Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Ambrose Akinmusire: When The Heart Emerges Glistening

Ambrose Akinmusire (trumpet)
When The Heart Emerges Glistening (Blue Note; 2011)
Walter Smith III (sax)
Harrish Raghavan (bass)
Gerald Clayton (piano)
Justin Brown (drummer)
Jason Moran (piano)

Like last year when I was blown away by new records from Gerald Clayton, Christian Scott and Esperanza Spalding after avoiding the hype machine, I come to that moment again. I was actually already impressed with Ambrose Akinmusire's work with David Binney, John Escreet and Steve Coleman. I have been unable to find his debut album, Prelude (Fresh Sound/New Talent; 2007), but I'm still gobsmacked at the strikingly exuberant second album, When The Heart Emerges Glistening (Blue Note).

Akinmusire has been on the scene only a short time but the musicians he has already performed with along with the growing maturity in his writing is sure to make an impact on listeners this year. Surrounding himself with a cast of musicians he has worked with already over the years makes the album a cohesive and exciting venture from start to finish.

Opening up with "Confessions To My Unborn Daughter", Akinsmusire sets the tone that he is willing to make bold statements and even bolder performances all with beauty and skill that might be beyond his years. There's an energy on this opener that both encompasses the fierceness of Clifford Brown and the modern styling of Terence Blanchard. The exchanges between Smith and Akinmusire are tight and intense. But they underscore the longstanding relationship two have had for some time now. Brown's pulsating timing adds another laying of urgency to the piece that illustrates the quintets effort to make every piece important.

"Hyena" is a midtempo piece but still holds a fresh bold consolidation in structure. Akinmusire allows guest pianist, Jason Moran (on fender rhodes here) to take some of the lead here but moves quietly in and out of the foreground. There's a heavy tone in Akinmusire's voice on "Hyena" that made me feel a lot more emotional than usual when listening to ballad. The performance cuts right into you. I loved that.

While ferocious may be an adjective for describing Akinmusire's overall tone, he manages to demonstrate a real sense of beauty on a number of pieces."Regret (No More)" is one of those numbers in which I sometimes get reminded of Terence Blanchard. It's the soft touches and long notes that feel cinematic in nature but provide a lush beauty that stretches long after the piece as concluded.

"What's New", the lone standard on When The Heart..., shows Akinmusire's more contemporary side. A lovely duet with Clayton, where the trumpeter reflects on what appears to be one of his mentors, Clifford Brown. It's a wonderful piece and shows a much more relaxed nature for Clayton as well. The two tenderly play off one another and it's a standout for both musicians. It's a touch of tradition but performed with modern respect and reflection.

When The Heart Emerges Glistening is shinning achievement from an artist that will be on the scene for years to come and his presence might change jazz in the years to come. Definitely a future voice to be heard by everyone...

Monday, August 29, 2011

Scott McLemore: Found Music

Scott McLemore (drums)
Found Music (Fresh Sound/New Talent; 2006)
Tony Malaby (sax)
Ben Street (bass)
Ben Monder (guitar)

A fresh discovery for me early this year was the group, ASA Trio from Iceland. I am still in love with their latest release, Plays The Music of Thelonious Monk and I'm already letting everyone know it will be on our top albums of the year list. But while the trio have released one of the standout albums of 2011, I decided to look into one of the members that really struck me--drummer, Scott McLemore.

McLemore, now living in Reykjavik, spent 8 years in Brooklyn developing his skill. He has an impressive CV which includes recording/performing with an intensive list of musicians including, Angelica Sanchez, David Berkman, Tim Berne and his wife, pianist, Sunna Gunnlaugs to name just a few. As a solo artist he has only recorded one album, but it is an amazing record that should not be overlooked. That album is Found Music (Fresh Sound/New Talent).

What is so fascinating about Found Music is McLemore's compositions and leadership. This album was recorded prior to his joining up with ASA Trio but it shows a musician who had a host of ideas and circled himself with set of musicians who could execute it superbly. The album is subtle but with pockets of fierce individual performances. "If You Wish" and "Ambiguity" are both relaxed moments where Malaby and McLemore shine with a modern contemporary resonance.

