New Jazz Releases – 05/29/2023

Michael O’Neill

Let me catch my breath … eighteen new releases this week, some among my favorites of the year-to-date.  Apropos of JazzFest, NOLAs Judith Owens has released an EP of naughty songs, Stephane Wrembel takes his Django-jones to the Crescent City and Joe Marcinek totally funks it up with George Porter, Jr and Melvin Seals.  The Hammond B3 continues to be in the foreground with a major re-release of Eddie Lockjaw Davis (on his 100th birthday)with organist Shirley Scott, a treat from the vaults of Shirley Scott and George Coleman, and a new release from Anthony Nelson with Kyle Koehler on the B3And from the better-late-than-never file, I’ve just discovered SF tenorist Michael O’Neill (terrific).  Lots to check out, so hang on.

The Michael O’Neill Quintet – Conversations With Birds (Jazzmo Records, released 05/2023).  Erilk Jekabson – trumpet / flugelhorn, Michael O’Neill – tenor saxophone / soprano saxophone, Donna Viscuso – flute, Michael Bluestein – piano, John Burr – piano, Joe Locke – vibraphone, Dan Feiszli – bass, Jason Lewis – drums, Omar Ledezma – percussion.

To the quartet from his 2020 release And Then It Rained, saxophonist Michael O’Neill has added fellow Bay Area player Erik Jekabson on trumpet and flugelhorn (plus several guests) and the result is stunning.  The contrapuntal trumpet – tenor duet on I Remember is lovely, if melancholy.  Whether on tenor or soprano, O’Neill is a saxophonist of substance with a beautiful tone.  In addition to Gershwin’s My Man’s Gone Now (with a very bluesy arrangement) and drummer Jason Lewis’s Rope’s End (hypnotic), O’Neill has added six well-crafted originals.  I need to dive into O’Neill’s back catalog to see what I’ve been missing.  The diversity of the tunes on this disc is remarkable – each tune is quite different and worthy of our ear-time on its own.  I’m sold.

Anthony E Nelson – Swinging Sunset (Musicstand Records, releases 06/09/2023).  Anthony E. Nelson, Jr. – tenor saxophone, Kyle Koehler – Hammond B3 Organ, Cecil Brooks III – drums.

Drawing from sources like Gene Ammons, Johnny Griffin and Neal Hefti, tenor saxophonist Anthony E. Nelson, Jr. leads a top notch tenor – organ – drums trio with organist Kyle Koehler (Ed Cherry’s Are We There Yet, reviewed here 01/30/2023) and drummer Cecil Brooks III (Groove Holmes, John Hicks, Arthur Blythe).  Add the leader’s origin story around Newark and we just might get the attention of Brian Keena – The Jazz Messenger (Friday, 10:30 – noon).  Make no mistake, this is a swinging affair.  For proof, just listen to Stanley Turrentine’s Minor Chant which he recorded with Jimmy Smith on Back to the Chicken Shack – sublime.  With a totally retro sound, this disc doesn’t break any new ground, but the leader’s warm and full tenor sound complimented by the solid organ and drums foundation make this comfortable and satisfying.

Anthony Hervey – Words From My Horn (Outside In Music, releases 06/09/2023).  Anthony Hervey – trumpet / vocals, Sarah Hanahan – alto saxophonist, Isaiah J. Thompson -piano, Sean Mason – piano, Philip Norris – bass, Miguel Russell – drums.

Trumpeter Anthony Hervey’s debut recalls classic Blue Note releases from the 60s, especially in the front line work of Hervey and altoist newcomer Sara Hanahan.  Pianist Isaiah J Thompson (whose fine release The Power Of The Spirit was reviewed here on 3/20/2023) anchors the ensemble.  Hervey is a solid writer, penning ten of the twelve numbers, complemented by Jimmy Van Huesen’s evergreen But Beautiful plus gospel standard His Eye is On the Sparrow Crystal Stair, dedicated to the leader’s mother, and the soulful minor blues The Glider are standouts.

