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DownBeat Editors‘ Picks

Editors’ Picks

Michael Wollny, Nachtfahrten (ACT)
There are many feelings associated with nighttime: comfort, security, peace, inspiration, anxiety, restlessness, disorientation and fear—just to name a few. The brilliant German pianist Michael Wollny explores all these angles and more on Nachtfahrten, an album that conveys a variety of moods yet still feels cohesive. The album title, which translates to “Night Journeys,” is appropriate for a sonic excursion with a noir vibe. Teamed with his trio—bassist Christian Weber and drummer Eric Schaefer—Wollny explores eerie things that lurk in the shadows. The trio’s interpretations of “Marion” (from Bernard Herrmann’s score to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho) and “Questions In A World Of Blue” (the Angelo Badalamenti composition from David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me) both make terrific use of pauses and silence to heighten the drama. In addition to being influenced by creepy films, Wollny drew inspiration from the fiction of fright-master Edgar Allan Poe: The lovely solo piano piece “Metzengerstein” is named after a Poe short story. While some of the material evokes a spooky mood, other tracks, such as “Der Wanderer,” showcase Wollny’s ability to craft conventionally beautiful lines. The title track combines darkness and light, melding Schaefer’s ominous drumbeats with Wollny’s crystalline right-hand work. The album was produced by ACT label founder Siggi Loch, who does a fantastic job of creating the sense of sonic space. On “De Desconfort,” Weber’s bass sounds like it’s in the room with the listener, and Schaefer’s cymbal washes have the power of a cascading ocean wave. Nachtfahrten is a work of art that is immediately arresting—and it gets better with repeated spins.

Amazon | Allegro Music

Geof Bradfield Quintet,
Our Roots
The idea for saxophonist Geof Bradfield’s intrepid new album Our Roots sprang from a concert series in Chicago called the Fulton Street Jazz Record Art Collective, in which musicians perform a classic jazz album in its entirety. Since its inception, visiting artists have covered works by all the usual suspects—John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Max Roach—but when it was Bradfield’s turn, the Houston-born saxophonist delved deeper into jazz history. His album: These Are My Roots, Clifford Jordan’s 1965 tribute to folk-blues hero Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter. When Bradfield first heard this recording on cassette in the late 1990s, he was so smitten by it that he wore the tape out. It’s easy to understand why. Jordan’s album is a beautiful marriage of past and present; it effortlessly channels the raw passion of Lead Belly’s folksy vocals while infusing the material with a modern hard-bop sensibility. Bradfield’s record accomplishes a similar feat, though with a distinctly 21st-century twist. The album consists of four of the Lead Belly songs that Jordan originally recorded—“Take This Hammer” and “Dick’s Holler” are exhilarating—as well as a handful of traditional Southern folk songs and two Blind Willie Johnson covers. Aside from a few odd-metered tunes and the occasional altered chord, Bradfield purposefully avoids the “highbrow” trappings of contemporary jazz, focusing instead on simple melodies played warmly and directly. Accompanying Bradfield on this project is the deeply empathetic unit of Marquis Hill on trumpet, Joel Adams on trombone, Clark Sommers on bass and Dana Hall on drums—a dream team of Chicago-reared jazz players. Each upholds a profound commitment to melody and groove, making this album less about the soloists and more about the spirit of the music that inspired it. By saluting Jordan and Lead Belly, Bradfield’s album shines a light on two important—if unheralded—artists in American music. It also raises the stature of another: Bradfield himself.

