Dee Dee Bridgewater will release Memphis --- Yes, I'm Ready on DDB/OKeh Records on Sept. 15. (Photo: Courtesy OKeh Records. )

Q&A with Dee Dee Bridgewater: Memories of Memphis

Dee Dee Bridgewater’s 2007 disc, Red Earth—A Malian Journey (Verve), found her searching for her African roots. Her new disc, Memphis … Yes, I’m Ready (DDB/OKeh Records),…


Buffalo, New York, jazz mainstays George Caldwell, Bobby LaVell, Mike Forfia and John Bacon have crafted a spirited album effectively blending classics and originals.

While their takes on such…

Secular Hymns

Wake Up Call

Ziljabu Nights


Trio Ivoire

Desert Pulse

Some albums stand out because they have a unique instrumental blend. But that doesn’t necessarily guarantee the music will be great. It’s what the musicians do with the instruments that can distinguish a recording that is nobly educational from one that is emotionally engaging. Such is the case with Trio Ivoire’s excellent new album, Desert Pulse. The band’s pianist and primary composer, Hans Lüdemann, is teamed with percussionist Christian Thomé and Aly Keïta, who plays an instrument he developed, a diatonic balafon (a type of wooden xylophone). Augmenting the core trio are trumpeter Reiner Winterschladen and Ballaké Sissoko, a master of the kora, which is a long-necked harp lute. (Another famous practitioner of the kora is Toumani Diabaté, who topped the category Rising Star–Miscellaneous Instrument in the 2013 DownBeat Critics Poll.) In the years since Lüdemann first encountered Keïta in 1999, the pianist has been pursuing an aesthetic that blends elements of jazz with those of West African music. The deep-grooved “Timbuktu,” which features muted trumpet, kora and balafone, illustrates how these musicians can combine various musical ingredients into a coherent, head-bobbing tune. On “Love Confessions,” Keïta constructs a fascinating balafone-and-piano conversation with Lüdemann and later unleashes a fiery solo that would induce a knowing smile among jazz vibes players. The generous Lüdemann embraces different roles throughout the program, sometimes providing a foundational element, sometimes sitting out momentarily, and other times adding a memorable motif for coloration. Fans who are intrigued by the notion of blurring the lines between jazz and world music should check out the hypnotic Desert Pulse.

Ahmad Jamal

(Jazz Village/PIAS)

Pianist Ahmad Jamal’s new disc, Marseille, is a love letter to the titular town, a celebrated coastal city in southern France. The album features three versions of Jamal’s composition “Marseille,” and each one is distinct enough to warrant its inclusion: The album opens with a percussion-centric instrumental version; at the program’s midpoint, there’s a rendition with a compelling spoken-word recitation in French by rapper Abd Al Malik; and the album closes with a romantic, ballad version on which Mina Agossi sings in French and in English. Jamal’s original compositions are complemented by jaunty, uptempo arrangements of two songs that artists often deliver with a mood of lamentation: the traditional tune “Sometimes I Feel A Motherless Child” and the standard “Autumn Leaves.” Throughout the program, Jamal emphasizes repetition, and his arrangements often highlight percussion, as he coaxes strong performances from bassist James Cammack, drummer Herlin Riley and percussionist Manolo Badrena, whose toolkit includes bongos, congas, cowbells, rainsticks and wood blocks. While most of the material is upbeat, Jamal offers an introspective mood and lovely, fluid pianism on “I Came To See You/You Were Not There.” This album would make a fine addition to any jazz lover’s collection, whether it’s a newcomer who’s just now discovering this DownBeat Hall of Famer, or a longtime fan who’s been following Jamal since his landmark 1958 album At The Pershing: But Not For Me.

Plucky Strum

(Whaling City Sound)

Guitarist Sheryl Bailey and bassist Harvie S are colossal talents on their own, but as the duo Plucky Strum, they’re a remarkably potent jazz force. Bailey, a trad-jazz and early bebop maven, has a lyric sensibility and an affinity for bright, vibrant chords. Harvie S, a veteran accompanist to the likes of Jim Hall and Thad Jones, is a bass player capable of both sturdy below-ground support and soaring self-expression. Their styles meshed well on the duo’s 2015 debut (titled Plucky Strum), which showcased an agile unit with heaps of dexterity and a penchant for lean, organic melodies. On the follow-up album, Departure, the duo advances in two directions—toward a fortification of their original sound and into new sonic territory. Opener “Sublime” has the feel of a jaunty mid-century bop tune—think guitarist Tal Farlow’s snappishly articulated duo work—but also incorporates sounds from jazz’s present, including urban blues and Halvorsonian avant-garde. A version of Joni Mitchell’s “The Hissing Of Summer Lawns” uses a similarly protean approach, beginning with clearly delineated shapes and slowly softening into pools of tonal color. “Sabado” is a bustling collage of Latin influences, while a deeply moving rendition of Stephen Stills’ “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” leans closer to Americana, with its ringing acoustic guitar and arco bass. Although Bailey and Harvie S demonstrate a strong command of non-jazz idioms, their best work is done in a rhythmically charged jazz setting, such as the superb tracks “What She Said” and “Good Old Days.”

