New Jazz Releases – 10/23/2023

Allison Miller

Charlottesville favorite Allison Miller assembled a band including several of her BoomTicBoom colleagues and has released a terrific new disc.  Releases have also come in from a slew of familiar names this week – Emmet Cohen, Houston Person, Chris Botti, John Scofield, and Count Basie.  Ron Blake and Jim Rotondi are back in good form after an extended hiatus.

Allison Miller – Rivers In Our Veins (Royal Potato Family, released 10/06/2023) digital only.  Jason Palmer – trumpet, Ben Goldberg – clarinet / contra-alto clarinet, Carmen Staff – piano / Rhodes / accordion, Jenny Scheinman – violin, Todd Sickafoose – bass, Allison Miller – drums / percussion / vibraphone with tap dancers Claudia Rahardjanoto, Michelle Dorrance, Elizabeth Burke, Byron Tittle, and Orlando Hernández

Drummer Allison Miller’s latest was commissioned by the Lake Placid Center for the Arts, reminding us how important philanthropic support is to the health of the jazz ecosystem these days.  The band consists of familiar Miller collaborators Ben Goldberg on clarinets, Carmen Staff on keys, Jenny Sheinmann on violin and Todd Sickafoose on bass plus Jason Palmer (Mark Turner, Noah Preminger) on trumpet.  The ensemble’s rhythm section gets a percussive boost from a cadre of tap dancers.  Paying tribute to the waters of the James, Delaware, Potomac, Hudson, and Susquehanna, Miller celebrates their history and challenges.  This collection drifts towards Americana from time-to-time, fueled often by Sheinmann’s lovely violin. On AllMusic, Matt Collar appreciated the evocative and cinematic songs, “like Hudson, where Miller lays down a steady groove that sounds like a train cutting a dusky shadow over Scheinman’s long gray violin lines. In contrast, For the Fishes is all percolating tap dance rhythms over which Palmer and Goldberg leap and dance like a free jazz take on a 1930s cartoon soundtrack theme. There’s also the crisp Latin chamber number Wild Blue Indigo and the Gulf Coast funk of GO!. With Rivers in Our Veins, Miller and her band have crafted a heartfelt tonal map of the nation’s waterways, one that pulls you deep within the swell of its musical tide.” I loved this disc for a lot of reasons.

Emmet Cohen Featuring Houston Person – Master Legacy Series Vol. 5 (Bandstand Presents, releases 11/10/2023).  Houston Person – tenor saxophone, Emmet Cohen – piano, Yasushi Nakamura – bass, Kyle Poole – drums.

Pianist Emmet Cohen is deeply steeped in the history of jazz and routinely shows his inspirations in his playing and program selection.  He has been releasing a series of discs under the title Master Legacy Series since 2016 bringing him into small ensemble settings with the likes of acknowledged masters Jimmy Cobb, Ron Carter, George Coleman, Benny Golson, Tootie Heath and, now, Houston Person.  Mike Jurkovic wrote on AllAboutJazz, “Recorded at Van Gelder Studios (and sounding absolutely vintage) Cohen thrives in these inter-generational sessions where jazz knowledge, tradition, and history are handed down eagerly and generously. [Bassist Yasushi] Nakamura plays spot-on throughout, nothing too flashy, nothing too abstract, just inhabiting the pocket into which he and [drummer Kyle] Poole fit most comfortably. Add Person sailing effortlessly over Duke Ellington’s 1938 chart-topper I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart, All My Tomorrows (a Jimmy van Heusen & Sammy Cahn vehicle for Frank Sinatra) and a capering run through Blues Everywhere makes Master Legacy Series Vol. 5 Featuring Houston Person another top shelf effort in Cohen’s growing, and glowing, discography.”  Take a listen to the righteous cover of Tadd Dameron’s If You Could See Me Now – mainstream comfort food for your ears.

Donald Vega – As I Travel (Imagery Records, releases 10/27/2023).  Donald Vega – piano, John Patitucci – bass, Lewis Nash – drums, Luisito Quintero – percussion.

