New Jazz Releases – 03/20/2023

Chembo Corniel

A terrific collection of discs coming into WTJU this week – percussion-led releases from Chembo Corniel and Cyro Baptista, gospel-inflected releases from Isaiah J. Thompson, John Paul McGee and Gregory Grover, Jr. and straight-ahead releases from Jeremy Pelt and Michael Dease.

Chembo Corniel Quintet – Artistas, Músicos Y Poetas (Chemboro Records,  03/2023).  Agustin Someillan Garcia – trumpet, Angel “Cuqui Lebron – trombone, Hery Paz – tenor sax / flute, Ivan Renta – tenor sax, Paul Carlon – tenor sax, Andrea Brachfield – flute, Carlos Cuevas – piano / keyboards, Elio Villafranca – piano, Hector Martignon – piano, Adan Perez – piano, Ben Lapidus – Cuban tres / coros, Ian Stewart – bass, Ruben Rodriguez – bass, Mike Vinas – bass, Joel E Mateo – drums / clave / cua, Vince Cherico – drums, Ivan Llanes – drums, Wilson “Chembo” Corniel, Jr. – tumbadoras / cajon / barril de bomba / bata / quinto / shekere / gua-gua / guiro / per, Victor Rendon – shekere, Nelson Matthew Gonzalez – primo barril / maraca, Victor Rendon – bata iya, Cascadu Escayg – bata okonkolo, Jose Acosta – maracas, Juan Aldahondo – Puerto Rican cuatro, Eliado “Don Pancho” Terry – shekere / vocals, Ismael Carlo East – poet, Felipe Luciano – poet.

Celebrating his 20th anniversary as a bandleader, percussionist Chembo pays homage to those who came before and introduces a new generation of players (look out for tenor-saxophonist/flautist Hery Paz and pianist Carlos Cuevas.)  Afro-Cuban icon Eliado “Don Pancho” Terry is featured on Volando Con Don Pancho Terry singing and playing shekere in a recording from just before his passing.  While you may be surprised at how well Monk’s Evidence fits into this Latin Jazz set, Eddie Palmieri’s Pa La Ocha Tambo is a natural.  Percussion-rich and rhythm-saturated, you can expect to see this terrific release among the best Latin Jazz discs of 2023!

Cyro Baptista – Chama (Ropeadope, 05/2023) digital only.  Brian Marsella – keyboards / celeste / clavinet / organ / flute / keyboards, Felipe Hostings –  accordeon, Clay Ross – guitar, Todd Clouser – voice / guitar, Kevin Breit – guitar, John Lee – accoustic guitar, Wesley Amorim – accoustic guitar, Romero Lubambo – guitars, Kevin Breit  – mandolin / mandola, Laurie Anderson – strings, Sergio Brandão – bass, Aaron Cruz – bass / harmonica / mexican bass, Jamie Saft – bass, Gil Oliveira – drums, Frank Villard – drums, Jorge Continentino – pife, Jose Mauricio – vocals / surdo, Chikako Iwahori – vocals / tapbox, Lisete Santiago – vocals / bata, Sergio Krakowski – pandeiro, Sae Hashimoto – vocals / alfaia / balafon, Jorge Continentino- pife / bottles, Cyro Baptista – vocals / talking drum / gong / jawharp / bambu rachado / wood blocks / floor tom / berimbaus / triângulo / surdo / berimlata / mosquitos / bass drum / tomtons / glass tree / congas / anklun / metal clave / shekere / qarkabeb / bell/ death call / glass shaker / claps / whip, Carlos Eduardo Costa – vocals, Pamela Driggs – vocals.

Brazilian percussionist Cyril Baptista has a limited number of discs under his name, but his overall discography includes work with many pop and jazz stars (John Zorn, Herbie Hancock, Cassandra Wilson, Paul Simon.)  I expected something more substantial from this release.  There are several accordion-led selections like Chama that create a quiet pop vibe that can be lovely, but after hearing fellow-percussionist Chembo Corniel’s new percussion-led release, I had higher hopes for this as a jazz release.

