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DownBeat Editors‘ Picks

Editors’ Picks
MARCH 2015



BY BOBBY REED
Dewa Budjana, Hasta Karma (MoonJune)
The excellent fusion album Hasta Karma is one for which the names of the accompanists will probably be more familiar than that of the leader—at least to listeners in the United States. For his eighth solo album, Indonesian guitarist Dewa Budjana assembled an incredible band: bassist Ben Williams and drummer Antonio Sanchez (both of the Pat Metheny Unity Group) along with vibraphone icon Joe Locke. Budjana is a star in his homeland, thanks to his work with the rock band Gigi, but his profile is rising among jazz fans worldwide. Fans of ’70s fusion (and Metheny) will find much to embrace on Budjana’s new album. If a key criticism of fusion is that it manages to somehow dilute both jazz and rock, then this album could be cited as evidence for the counterargument that the genre successfully combines the emotional punch of rock with the complex harmonic language of jazz, merged with an expansive, “anything is possible” aesthetic. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the epic, 12-minute journey “Ruang Dialisis.” The track incorporates Locke’s colorful, dreamy vibes work; Sanchez’s evocative cymbal splashes; Indra Lesmana’s moody electric piano; a recording of Budjana’s grandmother singing a traditional funeral song, her vocals digitally treated to create a ghostly effect; and a nearly two-minute section of cacophonous squall that could have been lifted from a heavy metal concert. But that noisy section is an anomaly, and that particular track is immediately followed by “Just Kidung,” the first two-and-a-half minutes of which wouldn’t sound out of place on a smooth-jazz radio station. Throughout the album, Budjana spices his compositions with intricate, pulse-raising fretwork that avoids mindless grandstanding. So what’s next for Budjana? Earlier this year, he was in the studio with another amazing ensemble: Jack DeJohnette, Tony Levin and Gary Husband. We can’t wait to hear the results.

MoonJune Records


BY BOBBY REED
Adam Birnbaum, Three
Of A Mind
(Daedalus)
The album title Three Of A Mind nods to the close communication and empathy that pianist Adam Birnbaum has developed over the past six years working in drummer Al Foster’s band alongside bassist Doug Weiss. Birnbaum recruited Weiss and Foster for this superb trio album, which accomplishes the difficult task of sounding diverse yet cohesive. The leader’s seven original compositions are augmented by two of Foster’s tunes: This arrangement of “Brandyn” showcases the fluidity of Birnbaum’s style, while the vibrant conversation between the drummer and the pianist toward the end of “Ooh, What You Do To Me” adds an exciting dynamic to a hummable melody. On “Stutterstep,” Foster develops a percolating energy before injecting potent punctuation into the dialog, delivering solo segments that bolster the composition and never overstay their welcome. “Thirty-Three” features a propulsive, rolling melody, and near the midpoint of this memorable, eight-minute excursion, there’s a bass section that spotlights Weiss’ delightfully melodic sensibility. Birnbaum—the American Pianists Association’s 2004 Cole Porter Fellow in Jazz—is expert in many settings, whether it’s the jaunty, rock-influenced “Binary” or the gentle ballad “Rockport Moon,” featuring Foster’s poignant brushwork. “Dream Song #1: Huffy Henry,” which was inspired by John Berryman’s poetry, illustrates not only the narrative quality of Birnbaum’s music, but also his keen ability to return to a theme at just the right moment.

