New Jazz Releases – 12/18/2023 (All Jazz Is Local)

Kris Monson

We are lucky to live in a region that nurtures an active jazz scene.  It always seems like it could be stronger with more opportunities to play and hear live music, but a survey of recordings by Central Virginia-resident  or -affiliated players reveals almost two dozen discs released in the 2023.  There are undoubtably others that we have missed.  This list includes a dozen that have been recently acquired by WTJU and are previewed here in addition to those that were covered earlier in the year.  Three internationally known players have recently relocated to our area – singer Stacey Kent, her partner multi-instumentalist Jim Tomlinson and leading flute player Nicole Mitchell.  The year started strong with John D’earth’s January release of Coin of the Realm and finished strong with Charles Owens’s December release of Here It Is.  Support the musicians in our midst.

John D’earth Quintet – Coin of the Realm (Cosmology Records, released 01/2023).  John D’earth – Trumpet, JC Kuhl – tenor sax, Daniel Clarke – piano, Peter Spaar – bass, Devonne Harris – drums).  

Previewed 1/26/2023.  A fine outing by the denizens of Miller’s Thursday night.

Jason Jenkins – Blues & Synonyms (Self Produced, released 01/21/2023).  Charles Owens – tenor saxophone, James Gates – alto saxophone, Toru Dodo – piano, Nathan Hittle – piano, Alan Parker – guitar, Jason Jenkins – bass, Billy Williams – drums, Keith Willingham – drums.  

Richmond-based bassist Jason Jenkins has assembled a strong regional ensemble for a well-played program of modern-jazz standards by Miles, Bird, Sonny, Jobim, Cannonball and the like. The ensemble comes in several configurations – a tenor – guitar quartet featuring Charles Owens (romping through Bird’s Bigfoot), an alto – piano quartet with “Saxsmo” Gates (terrific on Kenny Drew’s Bluesville) and a piano – guitar quartet with Tour Dodo and Alan Parker (flowing through Bronislau Kaper’s Invitation).  A diverse and swinging release.

Nicole Mitchell – Duo with Deer Isle (Black Earth Music, released 01/21/2023).  Nicole Mitchell – flute / alto flute / piccolo / Kemetic harp / slit drum / wood flutes / saw blades/ percussion / vocals.

While in artist residency on Deer Isle, Maine, in 2005, poll-winning flutist (now on the UVa Music Faculty) Nicole Mitchell recorded her first solo record as a set of conversations (duos if you will) with the place.  She plays a wide-range of instruments, including her voice, in an equally wide range of settings, some of which provide ambient sound.  This is the first release from those recordings.  Mitchell has a fertile mind for improvisation and has created a diverse set of sound experiences.

Eddie Williams – Acceptance (Self Produced, released 03/01/2023). Eddie Williams – tenor saxophone, Justin Kauflin – piano, Chris Brydge – bass, Emre Kartari – drums.  

Of the new release by the Tidewater-based quartet led by tenor saxophonist Eddie Williams with Richmond-based drummer Emre Kartari, Tom Robotham wrote on VEER Magazine,Acceptanceswings hard from the outset as well, with a high-intensity performance of Barracudas, a Gil Evans/Miles Davis composition (originally titled Time of the Barracudas) that conveys an air of mystery. The original was recorded in 1963 for a much larger ensemble, but this stripped-down version works extremely well in the hands of the musicians Williams assembled for this project—pianist Justin Kauflin, bassist Chris Brydge and drummer Emre Kartari. I love the way it opens with a short staccato phrase played by Brydge alone, which is then repeated as Kauflin and Kartari join in, and repeated again as Williams layers on his sax. Picking up the pace about a minute in, Kauflin shines with a solo that showcases both his stunning technique and his artistic sensitivity. The spotlight then turns to Williams who further intensifies the track with a sax solo that has a sense of urgency, tempered by his beautiful tone.”  With three originals and eight covers, there is a lot of fine music here.

Tyler Burkhardt – Comet (Self Produced, released 03/08/2023).  Nick Wu – saxophone, David Sun – piano, Tyler Burkhardt – guitar, Randall Pharr – bass, Brian Caputo – drums.

Comet is a lovely release by Charlottesville-based quintet led by UVa Jazz Ensemble alumnus guitarist Tyler Burkhardt.  Anchored by long-time denizens of the regional scene – bassist and University of Richmond instructor Randall Pharr and drummer Brian Caputo (John D’earth, Charles Owens, Bobby Read, Azul) – the set is comprised of four Burkhardt originals.  Burkhardt is the dominant voice on the set, playing with both authority and thoughtfulness.  When he steps forward, saxophonist and fellow Jazz Ensemble alumnus Nick Wu contributes some beautiful lines. Give this one a listen.

Triogram – Triogram (Circle Theory Media, released 04/07/2023).  Bijan Taghavi – piano, Will Lyle – contrabass, Kofi Shepsu – drums.  

Previewed 9/25/2023.  Piano trio featuring Richmond-based drummer Kofi Shepsu.

