New Jazz Releases – 10/09/2023

Miho Hazama

Thanks to Steve Harris, Gary Funston and David Soyka for pitching in to write these notes while I was unavailable.  The WTJU Jazz and Blues Marathon was last week and we did not post any music previews, so here we are – I’m back and there is a lot of music to cover.  Saving some of the catch up for next week, we still have a solid collection to share this week.  Veterans Gonzalo Rubalcabo, Joshua Redman, and Nicholas Payton each has a release worth a listen.  Rising stars Miho Hazama, Willie Morris, Chien Chien Lu and Joey Alexander have releases that continue to burnish their promise.  And Benjamin Boone has published his fourth moving collaboration with poets.

Miho Hazama – m_unit: Beyond Orbits (Edition Records, released 09/23/2023).  Miho Hazama – composer / conductor, Jonathan Powell – trumpet / flugelhorn, Adam Unsworth – french horn, Steve Wilson – alto saxophone / soprano saxophone / flute, Immanuel Wilkins – alto saxophone, Jason Rigby – tenor saxophone / clarinet, Jeremy Powell – tenor saxophone / clarinet, Andrew Gutauskas – baritone saxophone, Billy Test – piano, Tomoko Akaboshi – violin,  Maria Im – violin, Atsuki Yoshida – viola, Matt Consul – viola, Meaghan Burke – cello, Sam Anning – bass, Christian McBride – bass, Jake Goldbas – drums, James Shipp – percussion.

To celebrate ten years with her thirteen-piece ensemble, composer and conductor Miho Hazama has written a new suite, commissioned by the Monterey Jazz Festival, paying homage to her fascination with exoplanets.  Christian McBride joins on bass on one selection and Immanuel Wilkins on alto on another.  Within the ensemble is a string quartet, which is fully integrated not just an add-on for “sweetening.”  Despite the size of the ensemble, there is plenty of room for solos, but always with a strong setting or lush cushion upon which to frame the music.  Miho Hazama continues to develop as a significant voice in large ensemble composition.  On AllAboutJazz, Chris May calls Miho Hazama, “… a breath of fresh air in big band jazz.”  This one will reward multiple listening.

Joey Alexander – Continuance (Mack Avenue, releases 11/03/2023). Theo Croker – trumpet, Joey Alexander – piano, Kris Funn – bass, John Davis – drums.

Youthful phenom Joey Alexander continues to develop as a pianist, bandleader and, increasingly, composer (of five of the seven tunes).  As written on Marlibank, “The infectiously grooving Blue introduces pianist Joey Alexander’s new album … Continuance which is remarkably the twentysomething [actually only 20!} pianist/composer’s 7th album, here there’s tender mellow trumpet lines from Theo Croker and bubbling bass from Kris Funn with John Davis keeping a firm tilt on drums as Alexander’s hooky licks and melodic twists & turns complete the recipe.”  Croker is on a majority of the selections and enriches the proceedings immensely.  The lovely compositions become that much richer for the interpretations of another solo voice.

John Lang – Earotica (Cellar Music Group, released 10/06/2023).  Bruce Harris – trumpet, John Mosca – trombone, Chris Byars – alto saxophone, Nick Hempton – tenor saxophone, Gary Smulyan – baritone saxophone, Roberta Piket – piano, Pete McCann – guitar, John Lang – bass, Peter Retzlaff – drums.

Bassist John Lang has released a set of twelve originals written for a nine-piece ensemble (two brass, three reeds, four rhythm) comprised of New York players.  Most prominent among the players are go-to baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan and guitarist Pete McCann (Without Question previewed here 07/24/2023).  McCann is featured on acoustic guitar on the lovely soft-focused bossa nova-scented In My Fallitude.  Up and coming trumpeter Bruce Harris (recently recorded with Danny Jonokuchi Big Band) gets to exercise his blues chops and Bubber Miley-plunger mute on the Ellingtonian Blues for Faddis, also a feature for Smulyan.  Well-arranged and well-played, the selections often sound as if performed by a larger ensemble with a range of color and texture.  During the pandemic, Lang wrote and arranged this set specifically for these nine players with an emphasis on music for dancing, so get in step.  Enjoyable from start to finish.

