Jazz Prospecting: October 2012

Rez Abbasi Trio: Continuous Beat (2012, Enja): Guitarist, b. 1965 in Karachi, Pakistan; based in New York; has at least seven albums since 1995, some referring back to the subcontinent's musical heritage, some (like this one) not: trio, with John Hebert on bass, Satoshi Takeishi on percussion. Five (of nine) originals, covers of Gary Peacock, Keith Jarrett, Thelonious Monk, with a short, delicate, very respectful "Star Spangled Banner" closing. B+(***) [advance]

Bill Anschell/Brent Jensen/Chris Smyer: Blueprints (2012, Origin): Piano, soprano sax, bass, respectively; recorded in Seattle, which is at least the pianist's home town. Jensen started out on alto but has become a specialist; he's a mainstream player, always precise and eloquent, should be regarded as one of the main players on his instrument. One group improv, eight standards, none in any way obscure ("All Blues," "How Deep Is the Ocean," "Blue Monk," "Star Eyes," "Yardbird Suite" -- for example). Nothing daring about any of them, and the lack of a drummer ensures a leisurely pace, but they're tasteful and lovely, another feather for Jensen's hat. B+(***)

Clarice Assad: Home (2010 [2012], Adventure Music): Brazilian singer, also plays piano, b. 1978. Third album, accompanied by percussionists Keita Ogawa and Yousif Sheronick. Three originals, pieces by Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, Dorival Caymi, an Elis Regina medley, a few lesser knowns (i.e., no Jobim). Was playing Abbey Lincoln before, so I was struck by the similarity, but Betty Carter would have had the same effect, especially when Assad scats. B+(**)

Nik Bärtsch's Ronin: Live (2009-11 [2012], ECM, 2CD): Swiss pianist, group includes Sha (bass clarinet, alto sax), Björn Mayer or Thomy Jordi (bass), Kaspar Rast (drums), and Andi Pupato (percussion). Half dozen records together, this live summary pieced together from eight concerts although it could be seamless. Works mostly around a rhythm that is propulsive even when it shifts, and builds complex modulations on that, so stretching out is part of the art. A-

Dan Block: Duality (2011 [2012], Miles High): Reed player, mostly tenor sax and clarinet, but also here alto and baritone sax plus bass clarinet. Second album, nine duets and two trios -- one with bass/drums, the other with Scott Robinson and the same roster of reed instruments (at least that's what the credits suggest) plus Ted Rosenthal on piano (name misspelled; he appears on three cuts). His tenor sax cuts a deep swath, the clarinets impress as well, but the duets vary widely, with voice and vibes losing the pace. B+(**)

LaVerne Butler: Love Lost and Found Again (2012, High Note): Vocalist, b. 1962 in New Orleans, fifth album since 1992 (last one was 2001, on MaxJazz). All standards, arranged by pianist Bruce Barth, backed by Ugonna Okegwo on bass and Rudy Royston on drums, with Houston Person, never less than adorable, guesting on four tracks. Lots to smile about. B+(***)

Ed Byrne's Latin Jazz Evolution: Conquistador (2012, Blue Truffle Music): Trombonist, cut his teeth in Eddie Palmieri's band, second album; credits percussionist Carlos Clinton (congas, bongos, cowbell) as co-leader, adds another percussionist (Esteban Arrufatt on timbales and guiro), piano, sax, violin (Maureen Choi), and two bassists. Pretty basic rhythms, but the horns pack more muscle than the usual brass. B+(**)

Chives: Dads (2012, Primary): Trio: Steven Lugerner (reeds), Matthew Wohl (bass), Max Jaffe (drums); first group album, all pieces jointly credited. The one we've heard of before is Lugerner, whose notable 2011 debut sprawled over two discs. This is much less ambitious, and more readily digestible, a compact sax/clarinet trio riffing smartly within the usual framework. B+(***)

Kevin Coelho: Funkengruven: The Joy of Driving a B3 (2012, Chicken Soup/Summit): First album, the leader described on the back cover as a "sixteen(16)-year-old jazz organ prodigy," with a conventional soul jazz trio: Derek Dicenzo on guitar, and Reggie Jackson on drums. Doesn't have any of the high-falutin' airs or drama I associate with prodigies -- just steadfast service to the groove. B+(**)