The diversity of McLemore's playing as it does with ASA Trio reminds me of agility of the late Billy Higgins and Paul Motian. And as with Higgins, McLemore gives his bandmates the space to breath and create a sound that lets the listener sit back imagine and enjoy. Ben Street delivers the long opening recitation for "Safe From The World" that only underscores what an important bass player he continues to be. Here, McLemore settles in the background allowing the rest of the quartet to step up and transform the piece with great beauty.

"At No Cost To You" is McLemore's salvo, illustrating that this young talent means business behind the kit as well as a being the composer. Each member has a nice dueling session with the leader on this track and its fun to absorb and crank louder and louder with repeated listens. The group come together with a raucous unity towards the end that is just simply awesome.

"Worldly Possession" is probably the most eclectic piece on Found Music. It's also the longest. An intense, rolling and momentum building set of chords by Monder help make the piece a bit of Marc Ribot-esque exploration. Street bends the notes while McLemore adds a thumbing and seductive rhythm just underneath.

Found Music is one of those little undiscovered treasures that you're always looking for. But it is also a document of a musician who would later expand his skill in partnership with one of the best up and coming trios of the last few years. This is the "secret origins" of a talented new artist and composer on the scene. Here's to seeing a new Scott McLemore record soon. Found Music is still readily available so please search it out. A must listen for sure.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Intersection: Equilibrium

The Intersection is an ongoing feature on JazzWrap that looks at artists that have blended jazz, world and electronica in new and highly creative ways.

Equilibrium (group)
Sissel Vera Pettersen (voice, sax, electronics)
Mikkel Ploug (guitars)
Joachim Badenhorst (clarinet)
(photo: Carsten Villadsen)

Soft, delicate and almost floating above the clouds. That's where Equilibrium stand. When we talk about musicians and groups pushing the genre forward and seeking what can truly be done with sound and thought, this trio is what we mean.

For me, Equilibrium evoke all the elements of other Eastern European adventurists such as Arve Henriksen, Sidsel Endresen, Karin Korg, Treje Rypdal to the ethereal sounds of American, Ralph Towner. There is ability for Sissel Vera Petterson to meld her voice into a parallel of her electronic instruments. And then there is an inventiveness of both Badenhorst and Ploug to create inviting and enveloping soundscapes around that voice.

The trio began working together as a result of a number session meetings, first between Ploug and Vera, then Badenhorst joining in later. Each musician had already established themselves through their individual works. But as a trio they have developed something altogether different.

On their self-titled debut, Equilibrium (Songlines, 2009), the trio provide a blueprint of both ethereal architecture and jazz improvisation. On "November", the unison of the musicians and the rhythmic nature of the chords reminded me of the classic Philip Glass piece "Facades". "November" is a beautiful piece that is dense yet open to investigation by the listener. The clarinet work from Badenhorst and his performances deserves much wider recognition. On "Fri" he delivers an undulating exhibition that is breath-taking. Both Pettersen and Ploug join in on sax and guitar midway through giving the piece more colour, but it is Badenhorst who dominates this piece. Moving in a more gentle Scandinavian folk direction, "Soft Spoken" and "Chords" both shine with contextual beauty and pristine orchestration.

When Equilibrium returned earlier this year with Walking Voices (Songlines, 2011), you might have expected more of the same. Well, you kind of get that but its more than just lovely melodies and themes. There's more instrumentation. More adventure. More harmonic moments. Equilibrium make the case for being one of the most "different" groups you will hear all year.

Opening with "Addicted To Changes" the group continue to explore their unique melding of voice, guitar, clarinet and electronics. The best way to generally describe this would be a journey through "experimental folk." It has set the tone for Walking Voices. This is an even more diverse outing than their debut. Ranging from folk, jazz, ambient to gentle pop forms (i.e. Anja Garbarek). "Chagan" is one of my favourite tracks. It has a wonderful harmonic structure and Badenhorst's clarinet sounds expansive. Plough carries on in an acoustic rock fashion while Pettersen's electronics and vocal experiments add an extra sense of avant garde.

Walking Voices is rich and contains a little more depth than it's predecessor (which is what you would expect), but what you don't expect is to be completely blown away by how advanced a step the artists have taken in just a short period of time. The title track opens with an erie mixture of serene beauty and haunting ambience. Pettersen's voice is almost unrecognizable with electronic resonance. Badenhorst and Plough play a nice counterpoint towards the end of the piece. "Walking Voices" emits the enterprising nature of this trio. "Sires" ambient is a lovely way in which to depart this journey of soundscapes called Walking Voices. It's lustrous with movement up and down, like gentle waves from a pebble being thrown into the lake.