Pianist and composer Donald Vega (Ron Carter’s Holder Striker Trio) has released his fourth disc as a leader, this time with a suite of new compositions inspired by his immigrant voyage (he arrived from Nicaragua at 14).  And just look at his companions on this journey – bassist John Patitucci (Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Danilo Perez), uber-drummer Lewis Nash (recently Noah Haidu, George Freeman, Lafayette Harris, Cyrus Chestnut), and percussionist Luisito Quintero (Joey Alexander, Chick Corea, Theo Croker).  Vega can drive latin-derived themes as well as anyone (¡Baila! Dance Like No One’s Watching) and then turn around a deliver touching ballads in a straight four-four (Isabel – The Enchanting Nature of You).  Give it a listen.

Tina Raymond – Divinations (Imani Records, releases 10/27/2023).  Andrew Renfroe – guitar, Karl McComas-Reichl – bass, Tina Raymond – drums.

Drummer Tina Raymond is the Director of Jazz Studies at California State University Northridge and a member of the Esthesis Quartet (whose Time Zones was previewed here on 03/20/2023).  The trio is completed by guitarist Andrew Renfroe (Carmen Lundy, Keyon Harrold) and bassist Karl McComas-Reichl.  The six compositions by Raymond are each inspired by a different tarot card.  While there is some guitar crunching to be experienced, it is the lower key pieces like Eight of Wands that are most interesting to me.  Raymond is crisp and snappy drummer, a fine composer and a capable bandleader.

Chris Botti – Vol. 1 (Blue Note, released 10/20/2023).  Chris Botti – trumpet, Chad Lefkowitz-Brown – saxophone, David Foster – piano, Taylor Eigsti – piano, Esteban Castro – piano, Julian Pollock – Rhodes / piano, Gilad Hekselman – guitar, Leonardo Amueda – guitar, Shayne Fontayne – guitar, Patrick Warren – strings, Joshua Bell – violin, Zack Moses – bass, Thomas Morgan – bass, Vinnie Colaiuta – drums, John Splitoff – vocals.

Trumpeter Chris Botti has delivered a quiet set of ballads, mostly familiar standards plus Cold Play’s Fix You.  This acoustic jazz disc is a departure from Botti’s (commercially successful) recent releases which have tended to pop instrumentals and smooth jazz.  In promoting this Blue Note debut, the label reinforces that Botti “gets back to the jazz essence of his artistry.”    Jim Hynes at Making The Scene wrote, “If you were expecting trumpeter Chris Botti to change his game with his new signing to Blue Note, then your expectations will only slightly be met. If, on the other hand, you adore his mellow, pristine tone and flawless execution, you can be assured that it all remains intact with [what], as the title, Vol. 1, suggests is the first of several likely in this same vein.”  I love listening to ballads more than the next guy, as a general rule, but these recordings never touched or moved me.

John Scofield – Uncle John’s Band (ECM, released 10/13/2023) digital only.  John Scofield – guitar, Vincente Archer – bass, Bill Stewart – drums.

John Scofield has a long and distinguished discography and is no stranger to the openness of the guitar – bass – drums trio format.  This double CD release is a strong as they come.  The trio with Vicente Archer and long-time mate Bill Steward is both sensitive and exploratory.  Stewart Nicholson wrote on Jazz Wise, “It’s his most absorbing and compelling album for a long while, simply because it captures the freewheeling let’s-see-where-the-music-takes-us ethos that characterises Scofield’s playing in live performance, set loose in a variety of compositional moods that all have groove as their bottom line.”  This is a varied program of tunes by Bernstein, Miles, Dizzy, Dylan, Neil Young, and Jerry Garcia (the title tune) plus seven well-constructed originals, unified by the commanding and sometimes biting sound of the leader’s guitar.

Mendoza Hoff Revels – Echolocation(AUM Fidelity, released 10/13/2023).  James Brandon Lewis – tenor saxophone, Ava Mendoza – electric guitar, Devin Hoff – electric bass, Ches Smith – drums.