Natalie Cressman & Secret Garden: Unfolding (2012, self-released): Trombone player, also sings, 21 (so b. 1991?), from San Francisco, based in New York (studies at Manhattan School of Music), first album, wrote 7 of 9 songs (covering "Honeysuckle Rose" and "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" with Joni Mitchell's lyrics). The band adds trumpet, tenor sax, piano, bass, and drums for a suitably quirky postbop mix. B

The Billie Davies Trio: All About Love (2012, Cobra Basement): Drummer, website describes her as "post cool jazz & avant garde drummer" -- could parse that two ways, with a disconnect either way. Album, her first as far as I can tell, is a trio with trombone (Tom Bone Ralls) and bass (Oliver Steinberg). Tuneful -- well, anything with "Afro Blue" is that and this has two takes -- shifted into a lower register, a nice effect, more cool than avant, not my idea of post. [PS: gender error corrected.] B+(**)

Jeff Davis: Leaf House (2011 [2012], Fresh Sound New Talent): Drummer, originally from Greely, CO; second album, plus a dozen-plus side credits since 2007, notably with pianist Kris Davis. This is a piano trio, with Russ Lossing and Eivind Opsvik doing all original compositions by Davis. B+(**)

Philip Dizack: End of an Era (2012, Truth Revolution): Trumpet player, originally from Milwaukee, moved to New York in 2003, cut an album in 2005; this is his second. Looks like two piano-bass-drums rhythm sections, tenor saxophonist Jake Saslow on five cuts, strings on three (one shared with the sax). All this backup isn't overly busy, but it isn't that helpful either -- only the trumpet really stands out. B+(**)

Roman Filiu: Musae (2010 [2012], Dafnison): Alto/soprano saxophonist, b. in Cuba, moved to New York in 2011; played with Chucho Valdes both in and out of Irakere, also in David Murray's Latin Big Band; second album, quintet with piano (David Virelles), guitar (Adam Rogers), bass (Reinier Elizarde), and drums (split between Dafnis Prieto and Marcus Gilmore). Does a nice job of keeping the rhythm wedged open, building up tension and never quite gets resolved. B+(*)

Michael Formanek Quartet: Small Places (2011 [2012], ECM): Bassist, tenth (or ninth) album since 1986, second on ECM after a decade-long break. All-star quartet: Tim Berne (alto sax), Craig Taborn (piano), Gerald Cleaver (drums). Aside from the pianist, the album is a little languid, with the sax painting background colors, tones only slightly brighter than the arco bass. But Taborn's developed into a remarkable pianist, and he shines here. B+(**)

Jürgen Friedrich: Monosuite: For String Orchestra and Improvisers (2011 [2012], Pirouet): Normally a pianist, from Germany, has ten or so records since 2000, conducts the Sequenza String Orchestra (11 violins, 5 violas, 4 cellos, 2 basses), on top of which several jazz musicians improvise: Hayden Chisholm (alto sax), Achim Kaufmann (piano), John Hébert (bass), and John Hollenbeck (drums). I go back and forth on it, the dark strings not compelling, the improvs less than striking, still wondering what I am missing. B

Adam Glasser: Mzansi (2011 [2012], Sunnyside): Harmonica player, b. 1955 in Cambridge, England; spent some time as a youngster in South Africa, retaining an interest in African music that is showcased here: with tunes from Abdullah Ibrahim, Dudu Pukwana, and others, plus a long line of African vocalists and musicians. B+(*)

Beka Gochiashvili (2012, Exitus Entertainment): Pianist, sometimes electric ("Wurly"), b. 1996 in Tbilsi, Georgia, played festivals when he was 11, eliciting praise from noted jazz critic Condoleezza Rice: "Beka is one of the best jazz pianists I've heard anywhere." When someone compiles a list of Rice's greatest whoppers, that exaggeration falls far short of the one about the "mushroom cloud" or "the birthpangs of a new Middle East" -- probably even her reference to GWB has "my husband." He moved to New York in 2010, winding up with this debut album, produced by Lenny White, packed with household names (including four bassists, Wallace Roney, and Jaleel Shaw). Unlike so many ex-Soviet musicians, doesn't seem to be in thrall to classical music (although the vocal by Natalia Kutateladze is). Plays fast and fluid, easy to see how experts like Rice are impressed. B