For many, Equilibrium will be hard to describe. Well, it is. The trio move in many enlightening directions. But at its heart, it is music of exploration. Music that has many origins and many roots. There are elements of serenity from many different avenues of influence on each of the members. Somehow. Some way. Equilibrium has made it sound so easy and so beautiful. This is an outfit that should work together for a long time. Highly Recommended and a must have for everyone.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Fowser/Gillece Quintet

Ken Fowser (sax)
Behn Gillece (vibes)
Duotone (Posi-Tone Records; 2011)
Willie Jones (drums)
Donald Vega (piano)
David Wong (bass)

Did I mention its be a great year for music?

I have been waiting for the new Fowser/Gillece Quintet record for 8 months now. And this week it arrived. And I have to say it's a cracker! Supported by the third in a revolving lineup, Duotone (Posi-Tone) is superb. The lineup change doesn't affect the quality of Fowser and Gillece's compositions; The bandmates seem to slide in perfectly.

The opener, "Overcooked" swings with a lot of force. Vega and Wong add a nice thumbing punch to hard bop number. Fowser and Gillece let the members shine from the outset while they both move in and out of the piece gently but with enough punctuation for the listener to know which path to follow. "Spontaneity" and "Attachment" both deliver on the calm relaxed nature of  Behn Gilllece's writing. They are both well inviting midtempo numbers, which see that Gillece and Vega having direct interchanges that make for one of those cool night club moments. The reason why you appreciate good jazz played supremely.

The chemistry between Fowser and Gillece was established years ago before they even started their recording careers. But over the short span of three years they have established themselves as a creative duo that continues to grow with each record. The changing of bandmates for each record shows how in demand they are to work with. "In The Twilight" is a beautiful motif that sees Gillece taking the forefront like Milt Jackson. And like Jackson, he is changing the vibes into more than just instrument. It's become a part of the group theory. This piece would sound flat without the addition of the creative notes Gillece has applied. Fowser adds a tone that could settle somewhere between 'Trane and the giant Dexter Gordon. "One For G" sees Fowser performing with bold ambition and directness. It's a well balanced piece which all the band tend to have an opportunity to shine and well placed, sequence wise, as the last track.

Obvious Milt Jackson and John Coltrane comparisons will always come up with a duo like Fowser and Gillece but they have managed to create pieces that sit in tradition but are clearly modern and hard enough to make the distinction that these two are no revivalists. I always try to recommend albums that can be universally appreciated inside and outside of jazz circles. Duotone is far and above one of those albums. For me it will be one of our albums of the year. A true must listen for all music fans. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Intersection: DMP Trio

The Intersection is an ongoing feature on JazzWrap that looks at artists that have blended jazz, world and electronica in new and highly creative ways.

DMP Trio (group) 
Insular Dwarfism (Audio Tong; 2011)
Pawel Dziadur (electronics, wave_attack software)
Slawomir Maler (sax)
Philip Palmer (sax; found sounds)

DMP Trio and their debut Insular Dwarfism are probably one of the most daring albums I've listened to this year. Originating out of the experimental scene in Krakow, Poland, DMP have strived to achieved a balance between distinct patterns and expressionistic thought. 

There are moments where DMP remind me of John Zorn's Painkiller group. It's a very difficult listen but extremely rewarding.  I do think we all need challenging music like DMP to ask ourselves what more can be done with sound. And where can it go?

DMP utilize the unique combination of two saxophonists, electronics and what Pawel Dziadur has termed "wave_attack" software, by which he can manipulate "real time" instrumentation without predetermined construction. In short, an even more advanced thought on improvising. The results are fascinating.

"Sea Serpent Fiesta" opens slowly with a modular soundscape that builds into a double barrel cacophony of saxophones and electronics before gently returning to its quiet origins. "Trepanning For Dummies" continues on the same theme but adds an additional level of crackling white noise that could suggest an influence of artists such as John Cage, John Zorn and Faust. The dueling match between Palmer and Maler is quite beautiful and worth your making the journey through this piece with multiple listens.

