordon created the orchestral parts from samples over which Friesen’s quartet plays.  The disc is a follow up to Friesen’s 2018 work with the actual orchestra TestimonyDan McClenaghan wrote on AllAboutJazz, “The Light That Has No Darkness, Volume 1 is every bit as expansive as its orchestral predecessor, Testimony, but it exudes a more delicate and ethereal quality. It soars. It sounds like a tranquil celebration, more classical than jazz, more spiritual than temporal. The interludes of the bass, piano and percussion—moments surrounded by Gordon’s exquisite arrangements, orchestrations and chamber ensemble programming—are lilting and understated. This ambitious suite—with sections titled Perseverance, Innocence and Motivation—is a testament to the depth of Friesen’s Christian faith, to that faith’s aspect of forgiveness in particular, while the closing hymn-like composition, Return To the Father, was penned by Friesen for his wife of 58 years, Kirsten Friesen, who passed the week of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.”

Amanda Gardier – Auteur : Music Inspired by Wes Anderson (Self Produced, releases 02/26/2023).  Amanda Gardier – alto saxophone, Charlie Ballantine – guitar, Jesse Wittman – bass, Dave King – drums.

Now Baltimore-based alto saxophonist Amanda Gardier has channeled inspiration from the films of Wes Anderson in the composition of nine tunes for her new disc, which features Charlottesville favorite (and her husband) guitarist Charlie Ballentine, drummer Dave King of the Bad Plus and bassist Jesse Wittman.  Howard Mandel wrote in Downbeat, “It’s easy to enjoy the coherence of this quartet even if one knows nothing of the Anderson films each track refers to. You can make up your own plots based on the mastery of the saxophonist, a member of the U.S. Navy Band Commodores and occasional educator.  Ballantine works in tandem with her to thicken the drawn lines, provide counterpoint or solo extensions.  King keeps up an imaginatively busy but never overwhelming stream of comment, Wittman ably locking in with his own gentle, firm commentary.  The group conjures then navigates smooth time shifts, nuances of mood, turns of gritty power, fleeting passages of insistent repetition and a pervasive sense of self-understanding.  Gardier always knows where she’s going, as do her collaborators.” A fine collection of music.  Give it a listen.

Annie Chen – Guardians(JZ Music, releases 02/23/2024).  Alex LoRe – alto saxophone / flute / bass clarinet, Vitor Goncalves – accordion / piano, Marius Duboule – guitars, Fung Chern Hwei – violin / viola, Matthew Muntz – bass, Satoshi Takeishi – drums / percussion.

Beijing-born, New York-based vocalist Annie Chen has assembled an international band for a suite focussed on environmental stewardship inspired by a winter-time trip to Acadia National Park.  The music is very atmospheric with lyrics in different languages and wordless vocals.

Sued Nandayapa Bergmann Saunders – Mad Dream (Ropeadope Sur, releases 02/23/2024).  Natalio Sued – tenor saxophone, Bruce Saunders – electric guitar, Andrew Bergmann – acoustic bass, Gustavo Nandayapa – drums.

This quartet from Amsterdam, Mexico City, San Antonio, and Austin has released their fourth disc, although this is the first one to reach my ears.  Guitarist and Berklee Professor Bruce Saunders anchors a solid rhythm section and tenorist Natalio Sued plays beautifully over their sound foundation.  I am more drawn to their more lyrical pieces like Dorme Bebé or Mad Dream and less so to their freer work like Green Glass.  Give it a listen.

Alon Farber & Hagiga – The Magician: Live in Jerusalem (Origin Records, released 02/16/2024). Dave Douglas – trumpet, Oded Meir – trombone, Alon Farber – soprano saxophone / alto saxophone, Yehonatan Cohen – tenor saxophone / clarinet, Katia Toobool – piano, Assaf Hakimi – bass, Roy Oliel – drums.

