Saturday, December 23, 2017

2017, What A Year (Pt 4 - Unique Voices)

This "Best of" list is in no order other than coming from the pile of CDs on the desk. Each album holds the power to capture the mind, to ask questions, to illustrate technical prowess but not for the sake of the narrative. I discovered that my original list of 36 did not include reissues or "albums of historical note" plus a pair of delightful solo piano disks so, "Yes Virginia, there will be a Part 5."

Saxophonist and composer Noah Preminger made this album in the heat he felt following the 2016 US Election (as did Ryan Keberle - see "2017..Pt 1"). The songs, originals and selected "covers", speak to the dysfunctional nature of politics and government to be able to see its inherent problems (and its strengths) and do something - anything - that benefits the people.  It's no surprise that the album cover is in black & white because there are days when it seems that there are no shades in between.  Yet, this music is not all "doom and gloom"; feelings of hope enter into pieces such as "Give Me Love", "A Change is Gonna Come", and "We Have A Dream."  Kudos to Preminger, trumpeter Jason Palmer, bassist Kim Cass, and drummer Ian Froman for lighting up the dark nights.

It's been over 10 years since saxophonist and composer Miguel Zenón made an album that just featured him with his oft-dazzling quartet of pianist Luis Perdomo, bassist Hans Glawischnig, and drummer Henry Cole.  "Típico" (Miel Music) arrived in February of 2017 and shows just how delightful this "working" band can be.  Friends who attended "live" shows have told me that the ensemble often breathes as one.  In many ways, this quartet reminds me of the  "classic" John Coltrane quartet in that no one voice is more important than any one else, that they share the same goals, that they listen, respond, and are sympathetic. In its finest moments, one can hear how these musicians are in the midst of a most delightful dance, one in which they may go in separate directions but come back together with such delight, spirit, and gentleness.

I did not review or write about "Song of Silver Geese", the splendid new recording by multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Jen Shyu. Honestly, I am not sure what to tell you other than the album is a culmination of Ms. Shyu's years of studying the music and stories of East and West Timor, Taiwan, Indonesia, Korea, and elsewhere in Asia.  Using Eastern and Western instruments (vibraphone, string bass, piano, Taiwanese moon lute, zither, plus a string quartet), this music is truly like nothing you have heard.  To this observer, the main point is human beings around the world share stories, think about our existence in a fragile world, dream of the supernatural yet are aligned with the sun, planets, and stars.  We may not understand the lyrics - read the translations - but the underlying emotions are universal.  Powerful music that deserves not only to be heard but certainly to be seen.

In the space of a week, three separate albums featuring pianist Tal Cohen arrived on my doorstops (physical and digital).  "Gentle Giants" (self-released) emerge quickly as my favorite, the powerful melodies and emotional ballads sparking to a musician who has absorbed his influences and is not afraid to take chances. Add saxophonists Greg Osby (alto) or Jamie Oehlers (tenor) to the rhythm section of Cohen, bassist Robert Hurst, and drummer Nate Winn and the music soars with inventiveness, exhibiting the joy that musicians have when they are playing well together.  Cohen digs into every solo as if it was his last, mining the melodies and harmonies to create cogent statements as well as exciting flights of fancy.

For those of following the career of bassist Linda May Han Oh, her fourth album as as leader "Walk Against Wind" (Biophilia Records) continues to show her development as a composer and soloist.  Written for her "regular" band -  Ben Wendel (tenor saxophone), Matthew Stevens (guitar), and Justin Brown (drums) - and featuring pianist Fabian Almazan (on three tracks) plus percussionist Minji Park (on one track), this music is ever-so-melodic with unexpected turns, fine solos, and Ms. Oh's expressive bass work.  And the more you return, the more you hear.  This artist can certainly hold her own in any rhythm section but you can't help but marvel at how her instrument can help create the sound of a band - that writ, her interactions with Brown really stand out.

Saxophonist Ralph Bowen's self-title Posi-Tone release is, arguably, the most impressive release of his long and varied career.  Recorded with Jim Ridl (piano, Fender Rhodes), Kenny Davis (bass), and Cliff Almond (drums), the bulk of the album's time is dedicated to the saxophonist's (mostly tenor) original work "The Phylogeny Suite" - the 42-minute, six-part, work covers a large amount of musical territory and neither flags or loses its direction. Playful, honest, at times soaked in blues, the program shows a musician at the top of his game and a band that pushes, prods, and fiercely supports his every move.  Kudos as well to Nick O'Toole for a splendid recording and his usual excellent mastering.

Tenor saxophonist, composer, and arranger Paul Jones used several different ensembles in the recording of "Clean" (Inside Out Music) including a sextet with two saxes, guitar, piano, bass, and drums plus a wind trio with cello, a saxophone quartet, and a flute-piano duo.  The sextet appears on the majority of the longer tracks bur the guests rarely intrude and the music really flows.  Soaked in melody, the music goes in many directions without getting lost. The stories Jones is telling deal with creativity, with the musician's search for growth, and wanting to connect with as many people as possible. Is it possible to be true to your "muse", to want to continue to grow each and every day, and to want people to join you on your journey?  We say yes! We say that "Clean" is a delight from start to finish!

I did not review "The Sky Remains" (Steel Bird), the latest album for pianist and composer Josh Nelson, but I did listen to the delightful album many times. The music is a love-letter to and appreciation for his hometown, the city of Los Angeles, CA.  Many of us think of LA as one giant freeway but the area was first settled in the late 1780s, incorporated as a city in 1850 and is currently the second most populous city in the U.S. There is so much to learn reading to liner notes and much to enjoy listening to how Nelson's music gives an emotional heart to his urban area.  Kathleen Grace adds her luminous voice to four of the tracks. Also pay attention to Nelson's classy arrangements especially how he utilizes Chris Lawrence (trumpet, flugelhorn), Josh Johnson (alto sax, flute), and the expressive clarinets of Brian Walsh.  Take this journey and you will be so pleased!

Violinist Sam Bardfeld, who has worked with Bruce Springsteen, Anthony Braxton, and the Jazz Passengers, came back as a leader this year with "The Great Enthusiasms" (BJU Records). Joining him on this aural journey was pianist Kris Davis and drummer Michael Sarin - the stores they tell are inspired by the likes of Richard Nixon and the music of the 1970s (the trio covers Bruce Springstreen's "Because The Night" plus do a knock-out version of The Band's "King Harvest (Has Surely Come)"). The trio does not play it safe, meaning the music goes in many and varied directions. With influences ranging from bluegrass, rock, the explorations of Leroy Jenkins and Billy Bang, and more, Sam Bardfeld and company create a program that is challenging, exciting, rich with ideas and interactions, and well worth exploring.

No comments:

Post a Comment