New Jazz Releases – 04/08/2024

Fay Victor

More great tunes – a Klezmer set from the New Orleans Klezmer All Stars, an Afro-Cuban set from David Schumacher, and deep funk from Ghost-Note.  Tributes to Herbie Nichols from Fay Victor, to Barry Harris from Charles McPherson, to Billie Holiday from Queen Esther, and to Charlie Parker from Ken Peplowski. Throw in some hard bop from Sean Fyfe and Altin Sencalar and more great playing from Fred Hersch and we have a lot of listening to do.

Fay Victor – Herbie Nichols Sung, Life Is Funny That Way (Tao Forms, released 04/05/2024).  Michaël Attias – alto saxophone / baritone saxophone, Anthony Coleman – piano, Ratzo Harris – bass, Tom Rainey – drums, Fay Victor – vocals.

Pianist Herbie Nichols recorded four Blue Note releases in 1955-1956 and one on Bethlehem in 1957, all five in a trio setting.  Since that time, he has become more than a little project for a group of musicians in Holland and New York.  Following on the recent Ben Allison – Steve Cardenas – Ted Nash disc (Tell the Birds I Said Hello: The Music of Herbie Nichols previewed 02/12/2024), vocalist Fay Victor has recorded a series of Nichols originals (three not recorded by Nichols, the others from the Blue Note discs) with the addition of her lyrics.  Famously, Billie Holiday’s Lady Sings The Blues was originally a Nichols tune (Serenade) prior to the addition of Holiday’s lyrics. To my knowledge, Victor is the first to write lyrics for Nichols’s work since then.  The band is a collection of New York avant players, whose deep study of Nichols makes this a labor of love.  Martin Johnson wrote on Wall Street Journal (unfortunately behind the paywall), “Life Is Funny That Way offers a rich portrait of Nichols, and it highlights the contemporary aspects of his music. Ms. Victor’s versatile band includes saxophonist Michaël Attias, pianist Anthony Coleman, bassist Ratzo Harris and drummer Tom Rainey. Their range is a good fit, and her vocals embrace straightforward singing, scat, vocalese and poetic recitation; it’s a style that enables her to explore deeper meanings in songs and broaden their cultural connections. Her influences include both classic jazz singers like Betty Carter and late 20th-century innovators like Jeanne Lee.”  Challenging, in parts, but deeply satisfying.

Jasper Høiby & 3Elements – Like Water(Edition Records, releases 05/31/2024).  Chaerin Im – piano, Jasper Høiby – double bass, Jamie Peet – drums.

Danish-born, London-based bassist Jasper Høiby has released the debut of his new trio 3Elements, five years after the last release with his long-term trio Phronesis.  Høiby’s dominant bass is well-complemented by the drumming of Jamie Peet and the rhythmic playing of Chaerin Im.

Charles McPherson – Reverence (Smoke Session Records, releases 04/26/2024). Terell Stafford – trumpet, Charles McPherson – alto saxophone, Jeb Patton – piano, David Wong – bass, Billy Drummond – drums.

Smoke Sessions Records is celebrating their 10th Anniversary and the 25th Anniversary of the iconic Smoke Jazz Club in New York with a series of live releases, starting with this one from bebop alto sax giant Charles McPherson.  And what a band he brings to the session, trumpeter Terell Stafford, pianist Jeb Patton, bassist David Wong, and drummer Billy Drummond – veterans of McPherson’s 2020 effort Jazz Dance Suites.  Dedicated to pianist Barry Harris – a mentor, friend and fellow player from Detroit – the set closes with the McPherson original Ode To Barry, with room for everyone to stretch out.  Thierry De Clemensat wrote on Paris Move, “There’s no need to try to classify this album from this 84-year-old who evidently still has a remarkable vitality that commands respect and demands attentive listening. If you love jazz, this album is already a legend even before its release.”  It is wonderful that McPherson is still recording!  Highly recommended.