Taj Mahal – Savoy (Stoney Plain Records, 04/2023).  Erik Jekabson – Trumpet, Mike Rinta – trombone, Sheldon Brown – clarinet / tenor sax, Charles McNeal – tenor sax, Kristen Strom – flute / tenor sax, Lincoln Adler – tenor sax / baritone sax, John Simon – piano, Danny Caron – guitar, Ruth Davies – bass, Leon Joyce, Jr. – drums, Taj Mahal – vocals / harmonica,  Maria Muldaur – vocals, Carla Holbrook, Leesa Humphrey, Charlotte McKinnon, Sandy Cressman, Sandy Griffith, Leah Tysse – backing vocals. 

Taj Mahal can be counted on to do something unexpected and he doesn’t disappoint in this his first recording dedicated to vintage jazz sounds.  With the exception of Benny Golson’s Killer Joe, the tunes all hail from the hey-day of the Savoy Ballroom in the 30s and 40s, with a preference for tunes associated with Duke Ellington (I’m Just a Lucy So and So, Mood Indigo, Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me) and Louis Jordan (Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby, Gee Baby – Ain’t I Good For You, Caledonia).  These are tunes associated with his parents courtship in Harlem in the 30s.  Taj has long enjoyed one of the most distinctive voices in popular music and it seems to be fraying around the edges as he passes 80, yet his phrasing continues to be elastic and he still delivers individual interpretations.  The orchestrations feature solid players and arrangements, but the overall production suffers from distracting background vocals.  Subsequently, those tunes without extra vocals (Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me, Sweet Georgia Brown, Lady Be Good) do more for me.  Regrettably, this release is unlikely to make anyone’s list of Taj’s career highlights.

Shawn Maxwell – Story at Eleven (Corasto, 03/3023).  Shawn Maxwell – alto sax, Collin Clauson – keyboards / organ, Michael Barton – bass, Greg Essig – drums.

For his eleventh release, alto saxophonist Shawn Maxwell has produced a long-form composition in four movements.  Each of the movements charts a narrative across several sections varying by tone and time signature.  Maxwell has a deep and singular alto sound, owing much to Kenny Garrett.  This is a complex and mature piece.

Astrocolor – Moonlighting, AstroJazz Vol. 1 (Amelia Records, 03/2023).  Anand Greenwell – saxophone, Paul Kannaspuro – flute, Neil James Cooke-Dallin – synths / Rhodes / percussion /guitar (programming, Piers Henwood – piano / guitar, Thomas Shields – synths / programming, Andrew Poirier – guitar, Chris Mackenzie – guitar / bass / keyboards, William Farrant – bass, Amrit Basi + drums /percussion, Lindsay Bryan – voice.

Astrocolor is a Canadian band earning many accolades above the 49th parallel.  According to the PR accompanying this release,  “Moonlighting imagines an exploratory trip into deep space, combining improvised experimentalism with hypnotic repetition … the album sprinkles moments of electronic stardust atop a traditional bed of live drums, bass, guitar, saxophone, and upright piano. The result is both meditative and interplanetary.”  Yes, hypnotic and meditative, perhaps even interplanetary.

Isaiah J. Thompson – The Power Of The Spirit (Blue Engine, 03/2023).  Julian Lee – tenor sax, Isaiah J Thompson Jr. – piano, Philip Norris – bass, TJ Reddick – drums, Demo Branch – drums.

Critical discussion of emerging pianist Isaiah J. Thompson (Steve Turre, John Pizzarelli) invariably cites Bobby Timmons, Phineas Newborn Jr., Cedar Walton and Monk as influences – quite a list.  The Power Of The Spirit was recorded live at Dizzy’s Club (Jazz at Lincoln Center) with a program of soulful originals performed by a locked-in quartet. A protege of Wynton Marsalis, twenty-something and releasing his third disc as a leader, Thompson is on a path toward a lot of great music to come.  We should also keep a lookout for tenor saxophonist Julian Lee who contributes solid ensemble playing and exceptional soloing, throughout.  Give a listen to Phineas – Philip Norris starts with a long and satisfying bass solo on the Intro, then Thompson races in with churchy chords followed by a scorching tenor passage from Lee.  Once Thompson gets going you can hear the influence of Phineas Newborn, Jr. in the virtuoso right-hand romp over gospel chords.  This is a set to remember.