CDBaby | iTunes


BY FRANK ALKYER
Marc Cary, Rhodes Ahead
Vol. 2
(Motéma)
With Rhodes Ahead Vol. 2, keyboard artist Marc Cary picks up where he left off—some 16 years ago. Cary released Rhodes Ahead Vol. 1 in 1999 as an homage to all that the Fender Rhodes piano and synthesizer can do. The second edition is like two old friends meeting and picking up right where they left off. Cary has pulled in drummer Terreon Gully and bassist Tarus Mateen from the Vol. 1 date and added some terrific guests: trumpeter Igmar Thomas, violinist Arun Ramamurthy, guitarist Aurelien Budynek, percussionist Daniel Moreno, tabla player Sameer Gupta, Jabari Exum on djembe, vocalist Sharif Simmons and bassist Burniss Earl Travis II. This is a disc beautifully dedicated to exploring groove, sound and culture, blurring the lines between musical style and setting to create one of the most enjoyable albums of the year so far. “7th Avenue North” serves up a chill groove featuring some incredible, toe-tapping interplay between Gully’s drums and Gupta’s tabla. On “African Market,” the musical imagery is so solid, you can almost see Cary and crew strolling through the titular outdoor bazaar—an aural painting of the highest order. For those who like a great headphones record, tunes like “Spices And Mystics” will hit home. Cary’s imaginative keyboard work dances and dazzles. Ramamurthy cranks the violin with hard-core passion. It’s like drum-and-bass meets Moroccan folk. Cary is at the top of his craft, and nothing sounds forced here. A variety of influences inform Cary’s work, but he makes sure they all fold into a very broad, groove-filled vision. There’s also one cover tune in the program, Harold Mabern’s “Beehive,” and it’s a gem. Cary gives this tune, made famous by trumpeter Lee Morgan, an acid-jazz update, with trumpeter Thomas taking on the Morgan role. Other highlights from the set include the try-not-to-dance “Below The Equator” and “The Alchemist’s Notes.” The latter features a great dialog between Cary, Gully and Mateen with spoken-word contributions from Simmons, which seems to sum up the spirit of the recording. It’s inclusive and searching, seeking a new way of seeing music, art and the world—through groove.

Bandcamp | iTunes


BY BRIAN ZIMMERMAN
Charles McPherson, The Journey (Capri)
Alto saxophonist Charles McPherson heard his first Charlie Parker recording in 1953, when he was 14. The song—“Tico Tico”—made a lasting impression. “I knew immediately that this is the way you’re supposed to play,” he recalled. In the decades since, McPherson has become one of the stalwarts of bebop saxophone, and Parker’s influence on him has been widely acknowledged. (In 1988, when Clint Eastwood needed a sax player to evoke the sounds of Parker’s horn in the biopic Bird, the director turned to McPherson.) But if previous albums proved why McPherson was qualified to carry Bird’s mantle, his latest, The Journey, proves why he’s now bop’s brightest star. The technical prowess he brings to bop standards like “Au Privave” and “Spring Is Here” is captivating, and the imagination he exhibits on originals like the title track and “Manhattan Nocturne” shows that the 75-year-old isn’t afraid to push at musical boundaries. Joined by a stellar rhythm section of pianist Chip Stephens, bassist Ken Walker and drummer Todd Reid, McPherson graciously shares the spotlight with Denver-based tenorist Keith Oxman. The reedists craft solos with equal poise, trading bluesy passages on Stephens’ original composition “The Decathexis From Youth (For Cole)” and burning through fast-fingered eighth-note licks on McPherson’s “Bud Like.” Each saxophonist even gets his own solo turn, McPherson on a poignant reading of “I Should Care” and Oxman on his bouncy “Tami’s Tune.” With The Journey, McPherson has put out a prodigious album, a fitting summary of his 60-plus year excursion from apprentice to bebop royalty. One listen is all it takes to know that this is the way you’re supposed to play.

Capri | Amazon


BY FRANK ALKYER
Georg Breinschmid,
Double Brein
(Preiser)
Georg Breinschmid is one of the most fertile minds in music. He is a musician of amazing technique and skill, an artist of amazing range, humor and beauty. On Double Brein, the Austrian bassist delivers a two-CD set divided so that disc one features jazz highlighted by folk and world music and disc two features Breinschmid revisiting his classical roots. But, according to Breinschmid, this is “classical…not without improvisation, jazz also with classically trained musicians, and vice versa.” Everything is open to interpretation and improvisation in Breinschmid’s world. It’s a large and expansive world, from sambas to musettes to songs written about tour drivers who ask musicians not to throw up in the bus to folk tunes written in 11/8…and that’s just the first four songs. This album is a great listen from start to finish. Breinschmid’s concepts are always exemplary, but where he truly shines is in his musicianship: He has the bass locked down tight no matter how complex or how simple the music is. The first disc incorporates many of Breinschmid’s musical projects, including Brein’s Café, a trio with Gerald Preinfalk or Vladimir Karparov on soprano saxophone and Antoni Donchev on piano; Duo Gansch/Breinschmid, a project with trumpeter Thomas Gansch; Viennese folk musicians that he jams with; and Strings & Bass, a classical-oriented string quartet. The music is sometimes wild, sometimes free, sometimes folksy and always beautiful. One example is the ballad “Feb. 25,” a lovely tune in 3/4 with Breinschmid and Donchev working together quietly and intently for the first three minutes before Karparov swoops in on soprano, capturing their noir vibe and guiding it to its logical conclusion. There are 16 tracks on the first disc, and all are great—from “Fifteen Schörtzenbrekkers Are Better Than None” to “Blues In The Kitchen” to “Fantastische Trünenbaum” to the concluding “Waltz Of The Idiots.” On the second disc, Breinschmid breathes new life into Franz Liszt’s “Mephistowalzer” with the help of František Jánoška on piano and Roman Jánoška on violin. But this portion of the program isn't entirely classical, more classically inspired. Strings & Bass’ take on “Irish Wedding In Bucharest” uses the string quartet as the launching pad for violinist Florian Willeitner’s fabulous composition that owes as much to folk and jazz as it does to the classical tradition. Performed by Breinschmid, Willeitner, violinist Johannes Dickbauer and cellist Matthias Bartolomey, this song is ambitious, majestic and rampaging. The same could be said of this entire album, and of Breinschmid and his fabulous cast of musical friends. From the breadth of the music to the beautiful CD packaging, Breinschmid displays an eye for detail and an ear for what music can be.

