DownBeat Editors‘ Picks

Editors’ Picks

Renee Rosnes, Written In
The Rocks
(Smoke Sessions)
Pianist Renee Rosnes has long been fascinated by nature, science, history and evolution. The majority of her new album consists of The Galapagos Suite, which was inspired by scientists’ research on the history of Earth. In the liner notes, author David Hajdu explains the pianist’s grand themes: “In Written In The Rocks, Rosnes explores the arabesque history of life forms on this planet, from the emergence of single-cell microbes in the sea through the asteroid impact that obliterated the dinosaurs to the wonders of the Galapagos Islands that stirred Charles Darwin to discern how evolution explains it all.” Rosnes composed the seven-song Galapagos Suite with her brilliant bandmates in mind: Steve Nelson (vibraphone), Peter Washington (bass), Bill Stewart (drums) and Steve Wilson (flute, soprano saxophone and alto sax). The result is an important piece of music that her peers and followers will undoubtedly study for years to come. As a bandleader, Rosnes lets her collaborators shine. As a pianist, she supplies muscular propulsion and a light touch—often within the same song. Although Rosnes composed this material for herself and for her group’s individual voices, one can easily imagine other jazz musicians interpreting the title track (featuring Stewart’s graceful brushwork) or the gorgeous “So Simple A Beginning,” highlighted by Washington’s intriguing bass solo and a memorable theme featuring Wilson’s flute. The song “Lucy From Afar” includes a piano and vibraphone duo segment that has an impact far greater than Rosnes’ or Nelson’s individual parts would have had if played as solos. That particular song was inspired by the 1974 discovery of bone fossils of a female from the species Australopithecus afarensis, better known by the nickname given to her by paleoanthropologists: Lucy. Similarly, the song “Deep In The Blue (Tiktaalik)” refers to the discovery of the fossilized remains of a creature that represents the evolutionary transition between fish and amphibian life. Rosnes’ own research of these complex ideas led her to craft a significant suite that is dense yet accessible. The album concludes with two songs that aren’t part of the suite: “From Here To A Star” has a melody built on the chord progression of Irving Berlin’s 1932 composition “How Deep Is The Ocean,” and the bebop-spiced tune “Goodbye Mumbai” was inspired by Rosnes’ family history.

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Chinchano, Un Cambio (Skiptone)
The Windy City is howling with passionate, articulate jazz voices, but few are louder or more enthusiastic than that of Juan Pastor, leader of the Latin-jazz outfit Chinchano. The percussionist has released a new album, Un Cambio, that commemorates his musical past and future. Though he grew up listening to the music of his native Peru, Pastor has become a key player in his adopted hometown of Chicago, and the sounds of both locations inform his latest disc. Pastor is a skilled and expressive percussionist with a keen ability to weave contrasting rhythms into cogent new patterns, a skill he demonstrated with ample evidence on previous albums. With Un Cambio, on which he plays both drum set and Latin percussion, he has taken a more collaborative approach. His band Chinchano includes musicians who are familiar to fans of Chicago jazz: Stu Mindeman on piano, Rich Moore on alto saxophone, Marquis Hill on trumpet, Patrick Mulcahy on bass and Paul Mutzabaugh on Hammond B-3 organ. These musicians actively participated in the creation of this album, contributing compositions and, of course, their own individual jazz styles. Hill, a native Chicagoan, unspools streams of bluesy licks on “Marea Alta,” while Moore burns through bop-tinged solos on “Festejo Desaparecido” and “Chanchita.” Mindeman’s rhythmic piano comping is a standout on “Pisando Tierra,” and Mutzabaugh’s vibrant B-3 adds a pleasantly surprising soul-jazz vibe to “Vals (El Miedo A La Luz).” But the real star of the show is Pastor, who, with his dexterous drumming and innate feel for rhythm, proves that great jazz can make you dance—just as easily as it can make you think.

