New Jazz Releases – 08/28/2023

Matt Otto

Some wonderful straight-ahead small group pieces this week.  Tenorist Matt Otto shows he is a top-notch composer for his band that stretches from a trio to a sextet.  Guitarist Mike Musillami is back with his excellent trio of Joe Fonda on bass and George Schuller on drums.  Drummer Pat Zimmer leads a swinging quintet.  Ted Piltzecker leads a four horn septet from the vibes.  Chris Hazelton’s ensemble is an unusual and very effective baritone – organ quintet. Altoist Patrick Cornelius helms a melodic quintet with a couple of guest horn players.  And a couple of strong big band releases – a family affair from John La Barbera and a Jobim collection from Richmond’s Doug Richards.  Turn off your ringer, lots to hear.

Matt Otto – Umbra (Origin Records, released 08/25/2023).  Hermon Mehari – trumpet, Matt Otto – tenor saxophone, Matt Villinger – Rhodes, Alex Frank – guitar, Jeff Harshbarger – bass, John Kizilarmut – drums.

Kansas City-rooted quintet formed around the tenor of Matt Otto performs a set of nine originals with heart.  Four of the tunes are presented as a tenor – bass – drums trio (the leader plus Jeff Harshbarger and John Kizilarmut) begging positive comparison to Sonny Rollins landmark recordings from the 50s and 60s as Otto mines the spare format for maximum emotion.  Not to take anything away from the other tunes and the other players, but these trios (Mousai, Paw Paw, Wanjiku and Melisma) are the real deal.  Dan McClehaghan wrote on AllAboutJazz, “[Otto’s] two previous recordings [on Origin], and now Umbra, say that Otto is a true original in his compositional efforts. He sounds like no-one else. Free? Sort of, and laid back, with a beautiful sax tone. It sounds like he is laying out his own personal truths. Take them or leave them.”  The more I listen, the more I love this.

Caroline Davis – Alula: Captivity (Ropeadope, releases 10/13/2023).  Caroline Davis – alto saxophone / juno / vocals, Chris Tordini – bass / moog bass, Tyshawn Sorey – drums, Val Jeanty – turntables / samples, Qasim Naqvi – modular synthesizer, Ben Hoffmann – prophet 6.

Drawing from a family tragedy, saxophonist Caroline Davis has released an activist piece on the pain, suffering and injustice of incarceration.  Her playing is angular and melodic by turns and the band of Chris Tordini on bass, Tyshawn Sorry on drums and Val Jeanty on turntables and samples is first rate.

Ivan Lins – My Heart Speaks (Resonance Records, 09/15/2023).  Randy Brecker – trumpet, Josh Nelson – piano, Leo Amused – guitar, Carlitos Del Puerto – bass, Mauricio Zottarelli – drums / percussion, Dianne Reeves – vocals, Tawanda – vocals, Jane Monheit – vocals, Tblisi Symphony Orchestra.

Singer / songwriter Ivan Lins has been active and extremely popular in Brazil for over fifty years and has had occasional success in the US.  His most recent release is a career retrospective of sorts with vocal support by Dianne Reeves, Jan Monheit and Tawanda and with Randy Brecker on trumpet, all on one track each.  The support is a very jazzy piano – guitar – bass – drums quartet.  Many tracks are sweetened past my limit with a full symphony orchestra.

Michael Musillami Trio – Block Party (Playscape Recordings, releases 09/12/2023).  Michael Musillami – guitar, Joe Fonda – bass, George Schuller – drums.

Over the past 20 years, guitarist Mike Musillami has recorded 10 discs with mm3, his trio with bassist Joe Fonda and drummer George Schuller, every one a treat.  All eight tunes are Musillami originals and many feature the long lithe lines that we expect from his writing, lines that are often expressed in unison by guitar and bass.  The trio can then morph into a deep in-the-pocket groove (as on the title tune, Block Party) and just as adeptly transition back out.  These cats are terrific together and get better each time out.

Doug Richards Orchestra – Through a Sonic Prism: The Music of Antônio Carlos Jobim(Self Produced, releases 09/08/2023).  Roy Muth, Mike Davison, Bob Miller, John D’earth, Taylor Barnett – trumpets, Bryan Hooten, Pete Anderson, Toby Whitaker – trombones, Philip Jones – bass trombone, John Winn – alto saxophone / clarinet / bass clarinet, Jim Nesbit – alto saxophone / clarinet / bass clarinet / flute / piccolo, Lauren Serpa – flute / piccolo,  JC Kuhl – tenor saxophone / soprano / bass clarinet, John Wittman – tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, Rick Rieger – baritone saxophone / alto saxophone, Daniel Clarke – piano, John Toomey – piano, Adam Larrabee – guitar, Randall Pharr – bass, Brian Jones – drums, Laura Ann Singh – vocals.

