You should think of "OTIS Pt 2" as the other albums that could have been in "Part 1" save for the space and attention span (mine). I love this music and the genuine creativity of the musicians makes me hope for a future that is bright and welcoming for our successors.
Fergus McCreadie – "Forest Floor" (Edition Records) – This is the third album from Scottish pianist McCreadie, the third to feature his trio of bassist David Bowden and drummer Stephen Henderson. All are busy on the growing Jazz scene in Scotland (and beyond) but when they come together to play McCreadie's music, magic happens! The pianist has become even more melodic in the past several years; though he can still play with exquisite technique, the pianist and the rhythm section are concentrating on telling stories and delivering messages in their music. One can still hear the influence of Highland reels, at times, and that is a welcome delight!
Listen to "The Unfurrowed Field":
Vadim Neselovskyi – "Odesa: a Musical Walk Through a Legendary City" – (Sunnyside Records) – Speaking of stories, four months after Russia invaded Ukraine (February 2022), pianist, composer, and educator Neselovskyi released this tribute to the city where he was born and raised (moving to Germany at the age of 17). One can not help but write that emotional pull of the terrible war (and the horrific stories we have heard and seen) gives this music heft––still, this is a tribute to the vibrant country where the pianist spent his formative years, to the family and friends he left behind, and to his desire that the country remain free. Since the album's release, Neselovskyi has toured extensively raising money to help refugees and the displaced within the country.
Walk down the "Potemkin Stairs":
Andrew Cyrille, William Parker, & Enrico Rava – "2 Blues for Cecil" (TUM Records) – This release was a delightful surprise when it was issued in late January. These three masters play tribute to pianist and composer Cecil Taylor, not be imitating him or covering his music but by demonstrating how the rhythmic innovations and startling melodic explorations can be interpreted so magically. Messrs. Cyrille and Rava (both born in 1939) sound great together and Mr. Parker (13 years their junior) keeps them on their musical toes. All three contribute compositions and there are four improvised plus a sweet version of "My Funny Valentine".
Clark Sommers Lens – "Intertwine" (Outside In Music) – Bassist Sommers is often the glue in the various sideman projects he takes part––on his own, he shows a fine ear for melody, for allowing his music to breathe, and for giving his bandmates the room to create. There is a lot of music on "Intertwine" so let it roll through your brain and soon it will find its way to your heart. While I find the ballads most rewarding, there are several hard-edged pieces that sound great turned up loud! Great playing from the leader and from Chris Madsen (tenor sax), Geof Bradfield (bass clarinet, soprano and tenor saxes), Matt Gold (guitar), and Dana Hall (drums).
Here's "Second Guess":
Ernesto Cervini – "Joy" (TPR) – Drummer, composer, arranger, and publicist Cervini is a fan of the mysteries of Canadian author Louise Penny. And, for good reason. She writes mysteries where the lead character, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, spend many days and nights in the fictional town of Three Pines, Quebec, solving complicated murders and discovering just how magical a place it can be. The drummer has created a fascinating suite of music featuring members of Turboprop, Tune Town, and Tetrahedron, groups that he leads or co-leads. Also, there are a number of guests, all who work to describe the characters who inhabit the town as well as the Chief Inspector and two of his closest associates. It's a smart idea that covers a lot of musical and literary territory!
Blues inspired by duck? Listen here to "Ruth's Rosa":
David Murray Brave New World Trio – "Seriana Promethia" (Intakt Records) – Murray, who excels on bass clarinet and tenor, remains vital well into his seventh decade. This "power trio" date on Intakt features bassist Brad Jones and drummer Hamid Drake playing music that swings, rock, whispers, squalls, and, at times, that you can dance to. The music on this album, all originals from Murray, is neither dated nor imitative but vital, exciting, and impressive. There's not a wasted note in this program only music that will challenge, soothe, and ultimately remind you of the power and grace of Black American Music.