Ghost-Note – Mustard n’ Onions (Artistry Music, releases 04/19/2024).  Danny Wytanis – trombone,  Jonathan Mones – alto saxophone / flute, Sylvester “Sly5thave” Onyejiaka – baritone saxophone / tenor saxophone, Mike Jelani Brooks – tenor saxophone, Dominique Xavier Taplin – keyboards, Vaughn “VKeys” Henry – keyboards, Peter Knudsen – guitar, Carlos Roberto Gándara García – violin I, Israel Torres Araiza – violin II, Anna Arnal Ferrer – viola, Salomón Guerrero Alarcón – cello, MonoNeon – bass / rhythm guitar, Robert Sput Searight – drums / keys, Nate Werth – percussion.

Led by Snarky Puppy’s drummer / bandleader Robert Sput Searight and percussionist Nate Werth, Ghost-Note is a funk band of substance with one foot firmly planted in James Brown’s JB playbook and the other in EWF.  Thierry De Celmensat wrote on Paris Move, “Of course, the drum parts are absolutely sublime, and the brass arrangements could make Earth, Wind & Fire pale in comparison. With sixteen original compositions, perfectly arranged, one can easily imagine the stage performance, and it is probably one of the most beautiful funk albums I have had in my hands in recent years. Thus, we find the very foundations of what funk music is, which, in my view, is often as complex as jazz but also more accessible due to its rhythms and more popular and less hermetic codes.”  Get Down!

Fred Hersch – Silent, Listening (ECM, releases 04/19/2024).  Fred Hersch – piano.

Pianist Fred Hesch has such legendary chops and each release is of such high quality that one can begin to take his artistry for granted.  Please don’t.  From time to time, Hersch will release a solo endeavor such as this and we get a full dose of his spectacular dynamic range and deft touch.  Mike Jurkovic wrote on AllAboutJazz, “Quite possibly at the height of his instinct and wit, Silent, Listening finds Hersch, his formidable improvisational powers sharply honed, imbuing his seven pitch-perfect originals with an artisan’s hope for interaction. Each phrase breaking like a soft wave; its ripple felt far and wide. Immediate, visceral, yet strangely, comfortingly ethereal. Haiku-like in so many ways, Silent, Listening brings Hersch’s singular conceit, the insistence that the stated melody be at the heart of his calligraphic touch, to the dazzling fore.”  This is Hirsch’s thirteenth solo effort and a fine addition to his incredible catalog.

David Schumacher & Cubeye – Smoke In The Sky (Cellar Music Group, releases 04/12/2024).  Josh Evans – trumpet, Jesus Ricardo – trumpet, Peter Brainin – tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, Dave Schumacher – baritone saxophone, Manuel Valera – piano, Alex “Apolo” Ayala – bass, Mauricio Herrera – congas / iyá / itótele / okónkolo /chekeré, Joel Mateo –  drums / bells.

Chicago-born, New York-based baritone player David Schumacher (Tom Harrell) has released a tasty Afro-Cuban set with fiercely talented pianist Manuel Valera (Vessel previewed 07/10/2023), both of who stretch out on an extended take on McCoy Tuner’s Walk Sprit Talk SpiritTomas Pena wrote on Jazz DeLaPena, “Schumacher has revealed that two of the biggest influences on Cubeye’s musical concept are Jerry Gonzalez & The Fort Apache Band and Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. He remembers accompanying the latter’s big band to Japan in 1987 to perform at the Mt. Fuji Jazz Festival as one of the greatest highlights of his career. The impact of those iconic bands on the group is evident right from the start of Smoke In The Sky, with blasting horns hitting hard in the Messenger tradition on top of pulsating percussion that hearkens to Fort Apache’s relentless rhythmatism.”  It’s a great band all around, with an infectious beat.  Try to keep your toes from tapping while this one plays! 

