New Jazz Releases – 06/19/2023

Gonzalo Grau

A bit of a thin week for new jazz releases, but there are some highlights.  We have an advanced copy of Chicago bassist Clark Sommers upcoming suite coming out of a concentrated period of composing during the pandemic.  And on the Latin side Boston-based Gonzalo Grau & La Clave Secreta shows what it takes to get you out of your seat.

Gonzalo Grau & La Clave Secreta – De Verdad Verdad (Self Produced, released 05/15/2023).  Albert Leusink – trumpet, Dan Brantigan – trumpet, Doug Beavers – trombone, Shlomi Cohen – alto saxophone, Felipe Calles – tenor saxophone, Gonzalo Grau – piano / keyboards / percussion / vocals, Roberto Castellon – flamenco guitar, Panagiotis Andreou – bass, Pablo Bencid – drums, Marcos Lopez – timbal, Fausto Cuevas III – congas, Roberto Quintero – congas, Manolo Mairena – vocals, Ismael Fernandez – backing vocals.

Venezuelan-born, Berklee-trained and Boston-based pianist / composer / bandleader Gonzalo Grau founded La Clave Secreta twenty-five years ago as a highly diverse ensemble blending salsa, Afro-Cuban, RnB and jazz.  They don’t record often but their 2009 release Futero Moderno was grammy-nominated.  The new release, De Verdad Verdad (“For real”), was recorded live, with all the players in one room, no edits and the results sparkle with energy.  Several videos on-line document the sessions!  Don’t be surprised to hear some flamenco guitar or a string quartet or a Stevie Wonder tune – lot’s going on with influences from Puerto Rico, Cuba, Spain, Greece, and Venezuela.  Get up and dance.

Clark Sommers – Feast Ephemera (Irabbagast Records, releases 09/15/2023) digital only.  Tito Carrillo – trumpet, Russ Johnson – trumpet, Joel Adams – trombone, Andy Baker – trombone, Nick Mazzarella – alto saxophone, Geof Bradfield – bass clarinet / soprano saxophone / tenor saxophone, Chris Madsen – tenor saxophone, John Wojciechowski – C & alto flutes / alto saxophone, Stu Mindeman – piano / keyboards, Scott Hesse – guitar, Clark Sommers – bass, Dana Hall – drums.

Wanting to expand his musical horizons, Chicago bassist Clark Sommers (Kurt Elling) enrolled in a music composition program at DePaul University and mid-way the pandemic hit.  Yet another pandemic story – he just started writing and Feast Ephemera, his first extended suite and his first composition for large ensemble emerged.  Four brass – four reeds – four rhythm, short of a traditional big band, but a perfect size for the tones, textures and colors imagined by the composer.  Past releases from Sommers have been smaller groups (trio, quintet) with many of these players.  We can celebrate that he decided to expand his ambitions.

Nicole Zuraitis – How Love Begins (Outside In Music, releases 07/07/2023).  David Cook – piano, Maya Kronfeld – organ / Wurlitzer / Rhodes, Gilad Heckselman – guitar, Christian McBride – bass, Dan Pugach – drums, Billy Kilson – drums, Nicole Zuraitis – vocals / piano / Rhodes.

Singer / songwriter / pianist Nicole Zuraitis gets a big career boost from bassist and co-producer Christian McBride (“I’m putting big, big money on Nicole. I can’t wait to see her career explode.”). McBride and guitarist Gilad Heckselman (2011’s excellent Hearts Wide Open) both contribute mightily to the project, for example her take on Debussy’s Reverie that McBride drives forward and Heckselman caps with a classy solo.  Zuraitis is a fearless lyricist on all tunes on this disc, a capable pianist and a compelling vocalist.  The up-tempo Burn characterizes the strengths of this project, muscular walking from the bassist, angular soloing from the guitarist and clever lyrics powerfully presented.

Clark Gibson – Counterclock (Cellar Music, releases 06/23/2023).  Sean Jones – trumpet, Michael Dease – trombone / baritone saxophone, Clark Gibson – alto saxophone / baritone saxophone, Nick Mancini – vibraphone, Pat Bianchi – b3 organ, Lewis Nash – drums.