Dance to the funky title track:
James Brandon Lewis Quartet – "Live: Molecular Systematic Music" (Intakt Records) – Bassist Jones (see directly above) is also a member of saxophonist and composer Lewis's "Molecular Music" Quartet. Along with Lewis and Jones are pianist Aruan Ortiz and drummer Chad Taylor. This double CD set was recorded on the opening night (May 15) of the ensemble's 2021 European tour, the first time the group had played together since they recorded the second album, "Codes of Being" (released in October of 2021). The excitement and enthusiasm of the musicians is palpable; the fiery playing may remind some of John Coltrane's classic Quartet but these songs display Lewis's growing maturity as a songwriter and a leader. He is quickly becoming a major voice as a musician, composer, and storyteller.
Hear "Of First Importance":
Art Hirahara – "Verdant Valley" (Posi-Tone Records) - Pianist and composer Hirahara is an impressive pianist (also plays organ on occasion) and has developed into a top-notch composer. His work for producer Marc Free and Posi-Tone Records (now eight albums as a leader and more as a sideman) sparkles with creativity and swings lustily with a softer side that is often lyrical and poetic. Joined here by bassist Boris Kozlov and drummer Rudy Royston with saxophonist/ flutist Donny McCaslin showing up on over half the tracks, the album jumps out of the speakers with a joy and intensity second to none. This is another recording that will make you glad to be alive in this day and age!
Hear "Zero Hour":
Dave Douglas Quintet – "Songs of Ascent: Book 1 – Degrees" (Greenleaf Music) – Mr. Douglas and his "Be Still" Quintet––Jon Irabagon (saxophones), Matt Mitchell (piano), Linda May Han Oh (bass), and Rudy Royston (drums)––created these musical interpretations of Old Testament Psalms in a unique. The leader played all his parts, sent those of to Mr. Irabagon who played his parts and passed them on to Mr. Mitchell and so on. To these ears, this music is alive, feeling like the Quintet is playing together in a studio. That's a tribute to the composer's vision and the great talents of the ensemble.
There's a "Book 2" that is only available to subscribers of Greenleaf Music. Believe me, it's worth the investment! Go to https://greenleafmusic.com/ and find out more.
Listen to "Lift Up My Eyes":
Pablo Ablanedo – "Chistreza" (Newvelle Records Digital) – The folks at Newvelle Records have begun this year to release digital versions of the high quality vinyl albums that have captured listeners attention over the past six years. "Chistreza" is a gem from pianist-composer Ablanedo featuring the band he recorded his debut album with over 20 years before. What a band––violinist Jenny Scheinman, saxophonists Chris Cheek, Jerome Sabbagh, and Anat Cohen (clarinet only), trumpeter Diego Urcola, guitarist Ben Monder, bassist Fernando Huergo, and drummer Franco Pinna (with saxophonist Daniel Ian Smith on two tracks. Best of all, the original compositions are well-drawn, the arrangements sharp, and the soloists impressive.
It's that time of year when critics and reviewers create their "Best-of" lists. I am no different but I look at this group of recordings as music that informs, changes, and enhances my life and teaching. Here is the group of albums from the past year that helped me through illnesses, sadness, joy, and much change.
Miguel Zenón - "Musica De las Américas" (Miel Music) – It's no secret how much I admire the music and work of Miguel Zenón. With his long-time ensemble, composed of Luis Perdomo (piano), drummer Henry Cole, and Hans Glawischnig (bass and truly the "glue" of the band). This new album celebrates the music of Central and South America as well as the Caribbean, showing how various elements have entered into the music of the United States (and beyond). Along with the latest album by rapper Bad Bunny ("Un Verano Sin Ti"), whose music celebrates the rhythms that inspire reggaeton, the album has deep grooves, evocative melodies, and the inventive musicianship one has come to expect from Señor Zenón and company. Percussionists Paoli Mejías, Victor Emmanueli, Daniel Díaz, and the five member Los Pleneros de La Cresta each appear on one track during the eight-song program.