DMP really works well as a unit. Dziadur's electronics alongside the full-throttle charge of Palmer and Maler at first brush may sound devastating to the ear. But just as early Archie Shepp or recent David S. Ware, you will find the melody and art laying not too far from the edges. "The Worm And A Dip Pen" is another example of this unified display of electronics and horns. Moving swiftly between high pitch and soaring counterpoint, the trio displays a forward thinking range and calmness within a swirling series of thoughts and patterns.

"UV Mother DP" and "Reason In Question" both see the horn section taking the lead with Dziadur adding subtle and accumulating effects around the sides. There is a point at which on "UV Mother DP" rises and never comes back. You just have to follow the journey upwards.

DMP Trio have created a debut that lifts sound investigation to a new level. The main reason why I've fallen in love with Insular Dwarfism is because of the sheer uniqueness of the instrumentation and the recording process. This is challenging music for challenging thinkers. Enjoy...

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Nucleon: Fitoplankton

Nucleon (group)
Fitoplankton (Self Produced; 2011)
Alesander Papierz (sax)
Michal Dymny (guitar)
Tomek Gluc (electronics)
Jakub Rutkowski (drums)
Andrzej Sawik (piano)

With a combination of traditional fusion and a modern rock aesthetic, Nucleon are building an exciting book of material that we should really take note of. The group, developed by founding members Jakub Rutowski and Andrzej Sawik, quietly (or loudly) built a huge following within their home country of Poland. Their self-titled debut is fantastic and has all the elements of a young group searching through their influences but also creating its own identity.

The ensemble suffered a major loss last year with the unexpected passing of the classically trained co-leader, Sawik before the group could finish its next record. But Nucleon forged on and created the beautiful, Fitoplankton, an album that explodes through the speakers with vibrancy and urgency. With a sound that is reminiscent of King Crimson, Headhunters, Last Exit and ironically, Nucleus, Nucleon is that "something different" you've been looking for the last couple of weeks.

"Where R U Going Boy?" rambles ans swirls with almost 'third stream' quality in the outset with Papierz and Gluc leading the charge. Sawik, whose piano parts are sampled in perfectly, joins in as the rest of group follow. It's an heavy laden groove that lots of funky moments but the standout performances lay between Papierz, who's delivery is on fire along with Rutkowski's pulsating timing that never lets the group simmer down. "Metalug", another bristling piece highlights the groups rock influences with a cavalcade of chords in its opening that never really lets up. It's a short piece that soon rolls into the quiet and evocative "Sola W Occie" which is driven by Sawik's classical keys and gently moves back and forth between ambient and experimental thought. Papierz delivers some nice almost Coleman-esque solo passages with Gluc and Rutkowski adding eerie direction just underneath his notes. 

"Fitoplankton" presented me with thoughts of Red era King Crimson mixed with the keyboard psychedelics of Headhunters. The group mix a sense of raw, gritty energy thorugh Dymny and Rutkowski but tempered by some buoyant floatation from Papierz. 

Nucleon are a group that I hope will soldier on after the lose of their influential co-founder. They found a way to intermingle Sawik's pieces into this power record which keeps is name alive. But it also gives the group a new point of direction for the future. Check out our good friend Maciej from the blog Polish Jazz for a great look at Nucleon's last effort. Both albums are well worth seeking out.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Undivided: Moves Between Clouds

Undivided (group)
Moves Between Clouds (MultiKulti; 2011)
Klaus Kugel (drums)
Perry Robinson (clarinet)
Waclaw Zimpel (clarinet, bass clarinet)
Bobby Few (piano)
Mark Tokar (bass)

This is a fascinating live recording. One that should be listened to at night to get the full experience. Undivided is a collective born from the mind of clarinetist, Waclaw Zimpel, who has worked with Ken Vandermark, Robert Kusiolek and Aram Shelton to name a few.

On first listen you may automatically get the feeling of late 60's free jazz floating throughout the pieces. But as you continue to absorb the music you will grasp hold of the experiments that quintet are reaching for on their second release, Moves Between Clouds (MultiKulti Records). It reminds of when hard bop began its transition towards free jazz. There's still shadows of expressive melody but there is more of an introspective quality to the music that is rich and rewarding.

With three long tracks the audience and you the listener get a much more in-depth experimentation in sound than the rolling epic of their debut, The Passion. As with late Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Jimmy Giuffre and even some Donald Byrd records of the time period, Moves Between Clouds has a spiritual and almost folkish element to it.