Sara Serpa & Andre Matos – Nightbirds (Robalo Records, released 09/29/2023).  Dov Manski – piano / synthesizer, André Matos – electric and acoustic guitar / bass / percussion, Okkyung Lee – cello,João Pereira – drums, Sara Serpa- voice, Sofia Jernberg – voice.

Vocalist Sara Serpa brings her apparently perfect pitch to another program of primarily wordless vocals, as is her want.  As with two previous outings, this is a collaboration with guitarist Andre Matos and together, or individually, they have composed all the tunes except the closer – a bagatelle by Bela Bartok.  An other-worldly vibe saturates these proceedings and the result is often quite dreamy.  Don’t look for heavy rhythms or complex meters, but do appreciate the delicate and the quiet.  Katchie Cartwright wrote in AllAboutJazz, “Matos’ dreamy drone-infused From a Distance, which features wafting bell-like timbres in the keyboards, is a program highlight. Family is another, with its gently rocking groove, acoustic guitar solo, playful multipartite structure, and especially the timbre of [Serpa’s son] Lourenço’s sweet singing voice blending perfectly with his mother’s in interlocking parts.”

Nicholas Payton – Drip (Paytone Records, released 09/26/2023).  Nicholas Payton – Fender Rhodes / flugelhorn, Phil Davis – auxiliary keys, Patrice Rushen – keys / vocals, Robert Glasper – Fender Rhodes, Derek Scott- guitar, Tres Gilbert – bass, Lil’ John Roberts – drums, Miguel Gaetan – percussion, Quiana Lynell – vocals, Michael Franks – vocals, Christie Dasheill – vocals.

Pulling together a quick studio session while in Atlanta waiting out a hurricane (an occupational hazard for a NOLA musician), trumpeter / keyboardist Nicholas Payton engaged with players in the local RnB scene to capture new takes on six of his previously recorded tunes.  Payton is an important player, a tireless advocate for jazz and justice and the generator of a host of terrific discs.  For me this just isn’t one of them, as much as I wanted to love it.  He plays more keyboard than trumpet with more funk than finesse.  Give a listen, you might love it.

Gonzalo Rubalcabo – Borrowed Roses (Top Stop Music, released 09/15/2023). Gonzalo Rubalcabo – piano.

Over a long career, this is pianist Gonzalo Rubalcabo’s third solo record, but the first dedicated to jazz standards.  As with the latest trio / solo record by Latin Jazz icon Arturo O’Farrill, this release eschews the clave for a straight-up standards memo, without specific reference to either of the pianists’ Latin chops.  Along side of Rubalcabo’s masterful takes on Gershwin’s Summertime & Someone To Watch Over Me and Bill Strayhorn’s Chelsea Bridge and Lush Life, he shows us how beautiful the melody is for Lennon & McCartney’s Here, There and Everywhere.  Rubalcabo is a master interpreter and this disc is a terrific illustration of his beautiful touch and phrasing.

Steve Lehman & Orchestre National De Jazz – Ex Machina (Pi Recordings, released 09/15/2023).   Jonathan Finlayson – trumpet, Steve Lehman – alto saxophone, electronics, Chris Dingman – vibraphone + Members of Orchestre National de Jazz, Frédéric Maurin – direction / electronics, Fabien Norbert – trumpet / flugelhorn, Daniel Zimmermann – trombone, Christiane Bopp – trombone, Fanny Meteier – tuba, Fanny Ménégoz – flute / alto flute / piccolo, Catherine Delaunay – clarinet / basset horn, Julien Soro – tenor saxophone / clarinet, Fabien Debellefontaine – baritone saxophone / clarinet / flute, Bruno Ruder – piano / synthesizer, Stéphan Caracci – vibraphone / marimba / glockenspiel / percussion, synthesizer, Sarah Murcia – double bass, Rafaël Koerner – drums, Jérôme Nika – generative electronics creation & artistic collaboration, Dionysios Papanikolaou – IRCAM electronics.

