by: Hobart Taylor
Naughty Professor - Identity - (Self Released)
This New Orleans based jazz-funk sextet collaborates with many of that city's DJ's, vocalists and solo virtuosi so that each song has just the right spice added to their gumbo. The brass section is super tight and yet not hard edged, sort of like dancers who bump into each other with just the right amount of force making their presence felt intimately without being intrusive. DJ Chali 2na is the Billy Eckstine of rap. On ""Sugarcoat" (Ivan Neville on keys!), the band and Chali 2na achieve a special symbiosis of black musics. The down and mid tempo tunes achieve that balanced groove that envelops and caresses. Dedication to the sound informs every note of these truly soulful cats.
Bruce Jackson - Just Left of Center - (Southpaw)
Drummer Jackson's new release clocking in at just about half an hour is a fresh take, relaxed and innovative, on melodic and formal tune based jazz. What makes this special is the thoughtfulness attached to each performance. With laid back understatement that still tickles the brain (see saxophonist Bob Mullan on "Grew's Tune"), and perfect rhythmic push pull, this is a delight all the way through. My faves, "Grew's Tune", "Timeline", and the up tempo "Blackout".
Tom Kohl - Dances with the Sun - (Self Released)
Pianist/composer Kohl has a light touch and a way with the waltz. In the first cut, "Tymus", the trio alternates between 3/4 and 4/4 time call and response melodies that to me resemble a couple in conversation and then there is overlapping commentary in various other time signatures. With either Steve Laspina or or Stephen Roane on bass, and drummer Jon Doty Kohl is subtly inventive as a composer and player. Kohl also moves away from cliche with a Bill Evans like melodic exploration in "A-Flat Tune", a waltz that is my favorite cut on the record. The title cut, "Dances with the Sun" is an earworm full of grace and grit, and in a just world would be a hit. Also, check out the pleasing "Stick Figure" and the slightly un-nerving and ephemeral delight "Carbonesque".
Carlos Vega - Bird's Up - (Origin)
This Chicago based saxophonist/composer swings with ease and authenticity. Joined in a quintet format featuring the elucidating Victor Garcia on trumpet, the music often has latin rhythms, but owes a lot to be-bop as well, an 21st century version of the Machito sound. But there are also straight ahead melodies for the ages, like the gorgeous "Untitled Waltz For The Wednesday" which features guest artists Scott Hesse on guitar and Cheryl Wilson, vocals. Check out "Swayed Elements" and the loping "Curve Ball" and then there is the blues "Reflections of Happy" for your nostalghia fix.
Mark Arroyo Trio - Two Sides to a Promise - (Curiousimprovisor Records)
Jam band jazz from this norcal guitarist with a deft and hypnotizing touch. More mushrooms and beer than ecstasy. Lose tight and a good ride. "Newborn" is math rock with a blues interlude, which is after all jazz. My faves, the bluesy "Three Brown Brothers", and "Don't Stop".
Charlie Ballantine - Where Is my Mind? - (Self Released)
Guitarist Ballantine fronts a quartet incorporating alto sax as well as a rhythm section.
Heavy on the reverb, he has a delicious sound. Occasionally doubling himself, acoustic and electric guitar, and accented by Amanda Gardier's charmingly direct solos on alto and flute, there is that Bill Frisell/Larry Coryell Americana vibe going on here. But Ballantine has his own thing,which sounds like a slinky slowly working it's way down the stairs. I particularly like the uptempo "Hallways" driven by the deft bass work of Jesse Wittman and the telegraphing subliminal messaging from drummer Jay Tibbits. Other highlights include the title cut, the Pixies masterpiece ,"Where Is My Mind" with a backward masking intro and bowed bass (I think...it could be an effect),"Carissa" a mid tempo rock song with a captivating melody , "Wayfaring Stranger" and the simple and pure fragment, " The Last One".
The Great Harry Hillman - Tilt - (Cuneiform Records)
From Lucerne Switzerland comes this Tortoise like rock inflected and avant garde jazz consortium. Off the wall in a sort of measured way, the chaos is completely under control. Time shifts and sonic pings resonate like pop rocks in a dry mouth.
Matt White - The Super Villain Jazz Band - (Worlds Wide)
Trumpeter White and horn section, backed by piano and rhythm section, play minor key film noir jazz with titles like "The Black Valley" and "The Copenhagen Garment Bag Incident". There are touches of New Orleans here, like the fine trumpet drum duet starting the the aforementioned "Copenhagen" tune, and lots of swing. The disk takes an abrupt change into Gospel and Latin jazz inflected tunes with a straight ahead feel. All good stuff.
Steve Davis - Think Ahead - (Smoke Session Records)
Mostly originals from this trombonist, who is joined here by top level NYC journeymen players like saxes Steve Wilson (alto/soprano) and Jimmy Greene (tenor), Lewis Nash, drums, bassist Peter Washington, and Larry Willis on piano. Straight ahead and clean, the tunes are full of nuance, the charts are rich and flavorful. My faves , "Mountaintop", the title tune "Think Ahead" which just talks to you in a calm yet emphatic voice, and the "wise and wistful "Farewell, Brother". This disc sent me back to the Horace Silver/Art Blakey era.