Delfeayo Marsalis

Kalamazoo
(Troubadour Jass)

This record grabbed me from the downbeat of the opening track. Delfeayo, the trombone-playing member of the Marsalis family, kicks off “Tin Roof Blues” with a tone that makes you say, “Ah,” and is then joined by his father, Ellis Marsalis, on piano. It’s a slice of perfection to hear this father and son play a pure blues together, like they’ve been doing their whole lives. When the rhythm section kicks in—with Reginald Veal on bass and Ralph Peterson on drums—the fans at this concert in Kalamazoo, Michigan, know they’re in good hands. Kalamazoo is a good time: Nothing is rushed, nothing taken too seriously. There’s plenty of room for solos, and it’s a joy to hear each of the members of this band play. The program is drawn mainly from the jazz canon, with fantastic spins on “Autumn Leaves,” “My Funny Valentine,” “It Don’t Mean A Thing” and “If I Were A Bell.” Always the showman, Delfeayo delivers some truly funny moments. The band plays the theme to Sesame Street as a blues. And he invites two jazz students onstage to be barbecued with jokes, then perform with the band. It’s great stuff. The set concludes with Delfeayo and Ellis’ duo interpretation of “Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans.” The album is dedicated to the memory of Dolores Ferdinand Marsalis (1937–2017). With this heartfelt rendition of the Crescent City classic, it’s clear that the musicians are processing their grief over the loss of the beloved mother of Delfeayo and wife of Ellis. It’s a beautiful ending to a concert I wish I could have attended.

Steve Hobbs

Tribute To Bobby
(Challenge)

Steve Hobbs’ latest project didn’t start out as a tribute album. But it became one soon after its recording due to the Aug. 16, 2016, passing of Hobbs’ friend and mentor, the legendary vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson. Hobbs, one of the leading jazz vibraphonists to follow in Hutcherson’s footsteps, had chosen to center the music for his quartet’s third recording project mainly around the marimba, a mallet instrument at which he’s equally adept. Hutcherson also frequently played the marimba, making a distinct jazz impression upon the instrument. With Hobbs behind the mallets on Tribute To Bobby, the marimba gets an exhilarating, rejuvenating workout. He and tenor/soprano saxophonist Adam Kolker share duties as the driving forces behind the music, swinging hard with style, nailing intricate lines and locking in tightly with pianist Bill O’Connell, bassist Peter Washington and drummer John Riley. Instances of profound eloquence and stunning chops abound: Hobbs’ whirlwind solo on “New Creation,” Riley’s Art Blakey channeling on “Into The Storm” and the propulsive bass line Washington developed for “Besame Mucho” are but a few examples of the brilliance on display in this energetic program. This is a proper tribute to Hutcherson if there ever was one, even though it wasn’t planned as such. Hobbs’ detailed liner notes are informative, entertaining, required reading.

John Hollenbeck

All Can Work
(New Amsterdam)

John Hollenbeck’s All Can Work is an album of awe-inspiring majesty. The latest recording by the drummer, composer and arranger and his 20-piece Large Ensemble is dedicated to trumpeter Laurie Frink, who passed away in 2013 after battling cancer. It’s a fitting tribute to an artist who was a beloved member of this ensemble, a revered educator and a highly respected musician on the New York jazz scene. The title for the album comes directly from email correspondence between Hollenbeck and Frink. In press materials, Hollenbeck explained that the title track’s lyrics include words and phrases that reflect Frink’s ability to be flexible and optimistic. On this track, vocalist Theo Bleckmann sings portions of actual emails between the two musicians, and the result is a song that is heartfelt, hopeful and sometimes hilarious. The lyrics are wrapped in a Hollenbeck arrangement of grand themes and grander beauty. And that can be said for the entirety of All Can Work. The section work is amazing, the soloists sublime. The way the horns play with and against each other and the rhythm section creates a dreamy, sound- and genre-bending pulse on Hollenbeck’s arrangement of Kenny Wheeler’s “Heyoke.” Tony Malaby delivers a stunning turn on soprano saxophone while soloing on the Hollenbeck composition “Elf,” a mighty fine, Strayhorn-inspired piece. And I always love to hear Hollenbeck’s interpretation of rock songs: The final cut here is a powerhouse reading of Kraftwerk’s “The Model.” There are those who can play an instrument, and then there are artists like Hollenbeck for whom the orchestra is the instrument. Throughout this program, Hollenbeck delivers layer after layer for listeners to explore. Shimmering horns, beautifully placed punctuations and little sonic surprises abound. It’s wonderfully complex music played beautifully, with precision and abandon, by a band that has spent a good deal of time together. Somewhere, Laurie Frink is smiling.

