Grace Notes reviews some of the brightest voices in Jazz and new releases that you should add to the soundtrack of your life. Who's transforming the landscape of Jazz? Read up and find out. Click on any of the artist names to go to their websites or album titles to purchase their music.
'Thinkin' Big' is trumpeter Jonan Francese's vision for Jazz where everyone has a seat on the bandstand. Built around an sense of ethnomusicological inclusion, 'Reclamation' combines spirited originals, funk, pop and imaginative remakes of classics like "Chim Chim Cheree" with a variety of first person testimonials of the struggle, strength and rise of those marginalized in American society.
Terri Lyne Carrington's had enough. 'Waiting Game' hits hard on racism, homophobia and the oppression and violence they too often create. Her band Social Science morphs into a skilled alchemy of styles that incorporate fusion, rap, and acapella, delivering one disc that slices into contemporary politics and a second filled with the four part improvised suite 'Dreams and Desperate Measures.'
As one of the most thrilling and gifted percussionists of his generation, Samuel Torres has made a practice of integrating Columbia folkloric music into his art. 'Alegria' is the latest example showcasing the rich musical heritage of Columbia, effortlessly swings through the intricate compositions celebrating masters Ray Barretto, Miguel “Anga” Diaz, and Dr. Martin Luther King.
Soft, supple, but full of spunk, drummer Xavier Lecouturier has a way to make your ears stand at attention. Songs from 'Carrier' shift and pivot through a mature lens one wouldn't expect from a debut release. Lecouturier's imagination explores a challenging range of compositions. 'Tempest' and 'Striations' showcase just how comfortable this band is playing together.
Aptly named after the meditative Greek muse, 'Polyhymnia' finds trumpeter Yazz Ahmed deepening her musical inquiry with a larger band, longer songs, and a broader interpretation of her Mediterranean influenced compositional tradition. 'Lahan al-Mansour' is especially lush, while 'One Girl Among Many' gloriously honors female education advocate Malala Yousafzai.
Finally realizing his dream, last year Fran Vielma assembled a group to honor his homeland. With their album 'Tendencias,' the Venezuelan Jazz Collective became another example of the influence Afro-Caribbean music continues to have on Jazz. Vielma's work teases out traditional rhythms, drawing on the artists, instruments and places that make Venezuelen so special to Jazz.
One word titles are the first clue that 'BEAT MUSIC!' is not your traditional Jazz record. Beat master extraordinaire Mark Guiliana presides over the album's meticulously manufactured mechanical soundscapes. Songs like 'BONES' and 'GIRL' use video game noise, synths, spoken word and Guiliana's precision to craft sonic stories that play out like delightfully phrenetic graphic novels.
'Puertos' plays like a movie soundtrack, with Emilio Solla's Tango Jazz Orchestra sailing us to music from all over Latin American in their quest to redefine the thematic agency big bands can harness. With just the right amount of power, intellect, grace and soul, Solla has put together another masterful recording that will certainly put him in the running for Grammy honors again this year.
Complete albums are rare. Albums with finely crafted tunes that are so good from start to finish, it's impossible to break away. Pianist Javier Santiago has done just that with 'B-Sides: The Phoenix Sessions' - his followup to last year's 'Phoenix' release. Put this one on, sit back, enjoy the band and revel in the music. With Santiago, you simply can't have too much of a good thing.
Harp, tabla and sitar quickly mark 'Oneness' as an out of the box Jazz album. Trumpeter Matthew Halsall celebrates the shared transcendental qualities of John Coltrane and Indian music with slow churning tunes like 'Distant Land' and 'Loving Kindness.’ Halsall’s work balances both musical sentiments with support from a band that clearly understands his ideal for egoless collaboration.
Thomas Grimmonprez's quartet plays with an instinctual chemistry that makes 'Big Wheel' a magical experience. The album flows like a soundtrack to a contemplative day alone in the woods. Songs like 'Quiet,' 'Heavy Soul' and 'Hypnosis' find guitarist Manu Codjia setting an emotional backdrop for the band's remarkably fluid rhythm section, highlighted by Grimmonprez's expansive drumming.
Unblushingly romantic, melodically terse, and unafraid to stretch an ensemble or apply interesting electronics, Alex Sipiagin stays modern by relying on, but also challenging, his many traditional gifts. 'NoFo Skies' finds Sipiagin moving forward again, utilizing another stellar band with some agile vocals by Alina Engibaryan, smarty landing all of the compositions he gives flight to.
'Listen With Your Eyes' has an addictive edge that saxophonist Adam Larson leans into with a hard blowing style and compositions that punctuate his power on the horn. Fabian Almazan (piano), Matt Clohesy (bass) and Jimmy Macbride (drums) glide through Larson's compositions, tearing up tunes like 'False Pageantry' that have the energy or rock with the sophistication of Jazz.