Saxophonist Alon Farber presents a live release of his Israeli ensemble supplemented by Dave Douglas on trumpet.  George W. Harris wrote on Jazz Weekly, “The team is in an effervescent mood, with Douglas bright and dramatic working on his own Persistence of Memory and leading the gallop along with the horns on Spring Ahead. [Bassist Assaf] Hakimi gives a hip and funky feel as [trombonist Oded] Meir and [saxophonist Yehonatan] Cohen sear through Farbalak, with the leader’s soprano skating through the fire on the complex Minuet For Maya, with [Katia] Toobool’s piano keeping all parts together. Douglas and Cohen bop hard on the muscular The Magician and the horns link together for some thrilling harmonies, driving the soloists on.”  The Magician is Farber’s nickname for Dave Douglas.

Steve Ash – You And The Night(Cellar Music, released 02/16/2024).  Steve Ash – piano, Harvie S – bass, Alvester Garnett – drums.

New York pianist Steve Ash is someone I don’t know although I see he had a 2014 release, Once I Loved, which I have not heard.  For his latest release, he has formed a trio with well-recognized players, Harvie S on bass (Jerry Bergonzi, Peter Hand, Michael Costantino, Alan Broadbent) and Alvester Garnett on drums (Gregory Tardy, Ray Blue, Roseanna Vitro, Regina Carter).  Ash has chosen to go for a very immediate kind of recording – all players in one room (his living room) without headphones or separation, more like a live gig on a bandstand, but without the glasses clinking.  The results are terrific.  Ash has a very buoyant and clean attack and has chosen a varied program with selections by Ellington, Tyler, Parker, Powell, Shorter.  What’s not to like!

Jim Rotondi – Finesse(Cellar Music, released 02/09/2024).  Notes and Tones Jazz Orchestra: Daniel Nösig – trumpet, flugelhorn, Tobias Weidinger, Markus Pechmann, Simon Plötzeneder – trumpet / flugelhorn, Clemens Hofer, Mario Vavti, Johannes Herrlich, Christina Lachberger, Steve Davis – trombones, Martin Fuss – alto saxophone / soprano saxophone / flute / clarinet, Martin Fuss – alto saxophone / soprano saxophone / clarinet, Michael Erian – tenor saxophone / soprano saxophone / flute / clarinet, Robert Unterköfler – tenor saxophone / clarinet, Herwig Gradischnig – baritone saxophone / bass clarinet, Dick Oatts – soprano saxophone, Danny Grissett – piano, Karol Hodas – bass, Mario Gonzi – drums + Orchestra.

There have been plenty of “… with Strings” records in the long history of jazz and several have been become classics – Charlie Parker with Strings, Focus by Stan Getz, and Clifford Brown with Strings immediately come to mind.  But, truth be told, the clinkers in this category are much more numerous.  Trumpeter Jim Rotondi, who has two records out in the last year after being mostly quiet for over a decade, has played his way to the positive side of this ledger with his latest release Finesse.  While half of the tunes (all Rotondi compositions) feature the string orchestra, all feature a swinging 17-piece big band with fabulous pianist Danny Grissett and this is the secret sauce – well-arranged and well-played.  As with his 2023 disc Over Here (previewed 10/23/2023), Rotondi shows that he is a formidable player with a deft touch.  Even if you are hesitant to invest your ears in an orchestral jazz release, give this a listen, it could be rewarding.

Andrea Superstein – Oh Mother (Cellar Live, released 02/09/2024).  Rachel Therrien – trumpet, Jane Bunnett – flute, Chris Gestrin – piano / synth / Rhodes / organ, Danae Olano – piano, Elisa Thorn – harp, Itamar Erez – guitar, Meredith Bates – violin, Carlie Howell – bass, Roberto Riveron, Dan Gaucher – drums, Liam MacDonald – percussion, Jorge Luis “Papiosco” Torres, Andrea Superstein – vocals.

