New Jazz Releases – 03/04/2024

Julian Lage

We’ve got a new Julian Lage this week, along with the debut of altoist Michael Thomas and another Gregg Hill-penned set from East Lansing’s Randy Napoleon.  We also have more than a couple looks in the rear view – Paul Chamber’s son Pierre Chambers makes his debut, 89-year old George Coleman guests with One For All, Chris Rottmeyer toasts Mulgrew Miller and Woody Shaw, Wolff, Clark and Dorsey have made a tribute to Bill Evans, and Louis Stewart’s first record (1975) has been re-issued.  The icing on the cake, Sarah Chaksad’s debut big band disc (2016) has made it our way.

Julian Lage – Speak To Me(Blue Note, releasesd03/01/2024).  Levon Henry – tenor saxophone, (Levon Henry – tenor saxophone / clarinet / alto clarinet / alto saxophone, Patrick Warren – keyboards, Kris Davis – piano, Julian Lage – guitar, Jorge Roeder – bass / vibraphone, Dave King – drums.

Guitarist Julian Lage is back with his versatile trio of bassist Jorge Roeder (Dave Douglas, Ryan Keberle, Shai Maestro) and drummer Dave King (The Bad Plus).  In his fourth Blue Note release, following the twin releases of View With A Room and Grammy-nominated Layers (previewed 03/13/2023), Lage has drifted further afield stylistically.  Like his sometime collaborator Bill Frisell, Lage and his deeply melodic lyricism refuse to be contained by labels.  If you are listening for a straight ahead jazz set, Lage invites you to open your ears.  John Bungey wrote on London Jazz News, “Speak to Me opens with the sun-bleached and Spanish-tinged acoustic guitar of Hymnal before a swerve into a stomping rock-blues, Northern Shuffle, which Lage proceeds to subvert with playful jazz licks. It’s back to acoustic guitar for Omission, the loveliest piece here, with an open-road, wind-in-the-hair feel that recalls early Metheny. Then, on the countrified lament Serenade, you’re half expecting Willie Nelson, or similar wizened growler, to pipe up.”  Lots to hear, here.

Pierre L Chambers – Shining Moments (Dash Hoffman Records, releases 03/17/2024).  Jeff Kaye – flugelhorn, Karen Hammack – piano, Dori Amarillo – guitar, Henry Franklin – bass, Pierre Chambers – vocals, Cathy Segal-Garcia – backing vocals.

Vocalist Pierre Chambers, son of jazz icon bassist Paul Chambers (1935 – 1969), has released his debut after 40 years in and around the music business.  Chambers has a warm baritone that reminds me of Jacomo Gates, but smoother.  The disc is dedicated to his parents (Paul and Anne Chambers).  Chambers has taken his father’s composition Dear Anne and written lyrics to his mother.  The tune My Father is a duet with Chambers reciting his poem over Henry Franklin on bass.  His take on Nat Adderley and Oscar Brown Jr.’s Work Song is a classic.

One For All Featuring George Coleman – Big George(Smoke Sessions, releases 03/11/2024).  Jim Rotondi – trumpet, Steve Davis – trombone, Eric Alexander – tenor saxophone / alto saxophone, George Coleman – tenor saxophone, David Hazeltine – piano, John Webber – bass, Joe Farnsworth – drums.

The hard-bop super group One For All was formed 27 years ago and this is their 17th release as a unit, although it’s been seven years since the last one.  In this case, they honor their old friend and collaborator NEA Jazz Master George Coleman who joins them on three of the nine tunes. The program includes six by the band members and three standards.  The contrast between Coleman’s loose and fluent tenor and Eric Alexander’s precise attack is highlighted on Jim Rotondi’s Oscar Winner.  These players are pros and this release swings.

Chris Rottmayer – Being (Shifting Paradigm Records, releases 03/08/2024).  Russ Johnson – trumpet, Chris Rottmayer – piano, Rufus Reid – bass, Matt Enders – drums.

Madison, Wisconsin-based pianist Chris Rottmayer’s fourth release of ten original tunes is a study of the music of pianist Mulgrew Miller, specifically his recordings with Woody Shaw.  To the party he brings Chicago trumpeter Russ Johnson (Clark Sommers, Geoff Bradfield, Reveal previewed 08/14/2023), veteran bassist Rufus Reid (Reid Hoyson Project, Michael Dease, Frank Kimbrough) and Matt Enders on drums.  Tony Dostert wrote on AllAboutJazz, “One can hear the harmonic adventure in this music from the outset, with the creative On the Street Where Woody Lives kicking things off with a restatement of Shaw’s own take on “On Green Dolphin Street,” which he dubbed Green St. Caper. Both Rottmayer and Johnson provide scintillating solos that skillfully probe the nuances of the tune, while Reid and Enders swing hard and give the piece its sinewy momentum. Similar re-workings are found on Re-United,“a reconceived iteration of Wayne Shorter’s United, and Song of Modes, which adapts Shaw’s Song of Songs by delving into its modal intricacies to find new insights.”  Well worth an investment of your ears.

