New Jazz Releases – 11/20/2023

Willie Williams

A bit of a light week for new releases as we come up to the holidays.  Traditionally, releases slow down from here to the end of the year, so you can catch your breath and think about what releases would be on your best of 2023 list.  Three discs from Chicago’s recently founded label, Calligram, caught my notice as did the return of Willie Williams who I have not heard from since the 90s. 

Wille Williams – Zig Zag (Wills Way Music WWM 001, released 11/01/2023).  Ace Williams – flugelhorn, Willie Williams – tenor saxophone / soprano saxophone / flute, Stephen Scott – piano, Buster Williams – bass, Victor Lewis – drums, Carlos Maldonado – congas / percussion.

Saxophonist Willie Williams (TS Monk, Cedar Walton, Kevin Mahagony) slipped from my view after the 90s and returns here for a swinging mainstream effort with a high profile band – pianist Stephen Scott (Bobby Watson, Ron Carter, Steve Turre), bassist Buster Williams, and drummer Victor Lewis.  Williams’s son and flugelhorn player Ace Williams joins on the leader’s The Kindness Of Strangers with a catchy Latin groove.  The set of seven originals, plus Kenny Kirkland’s lovely ballad on soprano sax Dienda, has a swinging Blue Note vibe as on the mid-tempo title tune, Zig Zag.  It’s good to hear from Williams again, give this one a listen.

John Bishop – Antwerp (Origin Records, released 11/17/2023).  Bram Weitjes – piano, Piet Verbist – bass, John Bishop – drums.

Drummer John Bishop (Benjamin Boone, Hal Galper, Thomas Marriott) founded Origin Records as a label “run for musicians by musicians”, yet rarely does he issue music under his own name.  It has been 18 years since Nothing If Not Something in 2005.  Of the program of six originals and three covers (by Hal Galper, Carla Bley, Henry Mancini), Dan McClenaghan wrote on AllAbout Jazz, “From the opener, Weijters’ rollicking Ruchsichtslos, to Galper’s Trip the Light Fantastic, rendered here with an introspective flair …, to Verbist’s extraordinarily pretty Pointing At The Moon, which features the bassist taking the lead in front of the pianist’s deft accompaniment, to Verbist’s flamenco-flavored Bull to the slow, deliberate, gorgeous take on Mancini’s Two For The Road, showcasing a classic tune to perfection, Antwerp stands out as a blue ribbon piano trio album, certainly one of the year’s finest.”  Find a quiet moment and enjoy this fine release.

Scott Hesse Trio – Intention (Calligram Records, released 11/03/2023).  Scott Hesse – guitar, Clark Sommers – bass, Dana Hall – drums / cymbals.

Continuing to showcase Chicago talent, Calligram Records has released Scott Hesse’s first since 2015, a program of four originals and covers of John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Ornette Coleman and Jerome Kern.  Guitarist Hesse, bassist Clark Sommers and drummer Dana Hall make up the rhythm section for the last two releases from saxophonist Geof Bradfield (2023’s Quaver and 2018’s Yes, And…Music for Nine Improvisers) and for one of my favorite releases of 2023, Clark Sommers’s Feast Ephemera. This trio is totally in synch, a Chicago institution.

Dave Bayles Trio – Live At The Uptowner(Calligram Records, released 11/03/2023).  Russ Johnson – trumpet, Clay Schaub – bass, Dave Bayles – drums.

Drummer Dave Bayles’s trio presents a program of eight originals by Bayles and bassist Clay Schaub plus Monk’s infrequently covered Shuffle Boil.  This trio has honed their collective sound in a two-year weekly residency at Milwaukee’s Uptowner Bar.  Supple trumpeter Russ Johnson has been recording quite a bit recently – he is on the discs by Bradfield and Sommers noted above as well as his own Reveal from earlier in the year.  Kevin Lunch wrote for Milwaukee’s Shepherd Express, “There’s no loss in the comparative spareness of instrumentation. [Bassist Clay] Schaub’s opener, Fitzroy, quickly engages with a lyrical, playful melody, an almost samba-like groove with Bayles riding the tricky tempo perfectly. Johnson’s trumpet sings and floats, frolicking like a bird in a warm, spiraling breeze. After a melodic bass solo, Bayles delivers a dancing Billy Higgins-like solo. Third Birthday (this many) is an affable Ornette Coleman-ish melody. Johnson is a joy to follow through the trickier changes over Bayles’s marvelously sensitive accompaniment.”  I hope we hear more from this trio.

Steve Million – Perfectly Spaced(Calligram Records, released 11/03/2023).  Steve Million – piano, Mark Feldman – violin, Eric Hochberg – bass, Bob Rummage – drums.

Another band fine-tuned through a weekly residency, this time at Chicago’s Catch 35, Chicago veterans pianist Steve Million, bassist Eric Hochberg and drummer Bob Rummage join forces with relative newcomer to Chicago, Mark Feldman (Chris Potter, Michael Brecker, John Zorn, John Abercrombie), a New York transplant.  The set includes eight originals whose highlights include the ballad The Mirror and the mid tempo swinger Ditty Do Wah.  The sole cover is a lovely duo (piano / violin) take on Bill Evans Time Remembered.  A fine release.

