By Bobby Reed
Polish violinist Adam Bałdych goes where the muse leads him. On each of his recent ACT albums recorded with the Helge Lien Trio—Brothers (2017) and Bridges (2015)—Bałdyc composed almost the entire program. In the liner notes for his new quartet album, Sacrum Profanum, Bałdychh reminisces about being expelled from music school “for playing jazz, for improvising and for rebelling against classical music.” But then he explains the impetus behind the new disc: “I felt the imperative to connect with my greatest inspiration at the moment—classical music.” But he’s not talking about Bach, Brahms and Beethoven. The 10 tracks on Sacrum Profanum are split evenly between original tunes and works by a diverse assemblage of composers that includes Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179), Thomas Tallis (1505–’85) and Gregorio Allegri (1582–1652). Bałdych also interprets “Bogurodzica” (a piece from the 13th century) and the “Concerto For Viola And Orchestra” by contemporary Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina.
Although the selections here jump from century to century, the leader’s decidedly modern, “new music” aesthetic keeps the proceedings cohesive. Bałdych has recruited a crew of flexible players—pianist Krzysztof Dys, bassist Michał Barański and drummer Dawid Fortuna—who excel at spare, poignant arrangements, as well as dense tracks packed with sonic layers. There are plenty of moments of thorny aural angst here, but on the version of Tallis’ “Spem In Alium” and the original “Longing,” Bałdych offers sections with gorgeous, clean violin lines. It’s lovely evidence that his youthful rebellion against classical sounds certainly was not a permanent, wholesale rejection.
By Dave Cantor
Huw Warren has a thing for Hermeto Pascoal—and Brazilian music in general.
As far back as 2009 on Hermeto + (Basho), the Welsh pianist has taken the time to arrange and record more than a dozen compositions by the bandleader. But on Everything In Between, the work’s been so firmly ensconced in a contemporary jazz context it’d be tough to pick out the provenance of each composition. “Loro,” though, briefly offers glints of the piece’s origins as a song penned by Egberto Gismonti.
Warren’s tempered trio has roots in Perfect Houseplants, a quartet founded during the early ’90s that the bandleader participated in with bassist Dudley Phillips, who ably plies electric bass during most of the program here. On “Vou Viviendo,” a tune plucked from the songbook of Brazilian composers Pixinguinha and Benedicto Lacerda, Phillips switches to acoustic, lending the workout a different kind of propulsion, something absent from other cuts here. The bandleader’s son, Zoot, on drums, shuffles behind the lustrous, light and lively keyboard flourishes the elder Warren summons, and ushers in the album closer, Pascoal’s “Musica Das Nuvens E Do Chão.” It’s a supremely funky conclusion to an otherwise pastoral trio recording.
By Bobby Reed
Wealth and fame can be destructive. Athletes and celebrities who hit it big at a young age often crash and burn. Norah Jones is an exception. She was 23 when Blue Note released her debut, Come Away With Me, in 2002. It earned her an armload of Grammys, and by 2005, it had shipped 10 million copies in the United States. In the years following that stratospheric career launch, Jones remained focused on artistry, rather than celebrity. She became an eager collaborator and a careful shepherd of her career, not rushing to put out “product” as a bandleader. And Jones has shown an expansive curiosity in choosing collaborators, whether she was helping form the bands The Little Willies and later Puss N Boots, or working with Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Green Day songwriter Billie Joe Armstrong, producer Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton, organist Dr. Lonnie Smith or sitar player Anoushka Shankar (who is her half-sister). For fans who have stuck with Jones, it’s been an intriguing journey.
Her new leader date, Begin Again, compiles seven original tracks, the majority of which she already has released. Like Esperanza Spalding, Jones’ artistic restlessness seems intertwined with eschewing the traditional ways that albums have been made, packaged and promoted. Her collaborators on this set include Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy, keyboardist Thomas Bartlett and drummer Brian Blade. “My Heart Is Full” pairs Bartlett’s piano, keyboards and synthesizer with Jones’ layered vocals for a memorable studio creation that’s spare, yet haunting. “Begin Again” is a rocker with these pointed lyrics: “Can a nation built on blood find its way out of the mud?/ Will the people at the top lose their way enough to stop?/ Can we begin again?”
