New Jazz Releases – 08/14/2023

Luis Perdomomo – Miguel Zenón

This week we have three new big band releases – a vocal-oriented set from Danny Jonokuch,  a lush and powerful set from Chuck Owen and WDR Big Band and a radical fusion of influences from Mehmet Ali Sanlikol.  Calligram Records, a new Chicago venture comes out fast from the blocks with its first four releases from Geof Bradfield, Russ Johnson, Arman Sangalang and Chad McCullough.  And I loved the new work from Miguel Zenón – Luis Perdomo, Allan Harris, Terell Stafford and a pair of drummers Lorca Hart and Johnathan Blake.  A great week for new music! 

Miguel Zenón & Luis Perdomo – El Arte Del Bolero, Vol. 2 (Miel Music, releases 08/25/2023).  Miguel Zenón – alto saxophone, Luis Perdomo – piano.

Puerto Rican-born alto maestro Miguel Zenón and Venezuelan-born pianist Luis Perdomo are back with a follow-up to their masterful 2021 duo release.  While the bolero is a Cuban music form, the set includes selections from beyond the Caribbean with compositions from México, Venezuela and Panamá as well.  While we often get a solid dose of rhythmic complexity with Zenón’s alto virtuosity, this release and its excellent predecessor serve up a program of quietly melodic pieces in a smolderingly intense, but intimate, duo setting.  Luis Perdomo, a regular contributor to Zenón’s music, brings a very gentle and romantic sound to the pairing.  I could listen to this all day.

Michael Echaniz – Seven Shades of Violet (Rebiralost), releases 09/28/2023).  Erik Jekabson – trumpet, John Gove – trombone, Shay Salhovas – alto saxophone, Dann Zinn – tenor saxophone, Michael Echaniz – piano / Hammond organ / keyboards, Jeff Denson – bass, Dillon Vado – drums / glockenspiel / percussion, Silvestre Martinez – congas / percussion, Danielle Wirtz – vocals, Molly Pease – vocals & Friction Quartet: Otis Harriel – violin, Kevin Rogers – violin, Mitso Floor – viola, Doug Machiz – cello.

What a personal and enchanting release this is!  Young pianist Michael Echaniz has teamed with bassist Jeff Denson (with whom he studied at California Jazz Conservatory) and drummer Dillon Vado (fellow former student at CJC) to record a suite of selections composed and arranged during a period when Echaniz was successfully battling blood cancer.  Now healthy, the pianist has engaged with vocalists Danielle Wirtz (Other Side reviewed here 02/20/2023) and Molly Pease who recite poetry, vocalize wordlessly and sing his lyrics.  On two selections the Friction String Quartet contribute and tenorist Dann Zinn makes an appearance on an unexpected cover of Sky Ferreira’s Everything is Embarrassing.  Intriguing.

Terell Stafford – Between Two Worlds ( (Le Coq Records, releases 09/08/2023).  Terell Stafford – trumpet, Tim Warfield – tenor saxophone, Bruce Barth – piano, David Wong – bass, Johnathan Blake – drums, Alex Acuña – percussion.

You can count on trumpeter Terell Stafford for a straight-ahead slab of blues, bop and ballads and here we go again.  In a departure for Stafford, this releases features Alex Acuña on latin percussion and he adds a new color to the music on Stanford’s tune Mi A Mia, for example, but more surprisingly, on their take on the old hymn Great Is Thy Faithfulness.  Consistent with past efforts, this one has driving hard bop, in the form of Horace Silver’s Room 608, and a lovely look at Billy Strayhorn’s catalog with Blood Count.  The latter features bassist David Wong in a tender intro to Barth’s arrangement.  Stafford’s Wruth’s Blues, a tribute to his mother, puts tenor player Tim Warfield at center stage and features a rousing ensemble head.  I always look forward to new Terell Stafford releases (it’s been 7 years since Forgive and Forget) and this one doesn’t disappoint.