The addition of Perry Robinson to the quartet gives this live recording it's cultural feel. The title track bares this out. "Moves Between Clouds" has Robinson and Zimpel sharing and intertwining passages. Few's playing underlines the contemplative nature of the piece. It's a slow, droning number that only hits heavy notes when Tokar and Kugel raise the pulse (only slightly) keeping the listeners sense of adventure engaged.

Moves Between Clouds is blissful and hypnotic in its delivery. Few's repetitive tones are matched by Robinson and Zimpel beautiful rising arpeggios on both "Hoping The Morning Sky" and the closing number "What A Big Quiet Noise". Kugel as always makes an impact with crisp and exploratory timing.Undivided have presented one of those solid live performances that you wish you were in the audience that night. Thankfully the date was recorded and we can all experience it. Excellent stuff.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Harris Eisenstadt: September Trio

Harris Eisenstadt (drums)
September Trio (Clean Feed; 2011)
Angelica Sanchez (piano)
Ellery Eskelin (sax)

What's the word for "wow!" in every language? Well that's what I have to say about Harris Eisenstadt's latest release, September Trio (Clean Feed). The Canadian born Brooklyn transplant has delivered his second record for 2011 and its even more striking than Canada Day II. This time, as a trio under the aforementioned title. 

Opening with the repetitive, melodic blues of "September 1," Eisenstadt sets the tone that this is a much different outing than Canada Day. "September 1" has you focused on the trio's interactions and the complex and free flowing nature of Eisenstadt's compositions. It's improvised but held within a tight dynamic. This may not have been achievable in any other setting than a trio.

Eskelin has a muscular tone in his phrasing which reminds me of of Ornette Coleman, while Sanchez continues to show why she deserves much wider recognition. Her agile, rhythmic yet contemplative performance has really started me to put her on the same level as Kris Davis, John Escreet, Jason Moran, Sylvie Courvoisier and Irene Schweizer. A real creative at the piano.  But the real focus is Eisenstadt's compositional work.

On September Trio he has allowed his fellow musicians the freedom to move in various directions and in addition, his own timing and melodic touches are exquisite and thoughtful. There is a moment about 2/3's of the way into "September 1" where Eskelin and Eisenstadt share some raw improvised exchanges but it will be the soft tones of Eisenstadt's brushes that you may focus in on as they are placed just under the melody. Beautiful.

"September 3," Eisenstadt allows Sanchez and Eskelin to paint a wonderful picture in cascading hues and a well placed use of space. The piece is superbly written and has moments "harmolodics" throughout. Eisenstadt remains settled into the background with steady timing until midway through when the trio begin to interweave and almost become one note of improvisation.

"September 6" starts of with a rich and bellowing solo period from Eskelin and then slowly turns into a haunting blues filled with counterpoints and lots stellar exchanges between the musicians. "September 6" while moving in various directions still displays as sense of order and investigation. The final three minute passage is spectacular as it rises in tone and then quietly descends into black.

Harris Eisenstadt has already established himself as one of most sought after drummers in the jazz community but its his writing that's really becoming more significant. The ability to write material with such breath while allowing your fellow musicians a majority of the spotlight yet still producing some excellent moments of your own, is well, nothing short of phenomenal. September Trio should be the album that finally sets Harris Eisenstadt apart from many of his peers, as a performer and a writer. Album of the year material for sure. Highly Recommended and Unexpectedly Beautiful.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

David Smith

David Smith (trumpet)
Circumstance (Fresh Sound/New Talent; 2006)
Anticipation (Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records; 2010)

I sometimes describe discovering music like an architect stumbling upon a cool design for a new building, a sculptor discovering a new idea for their next work or a poet inspired by events or a scene on the street to write a new prose. This is how I felt when I stumbled upon David Smith.

The Canadian born and raised trumpeter moved to New York only in the last ten years. But he has been making waves ever since as a session member on the likes of Billy Hart, Harry Connick Jr. and Tom Jones, to name a few. While this diverse array of accompaniment may seem surprising on first glance, its the bewildering accomplishment of his own material which will have you talking. A mixture of unique phrasing and inviting structures should grab fans from both sides of the music aisle (meaning new and standard jazz fans).