Jones—playing piano, celeste and acoustic guitar—pursues an Americana vibe with co-writer Tweedy on “A Song With No Name.” Another tune written with Tweedy, “Wintertime,” will appeal to fans of Jones’ 2004 album, Feels Like Home (Blue Note). On “Just A Little Bit” (recorded and mixed by Patrick Dillett), Jones’ yearning vocal and insistent piano riffs are augmented by poignant trumpet work from Dave Guy. Overall, the charming Begin Again isn’t a grand statement; it’s a document of an artist seeing where the winding path takes her.
Jones will tour Australia and New Zealand in April, then take a break and launch a North American tour on June 18 at Heinz Hall in Pittsburgh. Tour info is posted at her website.
By Ed Enright
Branford Marsalis never has sounded better on tenor and soprano saxophones, as revealed on this new release by his stellar working quartet with pianist Joey Calderazzo, bassist Eric Revis and drummer Justin Faulkner.
The Secret Between The Shadow And The Soul—the group’s first release since 2016’s Upward Spiral (OKeh/Marsalis Music) with guest Kurt Elling and first purely instrumental effort since 2012’s Four MFs Playin’ Tunes (Marsalis Music)—succeeds in its relentless pursuit of musical sophistication, cohesiveness and inclusiveness. Clearly, these long-loyal bandmates have reached a new plateau together. Marsalis, always a strong storyteller, plays with tremendous conviction and deftly manipulates his sound palette to conjure a range of emotions on the seven tracks here, which include fresh compositions by Marsalis, Revis and Calderazzo, as well as creative interpretations of Andrew Hill’s “Snake Hip Waltz” and Keith Jarrett’s “The Windup.”
Whether winding through the quirky three-bar phrases of Hill’s piece or navigating the elegant radiance of Calderazzo’s “Cianna,” the abrupt perspective-shifts of Revis’ “Dance Of The Evil Toys” or the gentle flow of Marsalis’ “Life Filtering From The Water Flowers,” the quartet stands as a model of adventurousness and commitment. Under Marsalis’ direction, their approach to writing and improvising emphasizes melody and rhythm first, with harmony playing a less-defining role on any given piece. The resulting music drives hard and holds little back as it traverses the many moods this quartet has at its command, even during the more reflective moments on The Secret Between The Shadow And The Soul.
By J.D. Considine
Ideally, a songbook tribute album shouldn’t have the listener agree, “Yes, this is great writing,” but instead think, “Wow, I never understood these songs that way before.” In other words, the idea is to strive for revelation—which is precisely what Finnish pianist Iro Haarla delivers with Around Again: The Music of Carla Bley—not confirmation.
The focus here is on Bley’s earliest work, back when her tunes were being recorded by the likes of Paul Bley and Jimmy Guiffre. What Haarla and her trio grasp is that these pieces were centered not on harmonic structures, but on melody. In that sense, Bley’s writing was not unlike Ornette Coleman’s, in the sense that the compositions provided theme and mood, but didn’t lock the players into some set harmonic schema.
Haarla is suited ideally to this approach, as her playing tends to be lean and linear, emphasizing the melodic lift of a line, more than its harmonic weight. She brings an almost heartbreaking lyricism to melancholy cadences of “Ida Lupino,” and makes “Utviklingssang” sound like the Nordic folk song it should have been.
But it also helps that her playing leaves plenty of room for her bandmates. Bassist Ulf Krokfors, a longtime collaborator, is particularly on point, offering thrumming, contrapuntal lines that at their best evoke the empathetic warmth of Charlie Haden; his intro to “Vashkar” is particularly affecting. Meanwhile, Barry Altschul—who, as the drummer for Paul Bley’s trio, was heard on the first recording of many of these tunes—sticks to the quiet side of his polyrhythmic approach, keeping the energy up but the dynamics down through hushed flutters of brushed cymbals or tom-tom patterns that rumble like distant thunder. Between them, their lean, cohesive approach makes even the most familiar of these tunes sound fresh and exciting—just what any fan would want from a tribute album.
By Ed Enright
With the release of his sixth album as a leader, Australian-born, New York-based pianist Ben Winkelman continues to develop his concept of a piano trio whose primary artistic goal is to strike a balance between composition and improvisation. Bassist Matt Penman and drummer Obed Calvaire—both of whom never had played with Winkelman until this recording session—are featured as more than just sidemen/soloists. In crafting his meticulous arrangements, Winkelman treats his bandmates as if they were part of a small orchestra, providing them with detailed parts that are integral to the 10 original compositions on Balance. The music draws from Winkelman’s vast musical interests (including Afro-Cuban, gospel and classical influences) filtered through a jazz perspective.