Outside Saxophonist / composer Steve Lehman has engaged with the French large ensemble Orchestra National De Jazz to create this complex new piece.  The Bandcamp page makes reference to “computer-driven sound transformations,” saying “computer-driven improvisations pervade Ex Machina.”  I am not really certain what that means, but in practice Lehman (alto), Jonathan Finlayson (trumpet) and Chris Dingman (vibes) can be heard soloing over a very dense background of both identifiable instruments and unidentifiable sounds.

Joshua Redman Featuring Gabrielle Cavassa – Where Are We (Blue Note, released 09/15/2023).  Nicholas Payton-tp, Joshua Redman – saxophone, Aaron Parks – piano, Joel Ross – vibraphone, Kurt Rosenwinkel – guitar, Joe Sanders – bass, Brian Blade – drums, Gabriell Cavassa – vocals / guitar. 

From the opening cadenza that quotes This Land Is Your Land, saxophonist Joshua Redman treats us to a suite of tunes that celebrates specific places in America, hence the title, Where Are We.  This is the first time that Redman has recorded with a vocalist on one of his own releases and Gabrielle Cavassa, whom Redman descries as “a vocalist of uncommon style, sincerity, and soul” is a good choice, bringing Etta Jones to mind on occassion.  Supplementing the excellent rhythm section of Aaron Parks on piano, Joe Sanders on bass and Brian Blades on drums, Redman brought in four friends to play on songs about their hometowns – guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel on Springsteen’s Streets of Philadelphia, guitarist Peter Bernstein on Rodgers & Hart’s Manhattan, vibraphonist Joel Ross on Count Basie & Jimmy Rushing’s Chicago Blues and trumpeter Nicholas Payton on, (what else?) Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?  The latter captures the wistfulness and longing of the lyric more than most interpretations.  Filipe Freitas wrote on Jazz Trail, “ The Southeastern state of Alabama is a required stop as a saxophone intro leads to the standard Stars Fell on Alabama, delivered as a sax/vocals duet, and then ends in John Coltrane’s Alabama, a soul-stirring escape that explores a bit more off the limits, into abstract modalism.”  Joshua Redman is a living legend and a highly esteemed jazz player.  Releases like this keep building the legend.  Highly recommended.

Lezlie Harrison – Let Them Talk(Cellar Music, released 09/15/2023).  Ben Patterson – Hammond B3 organ, Matt Chertkoff – guitar, Pete Zimmer – drums, Lezlie Harrison – vocals.

Backed by a solid trio led by Ben Patterson’s sublime B3 playing, vocalist Lezlie Harrison has produced a session of nine standards (broadly defined to include Steve Miller’s Fly Like an Eagle.) There is something about the timbre of her voice or her phasing that favorably brings to mind Rene Marie, perhaps without the sass.  Deeply immersed in vocal jazz, Harrison is a host on one of the leading jazz radio stations, WBGO Newark.  Much of the record is dedicated to ballads, including a touching take on Paul McCartney’s Yesterday, but she does turn up the heat when channelling Billie Holiday on What A Little Moonlight Can Do.  This is a quiet record that doesn’t break new ground but fits comfortably within the set of well-performed vocal jazz works.

Benjamin Boone – Caught In The Rhythm (Origin Records, released 09/15/2023).  Ambrose Akinmuire – trumpet, Max Hembd – trumpet, Francisco Torres – trombone, Benjamin Boone – soprano saxophone / alto saxophone, Greg Osby – alto saxophone, Donovan Cooper – tenor saxophone, Hashem Assadullahi – soprano saxophone / alto saxophone, Kenny Werner – piano, Kevin Person, Jr. – piano / keyboard, Ben Monder – guitar, Eyal Maoz – guitar, Corcoran Holt – bass, Stefan Poetzsch – violin, Peter Brendler – bass, Richard Giddens – bass, Ari Hoenig – drums, John Bishop – drums, Rodrigo Dalla – congas / triangle + poetry / narration from Kimiko Hahn, Faylita Hicks, Edward Hirsch, TR Hummer, Tyehimba Jess, Patrick Sylvain.

