Darwin Noguera Evolution Quintet - "The Gardener"
Falling somewhere between his trio contingent and the Chicago Afro Latin Jazz Ensemble (which he co-founded), Nicuraguan-born pianist Darwin Noguera has found a real groove with this new quartet (with guests) setting. As one of the city's brightest young talents Noguera has striven to promote a modern way of thinking about Latin Jazz. The music is still heavily influenced by the original sources from Cuba, Brazil and Nicaragua (among others), but there is an attitude afoot in these compositions, as well as the playing, that speaks of love and respect, but also of a determination to move forward within the genre. This is serious music, but also serious fun.
Noguera's skill and understanding Latin music and his impressive abilities as a keyboardist are highlighted here. Darwin is joined here by his CALJE co-founder, young lion trumpeter Victor Garcia, whose complementary work with his friend makes for some of the spiciest and most satisfying moments on the album. Victor's "Izzy's Lullaby" is one of the true highlights. These are two of the new generation of Afro-Latin players involved in reshaping the sound of the music. This merger of Latin and straight-ahead jazz is exciting both rhythmically and melodic, where Noguera show himself to be master colorist in the making. It doesn't matter whether you can tell a mambo from a son to enjoy these fine tunes as played by this exemplary group.
Alto saxophonist Greg Ward also has a bit of a coming-out party here, as he has been one Chicago's most talented young jazzers, but has been woefully under-recorded. I assume this will change once folks hear his tasteful work on this project. Greg has recently relocated to New York City, and while it is Chicago's loss, it is NYC's gain, and he hope he will return as often as possible. Drummer Juan Daniel Pastor and acoustic bassist Josh Ramos are also among other local Latin emerging talents, as is tenor saxophonist Rocky Vera. But there is more: one of Chicago's finest drummers - Ernie Adams makes incendiary appearances on three tracks, while local favorite son, Howard Levy graces the recording with some stellar harmonica work. Noguera says he and Levy are planning a duet album to be released next year - so stay tuned.
Eddie Harris / Ellis Marsalis - "Homecoming"
This pairing of tenor saxophonist Harris and pianist (and family patriarch) Ellis Marsalis, originally recorded in 1985, has long been unavailable, but thankfully Jason Marsalis was able to track down the original master recordings to bring these duets back into the light of day. Harris' light, searching tone contrasts surprisingly well with Marsalis' rich piano swells. The two play brilliantly on originals by Marsalis ( the title track and "Zee Blues") and Harris ("Deacceleration") and covers of "Out of This World," "Darn That Dream," and "Have You Met Miss Jones," as well as a surprisingly avant garde improvised number ("Ethereal Moments 1&2"). Fans of these two players should delight in discovering (or rediscovering) this rare release, but that isn't all: an additional five songs were recorded by Ellis Marsalis and young New Orleans pianist Jonathan Batiste. This combination of young and old Crescent City keyboardists playing some spicy Louisiana sounds adds some wonderful bonus material to an already worthy release, while perhaps hinting the city is indeed making its way back musically after the deluge.
Louis Sclavis - "Lost on the Way"
It is a cliche of sorts to describe a recording as a "musical journey," but for French clarinetist and soprano saxophonist Louis Sclavis' Lost on the Way it seems appropriate, since the musical course is suggested by Homer's Odyssey. The composer says he wanted this project to "invent new musics to play and lose oneself in," as if traveling somewhere without any preconceived itinerary, and in this manner, Sclavis and his talented young players have succeeded greatly. The free-flowing, yet non-free-form music falls somewhat into the European chamber jazz style, but is replete with interesting additions from funk and rock. Fine support is given by the hypnotic drummer Francois Merville (a Sclavis fixture) and creative bass guitarist Olivier Lete, while Maxime Delpierre on guitar (another familiar Sclavis sideman) and soprano and alto saxophonist Matthieu Metzger complement their leader so well. Opening track "De Charybde En Scylla" is a jaunty and highly original piece - perhaps my favorite so far this year, but there are plenty more engaging directions taken on tunes like the African-inspired "Bain D'or," the avant "Le Sommeil Des Sirenes," the Miles-like ('70s anyway) "Aboard Ullysses's Boat," the electronic cinema of "Un Vent Noir" and the rocking "Des Bruits A Tisser." Through it all, Sclavis navigates with his dark-toned reeds providing a clear compass in the midst of tempest and calm alike. Highly recommended.
Kyle Asche Organ Trio featuring Melvin Ryne - "Blues for Mel"
Old school to the supreme, this solid organ trio effort is the sophomore release from NIU graduate, guitarist Kyle Asche, who is here joined by first-call drummer George Fludas and organist Melvin Rhyne, the veteran Indianapolis organist who appeared with Wes Montgomery's trio in the '60s. Asche is a formidable player with a lovely, clean sound and pleasant approach (check out his lush solo take on Bricusse/Newley's "Who Can I Turn To?"), who always unites taste with talent; while he is matched with players who are obviously equally comfortable in this relaxed setting. The compositions include standards like Luis Bonfa's "Gentle Rain," Mercer/Van Huesen's "I Thought About You" and Charlie Shaver's bouncy "Swedish Schnapps," along with several Rhyne orginals and two by Acshe, including the opening title track. The good time, late night organ trio feel is heightened at times by a little Latin flavor on pieces like "Gentle Rain" and Rhyne's "Nite Vidual," but the blues get lowdown on tracks like Rhyne's "Cantaloupe Island"-like "Killer Ray," and a surprising version of Gimbel/Legrand's "Watch What Happens." Nothing earth-shattering, just good old bluesy organ trio that will put a smile on your face and get the blood flowing.
