New Jazz Releases – 05/27/2024

Zaccai Curtis

Some music from the Latin side from Zaccai Curtis and Oscar Hernandez this week, along with a handful of beautiful tenor discs from Eric Alexander, Tim Lin (with Ralph Moore), and Julieta Eugenia plus Radam Schwartz’s Saxophone Quartet.  

Zaccai Curtis – Cubop Lives (Truth Revolution Recording Collective, released 05/10/2024).  Zaccai Curtis – piano, Luques Curtis – bass, Willie Martinez III – timbales, Camilo Molina – congas / pandero, Reinaldo DeJesus – bongos / chekere / guiro.

In his new release, pianist Zaccai Curtis (Lakecia Benjamin, David Larsen, Donald Harrison) pays tribute to the giants of the late 40s blend of bebop and Afro-Cuban music – Machito and his Afro-Cubans, Dizzy Gillespie, Mario Bauzá and Chano Pozo.  Along the way, he covers tunes by Dizzy (Woody’n You), Hilton Ruiz (Jazzin’), Monk (52nd Street Theme), Ray Bryant (Cuban Fantasy),Kenny Drew (Contour), and Bird (Moose The Mooche).  New to me is the music of Puerto Rican pianist Noro Morales who is honored by a suite of four of his compositions – a highlight.  Focussing attention on an older style that is, while foundational, not often explored today, Curtis contributes to keeping the history alive while making stunningly beautiful music.  A must!

Oscar Hernandez & Alma Libre – No Words Needed (Ovation Records, released 05/24/2024).    Bobby Franceschini – saxophone / flute, Oscar Hernandez – piano, John Benitez – bass, Robby Ameen – drums, Samuel Torres – congas / percussion.

Alma Libre is the small group (quintet) of pianist Oscar Hernandez, leader of the Spanish Harlem Orchestra, the all-star also big band.  In a program of ten originals, Hernandez shows off a world-class rhythm section featuring Robby Ameen (drums), John Benitez (bass), and Samuel Torres (congas/percussion).

Eric Alexander – Timing Is Everything (Cellar Music, released 05/24/2024). Eric Alexander – tenor saxophone, Stan Wetering – tenor saxophone, Jed Paradies – flute, Rick Germanson – piano, Alex Claffy – bass, Jason Tieman – drums, Alma Micic – vocals.

Tenor player Eric Alexander, one of the great saxophone voices of his generation, has recorded his new release as a traditional tenor quartet format, for the most part.  The quartet is Alexander’s most frequent recording unit and it is a format suits him well.  Pierre Giroux wrote on AllAboutJazz, “Eric Alexander’s album Timing Is Everything is an acknowledgment of his mastery of the tenor saxophone, highlighting a combination of power, precision, and profound musicality. Accompanied by pianist Rick Germanson, bassist Alexander Claffy and drummer Jason Tiemann along with a handful of special guests, Alexander leads this nine-track outing with a confidence and ease that can only come from deep familiarity with the material and an unspoken rapport with his bandmates… The title track, Timing Is Everything, is an Alexander original and a fitting title for both the song and the album. Alexander’s tenor is the anchor through the number, keeping pace as Claffy and Tiemann offer a steady pulse and occasional solo flourishes that add colour and complexity. Germanson’s piano work is supportive and explorative, providing depth and rhythmic propulsion. The album highlights the ensemble’s talents and their exceptional synergy as a group.”  Straight-ahead jazz at its best.

GoGo Penguin – From the North – GoGo Penguin Live in Manchester (XXIM Records, released 05/17/2024).  Chris Illingworth – piano / synthesizer, Nick Blacka – double bass / bass guitar / Moog, Jon Scott – drums.

Piano trio GoGo Penguin has released a live record with four of the seven tunes from their 2023 release Everything Is Going To Be OK (previewed 04/24/2023).  Simon Smith wrote on Higher Plan Music, “The modern jazz trio GoGo Penguin have been wowing audiences for years with their piano, double bass and drum set-up. From delicate ditties to epic swells and cascading melodies, their music has been of such exceptional quality across their lifespan, that their status is almost unparalleled… Not only does the songwriting showcase melodies and emotional waves that get right under your skin, but the release showcases a live one-take setting. Each note, pluck and beat is in tempo. It portrays a trio utterly in sync with each other and thankfully this full release was captured on video too.”

Nicola Caminiti – Vivid Tales Of A Blurry Self-Portrait (Self Produced, released 05/10/2024).  Nicola Caminiti – alto saxophone / soprano saxophone, Lex Korten – piano, Ben Tiberio – bass, Miguel Russell – drums.

New York-based Italian saxophonist Nicola Caminiti has released his debut recording in a set of eleven original compositions.  S Victor Aaron wrote on Something Else!, “Caminiti is adept at making the complex so easy to absorb. His lead lines on Elliptical Biking are sprightly and buoyant, and he unifies with [pianist Lex] Korten on them at tactical points to make them impact harder. Cloudy In(to) The Sky is another twisty but richly melodic line. Aided by a strong rhythm section, Korten puts in a brisk exhibition with assistive input from Caminiti. Just Find a Reason To is another example where a knotted but fetching theme [is] played together by Caminiti and Korten. This time, [bassist Ben] Tiberio follows with his own, complementing patterns… Perhaps because it’s his first major artistic statement to the world, the all-originals Vivid Tales of A Blurry Self-Portrait is deeply personal. It tells a story with not words but with feel, and you can’t help but notice the unpretentious emotional investment that Nicola Caminiti put into his music.”  Keep an ear out for this young (29 year old) player.

