New Jazz Releases – 04/24/2023

Arturo O’Farrill

Once again this week, we have new releases from familiar artists and new faces, at least to me.      Among old favorites, the Jazz Detective label has unearthed two unreleased radio transcripts from a very productive late 70s period for Chet Baker, Arturo O’Farrill is back, but this time in an unfamiliar role – leading a piano trio and Charlie Ballentine brings us another very strong outing.  Among the less familiar, Norfolk’s Jae Sinnett and UK’s Jazz Defenders have strong releases that show the continued vitality of mainstream Hard Bop.

Arturo O’Farrill – Legacies (Blue Note, 04/2023).  Arturo O’Farrill – piano, Liany Mateo – bass, Zack O’Farrill – drums.

One would be forgiven to think of composer / arranger / bandleader Arturo O’Farrill exclusively as an icon of Latin Jazz and, in fact, his Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra has been a major voice in this music for the past twenty years, ever since he succeeded his father composer Chico O’Farrill as its leader.  But Arturo O’Farrill’s roots are as a jazz pianist and this disc gives us a chance to hear that side of his passion in solo piano and piano trio settings with Liany Mateo on bass and his son Zack on drums (don’t forget his other son Adam, whose is creating a powerful career as an original trumpet player over at Biophilia Records.). The set list includes Herbie Hancock’s Dolphin’s Dance, Monk’s Well You Needn’t and Chico O’Farril’s Pure Emotion and other well-known modern jazz standards.  As the maestro says, “I have always been a jazz pianist first, and all that other stuff afterwards.”

Cecilia Smith & Mary Lou Williams Resurgence Project – Volume 1: Small Ensemble Repertoire (Innova Recordings, 05/2023). Cecelia Smith – vibraphone, Lafayette Harris, Jr. – piano / organ, Carlton Holmes – piano / organ, Kenny Davis – bass, Ron Savage – drums, Carla Cook – vocals., Sheila Anderson – vocals.

Cecilia Smith debuted the Mary Lou Williams Resurgence Project in 2005 at the Kennedy Center’s Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival.  Finally, the first, of what are hoped to be several recordings, has been released, this one featuring a small ensemble – primarily a vibraphone – piano – bass – drums quartet.  The opener, Smith’s Sketch 1 – Truth Be Told For MLW is a standout incorporating several themes by Williams including the riff from the shout chorus of Walkin’ and Swingin’ that anchors Thelonious Monk’s Rhythm-a-ning.  Pianist Lafayette Harris is a long-term collaborator with Smith and their duet on Body and Soul, a tune often included on Williams’s setlist, is a treat.

Bruno Råberg – Look Inside (Orbis Music, 05/2023).  Bruno Råberg solo bass.

Admittedly, solo bass recordings are a matter of taste and not for everyone. Bruno Råberg, a player who is new to me, has released one that is tasteful and elegant.  While this is challenging music, I particularly enjoyed his work on a couple of standards – Ellington’s Prelude To A Kiss and Gershwin’s My Man’s Gone Now.

Amaury Faye Ensemble – Arise {suite} (Hypnote Records, 05/2023).  Julian Lee – tenor saxophone, Amaury Faye – piano, Audrey Dupont – violin, Aurelie Fauthous – violin, Carlos Vizcaino Gijon – viola, Nabi Cabestany – cello, Louis Navarro – bass, Theo Lanau – drums.

French pianist Amaury Faye has several discs out in duo, trio and solo settings, now he has released this ambitious project with his trio plus a string quartet and American saxophonist Julian Lee.  Yes, this is the same Julian Lee whose work was so well regarded on Isaiah J. Thomas’s recent project, The Power Of The Spirit (reviewed 3/20/2023) and he continues to impress. A suite composed by Faye, Arise is an ode to the mountains, an homage to his alpinist grandfathers.

Brandon Seabrook’s Epic Proportions – brutalovechamp (Pyroclastic, 05/2023).  John McCowen – clarinets / recorders, Brandon Seabrook – guitar / banjo, Marika Hughes – cello, Elvind Opsvik – bass, Henry Frasier – bass, Sam Ospovat – drums / vibraphone / percussion, Chuck Bettis – electronics / vocals, Nava Dunkelman – percussion / vocals.

Banjoist / guitarist Seabrook  has recorded in many different settings – some more confrontational than others.  Occasionally his work is described as “speed metal-banjo.”  While much of his work is very free and he is known as a compelling improviser, this release consists of through-composed work, but it is no less challenging.

