New Jazz Releases – 07/10/2023

Manuel Valera

A handful of really terrific discs this week (and some others…). Pianist Manuel Valera has released a fine quintet date on Criss Cross, trombonist Altin Sincalar reminds us what we expect from Posi-Tone Records (straight ahead) and Linda May Han Oh teams with husband Fabian Almazan in a typically excellent Biophilia Records release.  Several tenor players remind us why the tenor is the king of instruments (at least to me) – new releases from Ray Blue, Christine Jensen, Don Braden.

Manuel Valera Quintet – Vessel (Criss Cross Jazz, released 06/30/2023).  Alex Norris – trumpet, John Ellis – tenor saxophone, Manuel Valera – piano, Hamish Smith – bass, Mark Whitfield, Jr. – drums.

Although Cuban-born pianist Manuel Valera received a 2013 Grammy nomination in the category of Best Latin Jazz Album for his disc New Cuban Express, this is not a Latin Jazz release.  It is, on the other hand, a collection of nine originals (plus one Kenny Kirkland tune) in an old-school presentation with the theme stated, improvisational opportunities passed around and the theme restated.  Each of the compositions are inspired by a particular musician or band – the terrific Blues for Kenny K is self-evident in it’s inspiration.  Trumpeter Alex Norris (Dafnis Prieto, Miguel Zenon, Michelle Rosewoman, Pat Martino) and tenor player John Ellis (Jeb Patton, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Kendrick Scott) make a formidable front-line, for example on the tune Mr. Henderson, inspired by Joe Henderson with an heroic solo from Ellis.  Each tune is a treasure.  I love this disc.

Quartet San Francisco – Raymond Scott Reimagined (ViolinJazz, releases 07/21/2023).  Quartet San Francisco: Jeremy Cohen – violin, Joseph Christianson – violin, Chad Kaltinger – viola, Adres Vera – cello;  Take Six: Claude McKnight, Mark Kibble, Dave Thomas, Alvin Chea, Khristian Derlei – vocals; Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band.

Violinist and founder of genre-spanning Quartet San Francisco and pianist / bandleader Gordon Goodwin share a reverence for the work of composer Raymond Scott and have released this collection with performances by various combinations of the quartet, Goodwin’s Big Phat Band and the a-cappella group Take Six.  Scott, who composed for radio and Broadway beginning in the 30s, was often quoted by Carl Stalling in his work on Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies, so some of the themes have a familiar ring.

Marty Isenberg – The Way I Feel Inside: Inspired by the films of Wes Anderson (Self Produced, released 07/07/2023.  Pablo Masis – trumpet, Gil Defay – trumpet, Ric Becker – trombone, Kyra Sims – French horn, Sean Nowell – saxophone / flute, Rich Perry – saxophone, Jay Rattman – clarinet, Marta Sanchez – piano, Dallas Heaton – harpsichord, Alicyn Yaffee – guitar, Nir Fleder – guitar, Nate Ostermiller – mandolin, Marty Isenberg – bass, Rodrigo Recabarren – drums, Dennis Bulhoes – percussion, Sami Stevens – vocals, Ramsay Rawson – vocals.

For his debut recording, bassist Marty Isenberg has recorded versions of songs from the soundtracks of Wes Anderson’s films out of an appreciation for how these tunes are integrated into the films themselves.

Tony Allen – JID018 (Jazz Is Dead, released 07/07/2023).  Emile Martinez – trumpet, Tatiana Tate – trumpet, Lasim Richards – trombone, Scott Mayo – flute, Phillip Whack – alto saxophone, Jaman Laws – tenor saxophone, David Urquidi – baritone saxophone, Jacob Scesney – baritone saxophone, Adrian Younge – electric bass guitar / electric guitars / acetone electric organ / marimba / percussion, Tony Allen – drums, Marcus Gray, Jazmin Hicks, Loren Oden – additional percussion.

Drummer Tony Allen is the latest vintage artist to get a late career boost from the Jazz Is Dead effort.  Allen was the drummer for Fela Kuti whose combination of American Jazz and Nigerian Highlife fueled the invention of Afrobeat.  Kuti famously said, “Without Tony Allen, there would be no Afrobeat.”  Allen passed in April 2020 after recording these tracks.  The creative juice behind this release is the multi-instrumentalist Adrian Younge.

