by: Hobart Taylor
John Moulder - Earthborn Tales of Soul and Spirit - (Origin Records)
Guitarist/Composer Moulder is joined here by an exceptional cast, including but not limited to trumpeter Marquis Hill, tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin and pianist Jim Trompeter. Like Coltrane, or more recently Larry Coryell or Christian Finger, Moulder takes Indian and other non western musical traditions as points of departure for his own melodic explorations and does so to stunning effect. The tunes "Journey to the East (Parts 1 and 2)" combine the rhythmic discipline of raga with the improvisational mind flights (McCaslin's extraordinary solos) that reveal the intensely personal and profound connection music can make to spirits and souls.
On "Soul in Twilight" Hill's gentle, insistent, and nuanced reading of the melody is captivating. For sheer compositional brilliance "Ruby's Way Part 1" a quietly subtle piece is juxtaposed with "Ruby's Way Part 2" where the electric guitar craftily and definitively gets to speak her piece and the whole ensemble gets to rock out.
Steve Turre - Colors for the Masters - (Smoke Session)
Ron Carter! Kenny Barron ! Jimmy Cobb! and the kid in the wings, Javon Jackson. These are the masters indeed. Trombonist (and sea shell player)Turre who was in Rahsaan Roland Kirk's late '60's early 70's bands and who has played with e-v-e-r-yone drops five of his own beautifully constructed tunes on this disc and seasons the stew with nice jams by Monk, Wayne Shorter, Jobim, and others. This is a direct link to the classic jazz tradition, for example his song "Quietude" is as graceful as a Strayhorn piece, and his uptempo "JoCo Blue" with it's allusion to Coletrane in the title would have easily fit into the master's canon.
Tim Davies Big Band - The Expensive Train Set - (Origin)
Composer/arranger Davies's day job is Hollywood... film scores, arranging a symphonic performance of Kendrick Lamar's "To Pimp a Butterfly", etc. Here he gets to show his own capacity to write and arrange big band music as high art. Like the late '40's Kenton bands, or even more like say Sauter-Finegan, Davies explores the complex possibilities inherent in coordinating so many moving pieces. The title of the CD refers to the fact that big bands are not and can not be profit making institutions, particularly innovative ones, without the support of governments, rich patrons, or universities. I imagine Davies is recycling his Hollywood stipends into this remarkable project. Kudos! As if to double down on this logically ridiculous project he wrote and arranged and recorded the title tune for TWO big bands, one here, one in Australia, and mixed it. The result is overwhelmingly beautiful.
Planet D Nonet - A Salute to Strayhorn - (Detroit Music Factory)
This is a good homage. One of those close your eyes and you're there records. There is nothing precious of self-conscious in these performances, just a bunch of thoughtful musicians relaxing into some of the must sublime compositions in all American music. Faves , "Such Sweet Thunder", "Just A Sittin' and A-Rockin'",
"A Flower is a Lovesome Thing",and "Sugar Rum Cherry", just in time for Christmas. I am not a fan of the vocals, ("Satin Doll" and "Imagine my Frustration").
Cory Weeds - It's Easy to Remember - (Cellar Live)
Tenor saxophonist Weeds along with pianist David Hazeltine, Joe Magnarelli, trumpet, Paul Gill , bass, and drummer Jason Tiemann swing out straight ahead. I particularly like the Kenny Drew tune "With Prestige", and Weed's own "The Mabe" with it's late '60's Wayne Shorter touches.
Trio Kait (Kait Dunton) - Casual - (R&I)
Pianist Dunton is deft and nimble and along with Cooper Appelt on bass and drummer Jake Reed she takes radio hits and finds the music hidden within them. Tunes I would totally dismiss as clever ear candy reveal the heartfelt impetus behind their composition. Songwriters could ask for no better friends than Trio Kait. They throw in a couple of jazz classics like "Giant Steps"...(deconstructed version, Reed and Appelt shine here) to help with setting context. Check out what they do to No Doubt's "Don't Speak", and the ethereally beautiful read of The Red Hot Chilli Peppers' "Under The Bridge", a lovely song that I thought I had heard too much of until Trio Kait re-invented it.
Eric St-Laurent - Planet - (Katzenmusik)
From Canada comes this exciting guitarist. His sound is crisp and propulsive. he favors short tunes, stating his themes, underlining his points or doodling all over them, and then splitting. All electric and nearly prog rock at times, St-Laurent demonstrates his capacity for brilliant idiomatic reinvention on his take on Charlie Parker's classic "Donna Lee". He does the same to Beethoven. My fave on the CD is "Spoonbenders", descending scales with wry guitar commentary.