Jason Keiser – Shaw’s Groove (OA2 Records, 04/2023). Erik Jekabson – trumpet / flugelhorn, Aaron Lington – baritone saxophone, Jason Keiser – guitar, John Stowell – guitar, Dan Robbins – bass, Jason Lewis – drums.

Guitarist Jason Keiser has assembled an unusual mix of players for his tribute to Woody Shaw, often described as the last great innovator on the jazz trumpet:  trumpet – baritone sax – two guitars – bass – drums.  Keiser, from San Jose, has brought in a quartet of Bay Area players including Erik Jekabsen (Throttle Elevator Music, Electric Squeezebox Orchestra, most recently Taj Mahal) to fill the requisite trumpet chair, plus New York guitarist and Origin Records artist, John Stowell.  Jekabsen and baritone saxophonist Lington, in the uncommon trumpet plus baritone front line, complement each other beautifully and the dual guitars open up a myriad of improvising opportunities.  Interestingly, Keiser is primarily known as a bluegrass guitarist and member of The New Acoustic Collective.

Chet Baker – Blue Room (Jazz Detective, 04/2023).  Chet Baker – trumpet, Phil Markowitz – piano, Frans Elsen – piano, Jean-Louis Rassinfosse – bass, Victor Kaihatu – bass, Charles Rice – drums. Eric Ineke – drums.

After finding a wide audience with Gerry Mulligan’s piano-less quartet in 1952, Chet Baker was a much-admired trumpet player and singer through the 50s.  Hamstrung by drug addiction, his work in the 60s became spotty and he dropped out of the music scene all together for a number of years.  In 1974, he staged a comeback and moved to Europe in 1977, where he recorded and played frequently until his death in 1988.  In the midst of this renaissance, in 1979, he recorded the two sets included in this release for Dutch radio.  On these dates, Baker was in great shape, playing with tremendous lyricism accompanied by two sympathetic piano trios.  His lovely version of Miles Davis’s Nardis is played at the strolling pace that characterizes much of his most melodic work.

Yelena Eckemoff – Lonely Man and His Fish (L & H Productions, 04/2023).  Masaru Koga – shakuhachi / flutes, Yelena Eckemoff – piano / Rhodes / vintage Ampli-celeste, Kirk Knuffke – cornet, Ben Street – bass, Eric Harland – drums. 

For a dozen years, pianist / composer Eckemoff has been conceiving and releasing thematic collections (Desert, Nocturnal Animals, Wildflowers, Colors) culminating in this instrumental exploration of a narrative involving a man and a fish.  The “voice” of the man is the incomparable Kirk Knuffke (Allison Miller, James Brandon Lewis, Michael Musillami, Allen Lowe) on cornet, while the fish is “voiced” by flutist Masaru Koga.  Following the story, as articulated in the liner notes, is not required to appreciate the beauty in the compositions and the excellent ensemble playing.

GoGo Penguin – Everything Is Going To Be OK (XXIM Records, 04/2023).  Chris Illingsworth – piano, Nick Blacka – bass, John Scott – drums.

Recorded during a period of personal loss and the introduction of new drummer John Scott, Everything Is Going To Be OK records an emotion period for the British trio.  As Paul Simpson writes in AllMusic, “The music retains the familiar sound they’ve been honing since their formation, featuring circular melodies and sophisticated drumming inspired by electronic dance music, but performed by a primarily acoustic jazz trio formation. However, there’s unmistakably a more melancholic, bittersweet feel to these songs … While working through the process of grief and healing, GoGo Penguin have created some of their most comforting and optimistic music.”

The Mexico City Experiment – The Mexico City Experiment (Ropeadope, 04/2023).  Germán Bringas – saxophones / mini-trumpet / hand drum, Erik Deutsch – keyboards, Todd Clouser – guitar / voice, Jeronimo Gonzalez – bass / jarana, Orestes Gomez – drums, Guadalupe Galvan – spoken word.

The latest in the “Experiment” series has Ropeadope Records documenting the new music scene in Mexico City.  It’s hard to say whether this is jazz music that is “rock adjacent” or the other way around.  Expect a heavy backbeat and lots of grinding guitars.

David Ake – Green Thumb (Posi-tone, 03/2023).  Tony Malaby – tenor sax, David Ake – piano, Boris Kozlov – bass, Rudy Royston – drums / percussion.