Classical, Jazz, fusion, new wave? Don't even try to pin Matt Ulery to a genre. Just enjoy this bassist's expansive repertoire of artistry, imagination and superb band leading skills. 'Delicate Charms' is gorgeous in more ways than you might expect. Each listen peels back another layer of Ulery's unique story telling gifts. The only label that really makes sense for Ulery is “genius."
Large ensemble work is evolving in ways few might have foreseen. Mike Holober is one of many leading the charge to shift what a big band can sound like. His arranging on 'Hiding Out' will leave you breathless. And the band sounds like an immaculate symphony of styles, artistic virtues and compositional precision. 'Movt. 5: It Was Just The Wind' alone is worth the price of admission.
'Strange Days' speaks to many bleak but still beautiful landscapes, each fused with the resurgent traditions of contemporary Arab musicality. Vocalist Natacha Atlas and violinist Samy Bishai are symbiotic as they create lush melodies on an album that roams through the blues of 'Inherent Rhythm,' the stark reality of 'Lost Revolutions' and the jaunting signature rhythms of 'Maktoub.'
Joshua Redman's remarkable technical ability is a brilliant match for the musical dexterity of the Brooklyn Rider string quartet. Both collaborate to celebrate the music of Patrick Zimmerli on the album 'Sun on Sand.' The line between classical and Jazz is blurred as music moves from isolated moments between strings and saxophone, to remarkably arranged ensemble work.
Spiritually speaking, Joseph Daley does extraordinarily well to shape morality into remarkable music. Originally recorded in 2012, the recently remastered 'Seven Heavenly Virtue, Seven Deadly Sins' epitomizes Daley's career as composer, arranger and leader of the 24 piece Earth Tones Ensemble. Savor this fourteen piece suite. It might just save your soul.
Laura Jurd is the crypto currency of Jazz. Wildly creative, her work moves fast and breaks things, slaloming through intriguing instrumentation, with songs that are the creative equivalent of landmines. Whether you hear this album as experimental music, an opus, or a unique soundtrack, 'Stepping Back, Jumping In' works on too many levels to be ignored. One of the best of 2019 so far.
Pulling out all the stops, 'ámbar' is perhaps the fullest realization of guitarist/vocalist Camila Meza's unique musical imagination. Strings, Latin percussion and Meza's remarkable skill on the guitar, pace this new work. An ode to "achieve love's fullest potential," 'ámbar' roams with luscious melodies, careful arranging, and the perfect application of the vocalists' amoré.
In 'Finding Gabriel,' Brad Mehldau pushes back against the hate of America's current political polarity. For Mehldau, biblical references, synthesized tracks and the rhythmic genius of drummer Mark Guiliana make for a compelling musical polemic. Between the lines are songs that speak to spiritual renewal and the grace of embracing hard truths.
Even when quiet and contemplative, 'Carib' is full of the instrumental Afro-Caribbean spirit saxophonist David Sanchez has been known for throughout his career. Potent playing aside, Sanchez gifts us with a complete work, telling stories through songs that seem to sing about the strength of being at peace, while his band makes intricate melodies sound effortless.
Take three uniquely gifted musicians, put them in an intimate trio setting, and watch 'Wonderment' happen. Violinist Zach Brock, bassist Matt Ulery and drummer Jon Deitemyer are all respected bandleaders, compose at high levels, and have a dedication to sonic detail that makes their collaboration, and ‘Wonderment', a highlight in Jazz for 2019.
Slashing through contemporary musical genres to create a new breed of Jazz is treacherous work. Theo Croker makes it sound easy with 'Star People Nation,' his latest achievement blending neo-soul, R&B, and various forms of Jazz. Guests Chronixx, Rose Gold, Eric Harland and Kassa Overall help the album pulse, pop, and stay in the groove.
Historically Miguel Zenón's alchemy has been to mix important cultural elements into sophisticated modern Jazz. 'Sonero: The Music of Ismael Rivera' celebrates the Afro-Puerto Rican vocal pioneer Ismael 'Maelo' Rivera. Popular salsa tunes are reborn with a new found angularity as Zenón brilliantly arranges songs Rivera championed during his career.
Andrew Munsey's debut work 'High Tide' lands low on the periodic table of Jazz. Dense compositions outline a compelling album that often flirts with levity only to quickly bat it away. Even his softer songs like 'Driftwood' and 'Undertow' flow into the dark uncharted territory of challenging emotions. A fully satisfying work by a this promising young drummer.
'33' builds on bassist Or Bareket's reputation for making unique Jazz with musical elements he collects from around the world. Shachar Elnatan plays the foil to Bareket while guest vocalist Camila Meza shines on 'Tzafonah.' Chronicling the eternal cycle of life and death, ’33' weaves together music in an endearing reflection of all things bass and Bareket.