A solid post-bop outing by Phoenix-based alto player with a great band: Sean Jones on trumpet (Javier Nero, Generation Gap Jazz Orchestra, Emmet Cohen), Michael Dease on trombone (ubiquitous, The Other Shoe reviewed 03/20/2023), Nick Mancini on vibes (Ron Francis Blake, Kamasi Washington), Pat Bianchi (Tim Warfield, Pat Martino), Lewis Nash (recently Noah Haidu, Lafayette Harris Jr., Cyrus Chestnut.)  The program of five originals plus one by Mancini and Gershwin’s Embraceable You covers a lot of ground. On Gibson’s Boptude, the composer and Michael Dease both play baritone to great effect, trading fours on a hard-driving piece of bop.

Orrin Evans – The Red Door (Smoke Sessions, released 06/16/2023).  Nicholas Payton – trumpet, Garry Thomas – tenor saxophone / flute, Wallace Roney – tenor saxophone, Larry McKenna – tenor saxophone, Orrin Evans – piano, Robert Hurst – bass, Buster Williams – bass, Marvin “Smitty” Smith – drums, Gene Jackson – drums, Jazzmeia Horn – vocals, Sy Smith Vocals, Alita Moses – vocals.

Orrin Evans has been a recording artist since 1995 and although he was the pianist with The Bad Plus from 2018 – 2021, he never stopped recording his own releases, including 2021’s magisterial The Magic of Now with Immanuel Wilkins in a quartet.  In comparison to that piece the new release seems a bit schizophrenic. There are two quartet tracks from 2020 with Buster Williams on bass and Gene Jackson on drums.  The Good Life features Larry McKenna on tenor and All The Things You Are is one of the last recordings for trumpet master Wallace Roney who fell victim to COVID less that 3 weeks later.  There is a single track from 2021 with Evans in a duo with singer Alita Moses.  The remaining tracks are from a 2022 session, some with Nicholas Payton on trumpet and Gary Thomas on tenor, three piano trios and guest appearances by singers Jazzmeia Horn and Sy Smith.  The whole is less than the sum of the parts to me.

Nanny Assis – Rovanio: The Music of Nanny Assis (In + Out Records, released 06/09/2023). Randy Brecker – flugelhorn, John Ellis – soprano saxophone / alto saxophone, Lakecia Benjamin – alto saxophone, Mattan Klein – flute, Fred Hersch – piano, Chico Pinheiro – guitar, Ron Carter – bass, Jorge Helder – bass, Ulysses Owen, Jr. – drums, Raphael Barata – drums, Laercio Da Costa – percussion, Kaina Do Jeje – percussion, Marcio Brasil – percussion, Luizinho Do Jeje – percussion, Nanny Assis – vocals / percussion, Dani Assis – vocals, Laura Assis – vocals, Vinicius Cantuaria – vocals / guitar / percussion, Janis Siegel – vocals, Emanuel Verday – spoken word, St. Petersburg Studio Orchestra – strings.

Brazilian-born, New York-based, singer and percussionist Nanny Assis has composed, written lyrics and/or arranged the ten selections on his new release.  A capable low-key singer in English and Portugese, Assis has surrounded himself with first class collaborators like Fred Hersch, Lakecia Benjamin, Randy Brecker, Mattan Klein, and Ulysses Owens, Jr.  Ron Carter and guitarist Chico Pinheiro are on most of the tunes and anchor a beautiful version of Manha De Carnaval with Nanny Assis joining with his son Dani in a terrific vocal presentation.  That Ron Carter (86) continues to play at such a highly expressive level is truly amazing.

Vincent Archer – Short Stories (Cellar Music, released 06/09/2023).  Gerald Clayton – piano, Vicente Archer – bass, Bill Stewart – drums.

