New Jazz Releases – 04/10/2023

Wayne Escoffery

Wayne Escoffery is out with another strong release as are Joel Harrison and Anthon Pirog, who are on their way to town on April 17.  Once again, I am reminded that there are so many amazing players recording today who are new to me.  This week’s examples include New Orleans tenor Brad Walker, New York alto Nick Green and Allentown, PA bass clarinet player Griffin Woodard.

Wayne Escoffery – Like Minds (Smoke Sessions, 04/2023).  Tom Harrell – trumpet, Wayne Escoffery – tenor saxophone, David Kikoski – piano, Mike Moreno – guitar, Ugonna Okegwo – bass, Mark Whitfield, Jr. – drums, Daniel Sadownick – percussion, Gregory Porter – vocals.

Recently, when reviewing Lizzie Thomas’ disc of duets, her vocal with tenor saxophonist Wayne Escoffery on Billy Strayhorn’s Lush Life stood out, in part for the big deep tenor sound.  Now Escoffery is out with his own release with his longstanding quartet … well almost.  His drummer Ralph Peterson died tragically at 58 in 2021 and has been ably replaced by his prize student Mark Whitfield, Jr.  Notably, the disc includes guest appearances from trumpeter Tom Harrell (in whose quintet Escoffery played for a decade) and his old friend vocalist Gregory Porter.  The leader kicks off his tune (music and lyrics) My Truth with a strong spiritual jazz vibe, Porter joins in preaching and the tune settles in for a beautifully expressive solo from Harrell, before Porter and Escoffery return to take it home – very satisfying.  This one could be an effective vehicle for any number of vocalists and we may hear it again.  On soprano, Escoffery captures the beauty in Song of Serenity by the late Ralph Peterson, Jr.  This collection has lots to offer.

Lauren Henderson – Conjuring (Brontosaurus, 04/2023).  Sean Mason – piano, John Chin – piano, Joel Ross – vibraphone, Gabe Schneider – guitar, Nick Tanner – guitar, Eric Wheeler – bass, Joe Dyson – drums, Lauren Henderson – vocals.

Possessing a warm and intimate contralto, Lauren Henderson tackles a program of songs about magic and mysticism, like its predecessor, La Bruja. Half originals and, given the topic, some predictable standards (Harold Arlen’s That Old Back Magic, Jule Styne’s It’s Magic), the disc is performed with a spare accompaniment from either a guitar quartet or a piano – vibraphone quintet.  Joel Ross’s vibraphone adds the appropriate tone of mystery to Henderson’s hushed delivery.

Brad Walker + Extended – Side By Side (Self Published, 04/2023).  Brad Walker – tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone / effects / voice / prayer bells, Oscar Rossignoli – piano / fender Rhodes, Matt Booth – bass, Brad Webb – drums.

Brad Walker is a celebrated tenor player in his home base of New Orleans whose reputation outside of NOLA is growing.  During the pandemic, he spent a lot of time playing with the piano trio Extended and when the time came to memorialize this relationship in a recording, they sound very integrated in a program of four originals plus Intermezzo Op. 117, No 2 by Brahms arranged by pianist Rossignoli.  Everyone contributed to the writing.  The gentle ballad by drummer Webb, Music for Dancers is particularly spacious and dreamy, but Walker’s three-part Ouroboros that finishes the set is the one that sticks with me, covering a lot of ground with room for everyone to excel and featuring a very spiritual stretch by Walker.

Nick Green – Green On The Scene (Cellar Music, 04/2023).  Joe Magnarelli – trumpet, Nick Green – alto saxophone, Jeb Patton – piano, Mike Darn – bass, Kenny Washington – drums.  