Esthesis Quartet – Time Zones (Eyes and Ears, 03/2023).  Elsa Nilsson – flute / fx, Dawn Clement – piano / vocals, Emma Dayhuff – bass / fx, Tina Raymond – drums.

Esthesis Quartet, releasing their second disc, consists of four artists who hail from Brooklyn, Chicago, Denver, and Los Angeles, hence the title of the release, Time Zones.  As their BandCamp page reveals, “Noteworthy in the male dominated field of jazz academia, there are only six women across the country who are department heads of jazz programs. Two of the six are in Esthesis Quartet”- pianist Dawn Clement is the Area Coordinator of the Jazz and American Improvised Music Department at Metropolitan State University of Denver, a program founded by the late Ron Miles and drummer Tina Raymond is the Director of Jazz Studies at California State University Northridge.  Raymond’s Brush Fire is a lovely vehicle for spontaneous communication between Nilsson on flute and Clement on piano and her tune, Serial, inspired by the murder-mystery podcast, provides a film-noire base for explorations by all four artists anchored by bassist Emma Dayhuff.

Michael Dease – The Other Show – The Music of Gregg Hill (Origin Records, 03/2023).  Michael Deese – trombone / baritone Sax / percussion, Joel Perez – trombone, Virginia MacDonald – clarinet, Geoffrey Keezer – piano, Luther Allison – piano, Liany Mateo – bass, Rodney Whitaker – bass, Coleen Clark – drums / cymbals, Kevin Jones – percussion, Gwendolyn Dease – percussion.

Several months ago, Origin Records released Rodney Whitaker’s Oasis: The Music of Gregg Hill the third release in his set of recordings of Gregg Hill’s compositions (with Common Ground from 2018 and Outrospection from 2020).  Now the same label has released Michael Dease’s collection of Gregg Hill’s music (Dease had previously played on Outrospection, and Whitaker plays on this disc.)  Hill is a late-blooming composer who lives in East Lansing (as does Whitaker) and who has published several volumes of his compositions in the past 5 years – in his 70s – generating a lot of interest.  You can hear traces of Ellington-Strayhorn, Monk and Shorter in Hill’s multilayered compositions.  Dease is playing elegantly as always and has put together a band that includes terrific pianist Geoffrey Keezer.  All the players bring their best to the lovely ballad Shorty’s Tune, with beautiful work by Virginia MacDonald on clarinet, Whitaker on bass, Keezer on piano and the leader on trombone.  This is a disc that rewards coming back to.

Jeremy Pelt – The Art of Intimacy, Vol. 2: His Muse (High Note, 03/2023).  Jeremy Pelt – trumpet, Victor Gould – piano, Chico Pinheiro – guitar, Andrew Griffin – violin, Josh Henderson – violin, Nicole Neely – viola, Susan Mandel – cello, Buster Williams – bass, Billy Hart – drums.

In 2020, Jeremy Pelt, one of my favorite trumpet players, released Volume 1 of The Art of Intimacy in a trio with George Cables (piano) and Peter Washington (bass).  For Volume 2, he has expanded the ensemble to a quartet with Victor Gould (Bobby Watson, Jazzmeia Horn, Nick Finzer) on piano, plus veterans Buster Williams and Billy Hart.  This edition has the same soft, rounded tones that characterized the first, somewhat in contrast to his fire-breathing reputation as a hard bop young lion. And this time he adds strings, which are mostly back in the mix, which suits me as I don’t think they add that much.  Whether it is the breathless mute on Marion McPartland’s There’ll Be Other Times or the throbbing latin take on Henry Mancini’s Slow Hot Wind, this is a disc full of highlights.

Kaze & Ikue Mori – Crustal Movement (Circum/Libra, 03/2023).  Natsuki Tamura – trumpet, Christian Pruvost – trumpet, Satoka Fujii – piano, Peter Orins – drums, Ikue Mori – electronics.