Responding to her own ambivalence and feelings of isolation associated with motherhood, Canadian vocalist / songwriter Andrea Superstein has released a collection of eleven songs deriving from conversations with almost one hundred other mothers. The lyrics are often personal and thought-provoking, and full of love.  Musically, the set is spare, with some lovely interventions by trumpeter Rachel Therrien on I Carry your Heart and both flutist Jane Bunnett and bandmate pianist Danae Olano on Mombo.  In Superstein’s singing one can hear some influence from her studies with Sara Gazarek, one of my favorite vocalists.  Thierry De Clemensat wrote on Paris Move, “A powerful album that questions without judgment, a unique work of art in both its musical structure and writing. It surprises with a selection and order of tracks that make this album particularly vibrant. What is also fascinating is this very pop voice that jazzes in every direction, undoubtedly a striking personality that, if she continues on this path, will carve out a beautiful place in the world of jazz through her uniqueness in addressing personal or societal themes with equally captivating lyrics.”  Apparently this is the score to a theatrical performance that would be interesting to experience.

Mike LeDonne Groover Quartet  + Gospel Choir – Wonderful! (Cellar Music, released 02/06/2024).  Vincent Herring – alto saxophone, Eric Alexander – tenor saxophone, Mike LeDonne – Hammond B3 organ, Peter Bernstein – guitar, Joe Farnsworth – drums, Daniel Sadwnick – percussion + Gospel Choir.

A record with tenor player Eric Alexander, organist Mike LeDonne, guitarist Peter Bernstein and uber-drummer Joe Farnsworth should be better than this.  When left to its own devices the quartet is a powerhouse, as on Trane’s Lonnie’s Lament.  The problem for me is the addition of the gospel choir (and I appreciate good gospel music) that doesn’t fit in as well as you might expect given the place that the organ plays in church music.  LeDonne has recorded this set as a loving tribute to his disabled daughter, who appears on the cover, so I’ll not criticize this release further.

Christian Fabian Trio – Hip To the Skip (Spice Rack Records, released 02/02/2024).  Matt King – keyboards, Christian Fabian – bass, Jason Marsalis – drums.

Electric bassist Christian Fabian and his trio have released a funk / fusion disc that tackles some classic hard bop and soul jazz lines, like Bobby Timmons’ Moanin’, Joe Zawinul’s Mercy Mercy and Miles Davis’ Four.  I don’t find this particularly memorable, but my ears aren’t pointed in this direction these days.

Diego Rivera – With Just A Word (Posi-Tone Records, released 02/02/2024).  Pete Rodríguez – trumpet / flugelhorn / congas, Diego Rivera – tenor saxophone, Art Hirahara – piano, Luques Curtis – bass, Rudy Royston – drums.

Bassist Luques Curtis and drummer Rudy Royston have anchored Lisa Hilton’s trios and quartets for many years and, on tenor saxophonist Diego Rivera’s latest, they join forces with Posi-tone Records stalwart Art Hirahara in a classy rhythm section.  In the last several years Diego has presented his music largely in a quartet format, but here he adds in trumpeter Pete Rodríguez to enrich the front line.  Jeff Krow wrote on Audiophile Audition, “Rivera’s With Just a Word… is another top notch Posi-Tone winner. The two front line horns blend like a fine red wine and a filet mignon steak. Whether it’s a ballad, or a take no prisoners burner, Rivera and Rodriguez fit the bill… With nine solid tracks (six Rivera originals and a track each from Carlos Santana/Tom Coster (Europa), and Tony Williams’ Pee Wee,) it’s a great mix. Concise, and with tight arrangements in the four to six minute range, the selections flow nicely.  Highlights include Europa, an intoxicating modal gem, with Diego’s tenor solo dripping with emotion, and Hirahara’s classy piano accompaniment. The title track shows Rivera’s mid-range warmness, relaxed and in the pocket groove. Song of the Underground Railroad is a runaway train of blistering fire, while Dignified Response, has Pete Rodriguez’ trumpet, mellow like a fine scotch.”  Straight ahead and terrific, just what we expect from Posi-tone and Rivera.

Vijay Iyer, Linda May Han Oh, Tyshawn Sorey – Compassion(ECM, released 02/02/2024).  Vijay Iyer – piano, Linda May Han Oh – bass, Tyshawn Sorey – drums.