There are literally two sides to the Cellar Music Group – the Vancouver BC side where the label started and the New York City side to which they have expanded as they follow the talent. Nick Green’s debut recording fits into the latter category, featuring an NYC (mostly) first call lineup – Criss Cross-artist Joe Magnarelli (Mike LeDonne, Diego Rivera),  MAXJazz-artist Jeb Patton (Heath Brothers, Charles McPherson) and the ubiquitous drummer Kenny Washington.  Green was mentored by alto great Charles McPherson and studied under Barry Harris.  His bebop chops are unmistakable.  Green’s cover of McPherson’s Horizons has it all – terrific ensemble playing, driving rhythm section, and compelling solos by Green, Magnarelli and Patton.  Worth a listen.  He respectfully honors Bird with his take on Red Cross and All The Things You Are.

Mike Melito – To Swing Is The Thing (Cellar Music 04/2023).  Joe Magnarelli – trumpet / flugelhorn, Grant Stewart – tenor saxophone, Jeb Patton – piano, Neal Milner – bass, Mike Melito – drums.

Joe Magnarelli and Jeb Patton are back (see Green On The Scene above) – this time joining drummer Mike Melito’s quintet of New York based artists.  Melito, on faculty at the Eastman School of Music is a subtle, but driving leader from behind the kit.  Fellow Cellar Music artist Grant Stewart joins in on tenor and contributes his knotty composition Three for Carson. Magnarelli, like Molito from Rochester, NY, brings his lovely and tender bossa nova Blue Key to the date and anchors a sweet version on Monk’s Ruby My Dear, performed at a Monkian stroll.  Straight-ahead and full of terrific music.

Towner Galaher Organ Trio – Live (Rhythm Royale Records, 04/2023).  Lonnie Gasperini – Hammond b-3 organ, Marvin Horne – guitar, Towner Galaher- – drums.

Towner Galaher and his longstanding organ trio have released a high-octane set of standards and tributes to organ heroes like Dr. Lonnie Smith (Norleans), Jack McDuff (Hot Barbeque), Jimmy Smith (Mellow Mood) and Jimmy McGriff (One for McGriff).

Brendan Lanighan Octet – A Little Optimism (Tally Records, 03/2023).  Mark Filsinger – trumpet / flugelhorn, Brendan Lanighan – tenor trombone / bass trombone, Elliot Scozzaro – alto saxophone, CJ Ziarniak – tenor saxophone, Colin Gordon – baritone saxophone / alto saxophone / soprano saxophone, Nick Weiser – piano, Willa Finck – violin, Emiliano Lasansky – bass, Eric Metzger  – drums.

I love this size band – two brass, three reeds, three rhythm – perfect.  At this size, you can write unison heads for five voices, not the typical two in a quintet or three in a sextet.  The range of colors that can be elicited is a pleasure to hear.  Although these players are unknown to me, there is a high level of musicianship throughout (check out trumpeter Mark Filsinger on Noto-Rioty.). Rodgers and Hart’s Spring is Here is performed at a crawl, allowing Lanighan to explore many different ways of combining the front-line players, creating some amazing sounds.  Picking up the pace, the band segues into Rodgers and Hammerstein’s It Might As Well Be Spring, a vehicle for the leader to take a solo turn, to great effect.  Worth a listen.

Griffin Woodard Quartet – Precious One (Self Produced, 03/2023).  Griffin Woodard – bass clarinet, Cameron Campbell – piano, Miles Gilbert – bass, Hugh Kline – drums.

For Griffin Woodard’s sophomore release, he leads his quartet on four well known standards plus a new composition by drummer Hugh Kline.  This is a ballad set performed at a stately pace with room for Woodard and pianist Cameron Campbell to stretch out as the principal soloists.  Woodard has a soft and vulnerable tone on these ballads and breaths new life into some old chestnuts like In A Sentimental Mood. 

Clifford Lamb – Lamb Chops (Weber Works, 03/2023).  Clifford Lamb – piano, Edwin Livingston – bass, Henry Franklin – bass, Herlin Riley – drums, Carl Allen – drums.

Pianist Clifford Lamb’s previous five outings on WeberWorks have been mid-sized affairs featuring the leader primarily as a composer / arranger.  This release focuses on his piano playing in a traditional trio setting.  His selection of tunes is an homage to several of his primary influences – Daddy Mack for McCoy Tyler, Hydra for Herbie Hancock, You Must Believe in Spring for Bill Evans and Michel Legrand.  His solo version of Never Let Me Go is a tender and unusual reading.

