New Jazz Releases – 03/18/2024

Willie Morris

Two of the finest releases so far this year walked in the door this week – Attentive Listening from Willie Morris and Even Odds from Dan Weiss.  Plus new Calligram releases from Neil Alger and Alex Beltram and a JJ Johnson 100th birthday tribute from Nick Finzer.  Great week for jazz.

Willie Morris – Attentive Listening (Posi-Tone, released 03/01/2024).  Willie Morris – tenor saxophone, Patrick Cornelius – alto saxophone / alto flute, John Davis – piano, Boris Kozlov – bass, Rudy Royston – drums / percussion.

What a fine record this is!  Tenor player Willie Morris released his debut six months ago (Conversation Starter, previewed 10/09/2023) and he is quickly back with no shortage of great material – five of his own tunes, plus two each by pianist Jon Davis and saxophonist / flutist Patrick Cornelius, plus Kenny Dorham’s lovely ballad La Mesha.  I love how the ensemble shows off their bebop chops on The Imitation Game and Et Tu, Caribou, both with a blistering unison head making the most of the alto / tenor pairing.  Jim Hynes wrote on Making A Scene “Jon Davis authored Moving Right Along, revealing his Monk-like angularity with a repetitive melody that takes on deeper colors in each refrain while his closer, Daly Minor Blues, originally intended for the full quintet, became a duet between he and Morris as the tape was rolling during rehearsal. As such it provides an intimate view of the styles of each, with both deeply immersed in the blues, and Morris blending the kind of style we associate with soul-blues tenors such as Stanley Turrentine, Gene Ammons, and the like with his own trademark sinuous clusters. Morris has often stated that his main mentor is Joe Henderson, to whom he pays homage with a sublimely gorgeous rendering of Kenny Dorham’s La Mesha, the album’s lone cover.  Morris continues to build his reputation as one of the profound emerging tenors and composers of these times.”  Dive in!

Nick Finzer – Legacy (Outside In Music, releases 04/01/2024).  Nick Finzer – trombone, Renee Rosnes – piano, Rufus Reid – bass, Lewis Nash – drums.

Nick Finzer is a very stylish trombone player with talent and technique to spare, in every way an obvious millennial flame-carrier for the great trombonist / composer JJ Johnson.  Johnson erupted on the scene with Benny Carter in 1942 and by ’46 was leading his own bands in a long series of recordings that cemented his reputation as the first great bebop trombone player and one of the great bebop players of any instrument.  In the late 80s and 90s, Johnson led bands that featured Renee Rosnes (Artemis, Michael Dease) on piano, Rufus Reid (Chris Rottmayer, Michael Dease, Frank Kimbrough) on bass and Lewis Nash (recently Noah Haidu, Donald Vega) and now these veterans have joined forces with Finzer to record a tribute to Johnson who would have been 100 years on January 22, 2024.  Great playing from start to finish.

Mark Lockheart – Smiling (Edition, releases 03/29/2024).  Laura Jurd – trumpet, Mike Soper – trumpet, Jim Rattigan – French horn, Anna Drysdale – French horn, Harry Maund – trombone / bass trombone, Mark Lockheart – saxophone, Nathaniel Facey – saxophone, Rowland Sutherland – flute, George Crowley – clarinet, James Allison – clarinet, John Parricelli – guitar, Tom Herbert – bass, Dave Smith – drums.

Saxophonist Mark Lockheart, longtime a part of the British jazz vanguard, focussed some ears in the mid-to-late 80s with his band Loose Tubes and later with experimental jazz band Polar Bear.  Now he has a thirteen-piece ensemble with a sonority that recalls Gil Evans at times deriving from five brass (two of which are French horns), five reeds and three rhythm.  Despite the number of players, there is a satisfying simplicity and clarity to the music.  Recommended.

Dan Weiss – Even Odds(Cygnus Records, releases 03/29/2024).  Miguel Zenon – alto saxophone, Matt Mitchell – piano, Dan Weiss – drums.

Boy, do I love this one!  Drummer / composer Dan Weiss has a great trio this time out – longtime collaborator pianist Matt Mitchell and a favorite of mine, Miguel Zenon on alto.  Six of the twenty selections are fully composed pieces from Weiss and the balance were provocations of a sort, with Weiss presenting his bandmates with drum sketches or grooves over which the trio improvises.  Both of the techniques yield fruit, as they should – these cats are at the top of their game.  Mike Jurkovic wrote on AllAboutJazz, “Free jazz is what it is because of trios like these: Zenón knows no limits, Mitchell has only one gear: exultation. Weiss digs into each characteristic and lets the fur fly. That is why the mad, locomotive energy of Five To Nine, stands tall among other odds and ends as the parentally brooding The Children of Uvalde. The capacious Bu. The trance-like ecosystem supporting Rising. The jumpy, jumbled meters that give Nineteen to the Dozen its exuberant charm.”  Come for the compositions, stay for the free improvisations.  A success on all fronts.

