New Jazz Releases – 04/29/2024

Gregory Groover

Not much to report this week.  A strong disc from Gregory Groover, an unreleased live set from Ron Miles with Bill Frisell and a set Israeli – South African – American band Idit Shner with Mhondoro.  This week also brings a slew of releases from pianist / composers Yelena Eckemoff, Geoff Stradling, Chuck Owens, Andy Milne and Andy Erin.

Gregory Groover, Jr – Lovabye (Criss Cross, released 04/26/2024). Gregory Groover Jr. – tenor saxophone, Aaron Parks – piano, Joel Ross – vibraphone, Matthew Stevens – guitar, Vicente Archer – bass, Marcus Gilmore – drums.

This is Boston-based saxophonist  Gregory Groover, Jr’s debut on the storied Criss Cross label with a hand-picked selection of players with whom he has wanted to play.  Stephen Graham wrote on Marlbank, “Two years on from Groover’s Negro Spiritual Songbook, Vol. 2 (The Message) [previewed 03/20/2023], the very lush and at times romantic saxophonist whose sound connects with 1990s retro currents developed by the likes of Joshua Redman codified on Moodswing [1994] and revivified on the spirited message music of Long Gone [2020]. JD Allen, Melissa Aldana and Dayna Stephens are all in the vanguard of this New Melodicism as is Groover’s fellow saxist [and producer of this disc] Walter Smith III going back quite a bit and whose Return to Casual [previewed 04/03/2023] last year was tasty.”  Groover’s tenor is the star, but vibraphonist Joel Ross continues to impress with unison sax – vibes runs and moving soli on tunes like Bygone Towers and the title tune.  Highly Recommended.

Ron Miles – Old Main Chapel (Blue Note Records, releases 05/10/2024).  Ron Miles – cornet, Bill Frisell – guitar, Brian Blade – drums.

Trumpeter Ron Miles recorded just one record, his debut, for Blue Note before he passed from a rare blood disorder at 58 in 1922 and now Blue Note has come forward with this live set from 2011.  This set was recorded the day before the trio went into the studio to capture the 2012 release Quiver. Miles’s discography includes contributions to a half dozen releases by guitarist Bill Frisell and drummer Brian Blade is also a very frequent collaborator.  Both played on Miles’s last release, Rainbow Sign (2020).  This is gentle and subtle music performed by a trio of masters and recorded with great clarity.  Recommended.

Yelena Eckemoff – Romance of the Moon (L&H Production, releases 05/06/2024).  Paolo Fresu – trumpet / flugelhorn, Yelena Eckemoff – piano / keyboards, Riccardo Bertuzzi – electric guitar, Luca Bulgarelli – double bass, Stefano Bagnoli – drums.  

Russian-American pianist /composer has recorded a steady stream of releases in the past few years (Lonely Man and His Fish previewed 04/24/2023), this time with an Italian quartet featuring trumpeter Paolo Fresu and guitarist Riccardo Bertuzzi.  Christoph Giese wrote on Jazz Thing, “Early in her career, Moscow-born American pianist Yelena Eckemoff wrote music inspired by Federico García Lorca. Texts by the Spanish poet and playwright once again form the basis of their new album Romance Of The Moon. Eckemoff had it printed in English in the lavish booklet. Anyone who wants to can try to make connections between the poems and the sounds. But the album also works that way because trumpeter Paolo Fresu and guitarist Riccardo Bertuzzi feature two fantastic soloists and the rhythm duo Luca Bulgarelli (double bass) and Stefano Bagnoli (drums) perform very tastefully and sensitively. The classically trained Eckemoff once again combines her classically based piano technique with poetic sound images to create her own jazz language. Romance Of The Moon is another work worth listening to by the very productive pianist and composer.”

Benji Kaplan – Untold Stories (Self Produced, releases 05/01/2024).  Benji Kaplan – guitar.

Guitarist Benji Kaplan released a disc of standards in 2022 (Something Here Inside) and has now paired that with a set of originals.  The music tends towards ballads and mid-tempo explorations and Kaplan’s fluid playing makes for a lovely disc.

Idit Shner & Mhondoro – Ngatibatanei / Let Us Unite!(OA2 Records, releases 04/26/2024).  Idit Shner – alto saxophone / bass clarinet, Torrey Newhart – piano / keyboard, Garrett Baxter – bass, Ken Mastrogiovanni – drums, John Mambira – percussion / vocals, Ratie D – mbira / vocals.

Mhondoro is Israeli saxophonist Idit Shner, Zimbabwean vocalist and percussionist John Mambira, and the Oregon-bred rhythm section of pianist Torrey Newhart, bassist Garrett Baxter, and drummer Ken Mastrogiovanni.  Shner’s Coltrane-inspired alto sax is the dominant voice here and the rhythm section drives the sound in a set of originals from all five members of the core band.  Ngatibatanei by Mambira, Newhart, and Shner is a highlight with its strong South African drumming and masterful sax work.  A beautiful record.