Over two volumes of The Poetry of Jazz (2012), one release entitled The Poets Are Gathering, (2017) and now, Caught In The Rhythm, Benjamin Boone has become the leading jazz – poetry collaborator.  Several of the poets from the last effort appear this time as well.  While there is a little funk to be had, Boone’s noir sensibilities inform many of the selections.  The synergy between the word and the notes is strong on the title tune where Haitian-American poet Patrick Sylvain mixes with trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, and percussionists Ari Hoenig and Rodrigo Dalla.  Paul Rauch wrote on AllAboutJazz, “Art Pepper, is an homage to the alto saxophone great, describing his gigantic presence as a musician, and the deep blue opposition of his human qualities and addictions. Poet Edward Hirsch reads while the band swings hard, the alto saxophone recitations blending fierce, distinct, glistening tones from the horn of Greg Osby. The beat dances forward through the intelligent comping of Werner, and the intricate skip beats of Hoenig.”  I love this series of discs.  Boone has breathed new life into an almost extinct sub-genre.

Darden Purcell – Love’s Got Me In A Lazy Mood (OA2 Records, released 09/15/2023).  Joe Locke – vibes, Shawn Purcell – electric and nylon string guitars, Todd Simon – piano, Jeff Reed – acoustic bass, Todd Harrison – drums and cymbals, Darden Purcell – voice.

Vocalist Darden Purcell is Director of Jazz Studies at George Mason University, just up the road from us in Fairfax, VA.  She has a fine voice; she can bop; she can croon.  She features vibraphonist Joe Locke on six of the eleven tunes and their connections can be heard to great effect on You’ve Changed.  Chatterbox, written by Purcell with her husband guitarist Sean Purcell, is a vocalese romp which shows off the singer’s great technical chops, while bringing swinging contributions from Locke, bassist Jeff Reed and her guitarist partner.  There is a welcomed unhurried vibe to the disc that I liked a lot.  As George Harris wrote on Jazz Weekly, “She could work for the UN as a first class interpreter.”  Give this a try.

Wille Morris – Conversation Starter (Posi-Tone, released 08/18/2023).  Willie Morris – tenor saxophone, Patrick Cornelius – alto saxophone / alto flute, Jon Davis – piano, Adi Meyerson – bass, EJ Strickland – drums / percussion.

I enjoyed the contribution of tenor saxophonist Willie Morris III on two Posi-tone dates from earlier in the year – Something Blue’s Personal Preference and Josh Lawrence’s And That Too.  The label gets kudos for developing their artists and, true to form, Posi-tone has given Morris his own date, which is excellent. This is a fine band, featuring alto saxophonist Patrick Cornelius, whose Book of Secrets (previewed here 08/28/2023) is a highlight of releases so far this year.  This release of eight catchy originals and two covers, is a solid hard bop effort with tasteful forays into spiritual jazz territory. Of the opening tune Tina’s Dream, David A. Orthmann wrote on AllAboutJazz, “[It] is a gateway to Morris’s improvisational prowess. He eases into the solo, leaving ample space between phrases and keeping things on a relatively even emotional keel; nonetheless, this restraint hints at more exciting things to come… The lines gradually get longer, edgier, and more intense, peppered with sculpted cries and brusque, repeated figures. Even at his most passionate, the emotional component of Morris’s artistry does not dominate; by the solo’s end, it is easy to bask in the heat and fervor and appreciate just how well it is constructed.”  Highly recommended. 