Ute Lemper – Time Traveler (Jazzhaus Records, releases 06/09/2023). Aaron Heck – saxophone, Andy Ezrin – keyboards / piano / bass, Mark Lambert – guitar, Kenny Chipkin – guitar, Jim Hickey – guitar, Paul Socolow – bass, Todd Turkish – drums / percussion, Ute Lemper – keyboards / vocals.

Cabaret singer / songwriter Ute Lemper presents a program of heartfelt original compositions written during two different periods in the artists life – 2000 and 2021/22.

Laila Biali – Your Requests (ACT, released 05/26/2023).  Kelly Jefferson / tenor saxophone / soprano saxophone, Sam Yahel – organ, George Koller – acoustic bass, Larnell Lewis – drums, Laila Biali – vocals / piano / Fender Rhodes, with Anat Cohen – clarinet, Grégoire Maret – harmonica, Michael Davidson – vibraphone, Ben Wittman – drums / percussion, Maninho Costa – percussion, Kurt Elling – vocals, Emilie-Claire Barlow – vocals, Caity Gyorgy – vocals.

For the first time in a decade, vocalist Laila Biali has released a set of standards, but with a twist – she asked her fans on social media for their preferences in establishing the set list.  Then she brought in a collection of A-list collaborators to help realize her tidy arrangements.  These are very familiar times, but her arrangements, vocal performance and sterling guests make this a release worth hearing.  Clarinetist Anat Cohen is compelling on the Brazilian-inspired But Not For Me and vocalist Kurt Elling’s off-melody duet on an emotional My Funny Valentine is inspired.  She recorded a beautiful version of Autumn Leaves accompanied by her own piano and concludes the disc uncharacteristically with a delightful instrumental version of All the Things You Are.  A release of tremendous variety.  Spend some time with this one.

Henry Threadgill – The Other One (Pi Recordings, released 05/26/2023).  Henry Threadgill – conductor, Jose Davila – tuba, Alfredo Colón – alto saxophone, Noah Becker – alto saxophone / clarinet, Peyton Pleninger – tenor saxophone, Sara Schoenbeck – bassoon, Adam Cordero – bassoon, David Virelles – piano, Sara Caswell – violin , Stephanie Griffin – viola, Mariel Roberts – cello, Christopher Hoffman – cello, Craig Weinrib – percussion / electronics. 

Pulitzer Prize Laureate Henry Threadgill has composed a challenging piece in three movements, entitled Of Valence, dedicated to Milford Graves, the free jazz percussionist.  Performed live in 2022, the piece included film, paintings, photographs, electronics, voice loops, and orchestral music for 12 players. Gary Chapin wrote on The Free Jazz Collective, “The NY Times called this music (when it reviewed the live premiere) ‘obliquely danceable.’ And honestly, I don’t think I can do better, because the music does move you, physically as well as emotionally. There is a dance going on. Also shifting scenes of a walk through a city. And many conversations. The combination of the improvisers’ gifts and the inherent uncanniness of Threadgill’s writing bring to mind ‘the sound of surprise.’ Knowing that multi-media were happening in tandem with Of Valence, I do wonder ‘what did I miss?’ But the music itself is an abundance and nothing is, in fact, missing. It’s a beautiful recording.”

Jeb Patton – Preludes (Cellar Live, released 05/26/2023).  Mike Rodriguez – trumpet / flugelhorn, John Ellis – tenor saxophone / soprano saxophone / flute / bass clarinet, Jeb Patton – piano, David Wong – bass, Quincy Davis – drums.