Doug Richards, much beloved founder of the Jazz Studies program at the VCU Department of Music has assembled the cream of the Central Virginia jazz scene to record his arrangements of the classic Antônio Carlos Jobim compositions with vocals by Laura Ann Singh.  Yes, you’ve heard most of these pieces before, but not like this.  Fine solo work over fresh charts.

Pete Zimmer – Dust Settles (Tippin’ Records, releases 09/08/2023).  Stacy Dillard – tenor saxophone / soprano saxophone, Miki Yamanaka – piano, Peter Bernstein – guitar, Yasushi Nakamura – bass, Pete Zimmer – drums.

I don’t know drummer Pete Zimmer’s work, but he has put together a swinging quintet of familiar pros. Saxophonist Stacy Dillard (John Bailey, Behn Gillece) is a fluent player with a full sound that can be quite tender as on Kurt Weil’s Speak Low.  Pianist Miki Yamanaka has recorded several discs on her own (2020s Human Dust Suite) and holds a seat in Roxy Coss’s Quintet.  Her contribution to Duke Pearson’s ballad Idle Moments is very sweet.  Guitarist Peter Bernstein (Ken Fowser, Mike LeDonne, Cory Weeds) is an in-demand player with his own recordings (What Comes Next, 2020).  Similarly bassist Yasushi Nakamura (Vincent Herring, Veronica Swift, Marshall Gilkes) is a regular feature in small group settings.  Proving their hard bop chops, the quintet nails Woody Shaw’s Sweet Love Of Mine.  Well worth a listen.

John La Barbara Big Band – Grooveyard(Origin, released 08/25/2023).  John Chudoba, Pareschi, Brandon Lee, Clay Jenkins – trumpet, Ryan Keberle, Mike Davis, Sara Jacobin – trombone, David Taylor – bass trombone, Steve Wilson, Erica von Kleist – alto saxophone / flute, Pat La Barbera – tenor saxophone / soprano saxophone, Sam Sadigursky – tenor saxophone / clarinet, Andy Gatauskas – baritone saxophone / bass clarinet, Juan Ruiz – clarinet Reneee Rosnes – piano, Brandon Coleman – guitar, Rufus Reid – acoustic bass, Frank Gravis – electric bass, Joe La Barbera – drums, Kiko Serbian – percussion.

The LaBarbera brothers are a distinguished trio.  Saxophonist Pat (Elvin Jones, Buddy Rich) is a mentor to a generation of Canadian saxophonists.  Drummer Joe recorded with Bill Evans, Tony Bennett and Kenny Wheeler as well as Charlottesville’s Stephanie Nakasian.  John LaBarbera, trumpeter and arranger wrote for Buddy Rich for years and is the leader for this date.  Nicholas F Mondello wrote on AllAboutJazz, “Wes Montgomery’s Grooveyard launches a hip, swinging first course in which tenor man Pat La Barbera and guitarist Brandon Coleman provide fine solos. The upbeat momentum continues with the serendipitous melody and Chick Corea-like feel of [John La Barbera’s] My New Summer Samba. Dave Brubeck’s salute to his spouse, the lovely waltz Iola, is a showcase for pianist Renee Rosnes (who shines here and throughout the session). Long a Mancini acolyte, La Barbera’s Thanks Hank is a slick hat-tip to Henry Mancini and that Master’s stylings.”  What a band – check it out!

Bobby Rozario – Spellbound (Origin Records, released 08/25/2023).  Tim Ouimette – trumpet, Edsel Gomez – piano / organ, Radam Schwartz – organ, Neil Nail Alexander – keyboards, Radam Schwartz – organ, Bobby Rozario – guitar / backing vocals, Gary Grainger – bass, James Genus – bass, Melvin Gibbs – bass, Robby Ameen – drums, Dennis Chambers – drums, Mauricio Herrera – congas, Camilo Molina – timbales / percussion / backing vocal, Nii Star – congas, Ismael Kouyaté – vocal, Chris Alfinez – vocal, José Pepito Gomez – vocal, Kate Saba – backing vocal.

From the first note of guitarist Bobby Rozario’s new release, Carlos Santana sprang to mind and wouldn’t go away.  Quickly, this became less of a liability (hasn’t Santana already done this) and more of an asset (I always loved this sound, especially those first several Columbia records).  Recorded over a number of sessions, the instrumentation and personnel varies from track to track.  Careful listening reveals that Rozario is not a one-trick pony and his tunes resonate with highlife, latin grooves, gospel, fusion, flamenco and blues all informed by his fiery drive and biting tone.

Ted Piltzecker – Vibes On A Breath (OA2 Records, releases 08/25/2023).  Brad Goode – trumpet, Paul McKee – trombone, John Gunther – tenor sax / bass clarinet, Wil Swindler – baritone sax, Judith Leclair – bassoon, Ted Piltzecker – vibraphone, Gonzalo Teppa – bass, Paul Romaine – drums, Javier Diaz – percussion.

