In which the beleaguered reviewer attempts to make some headway into the mounds of CDs seeking reviews accumulating daily by providing quick hits on a few recordings at a time.
Nicole Mitchell Black Earth Strings - Renegades
This may be my favorite Nicole Mitchell release yet. With Renee Baker on violin and viola, Tomeka Reid on cello, Josh Abrams on bass and gimbre and young drummer/percussionist Shirazette Tinnin showcasing her sensitive rhythmic creativity, flautist Mitchell leads this group through an exciting, dynamic and organic montage of African American musical styles ranging from rhythmic sounds of the African continent to North American swing, with hints of gospel (a radical reworking of "Wade in the Water"), folk, classical chamber music and free form modern jazz thrown in as well. You might think this could lead to mayhem or unlistenable stretches, but that is anything but the case here, as the players are first rate and there are grooves aplenty, and delicious melodic form providing a framework on which to hang the musical tapestry on these short pieces (only one more than 6:00 long). My current favorite is the extremely hip "What If," but there are interesting interludes galore that will have you returning often. Wonderful original compositions performed admirably by this stellar ensemble!
Branford Marsalis Quartet - Metamorphosen
One of the most talented saxophonists of his generation, Marsalis has managed to keep his extremely gifted quartet together for more than a decade, and this familiarity shows not only in the band dynamics and interplay, but in the songwriting, as all four members contribute compositions to Metamorphosen. Drummer "Tain" Watts's "The Return of the Jitney Man" starts things off, but the version of this hard-hitting number (see our review of the drummer's latest release Watts here) here is softened by pianist Joey Calderazzo's melodic piano work. The keyboard player also contributes the lovely, classically-inspired "The Blossom of Parting," which allows Marsalis - in my opinion the finest soprano saxophonist in jazz today the opportunity to show his stuff. The players all pitch in with excellent solos, while the compositions tend to post-hard bop with occasional classical touches on this satisfying release.
Beaty Brothers Band
Talk about Art/Music overcoming all: The saga of the Beaty Brothers is one of heartbreak and eventual triumph. The Texas Twins, Joe (trombone) and John (alto sax) grew up in broken homes with multiple parents who were addicted to drugs and alcohol. Escaping to the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan, they finished school and moved to New York City without any money and just in time for 911. Surviving on the streets by stealing bread, the brothers began working as musicians, when suddenly Joe developed Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome - a serious, life-threatening heart condition, which in turn resulted in a heart rate of more than 200bpm, two failed heart operations and an episode of cardiac arrest. At the time of this recording, it was believed that Joe would not be around for another one. Fortunately, the story has a happy ending - an experimental operation was able to save Joe's life and the brothers are able to continue their careers together. With a story like that as backdrop, the question remains: how is the music? It is a pleasure to report that the music, fairly straight-ahead jazz with a touch of fusion (funky electric bass, organ and electric piano) that features fine ensemble playing, is a delight. Drummer Ari Hoenig joins bassist Jim Robertson and pianist Yayoi Ikawa in backing the brothers, who display considerable talent both as energetic soloists, and as sensitive front line partners who seem completely in sync. Here's sincerely hoping the future consists of brighter days for these persevering siblings.
Gabriel Espinosa - From Yucatan to Rio
This aptly-titled release finds Mexican-born, Berklee- and North Texas State-schooled bassist Espinosa working with a worldwide who's-who of modern Latin music, including trumpeter Claudio Roditi, drummer Antonio Sanchez, nylon-string guitar master Romero Lumbambo, pianist Helio Alves, members of the New York Voices and clarinetist Anat Cohen. Espinosa wrote most of the album (the exceptions being a somewhat Brazil '66-flavored vocal take on Jobim's "Agua de Beber" and two songs written by NY Voices singer Alison Wedding), and arranged the compositions, which strike a pleasant balance between south-of-the-border, easy-listening and mainstream jazz styles. Perhaps the high points of this album however, belong to Swiss saxophonist George Robert, whose scintillating solo on "Klavier Latino" is a revelation, and to singer/composer Wedding, whose haunting "We've Come Undone" is bittersweet ballad that I can't get out of my head (nor do I want to).
Jeff Campbell Trio - A Declaration of Optimism
Bassist Campbell is a member of the Eastman School's faculty and top sideman of choice, although he may be best known in this area as the Director of Door County's Birch Creek Music Academy. On this outing, he is joined by NYC-based, world-renowned drummer, John Hollenbeck (with whom he has previously recorded) and Chicago's own John Wojciechowski on tenor saxophone. The impressive musical skills shown here by this chordless trio is a treat, and their cohesion on these interesting compositions is a distinct success. Hollenbeck is an imaginative player who creates a wealth of sounds from his kit, which this recording picks up clearly. Those in the Chicago area are well aware of the talents of Wojiechowski, whose tenor is big and always seemingly in control. Campbell centers everything nicely around his substantial bass core. The songs, mostly written by the leader, are appealing and just knotty enough to keep your brain working while you enjoy the sounds. A case in point: "Tower of Glass" pays tribute to both Tower of Power and Phillip Glass, while a cover of John Scofield's "Wabash III" takes the Wabash Cannonball down a whole new modern track. A solidly provocative trio recording deserving of your attention.
LA Jazz Collective - Sampler Vol. 1
This group of young Los Angeles jazz players formed the collective to build a stronger modern jazz community in the city. The members come from many different styles with experience as members of local faculties and/or sessions musicians or backing musicians for many of the biggest stars in music. By coming together, these artists are able to pool their efforts and momentarily escape from the constrictions of having to make a living and simply create music together. And the display of talent and creativity is quite enjoyable. Sounds range from guitarist Jamie Rosenn's organ trio work on "The Golden Molar" to pianist Gary Fukushima's sunny "Descending Upward" to saxophonist Robby Marshall's groovy electronic-infused "Loft Scene" and trumpeter Brian Swartz' Freddie Hubbard-ish "Down with Downs." Some pieces are more experimental than others, but nothing ever goes deep into what I would call avant garde free-form territory. A worthy effort to keep original modern jazz alive by providing an outlet for LA's young jazzers, it is considerable fun hearing the different directions these young composers take with their compositions.
John Abraham, Zara Tellander & Alex Clements - Between Stops
Alex Clements is a Canadian jazz pianist with a long list of achievements in the music world. Zara Tellander is a Swedish singer/composer with a background in church concerts, folk music and free jazz, who is also a featured singer for Cirque Du Soleil. Drummer/Vibraphonist/Percussionist John Abraham is a Las Vegas veteran musician who is the drummer for Cirque Du Soleil. So what are these three doing performing Brazilian-flavored jazz music? Whatever the case is, the music the three produce is lovely, and they have recruited a few more musicians, most notably bassist Derek Jones and saxophonist David Stambaugh to help them bring their original compositions to life. All three principals contribute four songs each. Clements' (and lyricist Angela de Villiers)'s "We Are One Through The Music" starts things off with plenty of energy that sets a nice tone, while Abraham follows this with the sultry "Never Crossed My Mind." Guest cellist Ashia Grezesik adds some haunting lines on the mysterious and memorable "Silence is Speaking," while Tellander's chirpy 'Bittersweet" is a showcase for her impressive vocal technique and may be the most catchy and commercially viable number (with Lei Qiang on erhu no less). Wherever their musical journeys lead them, listeners can be thankful these three met along the way.