During the isolation of the pandemic, pianist/composer Jeb Patton (Jimmy Heath, Charles McPherson) created a series of pianistic “classical” exercises which transformed over time into full ensemble jazz compositions.  In this presentation, their roots as solo practice pieces surfaces at various times as if exposing the superstructure underlaying each piece.  Patton is a wonderful pianist whose deft touch has graced several releases already this year, including Nick Green’s terrific Green On The Scene and Mike Melito’s To Swing Is The Thing (both reviewed here 04/10/2023).  Prelude in A Minor is a rich vein for Mike Rodriguez (Maria Schneider, Kenny Barron, Dafnis Prieto) to mine on flugelhorn and like most of the record is deeply swinging despite (or maybe because of) its roots as a classical etude.  By titling all the compositions Prelude In … some key or another, it is going to be difficult to remember which tune is which.  And of course, after eight originals, the band covers Duke’s Prelude To A Kiss as the finale.

Mike Clark – Plays Herbie Hancock(Sunnyside Records, released 05/26/2023).  Jon Davis – piano, Leon Lee Dorsey – bass, Mike Clark – drums.

Drummer Mike Clark made his name in the 70s playing with Herbie Hancock in the band Headhunters, as the leader moved from fusion to funk.  As he pays tribute to Hancock’s compositional skills, he steps back (mostly) to Hancock’s acoustic work on Blue Note in the 1960s.  Dolphin Dance from 1965’s Maiden Voyage is often covered, but the ballad version recorded here is a unique approach and a beautiful one at that.  In contrast, Empty Pockets, originally recorded on 1962’s Takin’ Off with a front line of Freddie Hubbard and Dexter Gordon, is hardly ever covered and it makes a fine tune for the piano trio treatment.

Judith Owen – Unapologetically (Twanky Records, released 05/24/2023).  Scott Frock – trumpet, Kevin Louis – cornet, Charlie Halloran – trombone, T.J. Norris – trombone, Evan Christopher – clarinet, Jeronne Ansari – alto saxophone, Ricardo Pascal – tenor saxophone, Brad Walker – baritone saxophone, David Torkanowsky – piano, Dave Blenkenhorn – guitar, Lax Warshanawsky – bass, Pedro Segundo – drums, Judith Owen – naughty vocals, Jolynda Phillips – backing vocals, Tonya Boyd-cannon – backing vocals.

Welsh-born, NOLA-based vocalist Judith Owen’s 5-track EP expands on her recent release Come and Get It, with more sly innuendo, double-entendre and general naughtiness from the 40s and 50s.  The brief well-played set includes two by Kansas City chanteuse Julia Lee (King Size Papa, 1948 & My Man Stands Out, 1950) and one each by New Orleans-own Blue Lu Barker (Loan Me Your Husband, 1947), Dinah Washington (My Man’s An Undertaker, 1953) and Wynonie Harris (Keep on Churnin’, 1952).  In an interview with the NOLA Times-Picayune, Owens said, “I didn’t want to record another introspective, deep and meaningful, personal album. I was so desperate to do something joyful. I just wanted to do something that made me smile and made me happy and reconnected me with what music is all about.”  Do not be surprised if these tunes find their way onto the set list for Wild Women & Friends (Thursday, 11:00 – noon) with a wink and a nod.

Tim Lin – Empathy (Linsanity Music, released 05/19/2023).  Tim Lin – tenor saxophone / soprano saxophone, Andy Laverne – piano, Jay Anderson – bass, Billy Drummond – drums.

Young tenor and soprano player Tim Lin and his excellent quartet have released their second disc.  All four members of the quartet shine on a stately and thoughtful cover of Bill Evans’s Waltz for Debbie, anchored in the upper register of the tenor.  Andy LaVerne’s Forth Right is a showcase of Lin’s soprano technique.  Scott Yanow writes on Jazz Monthly, “While he sometimes is reminiscent of a classic hard bop player on tenor, Lin really does not sound like any of his predecessors. It is always a major achievement when a player develops their own musical identity … Empathy is a strong step forward for Tim Lin, a saxophonist who one will be hearing a lot more from in the future.”  Well worth a listen.