Mendoza Hoff Revels is a new unit formed by guitarist Ava Mendoza and bassist Devein Hoff, to which they have added frequently recorded bandleaders and improvisors Ches Smith (drums) and James Brandon Lewis (tenor).  On their Bancamp page, they describe the music as “21st Century progressive rock played by punk rockers with serious improv skills and a deep jazz feel. And vitally – non-stop wicked catchy tunes, riffs & grooves.”  They music ranges from crunching (Dyscalculia) to introspective, verging on ominous (Echolocation).

Shawn Maxwell – J Town Suite (Cora Street Records, released 10/13/2023). Shawn Maxwell – alto saxophone / soprano saxophone / flute, Collin Clauson – Fender Rhodes / Wurlitzer, Michael Barton – electric bass, Greg Essig – drums / percussion.

For his twelfth release, tenor saxophonist Shawn Maxwell (Story at Eleven previewed here 03/20/2023) has penned a love letter to his home town of Joliet, Illinois, a tough place that is an unusual inspiration for such an homage.  In fact, much of the music is sinister, spooky and ominous.  As Neil Tesser writes in the liner notes, “So why the hell do you want to go there with him?  To begin with ‘dark’ is not ‘dull’ – tone poems don’t all come in pastel – and the movements of J Town Suite pack plenty of intrigue, along with energy and craftsmanship.  You may not start whistling these melodies first thing in the morning, but trust me. They’ll worm their way into your consciousness nonetheless.”

Ron Blake – Mistaken Identity (7ten33 Productions, released 10/13/2023.  Ron Blake – tenor saxophone / baritone saxophone, Bobby Broom – guitar, Nat Reeves – bass, Reuben Rogers – bass, Kobie Watkins – drums.

Saxophonist Ron Blake (Joey DeFrancesco, Christian McBride, 20 years in the SNL Band) has recorded four previous discs as a leader, but the latest was in 2008, so this is a bit of a reintroduction.  The program of three originals plus one by producer Bobby Broom is supplemented by modern jazz classics from Duke Pearson, Sonny Rollins, Johnny Griffin and Benny Golson.  Jim Hynes wrote on Making A Scene, “This is a warm album with its focal point centered on the interplay between Blake and Broom. Each note is delivered with care, nothing seems hurried, and the emphasis is on lyricism as opposed to dazzling techniques… [The disc begins] with slow burning Duke Pearson tune Is That So? with the two friends interspersing their lines until Blake goes deep, Ben Webster-like, in the lower registers to Broom’s timely comping. The tempo builds and the quartet is swinging comfortably two minutes in … Blake takes his lyricism to another level on Johnny Griffin’s ballad, When We Were One, exposing every nuance of the gorgeous melody with Broom adding a brief but elegant touch as Reeves and Watkins provide the subtle but vital support.”  Solid release.  Recommended.

Michelle Lordi – Two Moons (Imani Records, released 10/6/2023). Caleb Wheeler Curtis – soprano saxophone, Orrin Evans – piano, Eric Revis – bass, Matthew Parrish – bass, Nasheet Waits – drums, Michelle Lordi – vocals.

For Michelle Lordi’s fifth release, she has engaged with pianist (and Imani Records owner) Orrin Evans and his Tar Baby trio (bassist Eric Revis and drummer Nasheet Waits).  The ensemble, including Caleb Wheeler Curtis on soprano can present a range of sonic looks.  The chestnut Close Your Eyes, for example, starts off dreamily and then becomes more edgy as Curtis meanders in supported by the thundering trio.  Jim Hynes wrote on Making A Scene, “She’s laidback, never forceful, and intent on creating and unraveling the ominous dream she had during the pandemic before the album was recorded. Her emphasis is on the lyrics rather than any sort of ostentatious vocal technique. You won’t hear Lordi scatting through these songs. The songs paint a picture of an unsettled Lordi, true to her feelings at the time. She is expressive, warm, fully focused, and finds some bright moments in the dark along the way.”  Worth a listen.

Jim Rotondi Quintet – Over Here (Criss Cross Jazz, released 09/29/2023).  Jim Rotondi – trumpet / flugelhorn, Rick Margitza – tenor saxophone, Danny Grissett – piano, Joshua Ginsburg – bass, Vladimir Kostadin0vic – drums.