Highlights include the odd-metered “Bx12 Part One” and “Bx12 Part Two,” the satisfying medium-tempo swinger “April,” the dreamlike ballad “Santiago,” the structure-meets-spontaneity of “Window Shopping,” the harmonic ambiguity of “The Trip” and a rhythmically challenging treatment of Thelonious Monk’s “Bye-Ya.” The intellectual meets the intuitive by design throughout the entirety of Balance as Winkelman’s trio of equals, perpetually seeking a state of equilibrium, approach joyful swing, hard-hitting rock and chamber-like inventions as one big, interconnected thing of beauty.
By Dave Cantor
There’s a sense of heedless exploration that opens guitarist Lage Lund’s Terrible Animals, but the bulk of the album moderates the initial avant-excursions.
Opener “Hard Eights” rattles with an moody melody and some light effects listeners might not be expecting from the bandleader. The rabble subsides a bit as pianist Sullivan Fortner ambles through a solo, kicking up odd rhythms and an unpredictable cascade of notes. Control of the tune’s ceded back to Lund, before the next tune, “Aquanaut,” conjures some fusion-adjacent vibes.
What follows is a noticeable shift away from the genre-fluidity that defines Terrible Animals’ opening tracks: “Haitian Ballad” mostly is restraint and beauty, flecked with moments of abandon; “Ray Ray” finds Fortner swinging pretty hard; and “Take It Easy” excels on the back of Lund’s light guitar trickery.
“Octoberry” and the title track rank as exceptions, making use of clipped guitar notes and otherworldly buzzing. There’s really not a slack moment across the 10-tune offering. And that’s in part because of Lund’s compatriots: Fortner, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Tyshawn Sorey. But maybe the introductory whiff of the avant-garde simply was Lund exploring a singular facet of his musical personality, before serving up a bevy of less experimental work. Whatever the reason, bits and pieces of Terrible Animals sound like an irresistible and raucous foray into the beyond.
By Bobby Reed
The reissue of keyboardist Eumir Deodato’s Os Catedráticos 73 is a head trip that will make synapses fire and hips sway.
The opening track, “Arranha Céu (Skyscrapers),” is dance-floor manna, fueled by the kind of awesome grooves that crate-diggers live for. Mixing Brazilian rhythms with the soul and grease of a classic jazz-organ trio, Deodato delivers a program that can, for 36 glorious minutes, make a fan’s troubles seem far away. Along with seven original tunes, the 11-track program includes a couple of choice songs by another Brazilian icon, Marcos Valle: the earworm “Flap” and “Puma Branco (The White Puma),” a slower tune that will motivate dancers who want to nuzzle. Among the 13 gifted musicians who played on these recording sessions are Azymuth drummer Ivan “Mamão” Conti and trumpet ace Marvin Stamm.
The program percolates at a brisk pace: Only two of the 11 tracks here are longer than three-and-a-half minutes. When the final notes of the closer, “Carlota E Carolina (Carly & Carole),” fade out, the listener’s logical options are to start the program over, or dig even deeper into the Deodato catalog with Far Out’s reissue of 1965’s Ataque. That title, like Os Catedráticos, is available on 180-gram vinyl. Bravo!
By Dave Cantor
There’s something solemn and wondrous about the writing of Norwegian novelist Knut Hamsum (1859–1952). He didn’t necessarily laud the creative class and weirdoes in works like Mysteries (Mysterier) and Hunger (Sult), but each offered a unique, sometimes troubling vision of life.
Thing is, he was a fan of Adolf Hitler. So, the dour, entrancing performances on Norwegian keyboardist/composer Maja S. K. Ratkje’s Sult, an adaptation of the music she wrote for a ballet based on the Hamsun novel, is starting from a fraught premise. It’s still haunting—in part because of its origins.
The novel follows its protagonist, a writer, through a difficult time as he roams the streets, keenly attuned to his dismal station in life. The book’s title is literal here. Ratkje—who’s recorded with jazzworld figures, as well as experimentalist Ikue Mori—uses the discordant feel of aimlessness and surreptitious creativity to inform the pump organ she plays across nine tracks, occasionally intoning some wordless, emotive sentiments. There’s a bit of good whistling, too.
While Sult, the novel, has been canonized, described as the opening salvo of 20th-century literature and ranks as an early work by a pretty significant novelist, there likely was another piece of writing to draw from, something not tainted by barbarity. But maybe it’s the haunting and eerie pastiche of history, sound and stage that makes Ratkje’s recording worthy of note.