New Jazz Releases – 04/03/2023

Cécile McLorin Salvant

Cécile McLorin Salvant has released another strong set in her almost decade long string and she could contend for the Grammy again this year (if so, her 6th nomination).  Tenor player Walter Smith III has shown up on his third release so far this year, this time as the leader on Blue Note and its a winner.  Derrick Gardner, whose Pan Africa release early in the year was great, is back with the Canadian Jazz Collective.  Enjoy.

Cécile McLorin Salvant – Mélusine (Nonesuch, 03/2023).  Godwin Louis – alto saxophone / whistle / vocals, Aaron Diehl – piano, Sullivan Fortner – piano / synthesizer / celesta / kalimba, Daniel Swenberg – guitar, Luques Curtis – bass, Paul Sikivie – bass, Kyle Poole – drums, Lawrence Leathers – drums, Obed Calvaire – drums, Weedie Braimah – djembe / percussion, Cécile McLorin Salvant – vocals / synthesizers.

Boy, does this woman have a fabulous set of pipes!  Cécile McLorin Salvant’s latest release tells the story of the European folk tale of Mélusine about a woman whose childhood curse leads her to turn into a snake every Saturday.  As you might imagine, this complicates her life.  Salvant’s inner French chanson-singer emerges as her dominant voice through much of the disc (sung mostly in French), as she refuses to be hemmed in by the descriptor “jazz,” and there ends up being a lot of variety across the set list.  Highlights include Dites Moi Que Je Suis Belle in a dancing duet with djembe player Weedie Braimah and Fenestra with a light latin feel and double tracked vocals supported by Fortner, Curtis and Calvaire.  The closing track, writes Matt Collar on AllMusic is “an Afro-Latin take on 12th century troubadour Almuc Castelnau’s Dame Iseut that Salvant sings in both Occitan [a medieval language from Languedoc]. and Haitian Creole, languages that underline her own rich dual heritage.”  Salvant was nominated for the Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Album in 2014, 2016, 2018, 2019 and 2023, winning three times.  This is could be next and is likely to be a lasting highlight of her discography.

Steve Smith & Vital Information – Time Flies (Wounded Bird Records, 05/2023).  George Gordon – tenor saxophone, Manuel Valera – piano /keyboards, Janek Gwizdala – bass, Steve Smith – drums.

Steve Smith was the drummer for the rock band Journey at several points, including during its most successful period in the late 70s and early 80s. A Berklee grad, he has led the jazz band Vital Information for 40 years and has put together a new version with pianist Manuel Valera (New Cuban Express Big Band, Danis Prieto) and bassist Janek Gwizdala to mark the anniversary.  Manuel Valera is smoking on this disc knocking out memorable versions of standards like Bud Powell’s Tempus Fugue-it and Jimmy Van Heusen’s Darn That Dream.  Tenor saxophonist George Gorzone is a high-energy addition on several tunes with McCoy Tyner’s Inception a highlight. Steve Smith is a very active drummer, perhaps a bit short on nuance and very forward in the mix.

Nick Finzer – Dreams, Visions and Illusions (Outside In Music, 04/2023).  Nick Finzer – trombone, Lucas Pino – tenor saxophone / bass clarinet, Alex Wintz – guitar, Glenn Zaleski – piano, Dave Baron – bass, Jimmy MacBride – drums.

Nick Finzer has been leading his sextet “Hear & Now” for over a decade, releasing eight discs including the latest.  According to the album’s Bandcamp page, “The new album is the result of a Chamber Music America “New Jazz Works” grant received by the ensemble in 2020. The album set out to explore the role of the muse in a creative life. The ups and the downs, a sense of searching for the unknown, and navigating a world in which the future is so often veiled and confusing.”  Among the highlights are Waking Up an emotional lilting tune with lovely solos by Lucas Pino on bass clarinet and Finzer on trombone, and the optimistic finale, Now, Then and When.

Vinny Golia – Max Johnson – Weasel Walter – No Refunds (Unbroken Sounds, 04/2023).  Vinnie Golia – clarinet / saxello / soprano saxophone / baritone saxophone, Max Johnson – bass, Weasel Walter – drums.

These three veterans of the avant-garde have come together to record fifty-one minutes of fully improvised music.  The tone is mostly frantic, although is does verge on introspective, even tender, but only when drummer Weasel Walter sits out, as on the beginning and end of The Clarinet.

Walter Smith III – Return To Casual (Blue Note, 04/2023).  Walter Smith III – tenor saxophone, Taylor Eigsti – piano, Matt Stevens – guitar, Harish Raghavan – bass, Kendrick Scott – drums.