Dick Hyman

Solo At The Sacramento Jazz Festivals 1983–1988
(Arbors Jazz)

In New York, homegrown piano hero Dick Hyman is so beloved among his neighbors that the city’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, proclaimed July 18, 2017, to be “Dick Hyman Day.” There’s good justification for the honor. Hyman, a 2017 NEA Jazz Master, is a pianist of longstanding grace and bountiful talent, with an ability to adapt to nearly any historical style, from stride to bop to modernist sound-painting. His diverse discography boasts more than 25 titles as a leader (including 1969’s MOOG: The Electric Side Of Dick Hyman), and over the course of his lengthy career he’s been a perennial presence at jazz festivals around the country. This compilation on the Arbors Jazz label captures the pianist at the top of his game, performing solo at the Sacramento Jazz Festival over the course of five years in the mid-1980s. Recorded by a super-fan who stowed a simple Sony Walkman recording device in Hyman’s piano, the tracks are remarkable for their stylistic range, technical facility and self-generating energy (as well as their surprisingly good recording quality). Look no further than the aptly titled “Virtuoso Rag” to catch the full force of Hyman’s brilliance. The song blasts off at a blistering pace, Hyman’s left hand leaping across the keyboard as his right unfurls flawlessly articulated ribbons of sound. And for a change of pace, turn to Hyman’s interpretation of “Stella By Starlight,” on which the pianist burrows into the song’s essence, slowing parts down, dressing parts up and imbuing the indelible melody with fresh vigor. His treatment of Great American Songbook chestnuts—including whirlwind takes on “’S Wonderful,” “How High The Moon” and “All The Things You Are”—is compelling, but it can be just as thrilling to hear him dig in deep on a blues, which he does with intense focus and unrelenting enthusiasm on “Jazz Me Blues” and “Gulf Coast Blues.”

Black Diamond

(Shifting Paradigm)

The debut from Black Diamond, a Chicago-based quartet of two tenor saxophones, bass and drums, is the perfect album for late afternoons in the summer. The band is co-led by tenor saxophonists Artie Black and Hunter Diamond, who take on equal roles, each composing three tracks on his own and co-composing three more for the nine-track program on Mandala. Bassist Matt Ulery and drummer Neil Hemphill round out the quartet, providing solid grooves and leaving plenty of room for the two tenors to interact and mesh. The combination of the two tenors is extraordinary; their unison playing has the warmth that results from two musicians closely interacting, and at times it becomes difficult to distinguish Black from Diamond because their sounds are nearly identical. Some of these tracks seem to float by, leaving behind a warm feeling as they pass. Elsewhere, the nearly unhinged “Rudy’s Mood” is immediately followed by the bittersweet “Eleanor & Rufus.” The music is spirited and passionate throughout, and it’s easy to visualize this quartet enjoying themselves in the studio. (Black Diamond will play an album-release show at Chicago’s Constellation on Aug. 11.)

Darren Barrett’s dB-ish

The Opener
(Self Release)

Canadian trumpeter Darren Barrett has an educational pedigree that would rival any Rhodes Scholar—earning a bachelor’s degree from Berklee College of Music, a master’s from Queens College and a diploma from the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance. His harmonic vocabulary is encyclopedic, and his influences—the trumpeter studied under Donald Byrd and counts Miles Davis and Clifford Brown among his heroes—resonate in his own playing. More than a technically proficient player, Barrett is an artist of boundless soul and strong rhythmic drive, and though his style reveals a sturdy hard-bop backbone, he’s willing to push his musical identity toward new horizons. That’s the approach he takes on his new album, The Opener, on which he leads his eight-piece ensemble dB-ish (with guest guitarists Nir Felder and Kurt Rosenwinkel) through tunes that offer a patchwork of acoustic jazz, slick electronic samples and synthesized soundscapes. Rosenwinkel’s sly, futuristic phrasing complements Barrett’s processed trumpet sound on the leadoff title track, on which drummer Anthony Toth’s loping rhythm and Santiago Bosch’s rippling keyboard work undergird spiraling solos from the endlessly inventive frontmen. And Felder’s exploratory guitar work adds a keen modern-jazz quality to “To Conversate,” a whirlpool of a tune that gains momentum as it churns. As a composer, Barrett embraces the electronic aesthetic, injecting songs like “Throughout” with digital sound effects and robotic exclamations. “Full Tilt,” the album’s end piece, borrows imaginatively from Barrett’s Jamaican background, incorporating fragments of dancehall and dubstep before making a quick break toward swing. The tune is also an excellent showcase for Barrett’s expressive soloing, which pairs athleticism with elegance. Jazz’s future may very well sound like this.