Green Thumb was recorded at the same session that resulted in the solo and duo (with bassist Kozlov) release Slingshot.  This time around, Posi-tone insider drummer Rudy Royston joins in as does avant-garde tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby.  The latter is the biggest surprise to me – I just don’t think of him playing so lyrically or with such tenderness.  Most likely I need to revisit his discography to see what I’ve been missing.  There is a lot of range in this disc from Ake’s rambunctious Street Food to the delicate reading of Jimmy Van Husen’s iconic ballad But Beautiful.  Spend some time with this one!

Jae Sinnett’s Zero To 60 Quartet Featuring Randy Brecker – Commitment (Self Produced, 03/2023).  Randy Brecker – trumpet / flugelhorn, Steve Wilson – alto saxophone / soprano saxophone, Allen Farnham – piano, Terry Burrell – bass, Jae Sinnett – drums.

Drummer, bandleader and composer Jae Sinnett is also a jazz producer and host at WHRV in Norfolk, VA.  Often heard in a quartet setting, this outing has Sinnett in a classic hard bop quintet with Randy Brecker on trumpet and flugelhorn and Steve Wilson (Christian McBride, Maria Schneider, Billy Childs, Michael Dease – all in the last four years!) on saxophones. This band cooks on ballads (Hoagy Charmichael’s Skylark), mid-tempo latin grooves (Claire Fischer’s Morning) and full-throttle hard bop (Sinnett’s Takin’ It There) all with fine solo work from the first-rate front line (and Allen Farnham on piano) and a propelling rhythm section.  Pick any tune, you cannot miss with this one.

London Brew – Various Artists (Concord Jazz, 03/2023).  Theon Cross – tuba, Nubya Garcia – tenor saxophone / flute, Shabaka Hutchings – saxophones / woodwinds, Nikolaj Torp Larsen – synthesizers / melodica, Nick Ramm – piano / synthesizers, Dave Okumu – guitar, Raven Bush – violin / electronics, Tom Herbert – bass, Dan See – drums / percussion, Tom Skinner – drums / percussion, Benji B – decks / sonic recycling.

London Brew features a dozen young London players, several becoming well-known in global jazz circles (Shabaka Hutchings, Nubya Garcia, Theon Cross, Tom Herbert, Tom Skinner.) Conceived as a reimagining – not a reinterpretation of the tunes themselves – of the album Bitches Brew (now 50 years old), the session consisted of three days of jamming and experimentation.  Tom Jurek at All Music writes, “London Brew is wonderfully eclectic, strange, and beautifully realized. In keeping with its inspiration source, it’s a vanguard electric jazz album, abundant in communication, immediacy, and imagination.”

Charlie Ballentine – Falling Grace (Self Produced, 12/2022).  Steven Jones – piano, Charlie Ballentine – guitar, Jesse Wittman – bass, Cassius Goes III – drums.

Well-known to Charlottesville jazz audiences and a recent visitor, Charlie Ballentine has released another terrific disc.  Robert Middleton at AllAboutJazz wrote, “The emotional range of this album is wide, deep, and honest. It’s hard to think of any other contemporary jazz guitar album that truly equals it. What Ballantine has accomplished can’t really be captured in words. It’s everything great music should be and as close to perfection as one could imagine. Falling Grace may be Ballantine’s Kind of Blue (Columbia, 1959) for the 21st Century. It flows, grooves, dances, and soars above the crowd.”  The two versions of McCoy Tyner’s Contemplation are masterful.

The Jazz Defenders – Scheming (ITI Records, 12/2019).  Nick Malcolm – trumpet, Nicholas Dover – saxophone, George Cooper – piano / Wurlitzer / organ / percussion, Will Harris – bass, Matt Brown – drums. 

Apparently this young UK-based band wanted to document their love for the classic Blue Note sound of Art Blakey, Horace Silvers, Hank Mobley and Lee Morgan and boy, did they!  Drifting from Hard Bop toward Soul Jazz, these are players with big ears and a deep appreciation for this sound.  I hear, with particular clarity, the Jazz Messengers of the Benny Golson, Lee Morgan, Bobby Timmons era (Moanin’) and who doesn’t want to hear more of that!  Hawkeye Jorge is particularly strong with solid soloing all round.  Keyboardist George Cooper switches to organ for She’’ll Come Around and the Soul Jazz sound comes on strong.  This release dates to 2019 although we are just now seeing it. I’m eager to see what these players have come up with in the mean time.  Love this.

Another week of strong new music.  I hope the notes help you discover something you love to hear.

Russell Perry, Jazz at 100 Now!


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