Grupo Los Santos: Clave Heart (2010 [2012], OA2): Latin-themed jazz group, based in New York, third album -- I liked their previous Lo Que Somos Lo Que Sea quite a bit. I file them under tenor saxophonist Paul Carlon -- wrote 4 of 10 songs here, and has a mainstream tone that always gets my attention -- but bassist/bata-player David Ambrosio wrote the liner notes, and guitarist Pete Smith's email address is up for booking info. (Fourth member is drummer William "Beaver" Bausch, and a couple guests appear, notably tap dancer Max Pollak.) Not sure that the Cuba aficionados will be impressed, but a nice sax album with a little extra. B+(**)

Gerard Hagen Trio: Song for Leslie (2012, Surf Cove Jazz): Pianist, has a couple of previous albums, at least back to 1998; Leslie is his wife, singer Leslie Lewis. Trio adds Domenic Genova (bass) and Jerry Kalaf (drums). Three standards, two originals each by Hagen and Kalaf. Tasteful. B+(*)

Ben Holmes Quartet: Anvil of the Lord (2012, Skirl): Trumpet player, b. 1979 in Ithaca, NY. Released a trio album in 2009, followed up here by adding a trombone (Curtis Hasselbring) and swapping bassists. As Louis Armstrong understood early on, the trombone is the perfect foil for a trumpeter, and that principle still applies here, even moving far into postbop territory. B+(***)

Marc Johnson/Eliane Elias: Swept Away (2010 [2012], ECM): Bassist and pianist, the latter from Brazil, both well established before they got hitched. While they've played on each other's albums before -- Elias has 25 since 1986, Johnson 10 since 1985 plus a lot more side credits -- I think this is the first time both names are up top. The songs split 5-to-3 for Elias, with two shared and "Shenandoah." Joey Baron plays drums, and Joe Lovano appears here and there on tenor sax in what may be the most underwhelming credit in his career -- all hushed tones and thin vibrato. Elias has also shelved her samba accent, leaving us with relatively placid but expert postbop. B+(*)

Kalle Kalima & K-18: Out to Lynch (2011 [2012], TUM): Guitarist, b. 1973 in Helsinki, Finland. Third album, quartet with Mikko Innanen on reeds (alto and baritone sax, flutes), Veli Kujala on quarter-tone accordion, and Teppo Hauta-aho on bass. The guitar doesn't ring out much, leaving the sax and accordion to duel, the latter holding its own in the noise department. B+(**)

Lisa Kirchner: Charleston for You (2012, Verdant World): Singer-songwriter, b. 1953, father was classical composer Leon Kirchner (1919-2009), himself a student of Schoenberg. Her credits include a 1976 Threepenny Opera, but her records didn't start until 2000, now numbering five. Cut in seven studios with changing support groups -- many just piano, only one with a horn -- half originals, half covers, including one Brazilian medley (De Moraes/Powell/Veloso); focused, assured. B+(**)

Steve Kuhn Trio: Life's Magic (1986 [2012], Sunnyside): Pianist, b. 1938, has dozens of records since 1963, including this one, cut live at the Village Vanguard and originally released on Blackhawk in 1987. Trio with Ron Carter on bass and Al Foster on drums, Kuhn remembers "feeling like a kid in a candy store." Half originals, half swing-period covers, LP-length, light and spry. B+(***)

Greg Lewis: Organ Monk: Uwo in the Black (2012, self-released): Organ player, has been around this block -- soul jazz jerks on Thelonious Monk tunes -- before, but expands to a quartet this time, with saxophonist Reginald Woods joining guitar (Ronald Jackson) and drums (Nasheet Waits). Couple spots seem to stick them up, but "Little Rootie Tootie" shows how it works. B+(*)