Rachel Z – Sensual (Dot Time Records, releases 03/29/2024).  Rachel Z – piano / electronica, Tony Levin – bass, Matt Penman – bass, Jonathan Toscano – bass, Omar Hakim – drums, Mino Cinelu – percussion.

Pianist Rachel Z can be over-the-top, but keeps that tendency largely in check on this new set of nine originals.  Mike Jurkovic wrote on AllAboutJazz, “Partnered with the people she knows best—drummer/life partner Omar Hakim, bassist Mark Penman (Joshua Redman, Kurt Rosenwinkel) and percussionist Mino Cinelu (Miles Davis, Sting)—the pianist holds her vision strong. What I Fear proves that ace is high. Starting as a hint of an anthem, Z, Hakim and Penman barter and shake. The tune grows exponentially. Z bounds across the rhythmic highlands. The tune never tires… Sensual sounds like and is something grand from start to finish.”

Four – Four + Six (Jazz Hang Records, releases 03/29/2024).  Derrick Gardner – trumpet, Vincent Gardner – trombone, Mark Watkins – soprano saxophone, Ray Smith – alto saxophone, Sandon Mayhew – tenor saxophone, Jon Gudmundson – baritone saxophone, Justin Nielsen – piano, Corey Christiansen – guitar, Braun Kahn – bass, and Kobie Watkins – drums. 

Composer / saxophonist Mark Watkins has a history of presenting his pieces via an a cappella saxophone quartet (Four).  For this recording he has added brass – the Gardner brothers, Derrick on trumpet and Vincent on trombone – plus a rhythm section.  Hard bop and ballads, bold solos, much to like.

Monty Alexander – D-Day (Pee Wee, releases 03/25/2024).  Monty Alexander – piano, Luke Sellick – bass, Jason Brown – drums.

Pianist / composer Monty Alexander will celebrate his 80th birthday on the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landing on June 6th.  To a set of eight originals, he has added two period pieces – Ruth Lowe’s I’ll Never Smile Again (1939) and Charlie Chaplin’s Smile (1936).  Referencing Alexander’s long career in jazz, Thierry De Clemensat wrote on Paris Move, “Though the years have passed, Monty Alexander remains the same, with the added experience evident in the intelligent and meticulous arrangements of the tracks, perfectly accompanied by bassist Luke Sellick and drummer Jason Brown. In this configuration, the album sounds like a live recording, with Monty Alexander’s natural way of playing influencing his comrades. Once again, it’s an album that proves indispensable to all jazz piano enthusiasts. Alexander is enduring, and his warmth permeates through his recordings.”  It’s been a good year so far for piano trios and this one adds to the list.

Kelly Green – Seems (Green Soul Studios, releases 03/25/2024).  Rich Perry – tenor saxophone, Elijah J Thomas – flute / alto flute / piccolo, Kelly Green – piano / vocal, Luca Soul Rosenfeld – bass, Evan Hyde – drums.

Pianist / vocalist Kelly Green sings with confidence and authority, not dissimilar to Cecile McLorin Salvant.  She contributed five originals and made some surprising selections among the four covers, for example  World Of My Own from Disney’s Alice In Wonderland, Lonely One from Baby Gonzales.  She is a swinging pianist with a tight bandstand-proven trio, to which, they have added Elijah J Thomas on flute.  Under-recorded tenor player Rich Perry (Maria Schneider, Fred Hersch) enriches two tunes including Rich’s Stitches composed for him by Green.  The more I listened, the more I found to like in these tunes.

Ron Rieder – Latin Jazz Sessions (Self Produced, released 03/03/2024).  Mike Tucker – tenor saxophone, Fernando Brandão – flute, Alain Mallet – piano, Claudio Ragazzi – guitar, Gerson Lazo-Quiroga – bass, Oscar Stagnaro – bass, Mark Walker – drums, Ricardo Monzon – percussion, Ron Reid – steel drums.

In his debut, composer Ron Seder has penned ten originals from a Carribbean, Afro-Cuban and Brazilian point of view – mambos, sambas, salsas – performed by nine skilled latin jazz players.

Hilary Gardner – On The Trail With The Lonesome Pines (Anzic Records, released 03/03/2024).  Sasha Papernik – accordion, Justin Poindexter – guitars / mandolin / organ / vocals, Noah Garabedian – bass, Aaron Thurston – drums / percussion, Hilary Gardner – vocals. 