Walter Smith III, who has recorded on tenor with trumpeters Ambrose Akinmusire, Terence Blanchard, and Christian aTunde Adjuah is having a flash of exposure.  Return to Casual is the third release on which he has appeared already this year following two terrific (recently reviewed) records – Kendrick Scott’s Corridor and Anthony Branker’s What Place Can Be For Us?  This release is his first as a leader in 14 years and he has reassembled the players from the last disc including an appearance by Akinmusire, whose presence on River Styx supports one of the strongest tunes in the set. Listen for pianist Taylor Eigsti who has a productive outing bringing flashes of McCoy Tyler to the procedings, especially on quiet song.  Throughout, Smith brings a super-clean attack and handsome tone to this fine record.

John Pizzarelli – Stage & Screen (Palmetto, 4/2023).  Isaiah J. Thompson – piano, John Pizzarelli-guitar / vocals, Mike Karn – bass.

To commemorate the 40th anniversary of his debut recording, guitarist and vocalist John Pizzarelli brings his Nat King Cole-styled trio (piano – guitar – bass) to a program of songs from Broadway and Hollywood.  As always, Pizarelli’s vocal presentation includes him scatting while “doubling” single string runs on guitar, at which he is a master.  Isaiah J. Thompson is a strong presence on the piano, but if you want to really hear him, listen to his (recently reviewed) 2023 release The Power of The Spirit.

Taiko Saito – Tears of a Cloud (Trouble in the East Records, 04/2023). Taiko Saito – vibraphone / marimba.

Taiko Saito teamed with piano legend Satoko Fuji in 2021 as the duo Futari on two releases – Beyond and Underground – and now is out with a solo disc of improvised music for vibraphone and marimba.  She presents her musical ideas with a lot of space giving a sense of spiritual questing.

M.E.B. – That You Not Dare To Forget (Legacy, 04/2023).  Miles Davis – trumpet / vocals, Jeremy Pelt – trumpet, Walter White – trumpet, Joe Romano – trumpet, Dan Levine – trombone, Emilio Modeste – tenor saxophone / soprano saxophone, Antoine Roney – tenor saxophone, Dave “Doc” Watson – tenor saxophone / baritone saxophone, Donald Harrision, Jr. – alto saxophone, Lenny White – synthesizers / drums, Jon Dryden – synthesizer, Bernard White – keyboards / synthesizer / piano, John Scofield – guitar, Quinto Zoto – guitar, Salaam Remi – guitar / drums, Olu Dara – guitar / vocals / harmonica / trumpet, Vincent Henry – guitar / strings / baritone saxophone / harmonica, Vernon Reid – guitar, Ron Carter – bass, Marcus Miller – bass, Stanley Clarke – bass, Vince Wilburn, Jr. – drums, Pedrito Martinez – percussion, DJ Arkitek – scratches, Blu / Nas – rap.

M.E.B. (formerly Miles Electric Band) is an assembly of many well-known players, convened to create new pieces to complement Miles’s electric legacy.  Two pieces actually build from recently discovered unreleased trumpet passages from Miles.  The familiar beat-heavy funk might have been really groovy in the early 80s, but it sounds like a throwback today.  If you haven’t heard enough slap-bass recently, give this a listen.

Tom Collier – Boomer Vibes, Volume 1 (Summit Records, 03/2023).  Tom Collier – vibraphone / marimba / piano / organ / xylophone / synth bass / drums with Eddie “Pick” McCord – guitar, Ed Kraft – bass.

As he nears the end of a prolific career as a studio musician, vibes and marimba player Tom Collier has multitracked a set of “boomer” pop songs with jazz arrangements.

Marina Pacowski – Inner Urge (Summit Records, 03/2023).  Carl Saunders – trumpet, Nolan Shaheed – flugelhorn, Scott Whitfiled – trombone, Joel Frahm – tenor Saxophone, John Nelson – piano, Mark Massey – piano, Bevan Manson – piano, Jon Mayer-piano, Brent Fischer – vibraphone, Larry Koonse – guitar, John Clayton – bass, Mike Gurrola- bass, Roy McCurdy – drums, Peter Erskine – drums, Marina Pacowski – vocals.

French classical pianist Marina Pacowski developed a passion for jazz singing and moved to LA to pursue her dream.  Kicking off her debut release, she jumps right in, scatting on Joe Henderson’s Inner Urge, accompanied by a trio of fine LA players plus New York’s Joel Frahm on tenor.  On AllMusic, Matt Collar writes, “Vocally, Pacowski has a light touch, favoring a soft, unaffected tone reminiscent of stylists like Chet Baker, Helen Merrill, or Astrid Gilberto … This is straight-ahead acoustic jazz, reminiscent of the lyrical West Coast style of the 1950s and early ’60s, done in a brightly swinging style.”  This airy low-vibrato attack serves her well on the selections with smaller ensembles, like My Foolish Heart in duet with pianist Jon Mayer and La Vie En Rose in a trio with Noland Shaheed on fluegelhorn and Mark Massey on piano.  She shows her deep musicality in scatting fiercely on Donna Lee and Taking a Chance on Love.