Leslie Lewis with the Gerard Hagen Trio: Midnight Sun (2011 [2012], Surf Cove Jazz): Standards singer, third album, lives in Paris but label claims to offer "Creative Jazz from California" and her own CV mentions London, New York, and Los Angeles. Has a terrific voice, deep and resonant, but has trouble with the slow ones -- the exception is her grandly gestured "Where or When," saved from excess by the tasteful rhythm section, Hagen's piano trio. The fast ones are helped by Chuck Manning (tenor sax) and/or Joey Sellers (trombone). B+(**)

Harold Mabern: Mr. Lucky: A Tribute to Sammy Davis Jr. (2012, High Note): Pianist, b. 1936, came out of Memphis, has worked since 1968 but the '70s and '80s were a little thin, with his '90s records on DIW especially esteemed. Davis was an important entertainer in Mabern's lifetime -- indeed, in mine -- but his reputation hasn't endured well, in part because he released some of the worst records of his period, and even his big hits were often so cheesy it's hard to find a decent anthology -- plus he didn't write, and his best songs are just as likely to show up in his pal Sinatra's songbook. Still, I remember him well enough to vouch for Mabern's feel, but I'm less sure of tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander. One irresistible tune here is the closer, "Something's Gotta Give." B+(**)

Max Marshall: Instant Camaraderie (2011 [2012], Jazz Hang): Pianist, originally from Chicago, now based in New York; first album, wrote 5 (of 9) originals, adding one from a band member (alto saxophonist Sharel Cassity), Clifford Brown, John Coltrane, and "When I Grow Too Old to Dream." Quintet, with trumpet, sax, bass, and drums: the traditional hard bop lineup with some postbop curves. B+(**)

Rob Mazurek Pulsar Quartet: Stellar Pulsations (2012, Delmark): Cornet player, based in Chicago, an essential part of Chicago Underground Duo/Trio (which morphed into Sao Paulo Underground) and a number of astronomy-themed groups: Starlicker, Exploding Star Orchestra, now Pulsar Quartet. With Angelica Sanchez (piano), Matthew Lux (bass guitar), and John Herndon (drums). The cornet is sparkling, and Sanchez makes a strong impression. B+(***)

Kelly McCarty 3: Roux Steady (2012, 72 Offsuit): Guitarist, plays 8-string, studied at Kansas State, based in Jacksonville; second group album, trio with tenor sax (John Diaz-Cortes) and drums (MJ Hall). Sax has some grit to it, and guitar some groove -- sounds like an organ-sax quartet minus organ, hardly missed here. B+(*)

Ron Miles: Quiver (2011 [2012], Enja/Yellowbird): Trumpet player, b. 1963 in Indiana, moved to Denver at age 11 and is still based there. Ninth album since 1989 -- surprised that this is the first I've heard, although looking at his credits list I see at least a dozen familiar albums, most with Bill Frisell but also Fred Hess, Wayne Horvitz, Jenny Scheinman, DJ Logic, even a pretty good Ginger Baker album. This is a trio with Bill Frisell guitar and Brian Blade drums. Frisell does much to shape this, whether he's shifting the background, or working up one of his Americana twists, but credit the leader, too. B+(***)

Maria Neckam: Unison (2012, Sunnyside): Singer, third album, writes her own music, occasionally pinching famous poets for lyrics (here: Hafez, Rilke, Neruda). Produced her own album, drawing on a talented core band -- Aaron Parks, Nir Felder, Thomas Morgan, Colin Stranahan -- working in horns on half the cuts, cello on a couple. No doubt a lot of talent and thought went into this, but the result is a sort of art song that I find all but unlistenable. Except, that is, when it isn't. C+

Ferenc Nemeth: Triumph (2012, Dreamers Collective): Drummer, b. 1976 in Hungary; second album under his own name, plus two with Gilfema (a trio with Lionel Loueke and Massimo Biolcati). Above the line, this is styled as a star-laden quartet: Joshua Redman (tenor/soprano sax), Kenny Werner (piano), Loueke (guitar, vocals), but more names pop up in the fine print, including a woodwind section all the way down to the bassoon. Makes for a chamber effect, although the principals are interesting enough on their own. B+(**)