Mike Boone – Enjoying the View (Self Produced, released 08/10/2023).  Leon Jordan, Jr – trumpet, Brian Morris – tenor saxophone, Yesseh Furaha-Ali – tenor saxophone, John Katz – alto saxophone, John Swana – EWI, Mike Eckroth – piano, Jeff Torchon – keyboards, Brandon Young – Rhodes / piano / organ, Jerry Tate – keyboards, Victor Provost – steel pans, Elijah Cole – guitar, Greg Kettinger – guitar, Alicyn Yafee – guitar, Jake Kelberman – guitar, Mike Boone – bass / synthesizer / vocals, Brendan McGeehan – bass, Mehki Boone – drums, Harry “Butch” Reed – drums / percussion, Khary Abdul-Shaheed – drums / djembe / bongos, Michael Caspar Johnson – congas, Raul Cisneros – congas / cowbell, Moroquitoro – timbales, Joe Harrison – congas / shaker, Pete Vogel-cga, Frank Gattis – timbales / bata drum / shaker / cowbell, Wayv Wilson – vocals, Antonio McLendon – vocals, Raimundo Santos – vocals, Lady J – vocals, Kevin Valentine – announcer.

Philadelphia Bassist Mike Boone has packed a wide range of genres that interest him (hard bop, calypso, funk, RnB, spiritual jazz) into a sprawling set that brings in thirty-two musicians from the City of Brotherly Love.  More than a few of the seventeen cuts seemed to be fragments and excerpts, which began to wear on me. The more straight-ahead large ensemble efforts like McCoy Tyler’s Passion Dance were of most interest.

Chien Chien Lu – Built In System (Giant Step Arts, released 07/05/2023).  Jeremy Pelt – trumpet, Chien Chien Lu – vibraphone, Richie Goods – bass, Allan Mednard – drums.

Trumpeter Jeremy Pelt introduced vibraphonist / marimba player Chien Chien Lu in his 2018 disc The Artist.  Since then they have graced each other’s releases, including Lu’s debut as a leader, The Path, 2020.  This latest project also includes bassist Richie Goods, with whom Lu recorded her 2022 offering Connected, and drummer Allan Mednard – also a fellow member of Pelt’s quintet.  The disc is full of satisfying tunes well-played and my favorite is Special Things, whose theme is stated gently by Pelt, followed by a delicate vibraphone interval from the leader.  While we have an abundance of terrific vibraphonists around today (Stefan Harris, Joe Locke, Joel Ross, Warren Wolf, Mike Manieri), Chien Chien Lu is certainly one of the best.

And here is one we missed first time around:

Ben Rosenblum Trio – Portrait of the Artist, The Music Of Gregg Hill (Cold Plunge Records, released 06/03/2020).  Ben Rosenbaum – piano, Marty Jaffee – bass, Ben Zweig – drums.

Over the past several years there have been a raft of new releases featuring the music of Michigan composer Gregg Hill (Rodney Whitaker, Michael Dease, Randy Napoleon, TechnoCats).  In exploring this expanding discography, I discovered this gem by pianist Ben Rosenbaum (whose A Thousand Pebbles was previewed here on 02/13/2023) was not in our library and the composer was kind enough to send a copy.  Dan Bilawsky wrote on New York Jazz Record, “Premiering a fair number of Hill’s pieces on record and given free rein to mold them to his liking with the help of bassist Marty Jaffe and drummer Ben Zweig, Rosenblum finds a way to honor the music and its inspirations while remaining true to his own vision. Mysticism and hints of Bill Evans factor into the title track; the language and muscularity of McCoy Tyner loom large on Modal Yodel; and an Ellingtonian grace floats on by during the gorgeous daydreams in New Sunday. Not to be left out, Thelonious Monk also receives his due with some quotes during bop- based closer Thank You Notes. All at once, Rosenblum minds Hill’s writing, mines the masters and maximizes his own potential.”  Gregg Hill is a compelling composer and this is a good introduction to his work.

Lots to hear. I hope some of it resonates with you.

Russell Perry, Jazz at 100 Now!


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