Joanie Pallato – Accidental Melody (Southport Records, released 05/19/2023).  Bradley Parker-Sparrow – piano, Fareed Haque – guitar, John Christensen – bass, Eric Hines – percussion, Juan Pastor – percussion, Joanie Pallatto – vocals.

Composer / lyricist / vocalist Joanie Pallato is also the co-owner – with husband / pianist Bradley Parker Sparrow – of the label Southport Records, sometime home to Chico / George / Von Freeman, all members of the Art Ensemble, and several dozen other Chicago artists.  Sparrow and Parlatto play an important role in the broader Chicago jazz scene and more power to them.  This release is of all original music and she is a compelling and mature lyricist and melodist with a very personal voice.  If you enjoyed guitarist Fareed Haque’s Casseus (reviewed here 05/08/2023) or percussionist Juan Pastor’s Chinchano – Cachito (05/01/2023), these two fine Windy City players contribute mightily to this release, especially Haque whose playing often steals the show and earns a “featuring” role on the cover.  Surrender is a case in point – Haque’s classical, electric, and steel string guitar work is a beautiful complement here to Pallato’s singing, spoken word and wordless vocals.  Much to like here.

Stephane Wrembel – Django New Orleans(Self Produced, released 05/05/2023).  Joe Boga – trumpet, Nick Driscoll – clarinet / soprano saxophone, Joe Correia – sousaphone, Stephane Wrembel – guitar, Josh Kaye – rhythm guitar, Adrien Chevalier – violin, Scott Kettner – drums, David Langlois – percussion, Sarah King – vocals.

Guitarist Stephane Wrembel is among the elite of Django Reinhardt-influenced players and he is a remarkable musician.  Diango started to record in 1934 when New Orleans jazz was already well-established, but he never recorded with his NOLA peers.  The conceit of this release (homage) is that such a session might have sounded like this.  The disc is packed with familiar vintage tunes, but it is the single Wrembel composition, Bistro Fada, that does the most for me.

Joe Marcinek Band – Dead Funk Summit (Vintage League Music, released 05/02/2023).  Alex Lee-Clark – trumpet, Brian “BT” Thomas – trombone, Jared Sims – saxophone, Michael Lemmler – keyboards, Melvin Seals – organ, Joe Marcinek – guitar, George Porter Jr – bass, Ashley Galbraith – bass, Taylor Galbraith – drums, Terrence Houston – drums, Tony Hall – voc.

Guitarist Joe Marcinek has put some funk (George Porter Jr. – co-founder of the Meters – on bass) with some jam band (Melvin Seals – Jerry Garcia Band – on organ) and some RnB (Fever Dream could have been from Paul Butterield’s The Resurrection of Pigboy Crabshaw), added some wah-wah as needed, stirred with a blunt instrument and strutted it out on stage.  The results may not be much jazz, but it’s a lot of fun.  That the disc release party was at the New Orleans Toulouse Theater between the Jazz Fest Weekends says a bunch.

Clifford Jordan – Drink Plenty Water (Harvest Song Records, released 05/01/2023).  Bill Hardman – trumpet, Dick Griffin – trombone, Clifford Jordan – tenor sax, Charlie Rouse – bass clarinet, Stanley Cowell – piano, Bernard Fennell – cello, Sam Jones – bass, Bill Lee – bass, Billy Higgins – drums, Donna Jordan Harris – vocals, David Smyrl – vocals, Kathy O’Boyle, Denise Williams, Muriel Winston – backup vocalists.

Under-recognized tenor player Clifford Jordan was one of the most important artists on musician-owned 70s label Strata-East.  In 1974, he recorded his only record featuring vocals and it has sat on the shelf until now.  While this is an interesting addition to Jordan’s discography, it is not among his best by any stretch.  The four tunes featuring the vocals of Jordan’s 16-year-old daughter, Donna, plus backing vocals don’t really click.  Singer David Smyrl’s two leads have more to offer as his singing is rough and idiosyncratic.  Jordan’s 1974 Glass Bead Games on Strata-East with the same rhythm section (Cowell, Lee / Jones, Higgins) is his best of the period.  Go there first.