Danny Jonokuchi Big Band – Voices(Outside In Music, releases 08/18/2023).  Nick Marchione, Sam Hoyt, John Lake, James Zollar, Scott Wendholt, Noah Halpern, Bruce Harris – trumpet, Robert Edwards, Sara Jacovino, Jason Jackson, Reginald Chapman – trombone, Andrew Gould – alto saxophone / flute, Christopher McBride – alto saxophone / flute, Chris Oatts – alto saxophone / flute, Jon Beshay – tenor saxophone / flute / clarinet, Chris Lewis – tenor saxophone / flute / clarinet, Andrew Gutauskas – baritone saxophone / flute / bass clarinet, Jeb Patton – piano, Samuel Harris – bass, Kevin Congleton – drums, Víctor Pablo – percussion, Alexa Barchini, Tahira Clayton, Nicole Zuraitis, Brianna Thomas, Shenel Johns, Alita Moses, Charles Turner, Lucy Yeghiazaryan, Sirintip, Martina DaSilva, Hannah Gill – vocals.

There are three new releases from big bands this week and this one is characterized by a different vocalist on each of the eleven selections.  A sultry Nicole Zuraitis (How Love Begins reviewed here 06/19/2023) nails the Gigi Gryce / Jon Hendricks chestnut Social Call.  We have all heard plenty of big band arrangements of Summertime, but take a listen to this one with the soulful Brianna Thomas – its a sweet arrangement.  Charles Turner presents a very seductive take on Blame It On My Youth like an old-school crooner.  Upcoming singer Hannah Gill (see Hot Toddies Jazz Band below) closes the set with fine take on Ellington’s I’m Just A Lucky So And So.  Jonokuchi has assembled a swinging band and has written some great charts.

Mike Jones Trio – You Three Guys (Capri Records, releases 08/18/2023). Mike Jones – piano, Penn Jillette – bass, Jeff Hamilton – drums.

The taller half of the Las Vegas act Penn & Teller, Penn Jillette is also a bass player and he has formed a piano trio with the act’s pianist Mike Jones and drummer Jeff Hamilton (Pete Malinverni, Craig Davis).  The trio presents a program of standards with one original by Mike Jones in a straight ahead set.

Alfredo Rodriquez – Coral Way (Mack Avenue, releases 08/15/2023).  Carlos Sarduy – trumpet, Denis Cuni – trombone, Regis Molina – alto saxophone, Alfredo Rodriguez – piano / keyboards, Juanma Montoya – guitar, Yarel Hernandez – bass, Michael Olivera – drums, Marcelo Woloski – percussion, Alana Sinkëy – vocals, Cimafunk – vocals.

Cuban-born pianist Alfredo Rodriquez, who established in LA after arriving in the US in the mid-2000s, has recently moved to Miami and this release, per Mack Avenue, is his response to “the sound of Miami: a melding of the Latin Pop, Timba, Salsa, Bachata, Tango, Reggaeton and Bolero that permeate the city’s diverse community of Latinos living together while individually sharing their unique musical backgrounds from their cultural regions.”  It is a rich fusion.

Lorca Hart Trio – Inspiration & Gratitude (Night Is Alive, 08/14/2023). Dayna Stephens – saxophone, Josh Nelson – piano, Edwin Livingston – bass, Lorca Hart – drums, Nicolas Bearde – vocals.

Drummer Lorca Hart (Mimi Fox) has assembled a distinguished trio with pianist Josh Nelson (Marina Pacowski’s inner Urge, Angie Wells’s Truth Be Told, multiple projects with Sara Gazarek) and bassist Edwin Livingston (Clifford Lamb) – with contributions on six selections from tenor sax star Dayna Stephens (Le Boeuf Brothers, Billy Drummond, Massimo Biolcati).  The disc sets out to capture a connection to Hart’s upbringing in New Mexico and his composition Song For Ganda has a sense of the broad open landscape.  The trio plus Stephens tackles Stanley Cowell’s knotty Reconfirmed with commitment and skill bringing back into focus the substantial contributions of a largely overlooked elder.  The selection of material is first rate with less recognized selections from Chick Corea (Like This) and McCoy Tyler (Blues On The Corner) plus a lovely ballad from pianist Nelson (Recluse).  I’ll return to this one.

Johnathan Blake – Passages (Blue Note, released 08/11/2023).  Immanuel Wilkins – alto saxophone, David Virelles – piano / Fender Rhodes / MiniMoog, Joel Ross – vibraphone, Dezron Douglas – bass, Johnathan Blake – drums / cymbals.

