August Celebrations – Wayne Shorter’s 87th birthday, celebrated with a wonderful tribute album (see review below); Branford Marsalis turning 60 and finishing the soundtrack to the Netflix production ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ and 100 years since the birth of Charlie Parker … Three iconic musicians with timeless compositions and recordings. Sure, a good reason to celebrate as the ongoing battle against the COVID19 virus continues as well as the fights for freedom and equality around the globe. Strange times indeed and times that need the magic of music more than ever to help us to go through all this. Here is a selection of albums which were released and I listened to lately:
Ian McGimpsey and Harrison Argatoff / Ontario 559 West – a rare guitar / saxophone duo outing made in Canada. Guitarist McGimpsey and Tenorist Harrison Argatoff recorded an album of short and emotional songs, inspired by Nick Drake’s ‘Pink Moon’. Half of the 15 compositions are a collaborative effort, the rest individual contributions from both players. The focus is on simplicity and staying in the song format and expressing the emotions straight through the two instruments. These miniatures, the shortest is 1 minute 34 and the longest 4 minutes 12, are best enjoyed with a glass of wine and a quiet environment. Touching simplicity is difficult to create, on this album it is wonderfully achieved. A pleasure to listen to!
Mehmet Ali Sanlikol / The Rise Up: Stories Of Strife, Struggle And Inspiration – ‘The Rise Up’ was written on request for sax master Dave Liebman and features him as the main soloist. Sanlikol uses his expanded Whatsnext? orchestra to tell his stories and musically combines Turkish classical music, flamenco, Sephardic Jewish musical elements, and middle eastern traditional music into a unique and utterly beautiful and touching art. Says Sanlikol: “As a musician who is devoted to a type of multiculturalism that is not touristic but truly internalised, I was particularly careful to incorporate the Turkish makam, usul (rhythmic cycles), microtones, and inflections without exoticizing them.” The music is a trip through time and cultures and leaves the listener stunned and uplifted, as the stories told are human in their core. Liebman seems to be at home in whatever Sanlikol wrote for him and absorbs the various influences and cultures to add his own and distinctive voice to the music. A large ensemble album that will have a good run at a Grammy in that category and should find a global audience for its quality and masterful writing and performance. Stunning!!!!!
Nubya Garcia / Source – I have mentioned tenor sax player Garcia a few times in my blog already, met her and have seen her perform and now have the chance to write about her full album debut ‘Source’, which was just released. To make a long story short: it was worth the wait!! Power- and soulful compositions, energetic performances and a modern approach rooted in the tradition, make this album standing out. Recorded with Daniel Casimir on bass, Joe Armon-Jones on piano, keyboards, Sam Jones on drums and guests Ms Maurice* on trumpet and flügelhorn, and vocalists Akenya, Cassie Kinoshi, Richie Seivwright and Sheila Maurice-Grey, this album is a wonderful modern jazz record, multicultural and rooted in its time, without losing its focus. The 12-minute title track is simply amazing, and the Latin influenced ’La cumbia me esta llamando’ a cool and groovy affair. With every listen I discover more and more nuances and little delights in this music! Incredible – one of the best releases this year so far!!
Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah / Axiom – I do admit being a fan of this outstanding trumpet player and composer and have therefore seen many of his shows in Europe over the years – from club performances to festivals one thing is always guaranteed: you’ll get your money’s worth of powerful and emotional music!!! This live recording from March 2020 at NYC Blue Note is no exception – Chief Adjuah is in blistering form and his horn wails, calls, and whispers when necessary. His fantastic band, featuring Elena Pinderhughes on flute, Alex Han on alto sax, Weedie Braimah on djembe, congas and bata, Corey Fonville on drums and SPDSX, Lawrence Fields on piano, Rhodes, Korg and Kris Funn on bass, is cooking as well as their boss and stretching the compositions to wonderful improvised expressions of humanity. Says Christian, who composed all music on the recording except for the David Crosby song ‘Guinnevere’: “There’s a difference between hearing and listening. The intention to understand is present in listening. When you listen to our band, what you are hearing is the sound of listening”. Not only that, you can hear the past as well the present and future of improvised music, performed by musicians who are listening to each other, reacting, and creating on the spot and so creating beauty in sound. A must in times when concerts are rare, and you seek that ‘live’ feeling and a top record in any case. Incredible!!!
Black Art Jazz Collective / Ascension – The Black Art Jazz Collective was founded in 2012 by saxophonist Wayne Escoffery and trumpet player Jeremy Pelt to pay homage to their mentors and musical influences as well as to preserve the tradition, while moving forward. ‘Ascension’ was recorded with James Burton III on trombone, Victor Gould on piano, Rashaan Carter on bass and Mark Whitfield Jr. on drums and features compositions by band members Escoffery, Pelt, Gould and Burton, as well as Jackie McLean’s ‘Twin Towers’. The musical nods of appreciation include Larry Willis, Harold Mabern, Wayne Shorter, Woody Shaw and of course Jackie McLean. The band is tight, swings incredibly and opens up spaces in the songs for wonderful improvisations. Going forward means you have to know where you come from …. Respect!!