Diana Panton

Solstice/Equinox
(Self Release)

Pairing a gifted vocalist with a program of timeless standards is a surefire recipe for a strong album, but those types of projects truly soar only when the arrangements and accompaniment are top-notch. Such is the case with vocalist Diana Panton’s Solstice/Equinox. Her vocal style combines a light, buoyant lilt with immaculate phrasing, an authoritative delivery and a convincing ability to portray the emotions of the lyrics’ protagonists. Those qualities helped Panton—a native of Hamilton, Ontario—win a 2015 Juno award in the vocal jazz album category for her release Red. On Solstice/Equinox, the singer once again teams with longtime collaborators Don Thompson (bass, piano, vibraphone) and Reg Schwager (guitar), two brilliant musicians who worked with the late pianist George Shearing (1919–2011). Panton’s other bandmates here are Phil Dwyer, who contributes elegant alto saxophone work on “They Say It’s Spring,” and trumpeter/cornetist Guido Basso, who adds lovely flugelhorn lines on “I Like Snow.” Thompson arranged all the material in the 13-song program, including “That Sunday, That Summer” and “September In The Rain,” which have arrangements credited to Thompson and Shearing. The 65-minute album is thematically cohesive, with songs that nod to romance and the changing of the seasons, including “Up Jumped Spring,” “’Tis Autumn” and “Septembre” (one of two tunes Panton sings in French). Canadian jazz fans have long embraced Panton’s work, and with a recent tour that had stops in China and Japan, the rest of the world is getting to know this gifted artist. (Panton will perform at McMaster University’s LIVELab in Hamilton, Ontario, on May 5.)

Steve Slagle

Dedication
(Panorama)

Steve Slagle dedicates each track on his new album to people, places and things that have served as sources of artistic inspiration during his five-decade career as a saxophonist/flutist, composer, educator, arranger and bandleader on the New York scene. Dedication starts with a kick as Slagle (on alto), pianist Lawrence Fields, bassist Scott Colley, drummer Bill Stewart and percussionist Roman Diaz conjure the essence of Sonny Rollins on Slagle’s “Sun Song,” a summery blowing vehicle based on a buoyant calypso-like groove. Guitarist Dave Stryker, a frequent touring/recording collaborator with Slagle, joins the group on the angular and driving “Niner” (dedicated to bassist Steve Swallow), and five more tracks. Stryker’s presence on Dedication is deeply felt, notably on the Brazil-dedicated bossa nova tune “Triste Beleza” playing nylon-string acoustic, as well as on his own “Corazon” (dedicated to Joe Zawinul), a ballad that flows with resonant alto vibrato, shimmering brushes, simple bass line movement and rubato strums of cleanly amplified electric guitar. Other subjects of Slagle’s dedication include Jackie McLean (the conga-driven “Opener”), Wayne Shorter (his “Charcoal Blues”), painter Marc Chagall (the guitar/soprano sax dream “Watching Over”), Slagle’s daughter Sophia (the playful, odd-metered swinger “Sofi”) and swing itself (the uptempo romp “Major In Come”). It all adds up to an enjoyable and meaningful collection of fresh, straightahead jazz from some of the genre’s best—and most dedicated—practitioners.

Jerve, Thornton & Thorén

Circumstances
(AMP Music & Records)

Norwegian pianist Kjetil Jerve is a prolific artist whose website cites 10 bands in which he plays, and that list isn’t even complete. His trio with British bassist Tim Thornton and Swedish drummer Anders Thorén had only played one concert together when the musicians went into the studio for a two-hour session that generated the compelling album Circumstances. The program is an intriguing mixture of structured sections and adventurous flights of improvisation. The title track, which is a collective composition credited to all three players, conveys a sense of quest. The rest of the program includes three compositions by Jerve and two by Thornton, as well as freewheeling interpretations of songs by Cole Porter (“Everything I Love”), Bill Evans (“Time Remembered”) and Allan Holdsworth (“54 Duncan Terrace,” which the guitarist recorded with pianist Gordon Beck on the 1988 album With A Heart In My Song). The overall vibe of this album is one of three consummate professionals seeing where the journey leads. A drum solo by Thorén on “Deadeye” and a bass solo by Thornton on “438” demonstrate the players’ chops and Jerve’s willingness to share the spotlight. On Thornton’s tune “Passengers” and on Jerve’s “Deadeye,” in particular, the pianist’s gift for melody and propulsion are complemented by his bandmates’ sense of drama. Jerve—who recently recorded an album with tenor saxophonist Jimmy Halperin and bassist Drew Gress—will, in February, embark on a tour of Japan, where he’ll play solo, as well as with various ensembles.