Drummer Johnathan Blake, a regular on Blue Note sessions (recently Dr. Lonnie Smith, Kenny Barron, Bill Frisell) has released a set honoring Blake’s father including a lovely piece Passage composed by father John Blake.  Blake and his band members contributed all but one of the rest of the tunes, including the delicate and winding Tiempos by David Virelles with a Latin tinge.  Mike Hobart on Financial Times wrote, “Passage, [Blake’s] fifth solo album, features Pentad, the sparkling quintet he presented on Homeward Bound, his 2021 Blue Note debut. Blake’s sensitivity and creative support continue to shine and his compositional skills impress. Two years on, the band’s intensity is a fraction higher and the soloists dig even deeper into the music’s core. Alto saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins plays with … fire and focus … Cuban pianist David Virelles combines scintillating speed with downbeat left-hand vamps, and Joel Ross unerringly finds the right lines to weave into an already heady mix.” This has a lot to offer.

Jon-Eric Kellso and the EarRegulars – Live At The Ear Inn (Arbors Records, released 08/11/2023).  Jon-Erik Kellso – trumpet, John Allred – trombone, Scott Robinson – tenor saxophone / tarogato / alto Normaphone, Jay Rattan – alto saxophone, Evan Christopher – clarinet, Matt Munisteri – guitar, Chris Flory – guitar, Neal Miner – bass, Pat O’Leary – bass, Catherine Russell – vocals.

Trumpeter Jon-Eric Kellso (Catherine Russell, Ken Peplowski) and guitarist Matt Munisteri (Steven Bernstein, Catherine Russell) have held down the Sunday night gig at NYC bar The Ear Inn for the past 16 years, with a rotating cast, playing a repertoire that leans towards classic jazz.  Five of the seven tunes feature master reed player Scott Robinson. Robinson, both the 2023 Jazz Journalists Association “Multi-reed Player of the Year” and “Brass Specialist of the Year”, is seemingly comfortable in any jazz setting (check him out on East Axis with Matt Shipp, Kevin Ray and Newman Taylor Baker).  This is an energetic, well programmed effort. 

Geof Bradfield – Quaver(Calligram Records, released 08/04/2023).  Russ Johnson – trumpet, Geof Bradfield – tenor saxophone, Scott Hesse – guitar, Clark Sommers – bass, Dana Hall – drums / cymbals.

Saxophonist Geof Bradfield was recently heard on Clark Sommers’s Feast Ephemera (reviewed here 06/19/2023), one of my favorite releases so far this year and Sommers returns the favor by joining in this effort.  In fact, as a measure of the tightness of the Chicago scene, all five of the players on this disc contributed to that important release.  Bradfield composed all the tunes in this set, half of which are performed live at the legendary Green Mill.  Each of these players is a powerhouse in their own right and Bradfield has composed with each of their strengths and sound in mind.  The waltz 5 In 3 is a good example with strong solos complementing a beautiful unison head.  This is the first of four releases just in from the brand new Chicago label Calligram.  We wish them the best of luck.  There is so much happening in Chicago and this window into their world is most welcome.

Chad McCullough – The Charm Of Impossibilities(Calligram Records, released 08/04/2023). Chad McCullough – trumpet, Jon Irabagon – tenor saxophone / soprano saxophone, Larry Kohl – bass, Jon Deitemyer – drums / percussion.

Chicago trumpeter Chad McCullough has used the compositional methods of classical composer Olivier Messiaen as a framework for improvisation using the very spare pallatte of a trumpet – bass – drums trio.  The pieces are mostly paced at a mid-tempo and focus on the mid-range of the horn giving the whole a relaxed feel. In addition, half of the selections, all of which are penned by McCullough, feature the always stimulating saxophone of Jon Irabagon.  Dan McClenaghan at All About Jazz wrote, “Bee In The Flower is featured in the trio setting (Irabagon sitting out), and in the quartet (Irabagon sitting in). Both versions showcase the group’s chamber esthetic, with some fine off-kilter rhythm work by Kohut and Deitemyer and some of the most intricately lovely horn work from McCullough (both takes) and Irabagon (on take two). This particular tune has the mood of delicate buoyancy and prettiness of Duke Ellington’s The Queen’s Suite (Sunset and the Mockingbird, Lightening Bugs and Frogs).”  Spare and moving.

Arman Sanalang – Quartet (Calligram Records, released 08/04/2023).  Arman Sangalang – tenor saxophone, Dave Miller – guitar, Matt Ulery – bass, Devin Drobka – drums / cymbals.