Sarah McKenzie – Without You (Normandy Lane Music, released 10/27/2023).  Bob Sheppard – flute / saxophone, Sarah McKenzie – piano / vocals, Romero Lubambo – guitar, Jaques Morelenbaum – cello, Geoff Gascoyne – bass, Peter Erskine – drums, Rogerio Boccato – percussion.

Following up on 2017 dates in Rio, LA-based Australian singer / pianist Sarah McKenzie has released a suite of bossa nova tunes.  On the set, she collaborates with Jacques Morelenbaum (Jobim’s cellist) and Romero Lubambo (guitarist for Astrud Gilberto) as well as ubiquitous LA drummer Peter Erskine and well-travelled multi-reedest Bob Sheppard (Bob Mintzer, Peter Erskine, Kurt Elling, Box Scaggs).  Of the fourteen tunes, the singer wrote three, Lubambo contributed one, there is a Luis Bonfa cover (The Gentle Rain) and the balance are by Antônio Carlos Jobim with various collaborators.  Jobim’s Bonita represents the set well with its breathy and soft-focused vocals, tasteful cello contributions and lovely guitar work. 

Russell Kranes, Alex Levine, Sam Weber, Jay Sawyer – Anchor Points (OA2 Records, released 10/20/2023).  Russell Kranes – piano, Alex Levine – guitar, Sam Weber – bass, Jay Sawyer – drums.

This New York collective performs a set of three originals and five covers as both a classic piano – guitar – bass trio (Oscar Peterson, Nat King Cole) and as a quartet with drums.  George Harris wrote on Jazz Weekly, “[In a drummerless trio, guitarist Alex] Levine and [bassist Sam] Weber get into a delicate mood on I’ll Get By, with the latter stretch out a bit, and for the former to give an aria on a fragrant Two Sleepy People. [In a quartet, drummer Jay] Sawyer’s brushes assuage the simmering Anchor Points, with his sticks swinging to Levine’s Kenny Burrell-influenced solos as on the nifty Feint and relaxed Vivo Sonhando… Subtle sophistication.”

Antoine Drye With Strings – Retreat To Beauty(Cellar Music, release 10/20/2023).  Charlie Porter – trumpet, Antoine Drye – trumpet, Willie Applewhite – trombone, David Gibson – trombone, Patrick Milando – French horn, Alexandra Cook – French horn, Becca Patterson – tuba, David Bertrand – flute, Myron Walden – flute, John Ellis – clarinet / bass clarinet, Sullivan Fortner – piano, Isaac Raz – piano, Ben Wolf – bass, Brandi Disterheft – bass, Donald Edwards – drums, Kim Kimistri Kalesti – voice.

Trumpeter Antoine Drye (Tim Warfield, Lafayette Harris, Jr.) and orchestrator Isaac Raz set out to capture the vintage “with strings” vibe from examples such as Clifford Brown, Ben Webster, and, of course, Charlie Parker.  To his credit, he eschewed string samples going old school with a studio full of musicians.  He dips into the Great American Songbook (When It’s Sleepy Time Down South, Send In The Clowns), samples jazz classics (Billy Strayhorn’s Isfahan, Monk’s Reflections, Jimmy Rowles’s The Peacocks) and presents new compositions from the leader and his recently-deceased friend Jonathan Lefcoski.

Kelly Jefferson – Rituals (Cellar Music, released 9/22/2023).  Kelly Jefferson – tenor saxophone / soprano saxophone, Amanda Tosoff – piano, Jon Maharaj – bass, Morgan Childs – drums.

Toronto-based saxophonist Kelly Jefferson (Laila Biali) has recorded a set of originals written over the past dozen years.  The writing is highly melodic and the presentation solidly mainstream.  No Time Like The Present brings to mind the simple melody and power of McCoy Tyner’s Contemplation and features some of the best playing on the disc from both Jefferson and pianist Amanda Tosoff.

Hutchinson Andrews Trio – The Senator: A Tribute To Tommy Banks (Chronograph Records, released 09/15/2023).  Al Muirhead – trumpet, PJ Perry – saxophone, Chris Andrew – piano, Kodi Hutinson – bass, Dave Laing – drums, Mallory Chipman – vocals.

A trio lead by pianist Chris Andrew and bassist Kodi Hutchinson has released a short set of seven covers, five of which feature Al Moorhead on trumpet and joined on four by PJ Perry on sax.  The set is in honor of Tommy Banks, a pianist and TV personality in Canada who served a dozen years in the Canadian senate.  Mallory Chipman, Banks’s grand-daughter adds vocals on three tunes.  A highlight is the quintet take on Clifford Brown’s Joy Spring which is indicative of the upbeat swinging attitude of the disc.

Perhaps there is something here that has earned your attention.

Russell Perry, Jazz at 100 Now!


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