By FRANK ALKYER
Piainist Orrin Evans brings a terrific vibe, bravado and swagger to his brand of jazz. There’s a tip of the hat to the bebop masters, a slow nod to the hip-hop heroes and an element of modernism that’s purely Evans. On The Evolution Of Oneself we find Evans in a trio setting with Christian McBride on bass and Karriem Riggins on drums. And if you think that’s a badass trio, rest assured, it is. They rip it from the downbeat of the opener, “All The Things You Are,” through the 17th and 18th tunes of this set … two entirely different interpretations of “All The Things You Are.” These are longtime friends with whom Evans collaborates for the first time, and they sound like they’re having a great time throughout. On “Autumn Leaves,” Evans flits around, above and through the melody while McBride and Riggins respond to every flourish. McBride drives a classic, killer solo full of technique and confidence that has made him a once-in-a-generation bassist. When Riggins drops in, he’s full of soul. Evans is the culmination of his musical experience. On Jonathan Michel’s “Sweet Sid,” Evans and the crew drop deep into the blues with his ever-present gospel overtones. “Jewels & Baby Yaz,” by Jafar Barron, slides to a hip-hop/funk infusion, as does the Evans original “Iz Beatdown Time.” I love that he’s getting modern jazz composers into this set, like the very introspective “Feb 13th” by Eric Revis. This is a recording of an artist peaking at one of life’s milestones: Evans turned 40 in March, and he has never sounded better.
iTunes | Amazon
BY FRANK ALKYER
With the recent thaw in relations between the Cuban and U.S. governments, The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra’s Live In Cuba comes out at the perfect time … and it’s an absolute joy! This two-disc set displays one of the hardest-working big bands in the world, performing over three nights during October 2010 to sold-out audiences at Teatro Mella in Havana. The heart and soul of this set is the opening tune, “ 2/3’s Adventure,” a nine-minute, 25-second masterpiece penned by bassist Carlos Henriquez. He taps into the clave with a vengeance on “ Adventure,” guiding the song through a fusion of swing and Latin jazz. And when the tune slides into guajira (a Cuban musical form that translates to “ country music” ), the audience responds with cheers and applause. Dan Nimmer on piano and Marcus Printup on trumpet solo beautifully, but Henriquez steals the spotlight with his own blistering work on the double bass. This track is my personal favorite, but there’s a whole lot to love here: Sherman Irby’s arrangement of “ Baa Baa Blacksheep” ; Ali Jackson’s arrangement of “ Como Fue” featuring a stunning vocal (en Español) by Bobby Carcasses; Victor Goines’ arrangement of Duke Ellington’s “ Limbo Jazz” ; and Wynton Marsalis’ beautiful ballad “ Spring Yaoundé.” Mr. Marsalis and company strike just the right mood, choose just the right set and play just the right amount to an adoring audience while maintaining the artistic high ground here. The band gave the Havana audience a lot of love over those three nights, and the crowd returned the favor. It’s all evident on Live In Cuba.
Amazon | iTunes
BY BOBBY REED
The new album by Lafayette Harris Jr. exemplifies the beauty of crowd-sourcing. The pianist launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund Bend To The Light, an excellent, straightahead album that features the gifted drummer Willie Jones III and the superb bassist Lonnie Plaxico, who played on Harris’ 1993 debut, Lafayette Is Here. Also contributing is talented percussionist Thomas Dyani, who plays on two tracks of this cohesive program, which consists mostly of original compositions. The album was recorded in an afternoon at Tedesco Studios in Paramus, New Jersey, and although the budget for the project was not huge, the resulting music and CD packaging are top-notch. Among the original tunes, the highlight is an epic, 12-minute version of “We In The House.” The song—which was inspired by the journey that enslaved Africans were forced to take from their homeland to the Americas—was previously included on Harris’ 1998 album, Lafayette Is Here … Solo. On this new arrangement, Harris’ descending piano lines and Plaxico’s bass solo greatly enhance the song’s narrative quality. Here and throughout the disc, Plaxico’s powerful, expertly paced solos highlight the importance of the space between the notes. Harris explores the stride piano style on a swinging rendition of Herbie Nichols’ “12 Bars,” arranged by Roswell Rudd. Elsewhere, the band offers a catchy rendition of Luther Vandross’ 2001 hit “Take You Out” that showcases Harris’ supple right-hand work. The leader closes the disc with two strong alternate takes: a shorter version of “We In The House” and a second rendition of the highly melodic title track featuring graceful, wordless vocals from Jazzmeia Horn, who won the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition in 2013.