Emerging on the scene with Circumstance (Fresh Sound/New Talent), a bright and highly focused debut with Smith landing in a similar camp as Woody Shaw or even Dizzy Reece. The title is an immense standout with it's introspective feel and stellar delivery from Nate Radley (guitar) and some wonderful exchanges between Seamus Blake (sax) and Smith. "Tubicinate" has a fire and drive that definitely molds in a hard bop theme.  Smith and Blake again have a symbiotic relationship on horns that gives the piece a real sense of urgency. Mark Ferber on drums has a number of moments that add to the vibrancy and fun nature of the tune. "Charade" shows Smith in a more relaxed, romantic structure. Smith's compositional work here allows the quintet to move fluidly and the listener gets the opportunity to really absorb each instrument. Nate Radley and David Ephross really shine through on "Charade" providing a spacious yet inviting tone.

It would be four years before Smith delivered his next outing as leader. But the wait is well worth it. Anticipation (BJU Records) is a superb and well balanced leap forward. Opening with the title track, a steady rhythm with a number complex exchanges between Smith and Kenji Omae (sax) provide a feeling of excitement and wonder for the rest of the session. Smith's lyricism is definitely something that attracted me and that is very present on "Bittersweet" in which Smith leads his quintet quietly and effectively through an emotional journey. It's a lovely number on which Smith shines and does give a performance reminiscent of Woody Shaw. His quintet fills in the palette beautifully adding a rich yet gentle tone to the track.

Smith shows he can also deliver a unique perspective on his influences as well. John Coltrane's "Satellite" (originally on Coltrane's Sound) is a piece in which Smith replaces 'Trane as the emphasis point, delivers a superb performance. Omae adds improvised moments making the piece sound fresh while still setting in the tradition. This choice of what is a rarely covered Coltrane number says a lot about the adventurous quality of Smith. Anticipation closes with "Alone", an epic piece, again showing some forward-thinking from Smith. Radley's playing is phenomenal and the arrangements gives off Spanish vibe but with some added complex changes. Great stuff.

David Smith may be known within jazz circles due to his session work but he has shown in just a short span of time that he is emerging as a creative force. His musicianship and compositions have grown and expanded in with Anticipation here's to hoping he receives a much wider appreciation that his music deserves. A great artist that was exciting to stumbling upon. Highly Recommended.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Brent Canter: Urgency Of Now

Brent Canter (guitar)
Urgency Of Now (Posi-Tone Records; 2011)
Seamus Blake (sax)
Adam Klipple (organ)
Pat Bianchi (organ)
Jordan Perlson (drums)

I really have gained a deeper appreciation this year for the guitarist. In recent months I have continually stumbled onto guitars who are either constructing something new through the instrument. Or creating a whole new vibe through their compositions.

These artists are also not making themselves the story of their sessions. It's the group and the tunes that's important. Not the histrionics of how well the artist has learned form their studies or history. Now with another guitarist spending time in my CD player, I am again blown away...everyone, meet Brent Canter and his stellar new album, Urgency Of Now (Posi-Tone Records)

The L.A. native has studied under Kenny Burrell but what he has learned is to tell the story gently, through the eyes of the composition and the instruments will follow. And while his mentor is felt throughout Urgency Of Now, "Meet Me Halfway" for me had elements of both the adventurous-ness of Pat Metheny and astral folk of Ralph Towner. There is a bold yet quiet sense of optimism in Canter's playing that softly invites the listener in and then the rest of quartet join in, painting the perfect picture.

The organ work by both Kipple and Bianchi (on selected tracks) is understated and Canter's compositions don't allow the instrument to overtake the groups overall mission on each track. "Meet Me Halfway" is lovely in tone and the group are rise to the challenge as the piece moves forward. Changing tempos from bluesy-soul to midtempo ethereal harmonics thanks to Bianchi on this number. Great stuff.

"With Eyes Closed" raises the game and attitued of group. It's a fierce, jagged little groove that allows the musicians to stretch and improvise a little bit. Seamus Blake and Adam Klipple sounds terrific and full of life throughout. It puts a smile on your face and a nice two step in your shoes. Canter is a bit more reserved here filling in the patterns just underneath the dynamics of the group until midway through in which he display a great deal of soaring chords that show he's  learned a lot not just from Burrell but probably the music of John McLaughlin as well.

