by: Hobert Taylor
Kei Akagi Trio - Circlepoint - (Time and Style Records)
Pianist UCI prof Akagi provides us with an extremely thoughtful and deft rendering of his current compositional thinking. Working here in a trio setting with bassist Shunya Wakai and drummer Tamaya Honda, he alternates between the meditative and the propulsive. Because the trio seems locked in some sort of Vulcan mind meld becoming one instrument on the up tempo pieces,i.e. "New Children's Song III", distinguishing between players can become a delightful challenge...is that Kei's left hand or the drums? On the mid tempo tunes like the title cut "Circlepoint" many voices enter in conversation as one melody responds to another in successive waves, only to return to the initial statement. Full of color and light, rain and wind, laughter and satori, this reminds us of how lucky we are to have music like this nearby.
Chad McCullough & Bram Weijters - Abstract Quantities - (Origin)
Trumpeter McCullough and pianist Weijters recorded this very contemporary sounding disc last summer in Brussels. Like Robert Glasper, Vijay Iyer, The Bad Plus, and Kris Bowers, sometimes they use traditional jazz instrumentation and structure to enhance melodies and beats that might resonate for audiences weaned on acid jazz and hip-hop, for example, "Billions". "Mr. Rubato", on the other hand evokes the image of a soul wandering among rocky crags on a sullen day. There are gospel echoes, Miles cool jazz elements, but what really floats my boat are the sweet melodies found throughout regardless of styles, particularly "The Same Prelude" and "The Same But Different".
Nelson Matta - EastSide Rio Drive - (World Blue)
Matta has mixed Brazilian and American musics and musicians together to provide us with new ways of seeing jazz and Brazilian standards with a couple of his own tunes thrown in for good measure. It makes a lip smackingly tasty caruru (gumbo). Starting out with Matta's own flute dominated homage to Brazil's northeast desert, "Sertao" this disc meanders down alleys of cool jazz, the Mingus classic "Boogie Stomp Shuffle" and Miles' "Blue In Green" for example. I really like the Jobim cut, "Angela" as well. (Programmers note, the track listing on the CD cover is inaccurate...correct track listings appear on the inserted booklet).
Josh Nelson - Exploring Mars - (Origin)
A concept album that begins with a jazz bed under a reading from Ray Bradbury's "Martian Chronicles" and continues with a variety of styles to evoke mental images and imaginings of the "red planet". I like the offbeat ballad "How I Loved You on Mars", the Metheney like "Sojourner","Memnonia Quadrangle", a guitar meditation, and "Spirit" A reprise of the first cut without the Bradbury narration and with a fine trumpet solo.
Lucas Pino - No Net Nonet - (Origin)
Hard driving neo big band music circa 1967, clean as a ghost's underpants. They play original tunes by tenor saxophonist Pino. These New York cats have had a residency at Small's for a while. There's a lot of the intimacy of club playing here, a loose tightness that has a lot of charm. "The Fox", "On The Road" and especially "Orange" really swing and take you back to the excitement of the jagged melodies of bop's second wave. "Bankenstein" is a minor key march that is cogent comment on the financial crisis...I think. I also like "Where You Need To Be", "Homage A Mitch", and "Three Old Men From The Land Of Aran".
Quinn Bachand - Brishen - (Beacon Ridge)
A major Canadian (Victoria B.C.) Celtic star who often tours with iconic fiddlers Natalie MacMaster and Ashley MacIssac, 18 year-old guitarist Bachand displays his gypsy jazz chops here. The Django tunes are note perfect... like a Woddy Allen soundtrack, and that would be enough for a five star rating, but he also writes lovely and timeless tunes, "Annie's Waltz", "The Richard Moody Blues", and takes a Radiohead song, "Nude", and teases out the elegant melody. My very favorite cut is an uptempo Gypsy/Klezmer dance tune "Coragheasca".
Eyal Vilner Big Band - Almost Sunrise - (Gut String Records)
This is basically big band jump blues jazz as opposed to the moribund vanilla swing stuff or the intellectually intricate arrangements of the late '50's -60's. Young Israeli Vilner brings energy and panache to the project, but it feels archival, frozen in aspic, ultimately academic. "Lush Life" with a vocal by Charenee Wade, "Straighten up and Fly Right", and a casual bluesy take on "Centerpiece" (bonus live track) seem freshest to me. Vilner's original ballad, the title cut, "Almost Sunrise", is the most heartfelt piece on the disc. It is moody, dark, and liquid...reminiscent of Tadd Dameron.
John Stowell/Michael Zilber Quartet - Live Beauty - (Origin)
Saxes (Zilber), guitars (Stowell) and a rhythm section play airy melodic mainstream jazz with spacey elements in this live recording from the Bay Area. Traditional improvisational moves and sequential solos abound. Always interesting (says I damning with faint praise), the performances really take off during "Quantum Theory", "Stowell What", a deconstructed "My Funny Valentine", and a John Scofield tune "Wabash III".
Randy Brecker/Depaul University Jazz Ensemble - Dearborn Station - (Jazzed Media)
Big band arrangements that are energetic and eager led by Bob Lark and sometimes arranged by veteran trumpeter Brecker, who solos throughout. Whenever you think it's going to sound like something you've already heard, the tunes take a left turn, occasionally led by a Brecker solo that re-invents the moment via surprise modulations, key changes and tempo variations. Highlights include a superb arrangement of the Monk tune "Well You Needn't", a soul jazz version of "On Green Dolphin Street", the ballad "Cathy's Song",and the Frank Foster tune "Blues in Hoss' Flat".