Lafayette Harris | CDBaby
When a wheel rolls along this gracefully, there’s no need to reinvent it. On his new album, It Ain’t Right, Chicago bluesman Jimmy Burns focuses on his noteworthy strengths as a muscular yet expressive vocalist and a fine guitarist. This 15-track program shows that he’s an excellent judge of material, as illustrated by the two opening tracks, “Big Money Problem” and “Will I Ever Find Somebody?,” both composed by Billy Flynn. The latter track, which features potent horn charts written by trumpeter Marques Carroll, has the mighty swagger of a classic Stax single. Burns also interprets two songs by the late, great Percy Mayfield: the smoldering “My Heart Is Hangin’ Heavy” and the remarkably catchy “Long As You’re Mine,” a track bolstered by the punchy coloration of Carroll, tenor saxophonist Chris Neal and baritone sax player Aaron Getsug. Burns offers a sweat-inducing version of Little Walter’s “It Ain’t Right,” featuring high-octane piano work by Sumito “Ariyo” Ariyoshi, who is in Billy Branch’s band, Sons of the Blues. Burns closes the proceedings with a trip to church via the traditional gospel number “Wade In The Water.” This satisfying, hour-long disc is notably free of extraneous elements, offering a blues program that’s all muscle and no fat.
BY BRIAN ZIMMERMAN
In the liner notes for Luminosity, tenor saxophonist Don Braden provides a concise and eloquent reason for why he loves music: “While I’m listening, and for some time after, I feel better, stronger and more alive—which motivates me to be more creative and productive.” This latest album will have the same effect on his listeners. The 10-track program, an equal mix of originals and covers, brims with good vibrations, and Braden’s playing exudes positive energy, which is evident in his warm, glowing tone. Braden is grateful for the role music has played in his life—he decided to pursue a full-time career in jazz while he was an engineering student at Harvard—and that sense of appreciation is palpable on this disc, Braden’s 19th as a leader. He appears here with longtime collaborators the Organix ensemble (Kyle Koehler on organ, Dave Stryker on guitar and Cecil Brooks III on drums), as well two guest artists: The articulate trumpeter Claudio Roditi and the vivacious alto saxophonist Sherman Irby each contribute to one track. The group maneuvers through Braden’s challenging charts with flexibility and poise. On the title track, inspired by John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps,” Koehler delivers a smart, melodic solo that belies the difficulty of the chord changes. On “The Time We Shared,” a swaggering soul tune, Stryker crafts terse, heart-stirring phrases that frame the poetry of Braden’s emotive sax solo—fitting, as the song was inspired by a poem written by one of Braden’s students. The bass-heavy “Jive Turkey” was written for a student band with whom Braden was working in New Jersey. It features a tight, athletic groove from Brooks, and sounds as fun as it must have been to record. Listeners might be surprised to hear “A Whole New World,” from Disney’s animated film Aladdin, on this disc. But it too has a personal connection for Braden. “When my daughter was little, I watched [the film] many times with her and was consistently moved by the beauty and optimistic tone of this song,” he says in the liner notes. Here, he plays the tune on flute; it’s a breezy, up-tempo waltz that captures the surprise and wonder of the original while adding a refreshing dose of swing. The album closes with Herbie Hancock’s “Driftin,” a tune that Braden says “makes me smile every time I hear it.” Listening to it, you’ll be smiling, too.
BY BRIAN ZIMMERMAN
Trombonist John Fedchock, a vaunted player on New York’s studio scene, has crafted a wall-to-wall swinger for his latest disc, Like It Is. The former Woody Herman Orchestra member packs each tune on this 10-track disc with energy and grit. The leader’s lean, invigorating writing style is tailor-fit for this 16-piece band, which includes among its ranks saxophonists Walt Weiskopf and Gary Smuylan, trumpeter Barry Ries, pianist Allen Farnham and percussionist Bobby Sanabria. Fedchock’s arrangements move and flex with great efficiency. His arrangement of “You And The Night And The Music” features dense harmonies, aggressive brass refrains and a burning swing feel. It’s a stylistic contrast to his breezy bolero original “Havana” and the woozy blues of “Hair Of The Dog.” The ballad “Never Let Me Go” is a showcase for the trombonist’s supple tone, which has a whispery, voice-like quality. Other soloists are just as impressive. Ries’ trumpet flight on the title track shows off his velvety, fleet-fingered style, and Smulyan lays down a beast of a baritone sax solo on Cedar Walton’s “Ojos De Rojo,” replete with throaty cries in the high register and earth-shaking runs in the low. The album closes with a touching homage to Clifford Brown called “Ten Thirty 30” (the title takes its name from Brown’s Oct. 30, 1930, birthday). The tune, which fuses bits and pieces of Brownie’s compositions into a stunning whole, is the best example on this disc of Fedchock’s brilliant, finely calibrated approach to writing for big band.