Geoff Stradling And The StradBand – Nimble Digits (Origin Records, releases 04/26/2024).  Javier Gonzalez, Kye Palmer, Barbara Laronga, Matt Fronke, Stan Martin, Rob Schaer, Aaron Janik – trumpets / flugelhorns, Dave Richards, Erm Navarro, Lori Stuntz, Juliane Gralle, Ryan Dragon, Erik Hughes, Francisco Torres, Scott Whitfield – trombones, Alex Budman, Phil Feather, Kirsten Edkins, Tim McKay, Jeff Driskill, Dan Kaneyuki, Tom Luer, Glen Berger – woodwinds, Geoff Stradling, Bruce Lett, Cooper Appelt, Ross Schodek, Adam Alesi, Kristin Olson, Michael Spiro, Joey De Leon, Nate Werth – rhythm section. 

LA-based composer / arranger / keyboardist Geoff Stradling mostly lives in the world of TV and film, but has used StradBand – a big band of LA session players – as a workshop for his music.  Now, at long last, the ensemble sees its debut release.  Jack Bowers wrote on AllAboutJazz, “Yes, the album does swing—more than thirty of the L.A. area’s most accomplished musicians make sure of that—but if swing were all, the enterprise could easily be dismissed as repetitious and one-dimensional. What sets the session apart and makes it worth hearing and appreciating more than once are Stradling’s superlative charts, which span the gamut from blues to ballad, burners to Latin beats, and are never less than bright and pleasurable. Stradling… composed all but one song on Nimble Digits (the lovely Poinciana) and arranged everything… There are times when the description of an album is destined to fall short, as mere words are insufficient to accomplish the task. This is one of those times. To state that Nimble Digits is far and away the most impressive big-band album of the year is a good start but hardly enough; the proof is in the listening, which is why that is explicitly endorsed.”  Recommended.

Chuck Owens & Resurgence – Magic Light (Origin Records, releases 04/26/2024). James Suggs – trumpet, Tom Brantley – trombone, Tami Danielsson – alto saxophone, Jack Wilkins – saxophone, Chuck Owen – piano / keyboard / accordion / hammered dulcimer, Corey Christiansen – guitars, Sara Caswell – violin, Mark Neuenschwander – bass, Danny Gottlieb – drums, Matt Wilson, drums, Kate McGarry – vocals.

Stepping back from his big band Jazz Age, pianist / composer / arranger Chuck Owens has released a second set with his sextet Resurgence.  Fabulous singer Kate McGarry joins on five of the seven tunes, two of which also include three additional horns joining with saxophonist Jack Wilkins in the front line. McGarry’s contributions We Rise (with the larger front line) and Magic Light (with tasteful lines from violinist Sara Caswell) are among the highlights.

Andy Milne and Unison – Time Will Tell (Sunnyside Records, released 04/26/2024). Ingrid Laubrock – tenor saxophone, Andy Milne – piano, Yoko Reikano Kimura – koto, John Hébert – bass, Clarence Penn – drums.

Pianist Andy Milne’s half dozen discs as a member of Steve Coleman’s Five Elements were ground-breaking in the 90s.  Today, he has settled in to a trio with John Hébert on bass and Clarence Penn on drums (check out reMission from 2020).  The current disc has ten originals half by the trio and half with either Ingrid Laubrock on tenor or Yoko Reikano Kimura on koto (or both).  Filipe Freitas wrote on JazzTrail, “Beyond the Porcelain Door and Kumoi Joshi … include saxophone and koto, each offering distinct sonic journeys. The former shapes as a half-dreamy, half-realistic avant-garde procession with a bold rhythmic shift into septuple meter and a malleable bass solo, while the latter, evoking poignancy through the exoticism of sounds, exposes thoughtful saxophone considerations and piano lyricism over a firm lockstep before modulating the surroundings for a fine koto solo.”  Some lovely music here.

Andy Ezrin – I Was Here (Self Produced, released 04/22/2024).  Randy Brecker – trumpet, Donny McCaslin – tenor saxophone, Andy Ezrin – piano, John Patitucci – bass, Marcus Gilmore – drums, Ari Hoenig – drums.

Pianist Andy Erin is new to me, although I see four other releases in his discography dating back to 2001.  I’m already looking forward to the next one.  And what a band he has assembled!  Jack Bowers wrote on AllAboutJazz, “Saxophonist Donny McCaslin sits in on eight numbers, trumpeter Randy Brecker on two. John Patitucci is the bassist, Marcus Gilmore and Ari Hoenig the alternating drummers. While everyone plays well, this is clearly Ezrin’s date, and his versatile piano is the focal point on every number. He is comfortable in any mood and tempo, from ballad to burner, combining an elegant touch with singular awareness, and leads the way without being intrusive or overbearing… In sum, this is a bright and colorful session which pleases on a number of levels.”  A swinging affair worth a listen.

I hope there are some recordings here that please 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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