Ernesto Cervini’s Turboprop  – A Canadian Songbook (TPR Records, releases 03/08/2024).  William Carn – trombone, Tara Davidson – alto saxophone, Joel Frahm – tenor saxophone, Adrean Farrugia – piano, Dan Loomis – bass, Ernesto Cervini – drums.

Canadian drummer Ernesto Cervini’s longstanding sextet Turboprop has released a set of material by Canadian artists Barenaked Ladies, Our Lady Peace, Allison Au, James Hill, and William Carn plus a pair by Cervini.  I confess I don’t know the source material, so all the music on this well-played outing is new to me.  

Wolff, Clark and Dorsey – A Letter To Bill Evans (Self Produced, releases 03/08/2024).  Michael Wolff – piano, Leon Lee Dorsey – bass, Mike Clark – drums.

This is the seventh trio outing for bassist Leon Lee Dorsey and drummer Mike Clark and their second with pianist Michael Wolff rounding out the ensemble.  In a touching tribute, the trio brings a big heart and a gentle touch.  Thierry De Clemensat wrote on Paris Move, “This is an album that thoroughly deserves to be a must-have in any worthy music collection and will inevitably inspire listeners to discover or rediscover Bill Evans, who must be smiling happily from wherever he is, seeing that he still inspires so many artists.”

Louis Stewart – Louis The First (Livia Records, releases 03/05/2024).  Louis Stewart – guitar, Martin Walshe – bass, John Wadham – drums.

This is a re-release of the first (1976) disc by Irish guitarist Louis Stewart (1944 – 2016).  Stewart is often referred to as the most significant jazz player to come from Ireland.  This and several others of his landmark recordings came at a time when very few UK jazz players could get noticed in the States, and those that did mostly immigrated (John McLaughlin, Dave Holland).  It is good to have this tasty set available in the US market. 

Julie Kelly – Freedom Jazz Dance (Laurelwood Records, released 03/04/2024).  Danny Janklow – alto saxophone / flute, Josh Nelson – piano / keyboards, Larry Koonse – guitar, Andrew Synowiec – guitar, Luca Alemanno – bass, Dan Schnelle – drums, Aaron Serfaty – percussion, Julie Kelly – vocals / guitar.

Veteran vocalist Julie Kelly has teamed with Uber-accompanist pianist Josh Nelson (Sara Gazarek, Marina Pacowski, Angie Wells) and in-demand guitarist Larry Koonse (Marina Pacowski, Angie Wells, Kenny Werner, Sinne Eeg) on an idiosyncratic program of songs such as the title tune by Eddie Harris (a highlight), Gordon Lightfoot’s Early Morning Rain, Gregory Porter’s Take Me to the Alley and Bob Dorough’s Nothing Like You.

Michael Thomas – The Illusion of Choice (Criss Cross, released 03/01/2024).  Michael Thomas – alto saxophone, Manuel Valera – piano, Matt Brewer – bass, Obed Calvaire – drums.

You can count on the Criss Cross label to release terrific records and here is another one.  Thirty-something alto player Michael Thomas comes from a musical family and studied with Jerry Bergonzi, George Carzone, and Miguel Zenón (at NEC) plus Steve Wilson, Ron Blake and Frank Kimbrough (at Julliard).  Stephen Graham wrote on Marlbank, “Here in Thomas’ band are fine pianist Manuel Valera – his recording called Vessel [previewed 07/10/2023] last year was good – double bassist Matt Brewer and Monty Alexander drummer Obed Calvaire. Recorded in September 2023 in New York State, the line-up was brought together specially for the recording session. The tough sounding strongly contrapuntal flavour often percolating through the tunes and against the improvisations is very flavoursome and isn’t for softies at all. Thomas original Darkness and Light is one of my favourites but all the originals make sense.”  A fine set of eight solid originals with more than a little Lee Konitz influence.

Randy Napoleon – The Door Is Open: The Music of Gregg Hill(OA2 Records, released 03/01/2024).  Anthony Stanco – trumpet, Andrew Kim – trombone, Walter Blanding – tenor saxophone, Rick Roe – piano, Randy Napoleon – guitar, Rodney Whitaker – bass, Quincy Davis – drums, Aubrey Johnson – vocals.