Jesse Fischer / Resilience – Pianist, producer and composer Fischer brought with him into the studio the following group of top musicians: trumpeter Billy Buss, saxophonist Godwin Louis, drummer Obed Calvaire, electric bassist David Cutler, guitarist Jordan Peters and percussionist Keita Ogawa, plus a number of special guests including trumpeter Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, vocalists Becca Stevens and Sarah Elizabeth Charles, harmonica master Gregoire Marét, as well as Morgan Guerin, appearing on tenor sax, EWI, and drums, plus percussionist Mino Cinélu. His compositions are modern jazz with some African and Jewish cultural influences, groovy or contemplative, melodic and touching. Fischer as well was the lyricist for the two vocal tracks on the record, which are both remarkable, as different as they are. Powerful the title track featuring the wonderful trumpet by Christian Scott. Another highlight is the track ‘Chorale’, a classical influenced composition, about which Fischer says: “I tried to imagine Glenn Gould, playing a bar mitzvah, at an A.M.E. church deep in Brooklyn… what would that sound like?” An album definitely worth checking out.!!!
Kasia Pietrzko / Ephemeral Pleasures – Pianist Kasia Pietrzko is for me one of the most interesting young artists to emerge in Europe and the critical success of her first album ‘Forthright Stories’ and more dates outside of Poland are testimony of this. Her new self-released album was recorded with Andrzej Święs on double bass and Piotr Budniak on drums and features 10 tracks – four composed by Pietrzko, one by Święs and 5 improvisations called Episodes. Kasia writes with her Polish and European classical background in mind but gives within songs composition and improvisation equal importance. ‘Dearest John’, a more contemplative composition, is one of the highlights of the album with Kasia displaying her melodic and storytelling skills. ‘For T. S.’, a dedication to Tomasz Stanko, is another beauty of a song, a bit more upbeat, with wonderful performances by all three musicians. The five Episode tracks give the Trio a chance to improvise either as a collective or individually and they offer the listener a different side of the group. On ‘Episode V’ Pietrzko makes the piano sound like falling rain on a summer’s day … a perfect way to close an overall impressive recording. It is time that a good label picks her up to make her music globally available – she deserves it for sure. Outstanding!!!
Various / Palladium 2020 – this 22-track tribute to the music of Wayne Shorter is the brainchild of jazz social media promoter Jesse Markowitz and his first work as a producer. Jesse invited some of his favourite artists to record a tune either written or made famous by Wayne Shorter and the result is stunning: each of the performances just enhances the awe one had already for Wayne Shorter as a composer and musical visionary. The list of participating artists is ranging from jazz masters as Dave Liebman via established artists like Mark Whitfield, Eric Reed, Melissa Aldana to young and partly not widely known acts like pianist Sean Mason. Beside these there are contributions by Sasha Berliner, Nicole Glover, Daniel Duke, Nic Cacioppo, Shai Maestro, Emmet Cohen, Russell Hall, Kyle Poole, Willy Rodriguez, Chien Chien Lu, Benny Green, Pablo Held, Dan Tepfer, Luther S. Allison, Kevin Hays, Nite Bjuti (Candice Hoyes, MiMi Jones & Val Jeanty), Gabe Schnider, Jason Marsalis, Mariel Bildsten, Veronica Swift, Dan Chmielinski, Michael Eckert, Julius Rodriguez, Morgan Guerin and words from Wayne & Carolina Shorter. Sasha Berliner’s opener ‘Meridianne – A Wood Sylph’ sets the tone for the album – adventurous, delicate, and looking forward, perfectly reflecting what Wayne Shorter’s music is all about, without losing the always imminent human touch in his music. It is difficult to pick favourites from this amazing record, as each performer made the material, they worked with, respectfully their own. The Aldana / Maestro duo recording of ‘Infant Eyes’ is one highlight for me and so is ‘Footprints’ by Liebman with drummer Willy Rodriguez or Kevin Hays’ ‘ESP’, or Mark Whitfield’s solo guitar rendition of ‘Midnight In Carlotta’s Hair’, or trombonist Mariel Bildsten’s brass arrangement for ‘Sleeping Dance, Sleep On’ or the closing track of the album ‘Orbits’, performed by young keyboarder Julius Rodriguez and soprano sax player Morgan Guerin. A feast for my ears!! Markowitz captured the spirit and open mind of Shorter with the right song selection and the right artists to perform them … a tribute album that sits comfortably next to some of Hal Wilner’s productions. Out of this world!!!!