This French-Japanese effort has one of the more interesting COVID-era recording histories.  The Japanese contingent (Natsuki Tamara on trumpet, Satoka Fujii on piano and electronics expert Ikue Mori) composed/assembled tracks by trading electronic files back and forth and then the French players (Christian Pruvost on trumpet and Peter Orins on drums) recorded themselves playing in France live over the files from Japan.  The ingenuity of improvised music players has no bounds.  The results, for the free-music world, are exhilarating and unpredictable.  Not all of us fit comfortably in that scene.

Jane Irving – Don’t Quit Now (Self Produced, 03/3023). Josh Richman – piano, Kevin Hailey – bass, Kayvon Gordon – drums, Jane Irving – vocals.

Of this release, the pre-eminent historian of vocal jazz, Will Friedwald, writes, “Rather than reaching out and grabbing you, Ms. Irving has the kind of voice and approach that invites you in. Dont Quit Now is ultimately a moving statement that first-class music, like love itself, is never predictable.”  Irving has assembled an interesting set of tunes that don’t get a lot of exposure (Jimmy Rowles’ Baby Don’t You Quit Now, Dave Frishberg’s  The Underdog and Snowbound, Frank Paparelli’s lyrics to Dizzy’s A Night In Tunisia).  In the latter, she shows the particular skill of articulation at speed in a scat romp.  The tune Someone’s Been Sending Me Flowers (by David Baker and Sheldon Harnick and associated with Blossom Dearie) get my nomination for the strangest lyrics on the disc, i.e “The cactus corsage touched me deeply…”  Lot’s here to recommend this to vocal jazz fans.

Josh Lawrence – And That Too (Posi-Tone, 02/2023).  Josh Lawrence – trumpet, Willie Morris III – tenor saxophone, Art Hirahara – piano, Boris Kozlov – bass, Jason Tiemann – drums, Rudy Royston – drums.

Even the cover art has a vintage hard bop vibe to it.  Trumpeter/leader Josh Lawrence has a sound that may remind you of a young Miles Davis and he helms an impressive crew including newcomer Willie Morris III on tenor plus the Posi-Tone A-Team rhythm section- Hirahara, Kazlov and Royston – recently heard on Diego Rivera’s Love and Peace. Lawrence penned some first-rate tunes like the dreamy ballad Left Hanging and the smoldering mid-tempo Cantus Firmus.  Give this one a listen!

John Paul McGee – Gospejazzical , Vol. 1 (Jazz Urbane Records, 10/2022). Michael Walton – sax, John Paul McGee – piano / vocals, Tyson Jackson – bass, Joel Powell – drums, Wendy Henderson-Wyatt – vocals, Amber Bullock – vocals.  

Pianist John Paul McGee is primarily associated with Gospel music, although the classically-trained member of the Berkeley College of Music faculty has much more to offer. Of the several types of ensembles on the disc (piano trio, trio with vocalists, trio with strings, tenor quartet), the piano trio reaches me most strongly.  Here McGee’s broad influences (as per the title – Gospel, Jazz, Classical) combine into the most compelling music on this live disc and fortunately, at nine selections, this is the majority of the music.  The hypnotic Highway 14 is a standout.

Gregory Groover, Jr. – The Negro Spiritual Songbook Vol. 2 The Message (Jazz Urbane Recordings, 08/2021).  Jason Palmer – trumpet, Gregory Groover, Jr. – tenor sax, Jesse Taitt – piano, Clay Nordhill – guitar, Max Ridley – bass, Jharis Yokley – drums.

The son of two clergy, sax player, composer and recent Berklee grad Gregory Grover, Jr. brings it all to the table on a set of reinterpreted spirituals from his youth, plus his own compositions that come from, as he says, “a spiritual source.”  His takes on Go Down Moses and I’ve Been Buked are representative of the disc with their hard-bop sensibility and snatches of the well-known melodies as touch points within which are well-played compelling tenor and trumpet solos.  His own compositions, like the title tune, fit within the spiritual jazz revival represented by Kamari Washington and Shabaka and the Ancestors.  The new disc illustrates clearly the many overlaps in Grover’s secular and sacred musical inspirations.

I hope this helps you discover new music.

Russell Perry, Jazz at 100 Now!


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