Surprisingly, 25 years after bassist Vicente Archer (Bruce Barth, Al foster, Jeremy Pelt, Nicholas Payton) begin gigging professionally with Donald Harrison, Jr., he is releasing his debut recording with Gerald Clayton on piano and Bill Stewart on drums.  All three players contributed compositions to a set rounded out by works from Pat Metheny, Jeremy Pelt, and Nicholas Payton.  On JazzWise, Alyn Shipton wrote, “Having spent time on the road together with John Scofield, these three musicians have already developed the kind of mutual musical antennae that allow them to communicate easily. So, as in any anthology of short stories, there’s a variety of material, addressing different subjects in sometimes quite startlingly varied ways, but underpinning everything is a collective sharing of vision.  This is at its best in the opening Mirai, a contemplative piece by Archer that sees childhood through the eyes of his young daughter. Clayton’s more abstract Round Comes Around is a harsher listen, but Lighthouse with its repetitive keyboard note imitating the winking of a light at sea is not only mesmeric, but absorbing, as Archer solos inventively over the drone.”  This has a lot to offer.

Robin McKelle – Impressions of Ella (Naive Records, released 06/02/2023) digital only.  Kenny Barron – piano, Peter Washington – bass, Kenny Washington – drums, Robin McKelle – vocals, Kurt Elling – vocals.

Vocalist Robin McKelle pays homage to Ella Fitzgerald with an unsurpassable piano trio of Kenny Barron, Peter Washington and Kenny Washington.  The repertoire isn’t the only reference to Ella and How High The Moon drifts into an imitative mode.  On the other hand, reprising Ella and Louis Armstrong’s power presentation of I Won’t Dance (Ella and Louis, 1957) with legendary vocalist Kurt Elling is a tour de force.  Marlbank wrote, “Best pun and musically completely right selection has Robin doing the lovable Illinois Jacquet and Sir Charles Thompson classic Robbins’ Nest that Ella sang on a 1949 released recording… One of the jazz vocals highlights of the year – surely McKelle’s best statement to date…”. Classic vocal jazz rep, well presented.

Luiz Millan – Brazilian March(Jazz Station Records, released 04/21/2023).  Randy Brecker – trumpet / flugelhorn, Chico Oliveira – trumpet / flugelhorn, François de Lima – trombone, David Sanborn – alto saxophone, Teco Cardoso – alto saxophone / baritone saxophone / soprano saxophone / flute, Ada Rovatti  – tenor saxophone, Eddie Daniels – clarinet, Humberto Clayber de Souza – harmonica, Michel Freidenson – piano / fender rhodes / keyboards, Mike Mainieri – vibraphone, Toninho Ferragutti – accordion, Camilo Carrara – acoustic guitar, Jorge Pinheiro – acoustic guitar, John Tropea – guitar, Barry Finnerty – guitar, Luiz Amato – violin Amanda Martins  – violin, Yohanna Alves Pereira  – viola, Adriana Holtz  – cello, Mark Egan – bass, Josh Marcum – bass, Sylvio Mazzucca Jr. – bass, Thiago Espirito Santo – bass, Edu Ribeiro – drums, Danny Gottlieb – drums, Igor Willcox – drums Maurício Zottarelli – drums, Chico Batera – percussion, Alice Soyer, Clémentine, Ellen Johnson, Giana Viscardi, Jorge Pinheiro, Lisa Ono, Luiz Millan and New York Voices (Darmon Meader, Kim Nazarian, Lauren Kinhan, Peter Eldridge) – vocals.

Brazilian singer / songwriter Luiz Millan has released his fifth disc with an eye to penetrating the American market.  This is a major production with dozens of musicians, some of who are recognized jazz players (Randy Brecker, David Sanborn, Mike Manieri.)  The overall effect for me is jazz-inflected pop music with some jazzy solos.

Alexis Cole – Dazzling Blue(Chesky Records, released 02/26/2016). Julie Harris – flute, Marvin Sewell – guitar, Mark Peterson – bass, Gus Courtsunis – percussion, Jeff Haynes – percussion, Alexis Cole – vocals, Evan Sundquist – background vocals, Maria Quintanilla – background vocals.

Alexis Cole (2021’s Sky Blossom reviewed here 05/22/2023) has a clear and unaffected voice that she employs interpreting a set of lesser-known Paul Simon tunes.  This disc was released in 2016 and just made it into our library.

A short set of new music with some notable highlights.  I hope these notes help you discover something you will love to hear.

Russell Perry, Jazz at 100 Now!


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