Origin Records | iTunes

Kenny Burrell, The Road
To Love
The Great American Songbook may warm the heart, and avant-garde squalls may tickle the brain, but nothing touches the soul quite like a blues. Among the many jazz artists who have adopted the sound of the Delta as their own, guitarist Kenny Burrell ranks near the top. Bluesin’ Around, Blues Bash! and Bluesy Burrell are just a few of the standout albums in his discography, and Midnight Blue, his 1963 Blue Note masterwork, may be the pinnacle of the jazz-blues crossover. On his latest disc, The Road To Love, Burrell offers up numerous 12-bar blues alongside a hearty mix of standards, bossa novas and Burrell’s other specialty, Ellington ephemera. Recorded live at Catalina’s in Hollywood in May 2015, the generous 18-track album finds the 84-year-old guitarist in fine form—his tone as smooth and polished as ever, his touch still light and swift. A master of the tasteful single-note line, he crafts fiercely melodic solos on the blues opener “Salty Papa” and gets soulful on the uptempo swinger “Brush Magic.” In other places, it’s his chord-melody playing that steals the spotlight. He interprets Jobim’s “Someone To Light Up My Life” on acoustic guitar with tenderness and longing, and his rendition of the rarely performed Ellington composition “Single Petal Of A Rose” delivers the kind of beauty you can feel in your chest. But no matter what he’s playing, Burrell never ventures far from the music that made him famous, which is why the best tracks on this disc are tinted blue. “Confessin’ The Blues,” a tribute to the late B.B. King, channels the spirit of the late blues master, and the title track, a heartfelt plea for love and tolerance, features Burrell in a dynamic exchange with vocalist Barbara Morrison. As an educator, as a performer, as a leading practitioner of the jazz-blues tradition, Burrell deserves every bit of acclaim that’s come his way. The fans on-hand to hear this live set obviously agree. Just listen to that applause.

Amazon | iTunes

Scott Hamilton & Jeff Hamilton, Live In Bern (Capri)
Tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton and drummer Jeff Hamilton may not be related by blood, but their bond on Live In Bern, their debut recording together, is stronger than any branch on a family tree. This lively album features the two Hamiltons, both veterans of the straightahead jazz scene, holding forth in an intimate musical conversation using the language of swing. Few on the contemporary jazz scene speak it better. Recorded at a session in Marians Jazzroom in Bern, Switzerland, as part of the International Jazzfestival Bern, Live In Bern was the brainchild of Capri Records President Thomas Burns, who has known and worked with both Hamiltons for more than 30 years. Saxophonist Scott takes the helm on a majority of the 13 songs on this disc, and his tone—round, rich and wholehearted—is as big as any five-piece saxophone section. Whether crafting smart, melodic solos (as on “September In The Rain”) or embellishing the melody with fragments from other tunes (“You And The Night And The Music”), his tone consistently conveys warmth. Throughout the disc, he is propped up by the impeccable stickwork of drummer Jeff (co-director of the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra) and the solid accompaniment of pianist Tamir Hendelman and bassist Christof Luty. For an exceptional drum solo, listen to “The Champ,” which finds Jeff trading quick but rhythmically dense phrases with Scott’s sax. It’s astounding how much melody Jeff can pack into a few short beats. Burns has hit upon a creative goldmine with this Hamilton-Hamilton combination. Let’s hope there’s a “family” reunion.


Sam Sadigursky, Follow The Stick (BJU Records)
Sam Sadigursky reveals his inner clarinetist and introduces a new ensemble for his debut on the Brooklyn Jazz Underground label. A first-call New York sideman and bandleader, Sadigursky is known primarily as a saxophonist, and his last five albums have focused on poetry and vocalists. Follow The Stick marks a significant departure for the reedist as he and his bandmates—Chris Dingman on vibraphone and marimba, Bobby Avey on piano and Jordan Perlson on drums and percussion (plus Boston-based trumpeter Jason Palmer on four tracks and Russian violist Lev “Ljova” Zhurbin on one)—stretch out on 12 Sadigursky compositions and deconstruct the old swing standard “String Of Pearls.” Sadigursky, who began studying clarinet early in his development as a saxophonist and is the son of a classically trained clarinetist from the former Soviet Union, has been working up the instrument in the last few years and has begun to identify with it as his instrumental “voice.” He plays at a high level of technical proficiency on both clarinet and bass clarinet—instruments that many saxophonists struggle with. His extraordinary command allows him to play not just with accuracy and precision, but also with tonal nuance, feeling and expressivity. But Follow The Stick is about more than just highly developed clarinet chops; it showcases Sadigursky’s strengths as a composer of modern chamber jazz who tastefully draws upon elements of nostalgic early swing, classic jazz balladry, dreamy Eastern European folk music, brainy math-rock and aggressive hard-bop. An experienced arranger who has composed for film and modern dance, Sadigursky leaves ample space for his ensemble to interpret and improvise with relaxed confidence in their collective quest. Whether its title refers to the proverbial conductor’s baton or the clarinet’s many nicknames (e.g., “licorice stick,” “agony stick,” “black stick of death”), Follow The Stick is an invitation to go exploring in Sadigursky’s brave new world. Sadigursky and band will play a CD-release gig at the Cornelia Street Cafe in New York on Nov. 4.