Over the past 25 years, the jazz performance program at Michigan State has thrived under the leadership of bassist Rodney Whitaker.  East Lansing composer Gregg hill has become a muse to many of the players in that scene, including guitarist Randy Napoleon, pianist Ben Rosenbaum, trombonist Michael Dease and Whitaker, all of whom have recorded discs of Hill’s compositions (eleven to date).  This is Napoleon’s third such effort.  Paul Rauch wrote on AllAboutJazz, “For this session, [Napoleon] is paired melodically on the front line with vocalist Aubrey Johnson, who performs with and without lyrics. Whitaker and Lucas LaFave share bass duties, with Grand Rapids-born veteran Quincy Davis on drums. The horn section is also centered around Detroit, with veteran tenor saxophonist Walter Blanding and trumpeter Anthony Stanco. Trombonist Andrew Kim completes the Lansing horn trifecta. Pianist Rick Roe is the orchestral instrument in the mix. While he seems to fly under the radar of the jazz public, Roe is a true master, and his presence allows listeners to get to know him a bit.”  The title tune is a good place to start with a scorching solo by Blanding, with strong contributions from the leader and wordless vocalist Johnson.

David Larsen – Cohesion (Dayola Music, released 03/01/2024).  Darryl Yokley – tenor saxophone, David Larsen – baritone saxophone, Zaccai Curtis – piano, Alex Apollo – bass, Wayne Smith, Jr – drums.

Spokane-based baritone saxophonist David Larsen (The Peplowski Project previewed 05/15/2023) met a quartet of East-coast players while they were on tour in the Pacific Northwest, including pianist Zaccai Curtis (Josh Lawrence, BJ Jansen, Brian Lynch) and drummer Wayne Smith, Jr. (Sun Ra, Tyler Mitchell, Be Still previewed 08/07/2023).  Finding substantial common ground, they combined forced to record this disc.  Thierry De Clemensat wrote on Paris Move, “The spirit of Coltrane or Wayne Shorter seems to linger over each track; we get carried away by this welcome boldness, especially since David Larsen is of that caliber, with a classic form like Coltrane and the audacity of Wayne Shorter. What more could one ask for?”  While the tenor – baritone front line is a bit novel, there is a latter-day Jazz Messenger vibe, especially on the tune Fedchock.

Ron Burris – Jazz… Never Felt So Good (Self Produced, released 02/28/2024). Ron Burris – tenor saxophone / alto saxophone, John Simon – piano, Leo Cavanagh – guitar, Dave MacNab – guitar, Stephen Webber – bass, Kendrick Freeman – drums / congas.

Saxophonist Ron Burris and a group of Bay Area players have released a set of classic bebop and hard bop times – Bird’s Ornithology, Trane’s Moment’s Notice and Impressions, Kenny Dorham’s Blue Bossa, Stanley Turrentine’s Sugar and the like.

PSA – PSA (Self Produced, released 02/23/2024).  Pritesh Walia – guitar, Sharik Hasan – keys / organ / synths, Avery Logan – drums.

This new release by a trio of young Boston players features seven originals performed by a very electric guitar / keyboards / drums ensemble – an update to the traditional organ trio.

Reverso – Shooting Star / Etoile Filante (Alternate Side Records, released 01/19/2024) Ryan Keberle  – trombone, Frank Woeste – piano, Vincent Courtois – cello.

Reverso’s latest is inspired by the music of transitional 20th Century French composer Lili Boulanger, as previous efforts have found inspiration in Maurice Ravel and Gabriel Fauré.  With the unusual lineup of trombone – piano – cello the disc is a cross between jazz and classical music.. Matt Collar wrote on AllMusic, “… [R]ather than simply interpreting Boulanger’s music, they use it as a jumping-off point, crafting their own deeply nuanced compositions. The album opens with La Muse, a lilting song where the trio’s trombone, piano, and cello lines tenderly overlap like the colorful brushstrokes on a Claude Monet painting. It’s a relaxing quality they return to on other hypnotic, evocatively titled chamber pieces like Resilience, Nocturne, and Shine. Some tracks are more classical in tone, like Obstination, where the trio push and pull against each other, contrasting swooning melodies and harrumphing, argumentative counterpoint. More specifically jazz in tone is Lili’s Blues, a slowly swinging number where they trade twangy, laconic riffs like Duke Ellington’s band in a sleepy after-hours jam session — or, more improbably, as if Boulanger had composed a piece to sound like Ellington’s band playing a sleepy blues.”