Radam Schwartz – Saxophone Quartet Music (Arabesque Recordings, release 05/01/2024). Marcus G Miller – soprano saxophone, Irwin Hall – alto saxophone, Anthony Ware – tenor saxophone, Max Schweiger – baritone saxophone, Misha Josephs – guitar, Carrie Jackson –  vocals, Andrew Atkinson – percussion.

Organist / pianist / composer Radam Schwartz has been around the music business in numerous roles for decades, but this is his first recording of compositions / arrangements for saxophone quartet.  Jonathan Widran wrote on JW Vibe, “Though best known as for his decades of organ bravura with everyone from Arthur Prysock, David “Fathead Newman” and Al Hibbler, Schwartz played sax back in high school and clearly still has an affinity for the vast melodic, harmonic and percussive potential [of the] instrument – or four (soprano, alto, tenor, baritone) as the case may be here. An influential jazz educator long dedicated to nurturing the talents of up and comers, Schwartz’s five originals and arrangements of three outside songs (including With These Hands and Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin’s My Ship) are designed as showcases for three of his most talented former students from the Jazz Institute of New Jersey – Marcus G. Miller (soprano), Irwin Hall (alto) and Anthony Ware (tenor). Schwartz’s friend Max Schweiger (baritone) rounds out the incredibly intuitive, inventive and seamless quartet.” I love sax quartets and this is a solid representative of the sub-genre.

Joe Marcinek Band – 1 River Street (Vintage League Music, released 04/30/2024).  Alex Lee-Clark – trumpet, Brian “BT” Thomas – trombone, Jared Sims – saxophone / flute, Kris Yunker – keys, Joe Marcinek – guitar, Nate Edgar – bass, Alan Evans – drums.

Guitarist Joe Marcinek follows up his Grateful Dead set (Dead Funk Summit previewed 05/29/2024) with another funky set featuring the ace front line of Alex Lee-Clark on trumpet, Brian “BT” Thomas on trombone, Jared Sims on saxophone and flute.  Once again, it’s all about the groove.

Tim Lin – Birdwatching (Linsanity Music, released 04/17/2024).  Tim Lin – tenor saxophone, Ralph Moore – tenor saxophone, David Hazeltine – piano, Peter Washington – bass, Kenny Washington – drums.

Taiwanese-American saxophone player Tim Lin (Empathy previewed 05/29/2023) brings the Charlie Parker songbook to like on his third release.  While Lin opens with a standard quartet (tenor – piano – bass – drums) on Mohawk and redefines Dewey Square in a duo with bassist Peter Washington, the bulk of the disc is recorded in a dual tenor setting with the great Ralph Moore.  Moore just appeared on pianist Charles Chen’s recent disc (Charles Play, previewed 01/15/2024) with Peter and Kenny Washington.  A two tenor format on a Bird set is an unusual choice and one that Lin and Moore make the most of, especially on Scrapple From The Apple with its mambo intro that makes reference to Parker’s work with the seminal Afro-Cuban jazz hero Machito.  Highly recommended.

Julieta Eugenio – Stay (Cristalyn Records, released 03/29/2024). Julieta Eugenio – tenor saxophone, Leo Genovese – Fender Rhodes, Matt Dwonszyk – bass, Jonathan Barber – drums.

In 2022, tenor saxophonist Julieta Eugenia recorded her debut with a classic tenor trio of Matt Dwonszyk on bass and Jonathan Barber on drums.  For her sophomore effort, she has brought the same format to bear on on a set of nine originals plus Ellington’s Sophisticated Lady.  Leo Genovese brings his Fender Rhodes to two tunes in the set.  Dan McClenaghan wrote on AllAboutJazz, “The set is structured, to an extent, around the first poem Eugenio penned in English (Spanish is her first language). The music is a journey into her innermost depths—deeply ruminative, probing explorations of the universe and her place in it, eliciting moments of spiritual enlightenment and a grand scale, toying with the potential of existence without time or space and she makes it seem as if the trio format is a fine (and for her perhaps the only) way to do this.”  The tenor – bass – drums trio is a favorite format of mine and this is another reason why.

The Howard Levy Quartet – Live From Chicago (Balkan Samba Records, released 12/15/2023).  Howard Levy – diatonic harmonica / keyboard / bamboo flute, Chris Siebold – electric guitar / acoustic guitar, Joshua Ramos – electric bass, Luiz Ewerling – drums.

Diatonic harmonica master Howard Levy contributed to the characteristic sound of the Bela Fleck and the Flecktones from 1988 – 1992, with many reunions since.  He has brought his harp to many projects since including performances of Bach and Piazzola, and collaborations with Balkan and Middle Eastern musicians.  His recent performance in Charlottesville was well-attended and appreciated.  In his first EP with the quartet he performs a set of three swinging originals plus one by the drummer Luis Ewerling.

I hope you find something here of interest – come on in the music is fine.

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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