by: Hobart Taylor
Kenny Barron Quintet - Concentric Circles - (Blue Note)
The Zelig of jazz piano, Barron has recorded over 40 albums and appeared on hundreds more over a career of more than sixty years. He has worked with avant garde and straight ahead artists and taught and inspired legions of younger piano greats at Rutgers and Julliard. In short he is a maestro. On his latest, working with saxophonist Dayna Stephens, drummer Jonathon Blake, trumpeter Mike Rodriguez, and his rock, bassist Kiyoshi Kitagawa, Barron's compositions are eddying rivulets from the great river of modal and melodic exploration that began with the Coltrane/Monk era of spiritual enlightenment. The final tune on the CD is a subtle ellipsis, Monk's composition "Reflections". The outlier is a Caetano Veloso mesmerizing gem "Aquele Frevo Axe".
Eddie Henderson - Be Cool - (Smoke Sessions Records)
Dr. Eddie Henderson, physician and healer provides the best medicine ever with his injections of trumpet fervor. This San Francisco mainstay has been on and off the scene for half a century. Joined here by the ubiquitous Kenny Barron on piano, Donald Harrison on alto, drummer Mike Clark, and the sublime Essiet Essiet on bass, Henderson covers a diverse range of styles from funky blues to cool bop, from mellowest of ballads, to jagged broken time snagglefoots. Harkening back to "the man with a horn era", Henderson evokes the same command over a tune that Miles, Booker Little, Kenny Dorham, Freddie Hubbard, and Lee Morgan all demonstrated. Top shelf single malt jazz. Check out "Fran Dance", "Loft Funk". Woody Shaw's tune "The Moontrane" and my fave, Donald Harrison's "The Sand Castle Headhunter".
Tia Fuller - Diamond Cut - (Mack Avenue Records)
Fuller, who has been on the road with Beyoncé's extraordinary band and been an essential part of Esperanza Spaulding's ensembles is a composer/saxophonist of the first rank. She works here with titans of jazz, Jack DeJohnette and Dave Holland, and on other cuts with the best of the not so famous masters, guitarist Adam Rogers, bassist James Genus, my favorite drummer Bill Stewart, and her producer, the drummer Terri Lyne Carrington. She can get all Moody on you (pun intended) mellowing out ala Turrentine, but I really dig it when she goes out. She has supreme control over her instrument but can be free and unhindered in her randomness as on "Joe'N Around". This is jazz of Christmas future.
Jemal Ramirez - African Skies - (Joyful Beat Records)
Drummer Ramirez has a joyous up tempo snappiness about his playing. It feels like he is really at play. A lot of this has to do with vibe/marimba god Warren Wolf whose ringing tone underscores Ramirez's staccato punctuation. Howard Wiley on saxes of various timbres, bassist John Shifflett, and piano/keyboardist Matthew Clark round out the ensemble. The tunes are all easy on the ears but captivating... all killer no filler. There are a couple of standout ballads, a gorgeous take on the classic, "Speak Low", and a tune written by the band "A Long Way Home". It sounds like Ramirez is at a good place in his life.
Phil Stewart - Melodious Drum - (Cellar Live)
While we are on drummers, this first recording as a leader by Stewart, featuring pianist Sasha Perry, bassist Paul Sikivie, saxophonists Grant Stewart and Chris Byars, and trumpeter Joe Magnarelli is a flat out tribute to melodic swing....more joyful jazz. The tunes are all chosen to give Stewart room to sing out... it's sort of a resume. Firmly locked in the late forties to early sixties be-bop to cool transition, this is just flat out fun to listen to. I flat out have said flat out too much, but I flat out could care less.
Edu Ribeiro - Na Calada Do Dia - (Maritaca Records)
And yet another drummer, Brazilian Ribeiro exercises many of the tropes we associate with Brazilian Jazz, but we enter a house of mirrors and windows (often hard to discern which is which) in this favela of Carioca rhythm. Sometimes we catch mirrored tango reflections in our peripheral vision, sometimes the ghost of Wayne Shorter. Out the window Africa beckons.
This is one of those recordings so rich in influences and that travels in so many different directions at once, that it could be listened to multiple times and reveal somethings different with each listening. Gorgeously orchestrated and arranged, it may be a little too good to play on the radio where it may just get lost in the morass of daily life. Play late at night.
Al DiMeola - Opus - (E*A*R Music)
Guitarist DiMeola is one of the deans of the jazz fusion era. He brings adroit flamenco stylings, some rock, and smattering of spacey new age to this stew. This is a summation and refinement of his profound career. The tunes are beautiful and mature, the playing measured, precise and crystalline. Two tunes, "Cerreto Sannita" and "Left Unsaid" cross the line into that special place where this is not just the work of a master, but also the intimate revelation of something deep within him.
John Stowell/Ulf Bandgren Quartet -Night Visitor - (Origin)
Guitarists Stowell and Bandgren along with Bruno Raberg on bass and drummer Austin McMahon are warm spring breezes blowing off the sea. Redolent with insistent gentleness, these tunes carry the comforting embrace of a sibling full of understanding and absent of stress and contention. I particularly like the wise and knowing , "When Jasper Grows Up", the cool neo-blues "Night Visitor" and it's companion piece "Ghost In The Corner", and the happily askew "Tapioca Time".
Chamber 3 (Christian Eckert, Steffen Weber, Matt Jorgensen) - Transatlantic - (OA2)
Guitarist Eckert, tenor sax player Weber, both from Germany, and Seattle drummer Jorgensen along with bassist Phil Sparks meander through caves of cool. Titles like "Chillaxed and "Minor Moods" key you to the fact that this is easy listening for smart people. "Hesitant Spring", "Black Forest Sound" and "Man Kann Sein Herz Nur Einmal Verschenken" have subtle depth and reward the careful listener with something even more engaging.