Charles Pillow Large Ensemble – Electric Miles 2 (Mama Records, released 09/08/2023).  Tony Kadleck, Jim Hynes, Frank Greene, Scott Wendholt, Clay Jenkins, Tim Hagans – trumpets, Michael Davis, Alan Ferber, Jeff Nelson, Nick Grinder – trombones, Kyle Holt, Judy Lee, Eric David – French horns, Charles Pillow, Alexa Tarrantino, Jimmy Greene, Michael Thomas, Dave Rieckenberg – saxophones, Henry Hey, Mike Holober – piano, Pete McCann – guitar, Chuck Bergeron – bass, Jaren Schonig – drums.

Multi-reediest / bandleader Charles Pillow has followed up his 2018 Electric Miles set with Volume 2 featuring lesser known Miles Davis tracks from 1969 – 1975.  Pillow has assembled a large band with many stalwarts of the New York scene (tenor saxophonist Jimmy Greene, alto / soprano saxophonist Alexa Tarentino, trombonist Alan Ferber, trumpeters Scott Wendholt, Tim Hagans and Clay Jenkins).The set includes two tunes  (Shhh Peaceful & It’s About That Time) from In A Silent Way – my favorite disc by Miles from that period.

James Zollar – The Ways In (Jazz Records, released 2022). James Zollar – trumpet / flugelhorn, Jeremy Pelt – trumpet, Michael Rorby – trombone, Patience Higgins – tenor saxophone,  Stefano Doglioni – bass clarinet, David Hazeltine – piano / Fender Rhodes, Riza Printup – harp, Jennifer Vincent – cello / bass, Gerald Cannon – bass, Willie Jones III – drums, Chemo Corniel – conga / percussion, Nabuko Kiryu – vocals.

Trumpeter James Zollar has played with a wide range of New York players over a long carreer (David Murray, Don Byron, Marty Ehrlich, Tom Harrell, Sam Rivers).  With a A-team rhythm section of David Hazeltine on piano, Gerald Cannon on bass and Willie Jones III on drums, Zollar has released a solid straight ahead set of modern jazz classics.  His dark version of Pepper Adams’s Reflectory with guest trumpeter Jeremy Pelt is outstanding.

Jay Thomas, Matt Wilson & Friends – High Crimes and Misdemeanors (McVouty Records, released 10/01/2020).  Jay Thomas – trumpet / flugelhorn / tenor saxophone / alto saxophone, Dan Marcus – trombone / flugabone / tuba, John Hansen – piano, Milo Peterson – guitar, Michael Glynn – bass, Dan Dean – bass, Chuck Deardorf – bass, Matt Wilson – drums / percussion.

Jay Thomas is a rare player who excels at both brass (trumpet / flugelhorn) and reeds (tenor and alto) – Michael Dease on trombone and baritone is another.  Thomas features New York drummer Matt Wilson (2019s Hug!, 2017s Honey and Salt) among a group of Seattle players.  The set showcases great but lesser known tunes by many first-rate jazz composers, i.e. Duke Ellington – Low Key Lightly, Clifford Jordon – Bo Till, Duke Pearson – Cristo Redentor.  Thomas’s own Big George, a tribute to George Coleman is a solid vehicle for the leader’s tenor as Fats Navarro’s Nostalgia shows off his trumpet playing.

Sarah Chaksad – Windmond (Neuklang, released 11/18/2016).  Charles Wagner – trumpet, Jonas Winterhalter – trumpet, Octave Moritz – trumpet, Lukas Wyss – trombone, Lukas Briggen – trombone, Lucas Wirz – bass trombone, Sarah Chaksad – alto saxophone / soprano saxophone, Andreas Böhlen – alto saxophone / soprano saxophone / clarinet / flute, Cédric Gschwind – tenor saxophone / flute, Fabian Willmann – tenor saxophone / clarinet / baritone saxophone, Michael Baumann – piano, Valentin Hebel – guitar, Hagen Neye – bass, Jan Schwinning – drums, Julie Fahrer – vocals.

The orchestral music of Swiss composer / saxophonist Sarah Chaksad has only recently found my ears and thanks to follow up from our colleague Steve Harris, we have received another selection from her back catalog – her big band debut from 2016.  Windmond is a very rich and full musical event, extraordinary for a debut.  Werner Stiefele’s wrote in the German music publication RONDO, “Her strengths are differentiated, elaborate, carefully considered scores…..that puts them more in the tradition of Bob Brookmeyer, Maria Schneider or Mathias Ruegg instead of Count Basie or Duke Ellington…”.  Judging by the languages in which her music is reviewed, it certainly seems that Chaksad is making the most impact in Central Europe, at the moment.  With the release of her latest (Together, previewed 02/26/2024), this may be changing.  Admittedly, it is the completist in me that drove me to this debut recording, but I was delighted to find that this release is a compelling performance of fine writing.

More wonderful jazz this week.  Enjoy

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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