by: Hobart Taylor
Joshua White - 13 Short Stories - (Fresh Sounds New Talent Records)
Composer/improvisor/pianist White, working in a quartet format with Jonathon Pinson on drums, Dean Hulett, bass, and Josh Johnson on alto saxophone make profound and thoughtful music. These are not so much tunes as they are reflections. Traditional melodic structures emerge from time to time, but the heart of the sound here are the multiple insights contained in various unexpected digressions. They can be furious and acerbic, meditative, sly, or knowing in turns. On "Curiosity Landing" and "Scarlet Tanager", the group demonstrates an ability to balance a certain sweetness with tough commentary. Deconstruction is a frequent element in the tunes where White offers up fragments( "Particles","The Lower Case"), and an engaged listener fills in the absences, and so is engaged in the acts of composition and improvisation as well. Currently based in San Diego, UCI has been fortunate to have White play recently in collaborations with faculty members Michael Dessen and Nicole Mitchell. Keep an eye out for his return.
Ray Zepeda and The Bakersfield New Music Collective - Re-Imagining Milton Babbitt - (Soundsketch Records)
Milton Babbitt wrote music. Not jazz music. Not classical music. Not "New" music. Not electronic music. Not avant-garde music. Music.
Ray Zapeda plays music. On this disc multi-reed player Zapeda presents faithful renditions of this great American 20th century composer interspersed with his own terse and trenchant tunes. If art is a distillation of human experience, great art is an informative distillation. The Babbitt pieces address the dilemma of the American 20th century experience, an age of anxiety, violence, self medication and delusion, as well as age of promise, revolution, and global communication. Zapeda reflects on the personal significance of that dilemma. Where the two sensibilities coalesce is in Zapeda's stunning arrangement of Babbitt's "None But The Lonely Flute". One of the conductors on the CD, Doug Davis, adds a composition "Stones", a relentless march in the dark that is a special treat. This is music for folks that love music.
Kent Miller Quartet - Minor Step - (TNEK Jazz)
Washington D.C. based bassist Miller swings. I say that like a lot folks don't. Swing. A lot of folks do. Swing. Miller SWINGS. Tempo mastery is so much a matter of individual expression, that anyone's judgment of it speaks volumes about their aesthetic. With pianist Darius Scott, Benny Russell on tenor sax, and drummer Greg Holloway they romp through standards with just the right celerity and clarity. On the title tune, Miller's "Minor Step", a Coltrane tribute (intentional or not), an air of flawless inevitability predominates. Or as baby bear would say, "it's just right". It's all glorious stuff. Right now I'm playing "Minor Steps", Coltrane's "Liberia", and Benny Russell's tune "Brother Ray" on my show.
Keyon Harrold - The Mugician - (Legacy Records)
Trumpeter Harrold been out on the road with Jay-Z, Beyonce, Eminem, and most notably Common. This isn't to say that he brings a pop hip-hop sensibility to his music, it is rather to say that he adds jazz musicality to the work of others. The title tune, a reggae inflected healing jam features Josh David Barrett, current lead singer of the Wailers, and here Harrold shows how he works his transformative magic with another genre. With Marcus Strickland on tenor sax, Shedrick Mitchell on piano, guitarist Nir Felder, Burniss Travis, bass, and drummer Mark Colenburg, and lots of guests (Bilal and Big K.R.I.T, Pharoahe Monch, Gary Clark Jr.) Harrold points the way to broadening jazz appreciation by just being himself in any musical setting.
Carn Davidson 9 - Murphy - (Self-Released)
Trombonist William Carn and soulmate Tara Davidson, a multi-reed player, have assembled a large ensemble that is a really a small big band for their tunes. A bunch of Toronto's finest, which is to say any place's finest assist. Pretty straight ahead, these tunes are nonetheless fresh and contemporary and full of nuanced grace and charm.
Sinne Eeg - Dreams - (ArtistShare)
Vocalist Eeg is Scandinavian jazz star, and I'm sure she's lit up and added warmth to many a frigid Danish winter night. As a writer she can be a lot fun ("Head Over High Heels"), but has a serious side as well as in the timely and thoughtful tune "Aleppo". She re-imagines the Cole Porter masterpiece "What Is This Thing Called Love" as a casual uptempo scat dash which gives the question a world weary dimension.
Vincent Herring - Hard Times - (Smoke Sessions)
Saxophonist Herring revives the John Handy soul jazz classic "Hard Work" to lead off this rock solid genre pure outing. With the pros from Dover, (pianist, Cyrus Chestnut, guitarist, Russell Malone, and trombonist Steve Turre for example), and some pop and show tune re-workings with vocals by Nicolas Bearde Bill Withers "Use Me" and a couple of Gershwin standards, this is a people pleaser. My favorite cuts are the complexly beautiful Mulgrew Miller composition, "Eastern Joy Dance", and Herring's own "The Sun Will Rise Again" a lovely confection.
Jacques Lesure - For The Love Of You - (WJ3 Records)
Guitarist Lesure has a bright and round tone and relaxed phrasing on his uptempo tunes that sound like the speech of a charming young southerner politely giving you directions. When he plays the blues "That's Mr. Burrell, Thank You", he let's you into his confidence, sharing intimate observations offhandedly. All of this is brilliantly punctuated by drummer Willie Jones III, with asides from Tony Dumas on badass bass, and the ever witty Eric Reed on piano.
Mason Razavi - Quartet Plus, Volume 2 - (OA2 Records)
This is two records in one. The first five cuts are straight guitar jazz quartet melodies full of winsomeness and pleasantness. On the fast tunes, trills and runs abound as the tempos and dynamics accordion. The ballads like "Looking Forward, Looking Back" are rich and gently mind expanding. The last five cuts where brass and reeds join the mix are more adventurous and for me more captivating. The subtle "When The Ink Ran Dry", "Portrait For Mingus" and "Through The Fog" are my go to selections on this disc.
Cory Weeds - Lets Groove: The Music Of Earth Wind & Fire - (Cellar Live)
This is a no brainer in so many ways. First saxophonist Weeds takes on super established hits utilizing King Curtis style riffs while adding a killer Hammond B-3 organ player in the mix, Mike Ledonne. Next he adds no surprises, just favorite reprises. Finally his arrangements talk to the nervous system leaving the brain plenty of space to wander off into cheery mindlessness. Top of the charts. Really, I mean this is at the top of the charts. Enjoy.