Billy Williams – .beedubyah (Self Produced, released 04/17/2023).  Tennishu – tenor saxophone, Justin Kauflin – piano, DJ Harrison – keyboards / drums, Alan Parker – guitar, Morgan Burrs – guitar, Romeir Mendez – acoustic bass, , Brandon Lane – electric bass, Billy Williams – drums / percussion.  

VCU-alumnus, Richmond-based drummer Billy Williams (Jason Jenkins, Michael Hawkins) has released a set of five original compositions.  A range of regional players contribute including Butcher Brown’s DJ Harrison (Devonne Harris) who plays all other instruments with Williams’s drums on whenithinkThewilltofight features Tennishu (Marcus Tenney), also of Butcher Brown, on tenor with celebrated pianist Justin Kauflin (Danish Rain with Thomas Fonnesbaek) on a driving mid-tempo number.

Michael Hawkins – On Bass… (Self Produced, released 04/2023).  Rex Richardson – trumpet, James “Saxsmo” Gates – alto saxophone / soprano saxophone, W. Weldon Hill – piano, Michael Hawkins – bass, Billy Williams Jr. – drums, Lee Pearson – drums.  

Previewed 06/05/2023.  Richmond-based ensemble led by bassist Michael Hawkins.

Emily Kuhn – Ghosts Of Us (Back Records, released 06/23/2023).  Emily Kuhn – trumpet, Meghan Stage – piano, Erik Skov – guitar, Kit Lyles – bass, Gustavo Cortina’s – drums.  

Previewed 07/24/2023.  Chicago-based quintet led by Charlottesville-native Emily Kuhn.

JoVia Armstrong & Eunoia Society – Inception(Black Earth Music, released 06/30/2023).  Leslie Deshazor – 5 strings, Sasha Kashperko – guitar, Damon Warmack – bass, JoVia Armstrong – hybrid cajon.  

Previewed 08/07/2023.  Detroit-based ensemble led by UVa Music Faculty member JoVia Armstrong.

Kait Dunton – Keyboards (Real and Imagined Records, released 07/17/2023) digital only.  Kait Dunton – Fender Rhodes / Wurlitzer / Hammond organ / clavinet, Sean Hurley – bass, Jake Reed – drums. 

Previewed 07/03/2023.  California-based trio led by UVa Jazz Ensemble alumna Kait Dunton.

Jim Howe Trio – Stones Unturned (Distrokid, released 08/25/2023).  John D’earth – trumpet, Matt Niess – trombone, Haywood Giles – tenor saxophone, Royce Campbell – guitar, Bob Bowen – bass, Jim Howe – drums.  

Charlottesville-based drummer Jim Howe has recorded his regular trio with guitarist Royce Campbell and (the ubiquitous) bassist Bob Bowen in a set that includes nine of Campbell’s compositions, one each from Bowen and the leader, and two by the band. The release includes performances by guitar trio, tenor quartet with Haywood Giles and sextet with John D’earth on trumpet and Matt Neiss on trombone.  The smaller configurations provide the highlights for me, including two of Campbell’s tunes, Scufflin’ by the trio and Ballad For Dexter with Giles on tenor.  The Jim Howe Trio will be featured on the upcoming January 5th broadcast of Offbeat Roadhouse (8:00 – 9:00PM).

Doug Richards Orchestra – Through a Sonic Prism: The Music of Antônio Carlos Jobim(Self Produced, released 09/08/2023) digital only.  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.

Previewed 08/28/2023.  Richmond-based Big Band led by VCU professor emeritus, Doug Richards.

Veronica Swift – Veronica Swift (Mack Avenue, released 09/15/2023).  James Sarno – trumpet, Troy Roberts – tenor sax, David Leon – baritone saxophone, Adam Klipple – piano / keyboards, Chris Whiteman – guitars, Philip Norris – electric bass, Alex Claffy – upright bass,  Brian Viglione – drums, Veronica Swift – vocals.  

Previewed 09/11/2023.  Genre-busting release from Charlottesville-native Veronica Swift.

Kurt Elling & Charlie Hunter – SuperBlue: The Iridescent Spree (Edition Records, released 09/15/2023) digital only.  Jon Lampley – trumpet, Chris Ott – trombone, Dan White – saxophone, Elena Pinderhughes – flute, DJ Harrison – keyboards, Charlie Hunter – hybrid guitar, Corey Fonville – drums, Kurt Elling – vocals.  

Previewed 08/21/2023.  Sophomore release from singer Kurt Elling and guitarist Charlie Hunter with Butcher Brown’s DJ Harrison and Corey Fonville.

Joshua Espinoza – Songs From Yesterday (Self Produced, released 09/29/2023).  Joshua Espinoza – piano, Kris Monson – bass, Jaron Lamar Davis – drums.  

New York-based piano trio lead by pianist Joshua Espinoza featuring UVa Jazz Ensemble alumnus Kris Monson and drummer Jaron Lamar Davis. Citing its “blends of classical, folk and pop-influenced jazz”, Neil Duggan at AllAboutJazz wrote, “The trio’s combination of ideas makes this an engaging and entertaining album with complex flavours of Latin and folk. Monson and Davis combine to bring energy and rhythmic drive, whilst Espinoza’s playing is nimble and often unpredictable, bringing a welcome freshness of approach.”  A lovely trio outing.