Russ Nolan: Tell Me (2012, Rhinoceruss Music): Tenor saxophonist, third album: quartet with piano, bass, and drums, sometimes electric, plus producer Zach Brock plays violin on three tracks. Four originals, five covers, the jazz sources from Oliver Nelson and Joe Zawinul, pop from Stevie Wonder and the Beatles; lets them kick up their heels. B+(*)

Nadje Noordhuis (2010 [2012], Little Mystery): Trumpet/flugelhorn player, b. 1977 in Australia, based in New York since 2003. First album, composed through, makes deft use of Sara Caswell's violin for background texture to offset the trumpet -- what many people hope for with strings but few pull off. With Geoff Keezer (piano), Joe Martin (bass), and Obed Calvaire (drums), aside for a diversion on "Le Hameau Omi" with pandeiro and classical guitar, which works just as well. B+(***)

Drew Paralic: Wintertime Tunes of Drew Paralic (2011 [2012], self-released): Composer/arranger, from Brooklyn, fourth album, plays piano but not here. Six songs, two with vocals (Laura Kenyon), group includes tenor sax/clarinet (Mike McGinnis), piano (several players), bass, and drums. First song ("My Wintertime Sky") is catchy enough to be a standard, isolated bits of piano stand out (one song is called "How Bill's Heart Sings"), like the sax, but a bit scattered. B+(*)

William Parker: Centering: Unreleased Early Recordings 1976-1987 (1976-87 [2012], No Business, 6CD): The great bassist of my generation -- he turned sixty back in January -- Parker spent most of the 1980s piling up side credits, which ran close to 300 last time I counted, probably more like 400 now. His own discography only picks up around 1993, with 1995's Compassion Seizes Bed-Stuy a breakthrough, and 1998's The Peach Orchard a triumph. But we now know that he experimented widely from 1974 on -- the 2003 release of Through Acceptance of the Mystery Peace picked up bits from 1974-79 -- and he released limited runs on his own Centering label. The Lithuanian label NoBusiness collected his 1980-83 recordings with Jason Kao Hwang as Commitment in 2010 (cf. The Complete Recordings 1981/1983), and now they've gone much further with this lavish, lovely box set. The first three discs feature intimate groups with saxophonists Daniel Carter, David S. Ware, and Charles Gayle -- the latter some of the finest free sax blowing I've heard -- followed by a short (13:51) song set with vocalists Ellen Christi and Lisa Sokolov. The last three discs move into larger groups, ranging from the atmospheric dance accompaniment to the Big Moon Ensemble, one of the most explosive free big bands I've heard. A-

Houston Person: Naturally (2012, High Note): Tenor saxophonist, 77 when this was recorded, a mainstream fixture since the early 1960s who now must be counted among the all-time greats. With my idea of a supergroup: Cedar Walton, Ray Drummond, and Lewis Nash. Not that anyone's trying for super -- just relaxed, enjoying themselves, luxuriating in his sound. I know I always say nice things about him, but this is his best since To Etta With Love (2004). A-

Irene Reid: The Queen of the Party (1997-2003 [2012], Savant): Singer, 1930-2008, came up in jazz bands including a stint with Count Basie, cut five records 1963-71 then faded until her 1997 comeback, Million Dollar Secret, with Charles Earland on organ and Eric Alexander on tenor sax, jump blues with a post-feminist vengeance. She cut five albums for Savant (plus they released a 1990 date as Thanks for You), so this serves as a best-of, an intro, a memoir. B+(***)

Sonic Liberation Front: Jetway Confidential (2009-11 [2012], High Two): This is percussionist Kevin Diehl's Baltimore-based Afro-Cuban group, built around the tuned bata drums at the center of Yoruba religio-cultural practice, their fifth album since 2000 (2004's Ashé a Go-Go remains the one to start with). Cut over a couple years with a spreadsheet of contributors, the horns grate sometimes, and the vocals go so deep into their roots they come out of a strange other world. Took me many plays to get into it, but a remarkable band, unique, and worth the trouble. A-