Georg Breinschmid | Amazon | iTunes


BY BRIAN ZIMMERMAN
Glenn Zaleski, My Ideal (Sunnyside)
Glenn Zaleski knows the value of keeping things simple. When asked earlier this year about improvements he made in 2014, his answer had everything to do with distilling his sound. “When I simplified and played less, my playing sounded more full, infinitely clearer and overall more effective,” he said. “I’ve been amazed at just how little I need to play.” My Ideal, Zaleski’s debut as a leader, is a product of that full sound and infinite clarity. Like the lyrical, soft-spoken pianists of previous eras—Bill Evans, Vince Guaraldi—the Boston-born, New York-based pianist is capable of painting big pictures with small, deliberate strokes. From the very beginning, My Ideal finds the pianist exhibiting qualities of a master pointillist. His touch is marked by confidence and resolve—powerful, but not overbearing—and his phrasing is constantly attuned to structure and story. A prime example is the album’s title track, played so tenderly, and with such respect for melody, that one can practically hear the lyrics hanging in the air. His arrangement of “Body And Soul” is similarly understated and exposed. In an unaccompanied introduction, Zaleski explores the song’s chord changes with delicate solo lines and smooth chord modulations. Barely recognizable at first, the melody takes shape through gentle intimations, emerging fully formed only at the song’s conclusion. On an arrangement of the Charlie Parker classic “Cheryl,” Zaleski demonstrates the same capacity for storytelling. He begins the song with a bouncy rendering of the head, and then cuts gracefully to a chord-heavy blues solo. It’s a perfectly timed leap that illustrates Zaleski’s gift of having the right thing to say at just the right time. A simple concept, but sublime in its execution.

iTunes | Amazon


BY FRANK ALKYER
Ryan Truesdell, Lines Of Color: The Gil Evans Project Live At Jazz Standard (Blue Note/ArtistShare)
Ryan Truesdell burst onto the international jazz scene in 2012 with the release of Centennial: Newly Discovered Works Of Gil Evans. As one of the most gifted young arrangers and composers of his generation, Truesdell is also a certified Evans-aholic. In searching for original Evans manuscripts, Truesdell unearthed some 50 of the master’s never-before-heard compositions and arrangements. Ten of them made their way onto Centennial, and the results had critics and fans abuzz. With Lines Of Color, Truesdell presents another round of great, new material with a few Evans classics mixed in. Recorded live during a weeklong stint at New York’s Jazz Standard, this set of 11 tunes brings this music to life in a way that Evans would certainly appreciate. This album offers the beauty of hearing a large ensemble playing together in the same room. There’s an energy that the musicians and the audience bring to the proceedings that adds to the charm and complexity of this music. The set features six never-recorded works. The strongest of these is a terrific arrangement of “Avalon Town” from 1946. It’s great to hear the nuance and detail that Evans puts into the arrangement, right down to the horn section shouts. Truesdell delivers the music with precision, thanks to a cast of New York’s best musicians. “Avalon Town” alone features great solos by pianist Frank Kimbrough, trumpeter Mat Jodrell, Steve Wilson on clarinet, Scott Robinson on tenor, Dave Pietro on alto, Ryan Keberle on trombone and James Chirillo on guitar. Along with the six “new” arrangements, Truesdell also uses the platform to include arrangements with previously unheard sections like Bix Beiderbecke’s “Davenport Blues” and “Sunday Drivin’.” And he rightly includes three of Gil’s most enduring tunes. “Time Of The Barracudas,” a tune Evans and Miles Davis wrote for Miles’ Quiet Nights, leads off this set with roof-raising solos by Marshall Gilkes on trombone, Donny McCaslin on tenor and Lewis Nash on drums. Gilkes also delivers the goods on Evans’ arrangement of “Greensleeves.” And the arrangement of John Lewis’ “Concorde” swings with sophisticated grace and unleashed power. That can be said of the entire program. Lines Of Color is nothing short of exhilarating.