In 2010, trumpeter Jim Rotondi released his disc The Move as he left New York for Austria for a position as Professor of Trumpet at the University of Graz.  The new title Over Here reflects this distance and his creation of a touring European quintet, including fellow expat Danny Grissett (Steve Nelson, Tom Harrell, Jeremy Pelt) on piano. Six of the nine tunes come from the band, including four from the leader and one each from Grissett and tenors Rick Magritza.  A solid mainstream player and bandleader, Rotondi adds this release to a string of fine discs over the past 25 years.  His warm tone and fluid improvisations plus the contributions of his excellent band make tunes like his Pete’s 32 a real pleasure.  Swinging mainstream jazz.

Max Beesley’s High Vibes – Zeus (Legere, released 09/29/2023) digital only.  Walt Fowler – trumpet / flugel horn, Tom Walsh – trumpet, Mike Davis – trumpet, Nichol Thompson – trombone, Christian Sands – piano, Max Beesley – vibraphone, Dean Parks – guitar, Jerry Meehan – bass, Steve Gadd – drums, Luis Conte – percussion.

Max Beesley’s High Vibes ensemble apparently dates to a handful of acid jazz EPs thirty years ago.  They have come back with their first full length release.  There is a heavy funk back beat to some of it and much of the rest has a soundtrack kind of vibe that doesn’t do a thing for me.

Brad Turner – The Magnificent (Cellar Music, released 09/22/2023).  Brad Turner – piano / trumpet, Cory Weeds – tenor saxophone, Peter Bernstein – guitar, Neil Swainson – bass, Quincy Davis – drums.

Trumpeter Brad Turner has assembled a first-rate cast of players including guitarist Peter Bernstein (recently Pete Zimmer, Ken Fowser, Mike LeDonne, Jimmy Cobb) and bassist Neil Swainson whose work with Woody Shaw in the 80s deserves renewed exploration (check out his quintet with Shaw and Joe Henderson on the disc 49th Parallel).  Pierre Giroux wrote on AllAboutJazz, “Tenor saxophonist Cory Weeds is brought into the hard-swinging composition Barney’s Castle, in which the Turner & Weeds front line cleverly navigates the intricate melody. Bernstein’s virtuosity is evident in his opening statement and continues with his subsequent comping and soloing. Both Turner and Weeds exhibit command over their instruments with inventive improvisations… To Begin, Begin, … exemplifies the excellence of bassist Neil Swainson. The number opens with a bass figure which appears simple but complex, such as Swainson’s technique. While Turner’s playing is captivating throughout the number, Swainson holds the chart together with his bass line full of inventive twists.”

Count Basie Orchestra – Basie Swings The Blues (Candid Records, released 09/15/2023).  The Count Basie Orchestra with Mr. Sipp, Bobby Rush, Shemekia Coleman, Buddy Guy, Charlie Musselwhite, Keb’ Mo’, Lauren Mitchell, Bettye LaVette, Robert Cray, Ledishi, Jamie Davis, Carmen Bradford, George Benson.

Jazz is never far from its roots in the blues and the Basie Band was always one of the bluest of the big bands.  This latest release couples the current version of this storied ensemble with a set of today’s blues heroes from Robert Cray and Keb’ Mo’ to Shemekia Copeland and Bettye Levette.  It’s swinging, rocking and very blue.  Enjoy.

Carlos Henriquez – A Nuyorican Tale (Self Produced, released 09/15/2023).  Michael Rodriguez – trumpet, Terrel Stafford – trumpet, Marshal Gilkes – trombone, Melissa Aldana – tenor saxophone, Jeremy Bosch – flute / vocals, Robert Rodriguez – piano / Rhodes, Carlos Henriquez – bass, Obed Calvaire – drums, Anthony Almonte – congas /vocals.