Enjoy the fiery "Opresión y Revolución":
Wadada Leo Smith w/ Pheroan akLaff, Andrew Cyrille, Han Bennink, and Jack DeJohnette - "The Emerald Duets" (TUM Records) – Trumpeter, composer, conceptualist, historian, and philosopher Wadada Leo Smith celebrated his 80th birthday on December 18, 2021 (meaning he just turned 81 yesterday, as I write this). The Finnish-label TUM Records celebrated that momentous occasion by issuing two multi-disc box sets by Mr. Smith, the seven-CD "String Quartets: Nos. 1-12" and the five-CD "The Emerald Duets". Both are amazing but I expect it will take many more months to truly take in the scope of the string music. Whereas five albums with drummers captured me immediately. All the sessions stand out (this is the first time Mr. Smith played with Mr. Bennink) but the two CDs feature Mr. DeJohnette, a long-time musical compatriot. The drummer plays piano as well as percussion; it's not hard to fall under the spell of this music.
Marta Sanchez - "SAAM (Spanish American Art Museum") (Whirlwind Recordings) – Pianist and composer Sanchez had a tumultuous time during the Pandemic as her mother passed early on. She found time to write new music for her group – saxophonists Roman Filiu and Alex LoRe, bassist Rashaan Carter, and drummer Allen Mednard – and it's her most mature and realized program. The music sings throughout the album plus there are fine solos from all involved. Subtle, emotional, and intelligent, "SAAM" draws from myriad influences, is never imitative, and draws in the listener on the strength of the melodies. One track, "Marivi", features Ms Sanchez, Mr. Carter, and Mr. Mednard with Camilla Meza (vocal, guitar), Ambrose Akinmusire (trumpet), and Charlotte Greve (synths).
Listen to "Dear Worthiness":
Tyshawn Sorey Trio + 1 (with Greg Osby) - "The Off-Off Broadway Guide to Synergism" (Pi Recordings) - Another impressive year for drummer, composer, and educator Sorey, filled with debuts, impressive gigs, and two great albums. This live three-album set of standards, jazz classics, and more, is a splendid exploration of melody, improvisation, and interplay featuring Mr. Sorey with the impressive pianist Aaron Diehl, bassist Dana Hall, and the very welcome alto saxophonist Greg Osby. Three long sets (75 + minutes) yet the music never gets dull or stale because the musicians are free of any expectations other than play the melody, improvise, and follow your creative flow. The week before I wrote about the album, I listened to, at least, one set a day, especially on my daily walk. The addition of Mr. Osby, whose musicianship is impressive throughout, is such a delight!
Noam Lemish – "12" (TPR Records) – This album, from the pianist, composer, and educator Noam Lemish, was one of the more impressive releases of the last six weeks. The Israeli-born, American-educated, and Canadian resident, had recorded several albums with oudist Amos Hoffman, duets with percussionist (and one of his teachers) George Marsh, plus several solo piano explorations. Here, he leads a 12-piece ensemble comprised of many fine Canadian musicians, supplying them with fine, often episodic, pieces with impressive arrangements. There's humor, pathos, wit, and emotion throughout the album (one of the initial releases on Three Pines Records, a new Canadian label led by Amy and Ernesto Cervini). This album gets better each time I listen––give it a whirl!
Here's the delightful "Beethoven's 7th Visit to Romania":
PUBLIQuartet – "What Is American" (Bright Shiny Things) – I don't write about classical music very much but this album (plus the Johnny Gandelsman album in Part 2) truly caught my attention. The PUBLIQs––violinists Curtis Stewart and Janina Norpoth, violist Nick Revel, and cellist Hamilton Berry––often blend European and American classical music but also have a expressive modernist bent. One of the group's ongoing projects, dubbed "Mind| The| Gap|", features arrangements of music by Nina Simone, Ornette Coleman, Tina Turner, Ida Cox, Alice Coltrane, and others into stew that really alters the way you listen to a string quartet. This album features music by Antonin Dvorák, Vijay Iyer, Roscoe Mitchell, Rhiannon Giddens, and others––it certainly does make you think about "what is American"!
Give a listen to "Improvisations on "Law Years" and "Street Woman" (composed by Ornette Coleman):
Trish Clowes – "A View With a Room" (Greenleaf Music) – Composer and saxophonist (tenor and soprano) Trish Clowes signed with Dave Douglas's Greenleaf Music this year and gifted listeners with "A View With a Room". Featuring her long-time band My Iris––guitarist Chris Montague, pianist and organist Ross Stanley, and drummer James Maddren––the music may, at times, remind you a bit of the quieter music of Jimmy Guiffre but, to this listener, Ms. Clowes has really created her own sound. The band interaction is impressive and the music makes you want to return to the album often. They have not toured the US yet––if they do, I would recommend you spend a night in their company.