25-year-old Filipino-American saxophonist is establishing himself in the rich Chicago jazz world.  His debut includes nine original compositions rendered elegantly by his tenor – guitar – bass – drums quartet, plus a sensual documentation of Polkadots And Moonbeams.  The excellent band consists of senior players on the scene who have participated in Sangalang’s education to date including his composition teacher bassist Matt Ulery (Juan Pastor, Makaya McRaven) and guitarist Dave Miller (Joe Policastro). Sangalang has a full and dark tenor sound that complements his rich compositions.  The tribute to Sonny Rollins (Rollins) is the most boppish tune on the set and a fine vehicle for the whole band.  I hope we will see much more from this young player in the years to come.

Russ Johnson – Reveal (Calligram Records, released 08/04/2023).  Russ Johnson – trumpet, Mark Feldman – violin, Ethan Philion – bass, Timothy Daisy – drums.

Trumpeter Russ Johnson (Geof Bradford above, Clark Sommers) has a 2005 date in his discography with Lee Konitz, a measure of his seriousness and chops.  On this release, he pairs with violinist Mark Feldman (Bob Mintzer, Michael Mussilami, Chris Potter) a steady presence in NYC until recently and now a part of the Chicago scene celebrated by Caligram Records.  Troy Distort wrote on AllAboutJazz “Reveal’s nine tracks, all penned by Johnson, work their magic by oscillating between vigor and reflection. Long Branch, the group’s tribute to trumpeter Jamie Branch, is a case in point, with Johnson and Feldman taking the opportunity to delve into the kind of quiet lyricism Branch could herself explore with aplomb—but with a seething intensity building underneath as the track unfolds. … Dog Gone It, on the other hand, allows the quartet to let loose from the outset, as its nod to Julius Hemphill’s Dogon A.D. sizzles with menace. Philion’s brooding bass and Daisy’s relentless rock rhythm push Feldman into a frenzy, but Johnson also thrives on the track’s propulsive thrust, with lines that dance and weave through the piece’s closing minute.” Most of the disc is very free and, if not unstructured, at least loosely structured with lots of listening going back and forth. 

Allan Harris – Live at the Blue Llama Jazz Club (Live at Blue Llama, released 07/28/2023).  Irwin Hall – alto saxophone / flute, Arcoiris Sandoval – piano / keyboards, Marty Kenney – bass, Norman Edwards Jr – drums / cajon, Allan Harris – vocals / guitar.

A new disc from Allan Harris is a reason for celebration and this live set doesn’t disappoint.  With four originals, including the lovely New Day and six covers, Harris shows off his soulful baritone and inventive phrasing as one of the best.  From his 2018 The Genius of Eddie Jefferson set, Harris reprises a terrific version of Duke Pearson and Oscar Brown Jr.’s Jeannine and Miles’s So What.  You might be surprised by Harris’s substantial slide guitar chops on his Black Coffee Blues.  Tenor and flute player Irwin Hall (Theo Croker), a big contributer to this effort, tears it up on Nature Boy, but the highlight for me is the rousing version of Chick Corea and Al Jarreau’s Spain.

Gaea Schell – In Your Own Sweet Way (Sadhu Records, 07/28/2023).  Marco Diaz – trumpet / piano, Gaea Schell – piano / flute / vocals, Jordan Samuels – guitar, John Wiitala – bass, Greg Wyser-Pratte – drums Carlos Caro – percussion.

Gaea Schell, as a pianist, has been active with players like Bobby Watson, Earl Palmer, Clare Fischer Big Band and the late Richie Cole.  On this, her third release as a leader, she shows her lovely pianistic chops and adds in a dose of her facile flute playing and singing.  Jordan Widran wrote on the JW Vibe, “At its creative emotional core however, the set is driven by two key elements. First, her keen sense of melody and swing, masterful dexterity with Latin jazz (the sensual Luna Plateada, the contemplative and dramatic piano master class Danza Nocturna De Flores), bossa nova (the sultry Summer Sea) and straight ahead jazz (the fast swinging, deeply percussive closer Perplexity); and second, her generous grace as a bandleader, interacting with and offering space for dynamic solos by her quartet of NoCal stalwarts – most notably, guitarist Jordan Samuels and guest trumpeter Marco Diaz, whose exuberant duet with Schell’s flute on El Picacho is a highlight.”  Lots of talent here.