BY BRIAN ZIMMERMAN
E.J. Strickland Quintet,
The Undying Spirit
(Strick Muzik)
Drummer-led projects are a balancing act, a careful give-and-take between style and support. Too much flair and the drums become overbearing; too little and they fade into the background. Art Blakey and Max Roach knew how to establish the perfect equilibrium, and with The Undying Spirit, drummer E.J. Strickland finds a similar sweet spot. He plays with just enough solidity to provide his bandmates with a strong foundation, and just enough zest make the whole endeavor shimmer. It helps that Strickland assembled a superbly talented group to join him. Longtime members Jaleel Shaw on alto saxophone, Luis Perdomo on piano and brother Marcus Strickland on tenor and soprano sax bring boundless energy to this project, and bassist Linda Oh makes a phenomenal addition. Their chemistry is undeniable, but each player exhibits fireworks on their own: Oh with her soulful bass solo on “Ballad For All Mankind,” Perdomo with his angular piano work on “Ride” and Shaw and Marcus with their intertwining motifs on “Bomba For Leel And Max.” Best of all is when the drummer flexes his solo chops: His flights on Cedar Walton’s “Hindsight” and the original composition “A Dance For Mojo’s Return” are marvels of technique and self-expression. Strickland, who composed all but one of the 10 tracks, stated that his goal for this project was to create an album that would be “uplifting to the listener.” That goal was definitely accomplished. The Undying Spirit positively glows, and its success comes largely from the leader’s ability to inspire the best in his fellow musicians. Sure, his bandmates’ performances are illuminating, but it’s Strickland who’s shining the light.


BY BOBBY REED
Pops Staples, Don’t Lose This (Anti-)
Mavis Staples, 75, is enjoying a late-career renaissance that few artists her age have ever experienced. Much of the credit goes to her producer and collaborator, Wilco leader Jeff Tweedy. In addition to helping her craft the excellent solo albums You Are Not Alone (2010) and One True Vine (2013), Tweedy helped her bring Don’t Lose This to fruition. And what a gem it is. Don’t Lose This is an album by Mavis’ famed father—and patriarch of The Staples Singers—Roebuck “Pops” Staples (1914–2000), whose guitar style was just as distinctive as his unforgettable voice. Although the 10 tracks here were built from recordings that Pops made in 1999, they have not been overly “dressed up” with digital trickery; instead, they’re presented in tasteful, respectful, relatively spare arrangements. This album is truly a family affair: Pops is the only vocalist on “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” while “Sweet Home” features a moving duo performance by Pops and Mavis. Elsewhere, some tracks present what are essentially archival Staples Singers performances, with Pops taking the lead while his daughters Yvonne, Cleotha and Mavis deliver the type of spirited harmonies that made this family band such an important part of both gospel and soul music. The album opens with “Somebody Was Watching,” which, in classic Staples form, takes a gospel message and pairs it with an infectious groove. Positivity was at the heart of Pops’ message, and in our troubled times, the song “No News Is Good News” is particularly relevant, as this brave artist and crusader—a man who marched during the Civil Rights Movement—pleads, “Don’t you think it’s time to put the gun down?” Don’t Lose This is an album that will appeal to fans of Pops, Mavis and The Staples Singers, as well as anyone interested in the power of music to uplift one’s spirits.

ECM

Royal Conservatory

Royal Conservatory

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NJPAC

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Jody Jazz

DC Jazz Fest

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