iTunes | BJU Records

Kenny Wheeler/John Taylor,
On The Way To Two
(CAM Jazz)
Ten years ago, U.K.-based trumpeter-flugelhornist Kenny Wheeler (1930–2014) and pianist John Taylor (1942–2015) did a series of sessions for the CAM Jazz label that resulted in some fine recordings, such as the duo album Where Do We Go From Here? and the quartet album What Now? with bassist Dave Holland and saxophonist Chris Potter. Now from the CAM Jazz archives comes another duet program by these two old friends from that same time period. On The Way To Two is an intimate meeting of two virtuoso players who were once prominent on the English jazz scene, co-founding the influential chamber-jazz trio Azimuth in 1977 and performing together frequently over the years in other settings, including Wheeler’s quartet and large ensemble. While it’s tempting to succumb to sentimentalism listening to these 10 tracks, it’s more rewarding to immerse yourself in the music and experience the album as if you’re there in the studio with them, circa 2005. Enjoy Wheeler’s rich, textured tone in the lush context of Taylor’s sophisticated harmonic sensibility. Wonder at the perfectly natural way Wheeler’s advanced compositions unfold, their deceptively complex themes ultimately executed with ease and effortlessness. And delight in the spontaneity and playfulness of entirely improvised passages where horn and piano venture in tandem into uncharted regions. On The Way To Two is stunning in its purity—a naked and unassuming presentation of artistic interaction at the highest possible level. One listen, and you’ll discover that you can actually feel the personal chemistry at work on this prized recording.

iTunes | Amazon

Clare Fischer, Out Of The Blue

Consumers can’t be blamed for viewing posthumous releases with skepticism. Can such an album ever truly represent the artist’s vision? Is the departed artist turning over in his grave at the thought that his subpar, rejected tracks are now being sold? Typically, such worries can be put to rest for projects assembled by one of the artist’s close collaborators. In the case of Clare Fischer (1928–2012), the keyboardist-arranger-bandleader’s legacy is in the hands of his son Brent Fischer. Brent produced the new album Out Of The Blue, and he plays bass and percussion on it. In the liner notes, Brent describes his close rapport with his legendary father: “I used to stand behind Dad on stage—watching his hands, listening—and after decades of playing together, it meant that I could usually guess the general direction he was going next and be ‘inside his mind’ to keep up with him no matter what he did.” This album is a collection of top-notch tracks that showcase Clare’s multifaceted skills. The solo piano renditions of “Two For The Road” and the medley “When You Wish Upon A Star/Someday My Prince Will Come” demonstrate that Clare was not only a great pianist but also a sensitive interpreter and sly arranger. There are a few tracks on which Clare plays digital keyboard, showing another, lighter aspect of his musical personality. A Brazilian thread runs through this collection, which includes versions of “Amor Em Paz” and “Tema Do Boneco De Palha (Theme Of The Straw Doll)” as well as a medley of “Carnaval/A Felicidade/Samba De Orfeu.” Singers Denise Donatelli and John Proulx provide the only vocals on the album, contributing hypnotic, wordless passages and scatting to the title track. The outstanding drummers Peter Erskine and Mike Shapiro also contributed to this album. Out Of The Blue serves as a tribute to Clare Fischer and an affirmation that Brent Fischer is doing a commendable, tasteful job of giving his father’s fans new material to embrace.