Chuck Owen & WDR Big Band – Renderings (MAMA Records, released 07/21/2023). Wilm Both, Andy Haderer, Rob Bruynen, Ruud Breuls – trumpets, Ludwig Nuss, Raphael Klemm, Andy Hunter, Mattis Cederberg – trombones, Johan Hörlén, Karolina Strassmayer, Gabor Bolla, Olivier Peters, Paul Heller, Jens Neufang – woodwinds, Billy Test – piano / organ, Phillip Brämswig – guitar, Sara Caswell – violin, John Goldsby – bass, Hans Dekker – drums.

Legendary arranger from University of South Florida Chuck Owens is paired with the equally legendary German WDR Big Band in what will likely be one of the best large ensemble dates of 2023.  Guest appearance by violinist Sara Caswell (The Way To You reviewed here 02/227/2023) on a couple of tunes (Karolina Strassmayer’s Of Mystery and Beauty, Chick Corea’s Arabian Nights) adds even more luster to the effort.  Jack Bowers wrote on AllAboutJazz, “Knife’s Edge, the only song written especially for the album [sprints] eagerly forward while testing the band’s mettle via several of Owen’s typically sharp and challenging ensemble passages. The WDR has no trouble braving the gauntlet, nor do the able soloists: tenor saxophonist Paul Heller, trumpeter Andy Haderer and drummer Hans Dekker who (with [bassist John] Goldsby) provides rhythmic stability on every number.”  For those who appreciate large ensemble jazz, this is one to spend time with.  For the rest of you … give it a try.

Mehmet Ali Anlikol & Whatsnext? – Turkish Hipster, Tales from Swing To Psychedelic (Dunya, released 07/21/2023). Mike Peipman, Jeff Claassen, Dan Rosenthal, Doug Olson, Jerry Sabatini – trumpet / flugel horn, Chris Gagne, Bob Pilkington, Garo Saraydarian, Angel Subero – trombones, Mark Zaleski, Aaron Kaufman-Levine, Lihi Haruvi, Miguel Zenón – alto sax, Rick DiMuzio, Bill Jones – tenor saxophone, Aaron Henry – tenor saxophone / clarinet, Melanie Howell Brooks – baritone saxophone / bass clarinet, Kathy Olson – baritone saxophone, Anat Cohen – clarinet, Utar Artun – piano, Brian O’Neill – vibraphone, Phil Sargent – guitar, Fernando Huergo – bass, Bertram Lehman – drums / percussion, Antonio Sanchez – drums, Raydar Ellis – vocals.

I go out of my way to listen to new music featuring clarinetist Anat Cohen or altoist Miguel Zenón and both are featured as soloists with Mehmet Ali Anlikol’s big band Whatsnext, whose new release is a radical mashup of Brazilian, Turkish and American influences with rock, hip hop and jazz coexisting around micro-tonal horn arrangements.  The Turkish overlay, perhaps because it is so novel in the jazz context, is the dominant one to my ears.  Jim Hynes wrote on Making A Scene, “In the opening A Capoeira Turca (Baia Havası) it’s the funky infectious hybrid groove incorporating vintage Turkish rock recordings from the 1970s that gives the piece oomph and momentum while the trumpets and soaring clarinetist, Anat Cohen, play selected microtonal flavors of Turkish folk music through the alternate fingerings Sanlıkol developed.  The orchestra builds it nicely, taking it to an abrupt, emphatic finale. Likewise, Miguel Zenón takes on a microtonal section fully steeped in classical Ottoman/Turkish music in a series of sections across 16 minutes in the adventurous, often swinging, immensely orchestral The Times of the Turtledove, inspired by a classical Ottoman/Turkish rhythmic cycle derived from the call of a turtledove.”  The rock and hip hop influences are less interesting to me, but there is a ton here to keep it interesting.

Lucas De Mulder and the New Mastersounds- Feel The Spirit(Color Red Records, released 03/17/2023).  Gabe Mervine – trumpet, Joe Tatton – organ, Chris Spies – organ / synthesizer, Lucas De Mulder – guitar, Nate Edgar – bass, Simon Allen – drums, Jeremy Salken – drums, Alejandro Castaño – drums.

Grant Green-aficionado and New Mastersounds guitarist Eddie Roberts discovered guitarist and fellow-traveller Lucas De Mulder playing in a bar in Spain and before you could say “Solid”, the two were collaborating on this new disc whose title references the great Green release Feeling The Spirit.  If funk and boogaloo is your thing, fasten your seatbelt, you are in for a fun ride!

Something for everyone!  I hope you listen to something you love.

Russell Perry, Jazz at 100 Now!


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