Ray Blue – #People (Jazzheads, released 07/07/2023).  Eddie Allen – trumpet, Ray Blue – saxophone, Kenny Barron – piano, Sharp Radway – piano, Jeff Barone – guitar, Essiet Okun Essiet – bass, Alvester Garnett – drums, Steve Johns – drums, Bobby Sanabria – percussion.

Tenor saxophonist Ray Blue has delivered a fine straight ahead post-bop date with two core bands, his working quintet of Sharp Radway on piano, Jeff Barone on guitar, Essiet Okun Essiet on bass and Steve Johns on drums and a quartet with Kenny Barron on piano, Essiet on bass and Alvester Garnett on drums.  The set includes a well-selected collection of covers (Blue Mitchell’s Fungii Mama is a swinging tenor – bass – drums recording and Duke’s In A Sentimental Mood in duet with Barron is quite serious, maybe chilling) and three originals which are my favorite selections on the disc.  Dark Berries with the Kenny Barron quartet plus Eddie Allen on trumpet could have been performed by Hank Mobley and Lee Morgan in the classic Blue Note period.  Cross Continental Spirit is a melodic latin romp that will get you dancing.  It is one of three tunes with bandleader Bobby Sanabria guesting on percussion.  I’ll return to this one for sure.

Jalen Baker – Be Still (Cellar Music, released 07/07/2023).  Paul Cornish – piano, Jalen Baker –  vibraphone, Gabe Godoy – bass, Gavin Moolchan – drums.

Vibraphonist Jalen Baker made his recorded debut in 2021 with This Is Me, This Is Us.  The new disc features five originals plus one each by Joe Henderson (Jinrikisha from Page One) and Bobby Hutcherson (Herzog) and the venerable Body And Soul.  Baker’s Lexi’s Lullaby may be the best of the bunch – a soft focused ramble that takes on an urgency as it develops.

Christine Jensen – Day Moon (Justin Time, released 06/16/2023).  Christine Jensen – alto saxophone / soprano saxophone, Steve Amirault – piano, Adrian Vedady – bass, Jim Doxas – drums.

Canadian saxophonist Christine Jensen (sister of Ingrid Jensen) has been recording since the turn on the millennium, but her output has been sporadic. She is a fine composer, contributing seven of the ten tracks plus one cowritten with pianist Steve Amirault, one by Amirault and Jimmy Van Huesen’s chestnut Here’s That Rainy Day (we keep seeing his tunes showing up regularly these days.) Pierre Giroux wrote on AllAboutJazz, “The thematic center piece of the album is Quiescence Suite which was commissioned by the Jazz Coalition of New York. It has four sections: Lined / Twenty Twenty Blues / Tolos D’Abril / Étude De Mars. This suite is ambitious in concept, texture and tempo, as Jensen covers the themes on either alto or soprano saxophone which she plays with unflappable authority.”  Three of the tunes are presented as duets between Jensen and Amirault, including Girls Can Play the Blues.  They certainly can!

Don Braden – Earth Wind And Wonder, Volume 2 (Creative Perspective Music, released 06/16/2023).  Don Braden – tenor saxophone / flute / alto flute, Miki Hayama – piano / keyboards,  Art Hirahara – piano, Kenny Davis – bass, Jeremy Warren – drums, Kahlil Kwame Bell – percussion.

As with the first Earth Wind and Wonder set in 2018, Volume Two brings jazz interpretations of four compositions by Stevie Wonder, three from Earth Wind and Fire and two of saxophonist / flutist Don Braden’s own works.  Perhaps these two releases will prompt further interest in what Marc Myers calls the Third American Songbook (hits by 70s and 80s soul composers) Jack Bowers wrote on AllAboutJazz, “Those who have followed Braden’s long and rewarding career will know pretty much what to expect—tasteful music adeptly performed by an outstanding tenor saxophonist and his able supporting cast.”  Just as you don’t need to be a fan of the musical Very Warm for May to groove on All The Things You Are, reverence for Wonder and EWF is not required to enjoy this well-played set.  Soul Jazz for the 21st Century.

