As a musician, Marcus has worked with Baltimore native Gary Bartz, pianist Orrin Evans, Bennie Maupin, and many others. As a leader, he has issued three albums, one with a nonet, another with two quartets, and the very impressive 2015's "Blues for Tahrir" with his Jazz Orchestra. His latest disk, "On These Streets" (Stricker Street Records), is an expansive program (inspired by the progress that's been made in the communities after the shooting of Freddie Gray) that features interviews and commentary from the neighborhood where he works plus music played by a core group of George Colligan (piano), Kris Funn (bass), and Eric Kennedy (drums, vocal) plus guests Warren Wolf (vibraphone on 5 tracks, drums on one) and Paul Bollenbeck (electric guitar on four tracks). The program is composed of all Marcus originals save for the gospel song "I Surrender All" (a late 19th Century hymn composed by Judson W. Van DeVenter with music by Winfield S. Weeden). That last track spotlights the soulful vocal of drummer Kennedy while Wolf moves to drums.
The majority of the music is up-tempo, celebrating the energy, the creativity, and the tension that infuses the streets where Marcus and his rhythm section live (Colligan was born in New Jersey but raised in Columbia, MD, while Bollenbeck's professional career received as boost when he moved to Washington, D.C.) The title track opens the album in a funky, mid-60s Herbie Hancock style - the leader, who plays bass clarinet throughout the album, takes the first solo ad the rhythm section takes its cue from him, pushing forward intently. Collegian is the perfect partner on this project as he can add such powerful chords as well as create hard-edged solos. Wolf joins on "An Intersection of Change" and his voice blends nicely with the clarinet and piano. He's also can be heard on the lovely ballad "It Still Gets Still" where he supports the piano and adds meditative colors to the background plus takes a very melodic solo. Bollenbeck shines on "PTSD In The Hood", his soaring solo rising over the power supplied by the rhythm section (Kennedy's drums really spur the guitarist dig in). Marcus's fiery solo over the rollicking drums and chords from the vibes, piano, and "wah-wah" guitar.
Perhaps the joy one hears throughout this album tells the listener that there is progress "On These Streets" of Baltimore. Though there is much work to do, Todd Marcus must have faith that what he and many other dedicated residents have contributed to bring a sense of security and renewed possibility to the hard-hit neighborhoods. Listen to the voices, listen to the music, and look for hope and possibility.
For more information, go to toddmarcusjazz.com.
Here's a track to whet your appetite:
"zer0" is one more step forward for pianist Matthew Shipp. Yes, you can hear concepts that he has used throughout his career. His music does "speak truth to power" with the same urgency of fellow pianists Jason Moran and Vijay Iyer, not to afraid to "look back" constantly and infuse his music with the abundance of "voices" that preceded him: it's how he created his own "voice' and how he continues to grow as an artist and person.
For more inferno, go to www.matthewshipp.com.
Here's the opening track:
"Ninety-Nine Years" is striking (no pun intended) music, surprising at times but never dull or filled with cliches. Satoko Fujii continues to create fascinating music, music that asks much of the musicians, challenges audiences, and is highly rewarding.
For more information, go to www.satokofujii.com.