New Orleans Klezmer All Stars – Tipish (Self Produced, releases 04/23/2024).  Ben Ellman – saxophone, Aurora Neeland – saxophone, Dan Oestreicher – saxophone, Nick Ellman – clarinet, Glenn Hartman – accordion, Jonathan Freilich – guitar, Joe Cabral – bass, Doug Garrison – drums.

Although they have been around for almost thirty years, this is my first voyage with the New Orleans Klezmer All Stars.  And All Stars of the NOLA scene they are: Ben Ellman (Galactic), Aurora Nealand (Royal Roses, The Monocle) and Dan Oestreicher (Trombone Shorty) on saxophones, Nick Ellman (Naughty Professor) on clarinet, Joe Cabral on bass, Doug Garrison on drums (The Iguanas), along with co-founders, accordionist Glenn Hartman (Alex MacMurray Band, Lulu and the Broadsides) and guitarist/composer Jonathan Freilich (Washboard Chaz Blues Trio, Naked Orchestra, James Singleton’s Malabar).  Definitely Klezmer and definitely New Orleans, quite a hybrid.

Queen Esther – Things Are Looking Up (QE Works, releases 04/09/2024).  Jeremy Bacon – piano, Jeff McLaughlin – electric guitar, Thomson Kneeland – bass, Hilliard Greene – double bass, Shawn Balthazor – drums, Warren Smith – drums, Queen Esther – vocals.

Vocalist Queen Esther paid her dues with Blood Ulmer’s band Odyssey and has recently been heard with The Hot Toddies Jazz Band (their eponymous release was previewed 08/07/2023) – a lot of range there.  Now she has a released a tribute to Billie Holiday to combat a continuing narrative that casts Lady Day as a victim, including several less well-known tunes, Having Myself A Time, Detour Ahead, Glad To Be Unhappy, I’ll Look Around, Big Stuff (written by Leonard Bernstein) and If The Moon Turns Green. Thierry De Clemensat wrote on Paris Move, “This intensity is likely what sets this album apart; either you’ll embrace it, or you’ll reject it, as one cannot remain indifferent. There’s a heartfelt cry in this artist that cannot leave us unmoved. Being an actress as well, she evidently has a knack for offering such masterful interpretations. While the overall ambiance may sound somewhat retro, the interpretation is very contemporary. Queen Esther uses her Southern roots [low-country SC] as a starting point to explore cultural norms in America, deconstructing well-worn historical narratives while creating a sound landscape focused on reappropriation.”  Give this a try.

Altin Sencalar – Discover The Present (Posi-Tone Records PR 8255, released 04/05/2024).  Anthony Hervey – trumpet, Altin Sencalar – trombone, Markus Howell – alto saxophone / soprano saxophone, Diego Rivera – tenor saxophone, Michael Dease – baritone saxophone, Art Hirahara – piano, Raul Reyes Bueno – bass, Rudy Royston – drums, Pete Rodriguez – congas / percussion.

Virtuosic trombonist Altin Sencalar has joined forces with eight mostly Posi-Tone Records regulars (trumpeter Anthony Hervey is a wonderful addition) for another swinging mainstream release.  Jim Hynes wrote on Making A Scene, “Sencalar taps into bebop on It’s Easy, rendered as a quintet piece, Sencalar trading lines with his mentor [Michael] Dease on baritone sax. Staying close to bebop trappings, though with a much slower, easy gliding tempo, Sencalar sources Tadd Dameron’s Lady Bird as a contrafact for More Than One Answer, with richer harmonies brightened by Howell on alto and Rivera on tenor. This, as much as any tune on the album, attests to the leader’s lyrical command of an instrument where melody is often subservient to harmony.”  As expected a couple of fiery latin numbers are included, Nuevo Dio  and Pocket Clave.  Another winner from Sencalar.