CDBaby | BandCamp

Erena Terakubo, A Time For Love (Cellar Live)
Japanese saxophonist Erena Terakubo makes a formidable entry into the global jazz landscape with A Time For Love, on which she showcases a remarkable facility with the structures and shapes of bebop, blues and the Great American Songbook. Much like her colleagues Vincent Herring and Antonio Hart, Terakubo is a student of the Charlie Parker/Cannonball Adderley school, which places a priority on melody, energy and swing. Her solos on “Time After Time,” “Road Song” and Herring’s “Folklore” exemplify as much, with phrases that connect seamlessly across registers, along with motifs that unfold with syntactical logic. She is also a skilled interpreter of melody. Her renditions of Johnny Mandel’s “A Time For Love” and George Gershwin’s “Soon” demonstrate a judicious respect for the original compositions, but Erakubo isn’t afraid to add flashes of her own personality. Backed by pianist David Hazeltine, bassist David Williams and drummer Lewis Nash, Terakubo navigates through a robust variety of moods, from the serene (“In A Sentimental Mood”) to the upbeat (her original “88”) to the playful (Tadd Dameron’s “On A Misty Night”), maintaining an unshakable composure throughout. Nowhere on this disc will you find a sagging moment or uninspired lick. Terakubo, a welcome new voice on the scene, is a wellspring of bold concepts and fresh ideas.

iTunes | Amazon

Tedeschi Trucks Band, Let Me Get By (Fantasy/Concord)
On its latest album, blues-rock group the Tedeschi Trucks Band achieved an elusive goal: The 12-piece juggernaut crafted a studio album that adequately showcases each member’s skills. This is no small feat because the lineup is so loaded with talent, including the incredible guitarist (and Allman Brothers Band alumnus) Derek Trucks, the superb vocalist and excellent guitarist Susan Tedeschi, veteran keyboardist/flutist Kofi Burbridge and versatile bassist Tim Lefebvre (who plays on David Bowie’s final album, Blackstar). The program for Let Me Get By, which consists of 10 original compositions, frequently uses a reliable template in which Tedeschi’s soulful vocals infuse an infectious melody (and a standard verse/chorus/verse form) before the band kicks into a mighty jam. Backing vocalist Mike Mattison takes a turn on lead vocals for the charmingly ramshackle tune “Right On Time” (which will appeal to Tom Waits fans) and the eight-minute “Crying Over You/Swamp Raga For Holzapfel, Lefebvre, Flute And Harmonium,” the title of which reflects the band’s “everything but the kitchen sink” aesthetic. Despite a diverse array of influences, TTB has crafted a cohesive sound. One can hear hints of the Allmans, Bonnie Raitt, The Band, Stax Records, gospel choirs, Philadelphia soul and even some Sly & The Family Stone in this musical smorgasbord. Produced by Trucks, this album delivers plenty of head-bobbing grooves and serves as a great introduction to a band of road warriors who typically tour more than 200 days per year. (The deluxe version of Let Me Get By includes a bonus disc with alternate mixes, early song takes, additional studio material and three live tracks from the Beacon Theatre in New York City.)