Hristo Vitchev Quartet - "Song For Messambria"
An impressive debut from Bulgarian-born, Argentinean-raised and now Bay-Area-located guitarist Vitchev. His soild quartet assuredly maneuvers their way through ten of Vitchev's strong compositions, with a great deal of feeling. The songs, which utilize and combine elements from Vitchev's worldly heritage mix Latin and Brazilian elements with an Eastern European sense of voicings and West Coast cool. There is space for the players, especially pianist Weber Iago ("Waltz for Iago"), to shine, and Vitchev himself takes some incendiary solos (as on "The Road to Naklabeht"), but the music itself is primarily the star here. Often moody, thoughtful, and as mysterious as the oil paintings that grace the cover, Vitchev's compositions are mature and interesting, lacking in cliche and bear repeated listening to glean all the subtleties inherent. From the gentle sway of "Sad Cloud" and "Parisian Skies," through the balladic "Looking For One" and "At Daybreak" the African-tinged "Dali in Bali" to the rave up feel of "Faith Avenue," the listener will be entranced by these original sounds. And don't miss the subtly beautiful title track - a truly lovely piece of delicate architecture.
Nicolas Thys - "Virgo"
Bassist Nicolas Thys is a popular sideman on the active Belgian jazz scene, who lived in New York City for several years earlier this decade and recorded with pianist Bill Carrothers. Here, the pianist is Jon Cowherd, while Chris Cheek is the tenor saxophonist. The Ellis Marsalis-taught Cowherd is perhaps best known as a cofounder of the Brian Blades Fellowship, while Cheek has appeared with that contingent, as well as with Paul Motian and Charlie Haden. Ryan Scott on guitar and drummer Dan Rieser (Norah Jones) fill out the quartet. With only one song timing in at (barely) under eight minutes, it's clear there will room for these players to stretch and they all do so in turn, while Thys mostly seems content to play bass in the background. Rieser is an exciting player, while Scott's guitar work is very tasteful and adds a nice extra element, that occasionally veers into rock. The primary soloists, Cheek and Cowherd are in fine form and take most of the spotlight. The songwriting itself sounds very much like Thys has been listening to releases from NYC artists like David Binney and Donny McCaslin. The powerful "Disco Monkey" opens and sets the stage nicely with some funky bass and aggressive changes, while the 12:13 "99 Ocean" recalls Binney and McCaslin. "Lucky Loser" is pleasant and interesting, while "It's Been a While" seems a modernised attempt at writing a "standard" that again recalls McCaslin's writing. The mellow title-track builds to a climax with Scott's soulful solo before ending on a quiet refrain. "G Brazil" puts these players into a Latin feel to end this subtle recording.
Thomas Barber's Janus Bloc - "Snow Road"
No real surprise that this recording of seven originals and a Duke Ellington cover ("Come Sunday") was recorded at Kaleidoscope Sound studios as composer Barber shows a wide range of styles written for a large 14-piece ensemble. Barber's Janus Bloc (well-named in that the Greek god Janus could see into the past and future) features Barber on trumpet and flugelhorn along with several other horn and reed players, including trombonist Michael Dease (who also produced the album) and up-and-coming alto saxophonist/flautist Sharel Cassity. The rhythm section includes pianist Adam Birnbaum, bassist Linda Oh and drummer Nasheet Waits - all names to remember, while the recording also utilizes the talents of the Attacca (String) Quartet, and guests vibraphonist Tim Collins and trumpet/flugelhorn veteran Claudio Roditi. This fine group brings Barber's compositions to life with dedicated and detailed teamwork.
"Song for Snow Road" sounds like a soundtrack number, as indeed it is, and showcases Barber's tasty solo talents, while the intriguigly-named "Shatzaquotek" brings tenor saxophonist Stacy Dillard (among others) into the spotlight on this modern-sounding piece. The time-shifting "Steam" is driven by Birnbaum and Waits, while Dease and Roditi take the solos on the gentle, Latin-tinged "Elizabeth Rose" Barber unleashes the sax section on the crazy bop number "Lickety Split" and they burn it up in fine fashion. Dillard, bari-sax player Lauren Sevian and Cassity simply go nuts on this fun number. "The Mind Beneath" truly exhibits Barber's interesting and layered writing, with the strings and Collins' vibes adding much to this satisfying work. Another joyously intricate number, "White Out" allows Barber, Birnbaum and Cassity another chance to shine, while interacting with the string quartet in another piece of fine wriitng. This is followed by the album-finale of "Come Sunday" where the Attacca Quartet leads into Roditi and the Duke's gospel jazz flavor to end things. A pleasure to listen to, and good to see there is a new force in jazz developing around the Tom Barber/Mike Dease contigent.