While vibraphonist Ted Piltzecker’s name is on the marque, his is a light tough and this is a team effort with four horns upfront on a sweet collection of tunes by Oliver Nelson, Hoagy Carmichael, Lee Konitz and Miles Davis among others (plus three originals). George Harris wrote on Jazz Weekly, “The team charges and jabs along with [Wil] Swindler’s baritone on a sleek read of Seven Steps To  Heaven, and the horns get elegiac for a sublime New Orleans. [Bassist Gonzalo] Teppa leads the way around the chirping horns on It Could Happen To You, and West Coast Cool is nifty around [Paul] Romaine’s crisp brushes for a Subconscious Lee that has vibes and bass clarinet mano a mano. [Trumpeter Brad] Goode’s muted horn gives a film noir feel to the bluesy We’ll Get Through This and even [Judith] Leclair’s bassoon gets into the act with a rich and sophisticated Bus. Pilzecker’s tendency is to guide and blend, not to overrun, and it works well on this sublime mix of pastels.”  Another keeper to return to.

Chris Hazelton – After Dark(Cellar Music, released 08/11/2023).  Brett Jackson – baritone saxophone, Chris Hazelton – Hammond B-3 organ, Jamie Anderson – guitar, John Kizilarmut – drums, Pat Conway – congas)

In one of the best Hammond B-3 releases recently, organist Chris Hazelton has chosen the baritone saxophone of Brett Jackson to join him up front for the heaviness and density of the sound.  Good choice!  This definitely leans to a dark after-hours (think Harlem Nocturne) film-noir vibe with a sweet rendition of George Coleman’s Amsterdam After Dark and Gerry Mulligan’s Night Lights performed at a stroll.  And it swings like crazy on tunes like Jerome Richardsons The Groove Merchant and Bobby Timmons So Tired.  This one resonated with me.

Patrick Cornelius – Book Of Secrets (Posi-Tone, released 06/30/2023).  Altin Sencalar – trombone, Patrick Cornelius – alto saxophone / soprano saxophone / clarinet / alto flute, Diego Rivera – tenor saxophone, Art Hirahara – piano, Behn Gillece – vibraphone, Peter Slavov – bass, Vinne Sperrazza – drums.

Multi-reed player Patrick Cornelius pulls out his alto, soprano, clarinet and alto flute on a dozen self-composed tunes on this strong outing.  We have already heard him on a solid release this year from vibraphonist Behn Gillese (Between The Bars) and Gillece contributes mightily to this effort.  Posi-Tone Records continues to be a cast of repertory players with a strong contribution from omni-present pianist Art Hiraharaand guest appearances from trombonist Altin Sencalar (Cornelius is on his 2023 release In Good Standing) and tenor player Diego Rivera.  Well-structured melodies and strong ensemble playing throughout.

Big Chief Donald Harrison, Jr. – Congo Square Suite (Truth Revolution Recording Collective, released 04/28/2023). Donald Harrison, alto saxophone / vocals / percussion / piano, Zaccai Curtis, piano, Max Moran, acoustic bass / vocals, Joe Dyson, drums / vocals, Brian Richburg – drums, Gerald French – percussion, Bruce “Action” Jackson – percussion, Antoine “Tuba Fata” Wade – percussion, Howard “Smiley” Ricks – percussion, Moscow Symphony Orchestra.

I do love alto saxophonist Donald Harrison, Jr.’s playing (a lot), but find this to be a small and puzzling piece.  The bulk of the recording is the Congo Square Suite consisting of a one minute vocal and percussion intro, an eleven and a half minute selection performed by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra and (finally) a concluding six minute jazz performance by Harrison and colleagues with the symphony in the background.  And that’s about it except for two unrelated short pieces outside the suite – a lovely ballad When Mary Smiles and a two-minute uptempo romp Upper Stratus.  At just over 24 minutes, this is not just short but disjointed and, ultimately, disappointing.  For a different perspective, there have been some radiant reviews like this one on MelodyMine.

Jeff Coffin – Look For Water (Ear Up Records, 05/05/2023).  Jeff Coffin – soprano saxophone / tenor saxophone, Tony Degrade – tenor saxophone, James Singleton – bass, Helen Gillet – cello, Johnny Vidacovich – drums / toy piano.

Saxophonist Jeff Coffin (Dave Matthews, Bela Fleck) has assembled a group of New Orleans players – Tony Degrade on tenor, James Singleton on bass, Helen Gillet on cello and Johnny Vidacovich on drums.  In various configurations, they bring a range of musical attitudes from very unstructured playing (Half a Baton) and a tenor – bass ballad (Sweet Magnolias) to an Ornette-inspired cordless quartet (New Dawn).  For me the most successful exploration is the post-bop Luminosity, the only selection with all five players,

I’ll be taking leave of writing these notes for the next four weeks and some of the most astute listeners at WTJU will be stepping in.  So look forward to thoughts from Steve Harris, David Soyka and Gary Funston and I’ll return to these posting after the Jazz and Blues Fundraising Marathon.

Have a good time with this week’s new music.

Russell Perry, Jazz At 100 Now!


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