Dr. Lonnie Smith

All In My Mind
(Blue Note)

All In My Mind chronicles the good doctor’s 75th birthday celebration last summer at Jazz Standard in New York. We have here a classic organ trio playing to bring a smile, a stomp and a “hell, yeah” to every gut-bucket organ fan out there. Smith conjures, coaxes and commands the Hammond B-3 like no one else alive. His arrangements and band bounce with power, sophistication and awe-inspiring groove. From the opening track—Wayne Shorter’s “JuJu”—Smith, guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg and drummer Johnathan Blake are locked in and blazing. On Paul Simon’s “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover,” drummer Joe Dyson sits in to deliver the tune’s distinctive Steve Gadd beat. Kreisberg handles the verses, setting up Smith to groove through the chorus before taking one for himself. What distinguishes Smith from other B-3 players are his distinctive composing chops. “Alhambra” is a powerful, toe-tapping masterpiece. Smith soars on the organ, but what’s most impressive is that Kreisberg and Blake are equal to this daunting task. The doctor invites the terrific vocalist Alicia Olatuja onstage to sing another stellar original, the album’s title track. It’s a ballad of pain, contemplation and beauty that Smith included on his 1977 album, Funk Reaction. The program concludes appropriately with Freddie Hubbard’s “Up Jumped Spring.” This fantastic album proves that there’s still plenty of spring in Smith’s musical step. (Smith, Kreisberg and Blake will perform at New York’s Jazz Standard on Jan. 11–14.)

Scott DuBois

Autumn Wind
(ACT)

The intersection of modern jazz and contemporary classical music became a much more interesting place last fall with the release of Autumn Wind, guitarist Scott DuBois’ album with German reedist Gebhard Ullmann, New York bassist Thomas Morgan and Danish drummer Kresten Osgood, who together constitute a longstanding quartet. An ambitious follow-up to the group’s 2015 release, Winter Light (ACT), the new recording features 12 interrelated DuBois compositions, each one starting with a different note that effectively creates a 12-tone row—which DuBois uses as a recurring musical device throughout the extended work. Conceptual elements run deeper still with the superimposition of a traditional string quartet (violins, viola, cello) and an orchestral woodwind quartet (flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon) over certain pieces, creating dense textures that thicken the highly ambient atmosphere. This is the sound of seemingly disparate worlds coming together in an impressionistic weave of minimalism, serialism, nostalgic Americana, careful orchestration and unfettered free improvisation—music that’s as delicate as it is bold. DuBois starts the program solo, his guitar conjuring vast soundscapes that help establish the album’s reflective, change-of-seasons mood and foretell of stormier days and darker nights to come as autumn progresses. Subsequent pieces gradually add instrumental voices and build in intensity until everything culminates in a finale for 12 musicians, structured upon DuBois’ now-complete 12-tone row. A 13th track, “Mid-November Moonlit Forest String Quartet Reprise,” ends the album in quiet reflection. Despite the headier aspects of Autumn Wind, listeners need neither a Ph.D. nor a calendar to enjoy this profoundly beautiful, genre-dissolving album.

Tomás Cotik & Tao Lin

Piazzolla: Legacy
(Naxos)

A successful tribute album accomplishes four goals: It serves as a gateway to the honoree’s original recordings; it stands alone as great art, regardless of the listener’s level of familiarity with the source material; it interprets the tunes in a fresh way; and it showcases the artistic strengths of the recording artists. A fine example is the Kronos Quartet’s 1985 album Monk Suite: The Music Of Thelonious Monk. In the years that followed, the Kronos Quartet would introduce fans to Argentine tango icon Astor Piazzolla, thanks to “Four, For Tango”—a track on the 1988 disc Winter Was Hard—and the 1991 album Five Tango Sensations, which was a collaboration with Piazzolla. Today, Argentine violinist Tomás Cotik and Chinese-American pianist Tao Lin are also in the business of saluting Piazzolla (1921–’92), a master of the bandoneon. Cotik and Lin’s 2013 tribute to Piazzolla, Tango Nuevo (Naxos), generated positive reviews, including one from DownBeat. The duo’s new album, Piazzolla: Legacy, has as its centerpiece the four-part, 21-minute suite Las Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas, which illustrates these brilliant musicians’ ability to shift tempos. The violinist and pianist can gracefully wring emotion from heartbreaking ballad tempos or generate fireworks with breakneck riffs. About half of the 13 tracks are duets, while the rest of the program adds acoustic bass and/or two percussionists. Alfredo Lerida recites poetic lyrics on one track, “Balada Para Un Loco.” Among the songs that these musicians infuse with exciting drama are “Milonga Del Ángel,” which Piazzolla included on his classic 1986 album, Tango: Zero Hour. The liner notes to Piazzolla: Legacy include an informative essay by Fernando González, who explains how Piazzolla reshaped the tango genre with a style that drew upon European classical music, jazz, klezmer and rock. Cotik and Lin are to be applauded for demonstrating ways in which Piazzolla’s music can, in the right hands, retain its core genius in a variety of instrumental settings. (Cotik and Lin will perform selections from the new album during a March 27 concert at Broward College’s Bailey Hall in Davie, Florida.)


On Sale Now
June 2018
Mary Halvorson
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