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Jack Mouse/Scott Robinson/Janice Borla, Three Story Sandbox (Tall Grass)
I never expected to hear sounds of total spontaneity and absolute freedom coming from these three straight-shooters. In fact, I had to put in a call to Tall Grass Studios to see if I had missed something significant in the past few years since I last checked in with Mouse and Borla at their popular vocal jazz camp. It turns out that what I missed was Snakeheads & Ladybugs, a 2015 album of freely improvised duets by drummer Jack Mouse and multi-instrumentalist Robinson, artist-educators whom I had long associated with mainstream jazz and traditional thinking. The new Three Story Sandbox is a natural outgrowth of that daring project, with the logical addition of improvising vocalist Janice Borla, Mouse’s spouse and longtime musical collaborator. The title is a clever reference to Mouse and Borla’s state-of-the-art home studio, cast here as a playspace devoted to what Mouse calls “the unfettered creativity of child play … a state of mind that is intuitive, exploratory, creative, improvisatory.” My surprised reaction to hearing this trio’s far-“out” abstractions and spontaneous interplay quickly settled into a sense of fascination as a kaleidoscopic array of aural imagery unfolded. The proverbial sandbox is full of interesting toys and tools: Mouse plays gongs, bells, thunder sheet and plenty of exotic percussion in addition to drum set; Robinson adds cornet, pennywhistle, acoustic guitar, shakers and other unusual axes to his regular arsenal of saxes, clarinets and flutes; and Borla employs a full range of tones, timbres, vowels, syllables, whispers, clicks and lip-smacks as she nimbly vocalizes in a language that’s all her own. The music is stunning and brilliant in its unfettered freedom; its success is the result of each musician's technical virtuosity, not to mention their shared history of interaction and dedication to the pursuit of artistry. A close listen reveals that these three accomplished musicians' sandbox has an artistic purpose, and they seek transcendence in their highly informed, serious play.


Bill Stewart Quartet,
Space Squid
If you’ve enjoyed Bill Stewart in his role as drummer with the likes of Maceo Parker, John Scofield, Joe Lovano, Dave Holland and Lee Konitz, then you’d be well advised to check out his contributions as a composer and quartet leader on Space Squid. Stewart is joined here by tenor/soprano saxophonist Seamus Blake and pianist Bill Carrothers—two advanced improvisers with whom he shares a long history—and bassist Ben Street, who entered Stewart’s realm more recently but has a long resume that includes work with Sam Rivers, Mark Turner and Kurt Rosenwinkel. Space Squid reveals all four players to be likeminded musical explorers who approach the creative process with equal parts seriousness and fun. Stewart’s exquisite touch on cymbals and brushes endows the music with a delicate crispness, his toms, snare and kick consistently generating momentum while freshening the grooves wherever possible. Street, ever present in the drummer’s pocket, matches Stewart’s energy and contributes substantially to the album’s overall feeling of flexibility and openness. Blake and Carrothers expertly set the mood of each tune, thoughtfully stating Stewart’s catchy melodic/harmonic themes and spinning improvisations with appropriate levels of aggressiveness or plaintiveness. These are clearly group arrangements born of intuition and spontaneity—the players involved inherently know how to get right to the core of Stewart’s 10 original compositions, which run the gamut from playful post-bop to somber ballads and impress with subtle sophistication. Stewart’s decision to close the album with a lovely take on the old standard “Dancing In The Dark” reminds us that while the drummer remains one of today’s top player-composers, his work is deeply rooted in styles and traditions established by past masters. While you’re enjoying the music, take a long look at the CD’s cover art and inside panels, which show a breathtaking interstellar view of the Orion Nebula as photographed by the Hubble Telescope.

Amazon | iTunes

Freddie Hendrix,
Jersey Cat
Freddie Hendrix isn’t the only one with a Jersey connection on Jersey Cat, his Sunnyside debut. The trumpeter and flugelhornist, who grew up in Teaneck, New Jersey, chose a cast of musicians who share strong ties to the Garden State—including his drummer and producer, Cecil Brooks III, who used to run a jazz club in West Orange. For the album, Hendrix wanted to present a mix of original compositions and jazz standards that not only showcased the strongest material in his repertoire but also represented the spontaneous spirit of the New Jersey scene. He achieves that by incorporating elements of r&b and hip-hop into the music, creating swinging grooves that are at once modern and retro. Tracks on which Hendrix employs the full septet with Brooks, alto saxophonist Bruce Williams, tenor saxophonist Abraham Burton, trombonist David Gibson, pianist Brandon McCune and bassist Corcoran Holt sound like they come straight from the hard-bop book of Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers. Hendrix nods to Jersey hero Woody Shaw on Tex Allen’s “St. Peter’s Walk,” and he pays tribute to another influential jazz trumpeter with a dance-inducing, contemporary take on Freddie Hubbard’s “Hubtones.” Hendrix’s original material includes a Latin-infused blues (“The Journey Man”), the laid-back and soulful title track, a medium-up post-bopper (“On The Rise”), the romantic ballad “Madeira Nights” and the breezily swinging “Whims Of A Waltz.” Jersey Cat presents yet another artist hailing from just across the Hudson to emerge as a strong improviser, writer, arranger and bandleader—one who follows in the footsteps of Shaw, Wayne Shorter, Count Basie and James Moody before him.