Pianist / composer Vijay Iyer documented his trio with bassist Linda May Han Oh and drummer percussionist Tyshawn Sorey on his 2021 disc Uneasy and now they are back, as strong as ever.  The mood swings from somber on the opener Compassion to joyful on Iyer’s tribute to Bishop Desmond Tutu, Arch, a rhythmic feature for Oh’s flowing bass.  While nine of the dozen tunes are Iyer compositions, some of the best playing comes on the covers.  Mike Hobart wrote on Financial Times, “Iyer’s musical inspirations edge towards the disciplined left-field of recent contemporary jazz. Harmonic development is not rejected, rather it is guided by the composition’s narrative arc. A cover of saxophonist/composer Roscoe Mitchell’s Nonaah scampers into abstraction before the trio coalesce into a spiky unison theme. In contrast, the album finale twins John Stubblefield’s Free Spirits with Geri Allen’s Drummer’s Song. Here, the vibe is funky, riffs get repeated and melodies are clear.”  Iyer is always stimulating, but never more for these ears than when in a trio setting and this is among the best trios playing today.  A major work, not to be missed.

Keyon Harrold – Foreverland(Concord Music, released 01/19/2024). Keyon Harrold – trumpet / vocals, Robert Glasper – Rhodes / piano / Moog / beatbox, Jahari Stampley – piano / organ / Rhodes, Hedrick Mitchell – piano, Bigyuki – keys, Greg Phillinganes – piano, Justus West – guitar, Randy Runyan – guitar, Nir Felder – guitar, Brandon Owens – bass, Burniss Travis – bass, Chris Dave – drums, Marcus Gilmore – drums, Jahi Sundance – turntables, Common – vocals, Jean Baylor – vocals, PJ Morton – vocals / keyboards, Laura Mvula – vocals, Malaya – vocals.

While trumpeter Keyon Harrold’s work accumulates accolades, it balances on the edge between Jazz and R&B-pointed pop.  In a very positive review, Neil Spencer wrote on The Observer, “Trumpet star Keyon Harrold’s previous album, 2017’s The Mugician, was a mashup of jazz, hip-hop and R&B; over the course of his career, he has played alongside the likes of Jay-Z, Beyoncé and Rihanna. This third album continues to defy conventional categories, albeit with more emphasis on balladry and the complications of romance. Much of it is set to languorous beats that allow Harrold to unfurl long, sultry solos, with the influence of Miles Davis strong in the mix – unsurprising, given that Harrold played the trumpet on the soundtrack of the 2015 biopic Miles Ahead.”  Harrold is an impressive soloist, but his music fails to interest me much.  However give it a listen and see if your boat is afloat.

The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra – And So It Goes (RMI Records, released 10/03/2023).  Bijon Watson, Clay Jenkins, Gilbert Castellanos, James Ford, Kye Palmer – trumpets, Ira Nepus, Ivan Malespin, Erik Hughes, Juliane Gralle – trumpets, Keith Fiddmont, Jacob Scesney, Rickey Woodard, Charles Owens, Adam Schroeder – saxophones, Tamir Hendelman – piano, Steve Kovalcheck – guitar, John Clayton – bass, Jon Hamar – bass, Jeff Hamilton – drums.

In 1986, bassist / composer / arranger John Clayton, drummer Jeff Hamilton and alto saxophonist Jeff Clayton founded the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra.  Since they last recorded a decade ago, brother Jeff Clayton has passed away but the orchestra presses on, having now released a new disc.  This is one of the pre-eminent of today’s big bands, chock full of talent from the LA session world and Clayton’s arrangements continue to be animated and clever.  The new disc is full of their characteristic sound of the trumpet, trombone, reed and rhythm sections working both together and in stirring opposition, pausing to bring the heat down for solos from the bottomless well of talent, as in their full-throated embrace of Mingus’s Haitian Fight Song.   Four decades in, this band keeps it up in style.

There should be something here to interest almost anyone.

Russell Perry, Jazz at 100 Now!

If your music isn’t changing your life, you’ve simply picked the wrong songs. Ted Gioia 


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