MAMA Records | iTunes
BY BRIAN ZIMMERMAN
For his latest album, silky-toned trumpeter Enrico Rava has woven a vibrant patchwork of styles and moods, covering everything from somber ballads to feisty post-bop. As usual, he handles them all with fluency and finesse. The 76-year-old is joined here by his working trio—guitarist Francesco Diodati, bassist Gabriele Evangelista and drummer Enrico Morello—as well as 40-year-old trombonist Gianluca Petrella. In conversation, these two brass players make magic. On “Don’t,” trombone and trumpet whisper back and forth in crisp, sometimes frenetic phrases, creating an eloquent essay out of brief statements and pithy phrases. On “Infant,” they fall lockstep into a bubbly uptempo melody that, halfway through, explodes into a hard-driving rock groove. The emotional release is worth the price of the album alone. Most stirring, however, is “Improvisation,” on which their ad-libbed lines swirl and curl in on themselves like wisps of smoke. It’s all bound together by an immediacy and candor that one has come to expect from Rava. Listening to Wild Man is like sitting in on a passionate exchange between good friends. As Rava points out in the liner notes, almost all of the tracks were recorded in one take.
Amazon | AppleMusic
BY BOBBY REED
Like all great singers, Karrin Allyson can convincingly portray many characters. On Many A New Day (Karrin Allyson Sings Rodgers & Hammerstein), she augments her superb vocal control with a keen sense of drama and nuance. The tunes here come from the Rodgers & Hammerstein classics South Pacific, The King and I, The Sound of Music and Oklahoma!, and as Allyson explains in the liner notes, she’s been singing these songs her whole life. Because she knows the material intimately, Allyson was well prepared to recast it, creating a brilliant album that bridges the worlds of jazz and musical theater. Her accomplices in this endeavor are the iconic pianist Kenny Barron and the versatile bassist John Patitucci. Throughout the program, the trio respects the source material while also making it swing. On the title track (a song from Oklahoma!), Barron’s solo is the epitome of jazz elegance, and on “Something Good” (from The Sound of Music) Patitucci’s expressive solo perfectly complements the mood of the narrative arc. The trio offers a mesmerizing version of “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught,” a song from South Pacific that examines the way in which racial prejudice and intolerance can be passed from one generation to the next. In a poignant blues arrangement, Allyson sings, “You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late/ Before you are 6 or 7 or 8/ To hate all the people that your relatives hate/ You’ve got to be carefully taught.” In that section of the lyrics, she elongates the word taught to heighten the drama and drive the message home. Barron and Patitucci sit out for a tear-jerking rendition of “Edelweiss,” which showcases Allyson’s gorgeous voice and admirable piano skills. For fans of vocal jazz, this album is another must-own entry in Allyson’s impressive oeuvre.
BY FRANK ALKYER
There’s something special about a solo album. It’s an opportunity to hear an artist play, live and breathe through their music, unencumbered by the demands of having other musicians onstage. That’s certainly the case with Solo, the new piano recording by pianist Fred Hersch. The album was recorded live in 2014 at the Windham Civic Centre Concert Hall, in Windham, New York, a former church that dates back to 1826. The set of seven tracks soars sonically, spiritually and artistically. Hersch never rushes to make his points. The keystrokes flow like rivulets into a mighty river—each note and chord clear, full of joy, sorrow and truth. His medley of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Olha Maria/O Grande Amor” rings with confidence and nuance. His take on Jerome Kern’s “The Song Is You” transforms this often uptempo chestnut into a slow, quiet prayer. He lays Joni Mitchell’s already heart-breaking “Both Sides Now” bare, exposing the fragility of love, art and existence. It’s fragility that Hersch knows well. The pianist, who turns 60 in October, has endured personally and artistically, very publicly battling HIV since the early 1990s. He would be the first to say that it’s a miracle that he’s still with us. I would say that we should be very, very thankful, because he is an artist of rare talent and insight.