Kandace Springs – Run Your Race (SRP Records, released 04/05/2024).  Elena Pinderhighes – flute, Kandace Springs – piano / Fender Rhodes / vocals, Carl Sturgeon – guitar, Bob Palmieri – guitar, Theo Griffin – cello / backing vocals, Calen Bryant – bass / cello / backing vocals, Camille Gainer – drums, Jeannette Williams – cajon, Cindy Mizelle – backing vocals, Christie Moran – backing vocals.

Pianist / vocalist Kandace Springs has recorded a set of gentle and emotional jazz-adjacent selections mostly of her composition and dedicated to her late father, Nashville singer Scat Springs.

Ken Peplowski – Unheard Bird (Arbors Records, released 04/05/2024).  Ken Peplowski – clarinet / tenor saxophone, Terell Stafford – trumpet, Glenn Zaleski – piano, Peter Washington – bass, Willie Jones III – drums with Keve Wilson – oboe, Rose Elizabeth Steiner – harp, Kow Xiu Yi – 1st violin, concertmaster, Tia Allen – 2nd violin, Yoonjung Hwang – 3rd violin, Kayla Williams – viola, Robin Park – 2nd violin, Yoonjung Hwang – 3rd violin, Kayla Williams – viola, Robin Park – cello.

Charlie Parker loved his two Charlie Parker With Strings (1949 & 1950) releases which were hugely popular despite ambivalent critical response at the time.  He apparently commissioned additional arrangements for follow up recordings which were never made. In addition to standards like Gone With The Wind arranged by John Lewis, the set included Gerry Mulligan’s Gold Rush and George Russell’s Ezz-Thetic, both arranged by the composerHere the exhumed arrangements are brought forward by one of the most wide-ranging reed players around Ken Peplowski (Diego Figueiredo, David Larsen, Dick Hyman, Allen Lowe) from a jazz quintet plus oboe, French horn and strings.  In departures from the Charlie Parker Quartet model, these tracks feature Peplowski on tenor and clarinet (as opposed to alto) and feature another player in the front line – the terrific Terell Stafford on trumpet.  Arguably, the Bird recordings are the first of the sometimes maligned “…With Strings” recordings of Jazz soloists (Clifford Brown, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Pepper, Cannonball Adderley, Eric Alexander, Jeremy Pelt etc., etc.).  This is a release with a stimulating premise and represents a successful addition to this sub-genre.

Sean Fyfe – Stepping Stones (Cellar Music Group, released 03/29/2024).  Dave O’Higgins – tenor saxophone, Sean Fyfe – piano, Luke Fowler – bass, Matt Fishwick – drums.

London-based Canadian pianist Sean Fyfe seems to channel both McCoy Tyler and Bobby Timons (!) on the opening track (See Ya!) of this delightful set.  In fact there is a full-throated hard bop vibe throughout this quartet set, supported nicely by tenor player Dave O’Higgins.

Larry Goldings / John Sneider – Chinwag (Sticky Mack Records, released 01/07/2024).  John Sneider – trumpet, Larry Goldings – piano / Hammond organ / celeste / harmonium.  

Old friends and intermittent bandmates keyboardist Larry Goldings (Gerry Gibbs, John Scofield) and trumpeter John Sneider (Sneid Remarks previewed 10/30/2023) collaborated on Sneider’s 2020 date The Scrapper and have been looking forward to the chance to document a duo set.  Most of the tunes are played on an antique upright piano which gives a very vintage sound to the proceedings.  Stephen Graham wrote on Marlbank, “Best tracks, oh easily the treatment of classic Stephen Foster song Beautiful Dreamer that has a very old feel to it… Goldings is… so lyrical when he solos. And Sneider is just the right side of grandiose when he begins to do some flourishes later in his improvisation on that song that Bill Frisell has done so much to popularise all over again in recent years. Also a high point, the poignant heartbreaking [Golding-penned] ballad Diary of a Lost Girl is a must.”  Nine of the sixteen selections are by either leader (or both) and the rest track classic material from Monk, Eubie Blake, WC Handy, and Rodgers and Hammerstein.

OK, time to get started, feast your ears

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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