The title track closes out the session with group turning the spotlight on its leader. Here you get the full understanding of Canter as a craftsman. The playing is solid, tight and full of emotion. Bianchi and Perlson have a few great moments but they both pull back for leader to shine when needed. "Urgency Of Now" is the obvious highpoint of the record but it is also tells everyone this artist is for real.

Urgency Of Now is only Brent Canter's second album but it is one that come with quality and craftsmanship. It's been a year of some wonderfully talented guitar albums, but Canter is making a case that we need to pay attention to all of them on various different levels. They are not all the same. They so far have been quite refreshing and eye opening. Urgency Of Now delivers a midpoint opening that fans across all stages of music will hopefully gravitate to this year.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Stephane Belmondo: The Same As It Never Was Before

Stephane Belmondo (trumpet)
The Same As It Never Was Before
(Sunnyside; 2011/Verve France; 2011)
Kirk Lightsey (piano)
Billy Hart (drums)
Sylvain Romano (bass)

Stephane Belmondo's ninth album (either as leader or within a duo), The Same As It Never Was Before, is somewhat a departure, a new chapter and a refreshing return to form for the veteran trumpeter.

His previous efforts have carried him through orchestral settings, contemporary jazz modes, world and soul-jazz infusions (his debut was a magnificent Stevie Wonder tribute). This has allowed him to work with a host of global musicians, including Sylvian Luc, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Yusef Lateef and Milton Nascimento. But now he has settled into a straight ahead and beautifully relaxed mode with this quartet release that should have a wider set of jazz fans taking notice.

All of these experiences, interactions and inspirations of other fellow great musicians is reflected throughout The Same As It Never Was Before. And circling himself around a few well seasoned talents has challenged Belmondo and made this outing a delight to experience. Only Sylvian Romano had worked with Belmondo up to this point.

The soulful bliss of Stevie Wonder is revisited on "You And I" which I almost didn't recognize. It's keeps the core essence of the original but Belmondo's arrangements and quartet's performance gives it a sultry and romantic feel that you immediate fall in wonder with the tune and want to hear again before you move forward with the rest of the session. "Light Upon Rita" opens with a lovely set of chords from Romano and sets a haunting yet investigative approach for the piece. Soon Lightsey, Hart and Belmondo join in and the tune becomes a fiery yet still emotionally structured movement. There are shadows of Woody Shaw, Donald Byrd and the more contemporary Roy Hargrove that emerge in Belmondo's work, and "Light Upon Rita" displays that with strength and beauty.

"Godspeed" is reminiscent of Belmondo's more world-music related work. It's brief (just over 2 minutes), but shows the diversity in Belmondo's writing and how it all fits perfectly on this release. Utilizing his trumpet as well as flute and shells, he crafts a small yet effective interlude (Jon Hassell and Stephan Micus would be proud). "Haunted By Now" is a ballad in which the group is in perfect unity. Lightsey and Belmondo's exchanges together are really heartfelt and feel like they had been kindred spirits.

The Same As It Never Was Before is a monumental piece and an adventurous journey through many ideas Belmondo has worked on in the past. But with this new quartet he has reshaped those ideas into something that surely is the perfect primer for those of you who have yet to experience his music. Well worth seeking out for even the newest of jazz fans.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Curtis Fuller: The Story Of Cathy & Me

Curtis Fuller (trombone)
The Story Of Cathy & Me (Challenge Records; 2011)

The last few years have been filled with adversity for the great trombonist, Curtis Fuller. But, he has poured that pressure into an exhilarating mixture of music inspired by love, honour and devotion. The main source of that inspiration has been his beloved wife, Cathy, who passed away a few years ago. 

As with I Will Tell Her (Capri; 2010), his latest,  The Story Of Cathy & Me (Challenge Records) is devoted to the life of his esteemed spouse. It's a story carried out over three phases of their life together. How they met. Their life together and with children. And finally how his life has been affected without her.

The personality and journey of both these devoted lovers is announced and carried through over the course of the next hour by both the delicate compositions as well as four interludes in which Fuller describes particular events and emotions of their relationship. The opening, "Little Dreams" seems appropriate, with light yet playful melody accentuated by Nick Rosen on piano and Lester Walker's trumpet. But the drive and most effective force is of course Fuller, who adds some juicy and very characteristic passages midway through. "I Asked And She Said Yes" with a Latin tinge is bouncy but pulls into a hard bop vibe with some strong punches from Fuller and Lester Walker on trumpet.