Amazon | iTunes

Bill Frisell,
When You Wish Upon A Star
(OKeh/Sovereign Artists)
Jazz, a music grounded in reinvention and interpretation, is constantly welcoming new material into its canon. Songs from Broadway and classic cinema were once the lifeblood of the genre, and more recently, pop music and jazz-fusion tunes have become standards. On his latest album, guitarist Bill Frisell continues in the tradition of musical adaptation, mining the rich repertoire of mid- to late 20th-century film and TV themes for a program of 16 songs that will resonate powerfully in the memories of many listeners. Frisell is a cerebral guitarist with a gentle inflection and a smooth, expressive touch. Whether manipulating dense chord clusters and ringing harmonics on “You Only Live Twice” (from the 1967 James Bond film) or strumming jangly country rhythms on the theme from Bonanza, he is always mindful of atmosphere and mood, resulting in an album that is as cinematic and picturesque as the material it seeks to evoke. Frisell is joined on this disc by a cast of great collaborators—including Rudy Royston on drums, Thomas Morgan on bass, Eyvin Kang on viola and Petra Haden on vocals—who together coalesce around a dream-like aesthetic. Haden’s pristine vocals and Kang’s earthy viola add a gauzy and lyrical quality to the mix, while Royston and Morgan contribute a steady but elastic sense of time. Producer Lee Townsend, who has worked with guitarists John Abercrombie, Pat Metheny and John Scofield, has a gift for distilling Frisell’s strongest, most distinguishing sonic qualities. So while this album may well be a celebration of classic cinema and TV music, it is also a testament to Frisell’s singular talent as a guitarist and arranger.


Stacey Kent, Tenderly (OKeh)
For decades, New Jersey-born singer Stacey Kent has been enthralled by Brazilian music. One of her heroes and collaborators, the bossa nova legend Roberto Menescal (a guitarist, composer and producer) has long revered the Great American Songbook. Kent was honored to have Menescal perform on two tracks of her 2013 album The Changing Lights, and now the duo has teamed up for an entire album that marries a bossa aesthetic with Kent’s minimalist approach to Songbook standards. Menescal plays acoustic guitar throughout—and wrote the arrangements for—Tenderly, which also features double bassist Jeremy Brown and Kent’s husband and producer, Jim Tomlinson, who plays tenor saxophone and alto flute here. The airy, spare arrangements (for duo, trio and quartet) allow the listener to revel in Kent’s quiet, intimate vocal style and elegant articulation. She delivers compelling versions of standards such as “Embraceable You,” “The Very Thought Of You,” “Tangerine,” “There Will Never Be Another You” and “In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning.” Kent—a multilingual performer who has often recorded material in French and Portuguese—is completely at home with Brazilian material, as she proves with a powerful rendition of “Agarradinhos,” which was composed by Menescal and Rosalia de Souza. Tomlinson’s lovely alto flute work is the perfect coloration for Kent’s reading of “No Moon At All.” The singer’s 2016 tour dates include shows at London’s Leicester Square Theatre (April 17), Madrid’s Teatro Auditorio de Alcobendas (May 14) and Paris’ La Cigale (May 19).



UCA Press


Lisa Hilton

Steve Webster—EC Barlow

Jody Jazz


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