Karen Lovely

Fish Outta Water
(Self Release)

Blues-rock vocalist Karen Lovely assembled a winning team for her previous album, Ten Miles Of Bad Road, which garnered a 4-star review in the April 2016 issue of DownBeat. She worked with a completely different set of musicians for her fourth studio album, Fish Outta Water—and the results are fantastic. This album’s linchpin is Eric Corne, who has worked with such blues stars as John Mayall and Walter Trout. Corne produced, engineered, mixed and co-mastered the album; he wrote or co-wrote nine of its dozen tracks; and he contributed acoustic guitar, harmonica and backing vocals to three cuts. Lovely has a charismatic voice, and Corne does a masterful job of enhancing the arrangements with just the right instruments. Examples include David Rahlicke’s cornet on “Waking Up The Dead,” Eric Gorfain’s violin on Lovely’s composition “Hades’ Bride (There Was A Time),” Phil Parlapiano’s upright piano on the gospel-flavored toe-tapper “Next Time” and Skip Edwards’ retro-sounding Farfisa on the title track. Fans of Lucinda Williams’ early-2000s albums would probably enjoy Fish Outta Water, partially because two of the singer-songwriter’s key collaborators are part of Lovely’s band here: Taras Prodaniuk plays bass throughout the program, and guitar slinger Doug Pettibone plays on five tracks, including the blues-rock tune “Molotov Cocktails.” Lovely, who has been recognized as a nominee or winner by five different blues organizations, will be on tour in 2017. Her upcoming shows include the Tawas Blues by the Bay festival in Tawas City, Michigan (Aug. 26), the KJAZZ Hollywood Blues Bash in Los Angeles (Sept. 9) and the Michigan BluesFest in Lansing (Sept. 15).

Jonah Parzen-Johnson

I Try To Remember Where I Come From
(Clean Feed)

There are only two instruments on Jonah Parzen-Jonson’s new album—baritone saxophone and analog synthesizer—and he plays both of them. Despite the unlikely instrumentation, this seven-song, 35-minute program is so successful that it actually feels a bit too short. On I Try To Remember Where I Come From, he finds the common ground between two of his musical voices. On the opening track, “Cabin Pressure,” Parzen-Jonson’s assertive bari calls precede a series of long tones that a filtered synth line dances on top of, creating a contrast between a drone-type element and a more kinetic one. He doesn’t stick to just a few tones for the album—he dives headfirst into the pool of possibilities, exploring the range of each instrument, sculpting sounds that are akin to peanut butter on a cheeseburger. It doesn’t make sense in theory, but give it a try and you’ll be glad you did. Despite being made by recording sax solos and then assembling the synth parts around them, each track has a unified feeling that contributes to an overall sense of cohesiveness. This album vividly channels free-jazz with elements of improvisation and composition, combining to create a sustained, meditative mood, transporting listeners to another world.

SWR Big Band/Sammy Nestico

A Cool Breeze
(SWR Classic)

Sammy Nestico, the composer-arranger known for his contributions to the Count Basie Orchestra library and whose name is familiar to anyone who’s played in a big band since the 1960s, recently has gone through a highly creative and productive phase. The rise of Nestico’s international profile has been sparked by a period of collaboration with the SWR Big Band of Germany that has produced several masterful albums, including No Time Like The Present (2004), Basie-Cally Sammy (2005), Fun Time (2009) and Fun Time And More (2011). The productive streak continues with this year’s A Cool Breeze, which finds the perpetually developing, 93-year-old orchestrator combining swing, soul, funk, fusion and symphonic expressions in a stylistic manner that’s distinctly modern yet undeniably Nestico. Unlike his previous SWR collaborations, Nestico (who’s based in San Diego) wasn’t able to travel to Germany for these recording sessions, but digital technology allowed him to participate via Skype and high-speed audio file transfer. His signature syncopations, volleying counterpoint passages, tensely stacked fourths, dramatic dynamics and tasteful manner of combining instrumental timbres are all manifest in the SWR Big Band’s impeccable, inspired performance. These dedicated musicians have become so adept at finessing and interpreting Nestico’s work that they actually transcend what’s on the printed page. They turn his carefully crafted charts into memorable works of art that will have toes tappin’ and fingers snappin’ for decades to come.

Clark Terry (1920–2015) (Photo: DownBeat Archive)

Clark Terry: Optimistic Pioneer

Clark Terry is a man of many parts. He is a staff musician at NBC in New York; he is one of the city’s most sought-after trumpeters for recording dates of every description, from jazz to jingles; he leads his own quartet and has recently formed a big band. He teaches college and high school band clinics; he tours with Jazz at the Philharmonic; he is president of a new music production company—and he is, of course, one of the most original and personal trumpet stylists in jazz. 

The man behind these varied activities is warm, relaxed and outgoing,…

On Sale Now
September 2017
Ambrose Akinmusire
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September 2017

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