Grant Gordy Quartet – Peripheral Visions (Self Produced, 03/2023).  Gary Gordy-g, Alex Hargreaves-vln, Dominick Leslie-man, Aidan O’Donnel-b.

A veteran of ensembles with David Grisman and Darol Anger, Gordy is a bit off radar in the jazz-o-sphere.  For example, while the new release has not yet been reviewed on any of the familiar Jazz sites, Bluegrass Unlimited has covered it generously. Gordy said, from an interview in Atwood Magazine, “While I was doing a lot of the writing for this record, I was deeply enamored with Rainbow Sign, the last album by composer/trumpeter/cornetist Ron Miles, who tragically left this world in the winter of 2022 … The compositions, the ensemble playing, the patience in the music, the catchiness, while at the same time being so deep – it holds up to endless listens.”  In most (of the few) examples of recent jazz produced by string ensembles, the sound is very much a revival “gypsy jazz” sound.  That’s not what this is.  Instead this is very new and improvisational as will be reinforced on your first listen to the lead tune Bridge and Tunnel with its complex rhythms and deep swing. To Ron recalls Bill Frissell at his most tender.

Wayne Alpern – Saxology (Henri Elkan Music, 03/2023).  New York Saxophone Quartet:  Steve Kenyon – soprano saxophone, Todd Groves – alto saxophone, Dave Noland – tenor saxophone, John Winder – baritone saxophone. Wayne Alpern – arranger.

Wayne Alpern is a composer often discussed in the company of minimalist Philip Glass and Steve Reich.  He is also an arranger who has explored many pop and jazz themes in the past.  In this release, Alpern has arranged a program of (mostly) jazz standards for the New York Saxophone Quartet.  The resulting charts, which are well played, are complex and rich, but the whole affair is a bit stiff for my taste.

Canadian Jazz Collective – Septology – The Black Forest Sessions (HGBS Blue Records, 03/2023).  Derrick Gardner – trumpet /flugelhorn, Kirk MacDonald – tenor saxophone, Virginia MacDonald – clarinet, Brian Dickenson – piano, Lorne Lofsky – guitar, Neil Swainson – bass, Bernd Reiter – drums.

This is the debut recording of an ensemble of top-flight jazz musicians from Canada.  These artists are the real deal – clarinetist Virginia MacDonald just appeared on Michael Dease’s The Other Shoe and trumpeter Derrick Gardener on Pan Africa, his 2023 release with the Jazz Prophets (both recently reviewed).  Bassist Neil Swainson’s work in the 80’s included two releases with Woody Shaw and his excellent release 49th Parallel with Joe Henderson.  Lorne Lofsky was the final guitarist in Oscar Peterson’s quartet in the 90s.  The set moves from one strong tune to the next, all the compositions of band members Gardner, Lofsky or Kirk MacDonald.  One of MacDonald’s contributions, Silent Voices, a lament for those no longer with us, features the interplay of his tenor with the clarinet of his daughter Virginia and a memorable solo from Swainson.  Kirk MacDonald’s tune Shadows includes some of the most beautiful ensemble passages on the disc and Gardner’s Terre De DuSable is an uptempo romp with room for all the players to show their stuff.

Rick Thompson – Who Do You Have To Know? (Origin, 03/2023).  Bobby Floyd – organ/ piano, Corey Christiansen – guitar, Peter Chwazik – bass, Rich Thompson – drums.

On the jazz faculty of the Eastman School of Music, Rick Thompson has been recording for Origin Records for the past decade.  He leads a swinging organ – guitar – bass – drum quartet in a program of originals and standards such as What a Wonderful World – an interesting arrangement, Wave, and A Flower is a Lovesome Thing.

Max Johnson – Hermit Music (Unbroken Sounds, 09/2022).  Max Johnson – bass.

Johnson recorded this set reflecting the dark emotional places in which he found himself during the pandemic.  While he heard from colleagues for whom the break from the routine afforded time for reflection and increased productivity, Johnson wrestled with his emotions and says, “this music symbolizes my struggle with self, reality, purpose, and mental health.” John Garrett wrote in PopMatters, “Jazz bassist Max Johnson’s Hermit Music could be the soundtrack of Charles Mingus’ mid-1960s mental breakdown in a good way.”  This music is freely improvised by a creative artist who wears his heart on his sleeve – deeply emotional (Glass Lungs), restless (Haystacks) and both exhilarating and agonizing (Woodmere).

Jeff Richmond – XYZ (Nefer Music, 03/2023).  Jeff Beal – trumpet, George Whitty – piano, Olmaro Ruiz – piano, Scott Kinsey – keyboards, Mitchell Forman – keyboards, Jeff Richman – guitar, Jimmy Haslip – bass, Vinnie Colaiuta – drums.

Richmond’s Bandcamp page proudly tells how nearly 50 years in he is still finding more to say in the language of fusion.

So much great music.  I hope this helps you connect with some.

Rus Perry, Jazz at 100 Now!


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