Altin Sencalar – In Good Standing (PosiTone, released 06/09/2023).  Altin Sencalar – trombone, Diego Rivera – tenor saxophone / soprano saxophone, Patrick Cornelius – alto saxophone / flute, Art Hirahara – piano / Rhodes, Boris Kozlov – bass / electric bass, Rudy Royston – drums.

Trombonist Altin Sencalar joins with the Posi-Tone in-house powerhouse rhythm section – Hirahara – Kozlov – Royston and appearances from saxophonists Diego Rivera and Patrick Cornelius to produce just what you should expect from Posi-Tone – a straight-ahead mainstream date that bristles with talent and moves with powerful swing.  In addition to seven originals, this set incudes Tommy Flanagan’s Minor Mishap (a driving hard bop swinger recast as a sensual Latin stroll), Wayne Shorter’s Fall (in a trombone – piano – bass – drum quartet) and Horace Silver’s Nutville (from a sextet including both saxes).  David Orthmann wrote in AllAboutJazz, “Reimagined and Marina’s Arrival, a pair of genial, beckoning [Sencalar-composed] tracks which feature just Sencalar and the rhythm section, emphasize the connection between the trombone and the human voice. (They also invite speculation on how well he could carry an entire record without another front-line instrument.) His tone sounds full-bodied, weighty, and expansive, something to sink into, a massage for the soul. Sencalar’s improvisations on these and the rest of the cuts are rich in detail, balancing in-the-moment discoveries and adherence to the demands of the material.”  One of the best so far this year.

Linda May Han Oh – The Glass Hours (Biophilia, released 06/02/2023).  Mark Turner – tenor saxophone, Fabian Almazan – piano / electronics, Linda May Han Oh – electric bass / acoustic bass / vocals, Obed Calvaire – drums, Sara Serpa – vocals.

The first couple of Biophilia Records, bassist Linda May Han Oh and pianist Fabian Almazan have collaborated on a terrific new record, which, unlike the string-intensive 2019 release Adventurine, features a stripped down quintet with (one of my favorites) Mark Turner on tenor, Obed Calvaire on drums and mostly wordless vocals from Sara Serpa.  It is great to have a new disc by Oh – a first-call bassist who has been featured in the last couple of years on discs by Terry Lyne Carrington, Dave Douglas, Joe Lovano, Anthony Branker and many others.  The interplay (unison and counterpoint) of Serpa and Turner is outstanding throughout, for example on The Other Side, which also has a lovely solo spot for the leader.  Filipe Freitas wrote on JazzTrail, “Linda May Han Oh, a bassist and composer of enormous talent, approaches bandleading with fresh and distinctive vision. Backed by a new quintet that works really great, Oh delivers a set of pieces informed by abstract themes of the fragility of time and life, paradoxes and choices, and social issues in our world. The Glass Hours has that adventurous quality often found in her discography, creating a compound of collective exploration and deft improvisation.”

Alex Coke & Carl Michael Sextet – Emergence (PlayOn Records, released 04/20/2023).  Alex Coke – flute / saxophone, Elaine Barber – harp, Carolyn Trowbridge – vibraphone, Carl Michael – guitar, Bob Hoffner – pedal steel guitar, James Sutter – bass.

From the opening rubato passage by harpist Elaine Barber and vibraphonist Carolyn Trowbridge leading to the theme of John Coltrane’s  After the Rain on tenor by Alex Coke, you know you are in for something different.  Sure enough, this Austin-based sextet also included guitar, bass and pedal steel guitar.  Mangled Tango makes the most of this unique line up – somehow the vibes, harp and pedal steel combine to replace the bandoneon customary to the tango.  Eight of the twelve selections are composed by band members, including the atmospheric Again by co-leader Carl Michel with Tex Carmichael, with beautiful passages by flute, pedal steel and vibes.  An unusual and compelling offering.

Some really good music this week.  I hope these notes help you discover something you will love to hear.

Russell Perry, Jazz at 100 Now!


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