Clare Fischer | iTunes

Randy Brecker, RandyPOP!
(Piloo Records)
Of all the jazz musicians active today, few know popular music as well as trumpeter Randy Brecker, who turns 70 on Nov. 27. That’s because he was present as a hired-gun horn player, often alongside his brother Michael, at recording sessions for a long list of pop and rock hits from the last five decades. Think of the noirish trumpet that haunts Bruce Springsteen’s “Meeting Across The River” or the calypso-like horn line that dances through Paul Simon’s “Late In The Evening”—these memorable moments (and many others like them from hits by stars of the ’60s to the present day) came courtesy of Brecker the first-call studio cat. To celebrate his lasting service to the world of pop, Brecker assembled a crack band of pianist-keyboardist Kenny Werner, tenor saxophonist David Sánchez, vocalist (and daughter) Amanda Brecker, guitarist Adam Rogers, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Nate Smith to perform fresh new versions of songs from well-known albums he appeared on back in the day. RandyPOP! was recorded live at the Blue Note in New York, the very last set of a sold-out week. Distinguished by what Brecker calls “warped-out” arrangements by Werner (Brecker’s website describes them as “de-ranged”), the album takes the listener on a surprising adventure over familiar, yet significantly altered, musical terrain. In addition to previously mentioned tunes, tracks include “New Frontier” (by Donald Fagen), “Let Me Just Follow Behind” (which was recorded by Bette Midler), “I Just Can’t Quit Her” (by Blood, Sweat & Tears), “Hello, It’s Me” (by Todd Rundgren), “Ghost Writer” (by Garland Jeffreys), “Think!” (by James Brown) and “I Got A Bag Of My Own” (also by Brown). It’s pretty serious pop repertoire, and it serves as a fertile playground for these sophisticated improvisers, who constitute the furthest thing from a “cover band.” Check out how classic songs have been completely re-imagined in a modern jazz context. Appreciate the inspired and substantial blowing that carried the music late into the night at the Blue Note. And have a good laugh or two at the playful twists and turns the music takes along the way.

Colin Linden, Rich In Love
(Stony Plain)
Colin Linden is known as a musician’s musician, thanks to his work as a guitarist, singer and producer with a diverse range of artists that includes Gregg Allman, Bruce Cockburn, Diana Krall, Cassandra Wilson, Keb’ Mo’ and Rhiannon Giddens. Lately he’s been working on music for the TV show Nashville, giving the series’ soundtrack some intriguing aural textures (which offset its more glossy tunes aimed at country radio stations). Deeply informed by the blues yet comfortable in a variety of roots-music settings, Linden has delivered strong solo albums for decades. Certainly one of the best of the bunch is his latest, Rich In Love, a collection of 12 spellbinding originals recorded with longtime collaborators. Linden (vocals, guitar, mandolin, ukulele), John Dymond (bass) and Gary Craig (drums)—who have been working together for 25 years—call themselves The Rotting Matadors. The charms of Rich In Love are myriad; they include blues master Charlie Musselwhite’s colorful harmonica work, Reese Wynans’ percolating organ commentary and Linden’s emotionally potent vocal delivery. There’s also some humorous wordplay. On the infectious track “Knob & Tube,” Linden sings, “Close to you baby, like smoke is to fire/ You’re the humbucker and I’m the amplifier/ Edison and Franklin lighted up the town/ You and me are workin’, tryin’ to burn it down.” The stomping blues number “The Hurt,” written by Linden and Tom Hambridge, features ghostly harmonica riffs from Musselwhite and lyrics that describe life’s emotional and physical scars, including verses devoted to Etta James and Muhammad Ali. Another highlight, “Date With The Stars,” has a retro vibe that showcases Linden’s compelling skills as a crooner. Fans of Americana artists such as Buddy Miller and Lyle Lovett should definitely pick up a copy of Rich In Love, one of the best singer-songwriter albums of 2015.


Galen Weston




Boogie Stomp!


Jody Jazz

Jody Jazz

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