Eric Krasno & Stanton Moore – Book of Queens (Concord Jazz, 03/2023).  Branford Marsalis – tenor saxophone, Eric Finland – organ, Cory Henry – keyboards, Robert Randolph – pedal steel guitar, Erik Krasno – guitar, Stanton Moore – drums.

Blues guitarist Eric Krasno (Soulive, Lettuce, Tedeschi Trucks Band) and New Orleans drummer Stanton Moore (Galactic) deliver a program of songs associated with some of their favorite female artists including Amy Winehouse, Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, Sharon Jones and more.

Nightcrawlers – Get Ready (Cellar Music 03/2023).  Nick Hempton – alto saxophone, Cory Weeds – tenor saxophone, Chris Gestrin – Hammond organ, Dave Sikula – guitar, Jesse Cahill – drums, Jack Duncan – percussion.

For their fifth release over a 16 year period, the Nightcrawlers have expanded the tenor – organ – guitar – drums quartet from their last outing by adding alto sax and percussion to make a sextet.  This is a return to form as their other offerings have had at least two saxophones in the front line.  To celebrate their tentative steps toward post-COVID normalcy, the band recorded this release live in a favorite nightclub.  The relaxed, mid-tempo Meat Wave is characteristic – swinging, strong solos, with a casual latin vibe.  It’s not a novel or norm-shattering formulae, but it is satisfying and comfortable mainstream jazz.

Joel Harrison & Anthon Pirog – The Great Mirage (AGS Recordings, 03/2023).  Joel Harrison – guitars, Anthony Pirog – guitars, Steve Crump – bass, Allison Miller – drums.

Mike Jurkovic wrote in AllAboutJazz, “The gritty, jammy sonics of the leadoff title track quickly convince the listener that avant guitarists Joel Harrison and Anthony Pirog are hellbent on getting it all out of their systems on The Great Mirage. Bassist Stephan Crump, who lays down his acoustic bass and goes electric, and daredevil drummer Allison Miller, who has absolutely no problem going from zero-to-eternity and cymbal splash to pure bash, sign on and hell breaks loose.”  But it’s not all Sturm und Drang – Jurkovic continues, “Harrison’s delicately mellifluous, Bill Frisell tinged There’s Never Enough Time and I’ll See You in the Shining World hold a quiet light, a slow fire that Miller hauntingly steadies and Crump keeps close to the vest.” The UVA Department of Music is presenting Harrison and Pirog (with bassist Matt Pavolka and Mike Kuhl on drums) in a CD Release Concert at Old Cabell Hall on April 17 at 8:00PM.

Griffin Woodard – Completion (Self Produced, 10/2022).  Coleman Rose – soprano saxophone / tenor saxophone, Griffin Woodard – bass clarinet and composition, Abe Gold – piano, Miles Gilbert – bass, Hugh Kline – drums, Deneen Jones – vocals, Georgia Heers – vocals.

Woodard’s most recent release Precious One caught my attention so I contacted the artist and he sent his first release that we must have missed toward the end of last year.  While the new disc has a quartet playing covers, this one has a sax with the bass clarinet in the front line of a quintet on most of the tunes in a program of ten originals plus an arrangement of Doxology (which I cannot recall hearing in a jazz context before … OK, once).  Three selections have very soulful vocals from Georgia Heers, but it is the combination of Woodard’s bass clarinet with Coleman Rose’s soprano on tunes like Camillus House and Bridget’s Song that are most interesting to me.  The soprano – bass clarinet sound is rich and full and these two players make the most of it in unison passages and counterpoint.  Coleman also plays beautifully on tenor on Route 1, supported by terrific work from pianist Abe Gold.

Another week of strong new music.  I hope it helps you discover something you love to hear.

Russell Perry, Jazz at 100 Now!


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