David Virelles: Continuum (2012, Pi): Pianist (also harmonium and organ), b. 1983 in Cuba, based in Canada, has a previous record on Justin Time in 2007 (Motion, not in AMG as far as I can tell), side credits mostly with Jane Bunnett (since 2001). Mostly quartet, with Ben Street (bass), Andrew Cyrille (drums, percussion), and Román Diaz (percussion, vocals), plus horns (Román Filiu, Mark Turner, Jonathan Finlayson) on the centerpiece cut. The vocals are the rub, although they might also frame an Afro-Cuban history lesson that I'm missing. B+(**)

Torben Waldorff: Wah-Wah (2012, ArtistShare): Guitarist, from Denmark, sixth album since 1999: quartet with Gary Versace (keybs), Matt Clohesy (bass), and Jon Wikan (drums). Usually a strong groove player, he starts out behind the piano and rarely steps out. B

Weasel Walter/Mary Halvorson/Peter Evans: Mechanical Malfunction (2012, Thirsty Ear): Christopher Todd Walter was b. 1972 in Rockford, IL. He founded an avant-rock group, the Flying Luttenbachers, which featured Ken Vandermark on at least one album. He's described as a "composer and instrumentalist" -- credits are scanty here, but he seems to be the drummer. Halvorson plays guitar. She is a remarkable player with an erratic catalog that I don't fully appreciate, partly due to a spat with her publicist -- twice now her records have scored high in critics polls (meaning, among other things, that they were distributed widely, just not to me), and this year's Bending Bridges appears likely to be a third. Evans plays trumpet in the "bebop terrorist" outfit Mostly Other People Do the Killing, and likes to record solo albums on the side. Second album for the trio: avant noise, the guitar scratchy but probing, the trumpet poking through the clouds, the drummer on top of everything. A- [advance]

Sean Wayland: Click Track Jazz: Slave to the Machine (2012, Seed Music, 2CD): Pianist, mostly electronic keyboards here, b. 1969 in Sydney, Australia; has 21 since 1992 (the two volumes are available separately, at least on Bandwidth, but I haven't tried disentangling them here. Mostly groove pieces, cut with various guitar-bass-drums combos, Donny McCaslin tenor sax (2 cuts), Mark Shim EWI (1), Kristen Berardi vocal (1). B+(*) [advance]

Steve Williams & Jazz Nation with Eddie Daniels (2010 [2012], OA2): Alto saxophonist, most of his background is in big band, including North Texas State, the Navy, and the Smithsonian, and now this group. Daniels is a well known clarinet player, has worked steadily since the late 1960s, and is special guest here, also writing 3 (of 8) songs -- Williams has four, and the other is by Mike Noonan. Solid group, few names I recognize, but hard to deny the thrill of the massed brass. B+(*)

Jordan Young: Cymbal Melodies (2012, Posi-Tone): Drummer, has a previous album as Jordan Young Group. Organ quartet, with Joe Sucato (sax), Avi Rothbard (guitar), and Brian Charette on the B3. Two originals (one called "Mood for McCann"), plus a mix of standards (Irving Berlin), jazz riffs (Grant Green, Lee Morgan), and tacky pop (Bacharach, Webb, Sting). Picks up its groove along the way, but not much more. B

Katherine Young: Pretty Monsters (2010 [2012], Public Eyesore): Bassoon player, studied at Oberlin and Wesleyan, running into Anthony Braxton at the latter. Has a couple previous albums. This is a quartet with guitar (Owen Stewart-Robertson), violin (Erica Dicker), and drums (Mike Pride) -- the violin most prominent. All originals. Runs rough and ragged, with some more reflective moments. B+(**)

Shingo Yuji: Introducing Shingo Yuji (2010 [2012], Yujipan Music): Guitarist, b. in Kumamoto, Japan; based in Los Angeles since 2005. Debut album, mostly trio with bass and drums, first two cuts add tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III, who makes an impression the rest of the album shies away from. Five originals; covers from Mingus, Lennon-McCartney ("Help"), and trad. B+(*)

Zohar's Nigun: The Four Questions (2012, Rectify): Australian group -- Daniel Weltlinger (violin), Daniel Pliner (piano), Simon Milman (bass), Alon Ilsar (drums) -- playing Jewish music, some trad, some new, the violin in the lead. B+(**)

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