Butcher Brown – Solar Music (Concord Jazz, released 10/03/2023). Tennishu – trumpet / tenor saxophone / vocals / percussion, Keyon Harrold – trumpet, DJ Harrison/Devonne Harris – piano / drum programming / vibraphone / Rhodes / organ / synth / SP404 / CP700 piano / clavinet / baritone guitar / vocals, Morgan Burrs – guitar / MPC / synth, Charlie Hunter – guitar, R4ND4ZZO/Andrew Randazzo – bass / whistle, Corey Fonville – drums / percussion / bongo / MPC / woodblock, Vanisha Gould – vocals, Jay Price – vocals, Julia Shuren – vocals, Pink Siifu – vocals, Akeema-Zane – vocals, Michael Millions – vocals.  

Previewed 11/06/2023.  Richmond-based groove merchants.

Avilion Shore – Externality of Reality(Self Produced, released 11/10/2023).  Matt Dixon – trumpet / flugelhorn, Tonito Walls- tenor saxophone / clarinet, Randall Mailand – piano / synthesizer, Bea Kelly – bass, Stephan LaRue – drums.  

This Richmond-based reed and brass-led quintet has delivered a soft-focused set of four originals with a dreamy contemplative quality that moves beyond standard approaches to the familiar trumpet / tenor quintet.  In his liner notes, John D’earth wrote, “Altogether, Externality of Reality represents an apogee of creative endeavor. Humans are the improvising animal, the musical animal, and this recording, born of close and constant collaboration, is a human document: music that is new and expressive of persistent, creative humanity.”  From among the four originals by Tonito Wells, highlights include the tenor-led noirish stroll through Mirage of a Rainy Afternoon and the gentle ballad Floral Obsession.

Stacey Kent – Summer Me, Winter You (Naive, released 11/10/2023).  Jim Tomlinson – tenor saxophone / flute / alto flute / clarinet / guitar / percussion / keyboards, Art Hirahara – piano, Graham Harvey – piano, Aurelie Chenille – first violin, Claire Chabert – second violin, Fabrice Planchat – viola, Gabriel Planchat – cello, Tom Hubbard – bass, Jeremy Brown – double bass, Anthony Pinciotti – drums, Joshua Morrison – drums, Stacey Kent – vocals.  

Previewed 11/06/2023.  Internationally touring singer Stacey Kent and reed-player Jim Tomlinson have recently relocated to the Charlottesville area.

Kris Monson Quartet – Option To Extend (Self Produced, released 11/17/2023).  Jasper Dutz – reeds, Max Light – guitar, Kris Monson – bass, Kofi Shepsu – drums.  

The New York-based quartet led by UVa Jazz Ensemble alumnus Kris Monson is releasing their new album of original compositions song-by-song.  To date No. 2 Hit (a response to Linda May Han Oh’s No. 1 Hit) and T.N.T. (Two Note Tune) have been released.  It is a particular treat to hear Monson in the fine company of multi-reed player Jasper Dutz (Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra), whose characteristic bass clarinet has come to Charlottesville with Dave Dominique and with Monson for this Suite for Charlottesville project.  These are well played samples to entice us with the promise of the full release of Option to Extend in 2024.

Royce Campbell – Originals (Self Produced, released 11/22/2023).  Royce Campbell – guitar, Bob Bowen – bass, Marlon Foster – drums.  

Charlottesville-based guitarist Royce Campbell toured with Henry Mancini for twenty years and has recorded several dozens albums in the company of players like Phil Woods, Fred Hersch and Gene Bertoncini.  Campbell has recorded frequently with bassist Bob Bowen (see Jim Howe’s release previewed here) including memorable sets with the late Hod O’Brien.  The tunes, all Campbell originals, are mostly mid-tempo swingers with a soft attack by all the players.  Memorable compositions, well presented. 

Charles Owens – Here It Is (Self Produced, released 12/08/2023).  Charles Owens – tenor saxophone, Andrew Randazzo – hybrid guitar, DJ Harrison – drums.  

Richmond-based tenor saxophonist Charles Owens has led a trio with Andrew Randazzo and DJ Harrison / Devonne Harris (both of Butcher Brown) for almost fifteen years, recording regularly.  To my knowledge, this is the first time that Randazzo has brought out the hybrid guitar for one of their recording sessions.  Championed by Charlie Hunter (see preview of Super Blue:The Iridescent Spree with Kurt Elling), the hybrid allows Randazzo to play within the range of both the bass and guitar.  While Owens can play with fierce passion and is among the fastest players out there, this incendiary playing is not on display here as this set keeps the tempo under control and includes some sweet ballads (In a Sentimental Mood, Autumn in New York) along side mid-tempo covers like People Make The World Go Round.  Owens plays regular gigs at Millers and the Quirk Hotel. 

I hope you find music here that inspires you and, once again, please show these players some love. 

Russell Perry, Jazz at 100 Now!


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