Jazz at Lincoln Center bassist Carlos Henriquez has assembled an all-star ensemble of New York players to record his statement about New York’s Puerto Rican community – once of San Juan Hill neighborhood (demolished for Lincoln Center) and, more recently, of the South Bronx.  Jim Hynes wrote on Making a Scene, “The cha-cha Bodegas Groove rather obviously nods to the neighborhood delis where Henriquez grew up in South Bronx, accented by his arco bass solo, an incisive turn from [trumpeter Terell] Stafford, and a charming, lyrical statement from [flutist Jeremy] Bosch. Afro Monk references the iconic pianist about whom Henriquez learned had lived in the San Juan Hill neighborhood. The fusion of Monk’s jazz with Henriquez Afro-Cuban flourishes features a sturdy pizzicato solo from the leader and, of course, angular pianism from [Robert] Rodriguez, a poignant statement from [trumpeter Marshall] Gilkes and impressive kit work from his partner in the JLCO, drummer [Obed] Calvaire.”  Great band, swinging tunes.

Sharon Minemoto – Dark Night, Bright Stars (Cellar Music, released 08/11/2023).  Jon Bentley – tenor saxophone, Sharon Minemoto – piano, Darren Radtke – bass, Bernie Arai – drums.

Pianist Sharon Minemoto and her tenor quartet of long-term musical collaborators have issued a disc of twelve of her originals.  In his review on AllAboutJazz, Pierre Giroux highlighted two of the compositions as exemplary of this interaction among friends, “Good Hearts bubbles along in a straight-ahead fashion bristling with insight and vital energy. Minemoto, Bentley and Radtke deliver solos in an engaging and assertive style. The closing track is entitled Changes. This is a thoughtful and reflective composition that creates a sense of intimacy between the players and the listener. The special interactions among Minemoto, Bentley and Radtke allow each of them to shine individually while contributing to the group’s overall sound.”  Enjoyable.

Dan Rosenboom – Polarity(Orenda Records, released 04/28/2023).  Dan Rosenboom – trumpet / flugelhorn, quartertone trumpet, Gavin Templeton – alto saxophone / baritone saxophone, John Escreet – piano / keyboards, Billy Mohler – double bass, Damion Reid – drums.

Trumpeter Dan Rosenboom is a lynchpin in the LA creative music world. For this release he has engaged a fine collection of players led by pianist John Escreet (Amir ElSaffar, Patrick Cornelius, Jamie Baum, Tyshawn Sorey) and drummer Damion Reed (Steve Lehman, Craig Taborn, Rudresh Mahanthappa).  Most of the music is aggressive, edgy and energetic, sometimes in-your-face.  The notable exception is the beautiful ballad On Summoning The Will, which Pat Youngspiel wrote on AllAboutJazz, “captures Rosenboom and Co. in a particularly serene mood. The trumpet’s unbothered sustain and full-bodied tone, in combination with the song’s wistful melody, sounds like something out of the Kenny Wheeler songbook, but wrapped in the sunny aura of the West Coast rather than Wheeler’s foreboding shades.” 

Wendell Harrison – Fly By Night (WenHa, released 02/06/2021). Wendell Harrison – clarinet / tenor saxophone, Kirk Lightsey – piano, Pamela Wise -piano, Robert Pipho – vibraphone, Cecil McBee – bass, Jaribu Shahid – bass, Doug Hammond – drums.

In my 01/23/2023 preview of the Phil Ranelin and Wendell Harrison release in the Jazz is Dead series (#16), I took issue with the musical setting for these important but overlooked players and suggested that they deserved a better format to bring their music back to us.  Well, here it is.  While this was issued in 2021, it is just now showing up in our library and I am glad it is.  This time Harrison is surrounded by players with whom he grew up in Detroit in the 1950’s heyday of hard bop, including Cecil McBee (The Cookers, John Hicks, Pharoah Sanders, Alice Coltrane) on bass.  Harrison features his silky clarinet on seven of the eight tunes and his tenor on one.  His compositional chops are fully expressed on the up tempo clarinet feature Tons & Tons of BS and the mid tempo hard bop stroll Changing the Scene.  Recommended.

Lots to hear – better get busy.

Russell Perry, Jazz at 100 Now!


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