The journey continues on "Look What I Got" a midtempo piece with another slightly Latin feel thanks to Akeem Marable on percussion. But that's only a light touch. It's the performance by the entire ensemble that really transforms this piece into something more than just a midtempo love theme. There are some solid and touching notes delivered by the horn section along with Fuller's direction and ability to make the trumpet feel like multiple instruments at once. That's not say the work of Daniel Bauerkemper (sax) and Lester Walker goes unnoticed. By contrast, its an added element brings out the best in their leader.

"Spring Will Be A Little Late This Year" closes out the album on the music standpoint. It's a somber piece mainly led by the effective keys of Kenny Banks Jr. with Fuller, and the horns and texture just underneath. Brandy Brewer injects some beautiful notes on bass making this an even more tearful conclusion to the journey of Curtis and Cathy. "Spring Will Be A Little Late This Year" is a still picture with passionate lyrics from Fuller and a lovely way to say so long for now.

The Story Of Cathy & Me is simply an excellent testament to marriage, life and journey of two lovers. But it is also a beautiful document of one's continuing struggle to fight through adversity and loss. It still brings out the best of one of the remaining living giants of jazz. Excellent stuff and highly recommended.

Monday, August 1, 2011

New York Standards Quartet

New York Standards Quartet (group)
Unstandard (Challenge Records; 2011)
David Berkman (piano)
Yosuke Inoue (bass)
Gene Jackson (drums)
Tim Armacost (sax, flute)

Formed from the idea of bringing a different spin to traditional standards, the New York Standards Quartet is quietly making an impact throughout various circles of the jazz community. 

The group consists of veteran leaders; David Berkman who's growing discography continues to be inspiring and garnering considerable praise for his compositions. He has recorded, toured and composed with the likes of Joe Lovano, Brian Blade and Dave Douglas. Yosuke Inoue, who has worked with Cyrus Chestnut and Lee Konitz among others. Tim Armacost, who's worked with both Bruce Barth & Kenny Barron on a number of occasions. And finally, Gene Jackson with whom you can hear some killer work on albums by Monday Michiru, J.D. Allen and even Dave Holland.

The group's first recording was a live set recorded in Japan in 2006 (NYSQ Live In Tokyo released in 2009). On their latest endeavor, Unstandard (Challenge Records) NYSQ have spun the tunes forward giving them a bit of adventure in the compositional structure. The classic "How High The Moon" starts in a traditional fashion and melody, but soon Berkman and Armacost take the tune on a nice but gentle left turn adding more romantic notes and some nice touches of improvising on Berkman's part. It's a great way for the group and the listener to be introduced.

Later on "But Beautiful", a Jimmy Van Heusen standard (later really solidified by Betty Carter late in her life), Berkman exemplifies the reason why he is one of the growing set of pianists that will be known over the next 20 years. His movements of slow and steady pace the quartet perfectly. Armacost switches to flute which adds a deep sensual atmosphere to the piece.

"Lunar," one of the few longer originals here written by Berkman, is a moment for the group to really bounce with a fervent staccato. They are having a lot of fun throughout this piece. Inoue really shines with a great set of passages on bass. Berkman's writing here has also allowed room for Gene Jackson to cut some serious and pulsating sounds on the drums. The group are really smokin' on "Lunar" and it happens at the right time while listening to the sessions as a whole.

Moving out of "Lunar" you get Bill Evan's wonderful "Interplay" which has a bit more full body to it as a result of relying on Armacost in place of Freddie Hubbard (trumpet on the original). They keep the feel and shape of original but expand inside the rhythm with Inoue and Jackson adding a solid tone on notes around the buoyancy and intricacies of Berkman's notes. The tune feels more like a jumping romantic theme to an early 60's film and leaves the listener with a pleasant vibe.

With Unstandard, The New York Standards Quartet have delivered a well focused document that expands on the main elements of the "standard" in a fun and entertaining manner all the while maintaining a sense kinship with the original. It's a wonderful group playing a straight ahead songbook that the general music fan can easily gravitate to with no fear. The melodies are familiar, the improvised moments are light and few. The listener gets an education by a senior class of players. The jazz community gets another stellar record to talk about for the rest of the year. Highly Recommended.