Shirley Scott – Queen Talk: Live at the Left Bank – Disc 2 (Reel to Reel, released 04/22/2023).  George Coleman – tenor saxophone, Shirley Scott – organ, Bobby Durham – drums.

Shirley Scott is sometimes referred to as “one of the greatest female jazz organists.”  Can we get past this, please?  One of the greatest jazz organists … period. Matt Collar on All Music writes, “Best known for her ’50s work with saxophonist Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis, Scott had developed into a swaggeringly adept bandleader in her own right by the 1970s … Scott had already embarked on her own career by the time she hit the stage in August 1972. Notably, most of her early recordings found her working with a bassist. The choice was largely a label attempt at setting her apart from other organists, but one that undermined her immense, multi-tasking keyboard abilities. Here, she handles both keyboard and bass duties, deftly laying down bass grooves via the Hammond B-3 foot pedals in the traditional organ style. Throughout, her playing is boldly harmonic and rhythmically assured, marked by thick chordal blasts that shimmer like waves in the sun.”  George Coleman (whose latest – Live at Smalls Jazz Club – was reviewed here on 5/15/2023) is at this peak.

Mike Bell – Jazz on the Rails (Straight Records, released 02/24/2023).  Mike Bell – piano / keyboards / drums.

This is Mike Bell’s second jazz piano release, a departure from his professional career in pop music (Albert Lee, Dr. Hook, Marty Wilde).  The program of nine originals includes some lovely lines and playing, but might have been more rewarding as a solo piano release without the drum and keyboard overdubs.

Eddie Lockjaw Davis – Cookin’ With Jaws And The Queen: The Legendary Prestige Cookbook Albums (Craft Records, released 02/03/2023).  Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis – tenor saxophone, Jerome Richardson – flute / baritone saxophone / tenor saxophone, Shirley Scott – organ, George Duvivier – bass, Arthur Edgehill – drums.

Organist Shirley Scott’s best recordings are in the presence of tenor saxophonists with career highlights being her work with husband Stanley Turrentine and these recordings with Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis.  These 1958 recordings (four original Prestige LPs) from three productive recording sessions are among the best for the tenor player.  Davis began recording as a first-generation bebopper in the 40s, but these recordings show a mature RnB-leaning approach on uptempo tunes and a very romantic ballad style.  As a bonus, under-rated flutist (and sax player) Jerome Richardson is featured on most of this collection.  Matt Collar at AllMusic writes, “As a key member of the Count Basie band of the 1950’s, Davis established his authoritative style as one that could be throaty and gruff one minute and velvet-soft the next. However, it was his work with Scott — an effusively gifted player steeped in gospel and blues … that cemented their legacies and helped to popularize the soulful, hard-swinging organ trio sound.”

Mattan Klein Quartet – The Long Run (Ubuntu Music, released 01/14/2022).  Mattan Klein – flutes, Toki Stern – Rhodes, Nitzan Bar – guitar, Yoni Ben Ari – electric bass, Joca Perpignan – drums / percussion.

Israeli flutist Mattan Klein’s 2022 release has four originals, one by keyboard player Toki Stern and one by Brazilian composer Hermeto Pascoal, to whom one of the leader’s tunes is also dedicated. Tony Benjamin at JazzWise writes, “Pascoal’s influence is apparent throughout in long and complex melodic lines woven around subtly modulated Brazilian rhythms and spacious arrangements within which Klein’s crystalline flute rises clear and pure. He’s an extremely adept musician with apparently inexhaustible breath enabling him to convey the fluency of his musical ideas, often tightly locked with Toki Stern’s equally nimble Fender Rhodes.”  I hear shades of Chick Corea and the first Brazilian-influenced version of Return to Forever, especially in Toki Stern’s tune Jokes.

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

Russell Perry, Jazz at 100 Now!


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