An interesting new release by singer Hilary Gardner (of the vocal trio Duchess) – cowboy songs!  Her premise is that many of what we consider core country and western tunes from the 30s and 40s are, in fact, products of Tin Pan Alley and, as such, belong in the Great American Songbook, presumably as sources for jazz presentation and improvisation.  For example, Jingle Jangle Jingle was written by Frank Loesser (If I Were a Bell, Baby It’s Cold Outside, Never Will I Marry) and I’m An Old Cowhand was by Johnny Mercer (Moon River, Skylark, Autumn Leaves).  While the set is not overly jazzy, Gardner is a good singer and the material is comfortable and more than a little nostalgic.

Neil Alger – Old Souls (Calligram Records, released 03/01/2024).  Chad McCullough – trumpet, Chris Madsen – tenor saxophone, Neal Alger – guitar, Clark Sommers – bass, Dana Hall – drums / cymbals.

Chicago guitarist Neal Alger was prominent on a slew of Patricia Barber’s discs and now has his own release.  Calligram Record’s mission is to spotlight creative music in Chicago and they are living up to that big task.  Alger is paired with the wonderful and busy trumpeter Chad McCullough (The Charm of Impossibilities previewed 08/15/2023 and Atlantic Road Trip’s One previewed 10/30/2023).  Rounding out the outstanding ensemble is bassist Clark Sommers (whose Feast Ephemera was one of my favorites of 2023) and two of his collaborators Chris Madsen on tenor and drummer Dana Hall (who joins Sommers on recent releases from Scott Hesse and Geof Bradfield).  The program consists of nine originals including the funky Go With The Sco-Flo referencing guitar hero John Scofield and the slightly off-kilter Brazilian-inspired Choro Delinquente.  Some fine guitar playing, compelling compositions and a terrific ensemble.  Recommended.

Alex Beltran – Rift(Calligram Records, released 03/01/2024).  Chad McCullough – trumpet, Alex Beltran – tenor saxophone / soprano saxophone, Lenard Simpson – alto saxophone, Stu Mindeman – piano / Wurlitzer, Sam Peters – bass, Jon Deitemyer – drums.

From another batch of releases from young Chicago label Calligram, saxophonist Alex Beltran has released a very personal set of tunes composed as he wrestled with his bi-cultural upbringing – the son of a working class Latino father and an upper crust (his description) white mother.  Without the notes, I am certain that this internal struggle would not have been apparent to me, but no worries, the music is solid.  Beltran is a fine composer of ballads (Sub Rosa), blues (Bird Dance) and up-tempo romps (Fragments). The latter showcases pianist Stu Mindeman (Clark Sommers, Juan Pastor, Sara Gazarek) whose solo intro anchors the odd-metered Rift.  Chicago stalwart trumpeter Chad McCullough brings his sweet tone to two sections including the standout Jay.  Beltram is a compelling sax player and I expect to be hearing more from him.

Richard Niles – Adventures for Cello and Piano (New World Classic, released 02/16/2024).  Clive Dunstall – piano, Dennis Karmazyn – cello, Mark Egan – electric fretless bass, Ian Palmer – drums. 

Multi-genre composer Richard Niles has written a set of material for the piano – cello duo of Clive Dunstall and Dennis Karmazyn.  On two selections, Mark Edgan (Pat Metheny) and Ian Palmer join on bass and drums.  Although the playing is lovely, I didn’t find the jazz I was seeking.

Greg Murphy – You Remind Me (Whaling City Sound, released 02/16/2024). Greg Murphy – piano / keyboards, David Stoller – harp / percussion, Zach Brock – violin, Obasi Koto – bass, Steve Johns – drums, Malou Beauvoir – vocals, Frank Lacy – vocals.

Pianist / composer Greg Murphy and his trio have recorded a tribute to Murphy’s late wife Nancy.  There are several guests on violin, harp and vocals, but it is in the trio pieces where the heart of his release lies.  The trio romps through Murphy’s The Cure and settles into an emotional ballad reading of Jimmy Van Huesen’s Nancy (with the Laughing Face.)

Nikos Chatzitsakos – Tiny Big Band 2 (Self Produced, released 02/09/2024).  Joey Curreri – trumpet / flugelhorn, Robert Mac Vega-Dowda – cornet, Armando Vergara – trombone, Salim Chart – alto saxophone, Art Baden – tenor saxophone, Gabriel Nekrutman – baritone saxophone, Wilfie Williams – piano, Nikos Chatzitsakos – bass, Samuel Bolduc – drums, Alexandria deWalt – vocals, Eleni Ermina Sofou – vocals.

At nine pieces, the Tiny Big Band is pretty small, but bassist / bandleader Nikos Chatzitsakos works well at the smaller scale of six horns and a piano trio.  Half the tunes feature one of two vocalists, but these aren’t my favorites.  Donald Byrd’s Fly Little Birdgets a spirited reading with terrific work by pianist Wilfie Williams.  Duke Pearson, whose compositions have been showing up a lot recently, gets a stately reading of his ballad You Know I Care.  

Have fun with these.

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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