Here's the delightful "Amber":
Somi – Zenzile: The Reimagination of Miriam Makeba (Salon Africana) – The vocalist and composer Somi has truly blossomed into a world-class artist, celebrating the sound of the African continent even as she updates it. Here, she pays tribute to the great Miriam Makeba (1932-2008), creating one of the most uplifting programs you will ever hear. In fact, Somi also created a play, "Dreaming Zenzile", around Ms. Makeba that debuted off-Broadway earlier in 2022. The album sounds so good, with such delicious rhythms, attractive vocals, and an impressive guest list including Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Angelique Kidjo, amd Gregory Porter (listen below) plus others. World music at its best–give a listen.
Here's the sensuous "Strawberries" featuring Gregory Porter:
Kate Wyatt – "Artifact" (Self-released) – The Montreal, Canada-based pianist Kate Wyatt, a native of British Columbia, has been active on the creative music in her native country for over two decades. "Artifact" is her debut recording as a leader and well worth the wait. Featuring drummer Jim Doxas, bassist Adrian Vedady (her husband), and trumpeter Lex French (on the Music Faculty of McGill University) the quartet explores this music with vigor, sensitivity, and emotional depth. Ms. Wyatt is a fine player but always makes sure you hear the other members of the group. One can hear a nod in the direction of the Kenny Wheeler, as much in the "open" sound and wit in the composition as well as in Dr. French's trumpet work. Impressive debut and one hopes there's more coming soon.
Listen to the lovely "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing":
Sachal Vasandani with Romain Collin – "Still Life" (Edition Records) - This is the second collaboration for the vocalist with pianist Collin––like its 2021 predecessor "Midnight Shelter" (also on Edition Records), these performances are intimate, often spare, quiet, yet with an emotional intensity that draws in the listener from the beginning and does not let go until the last note fades. In fact, each time I listened, I played the album all the way through. When I spoke to the duo this past summer, they said that Mr. Vasandani stood right next to the piano during the recording session––the intimacy of the recording process translate to the music. Such a smart selection of tunes, from folk music to jazz standards to "pop" tunes to originals. Late night or early morning, this music is a comforting friend..
Listen to the emotional and heartbreaking "(I) Can't Make You Love Me":
Piano trios––piano, bass, and drums––have been a constant of American music since the 1940s, catching fire in the 1950s with the work of Ahmad Jamal (see below), Oscar Peterson, Hank Jones, Bud Powell, Bill Evans, and so on. They remain popular today thanks to the artistry of Jason Moran, Matthew Shipp, Brad Mehldau, Tord Gustavsen, Fergus McCreadie, and others including the gentleman below.
Pianist and composer Laszlo Gardony first recorded with bassist John Lockwood and drummer Yoron Israel in 2003 and five times since. Their sixth recording, the appropriately-titled "Close Connection" (Sunnyside Records), accentuates the musicians' relationship on and off the bandstand. The trio reconvened in early 2022 after nearly two years of inactivity due to the COVID pandemic. Professor Gardony (he's on the faculty of Berklee College of Music and Harvard University) brought in six original pieces and the Trio created another six collectively in the studio.
One of the most enjoyable facets of Gardony's music is how rhythmical many of his pieces are. The program opens with "Irrepressible", which roars out of the speakers with a melody inspired by Bela Bartok, Eastern European folk music, and the hard-edge funky swing of Chick Corea. The pianist grew up in Hungary listening to Progressive Rock (Emerson, Lake, & Palmer, Genesis, Can) which one can hear in "Strong Minds" but this listener hears a touch of Black Sabbath in the "heavier" sections. The New Orleans roll of "Cedar Tree Dance" displays the danceability of this music––influenced by Black music, the Trio never lose the infectious feeling (listen to the piano under the bass solo). "Times of Discord" builds off an eight-note descending piano rolling forward on Israel's powerful drumming and Lockwood's mighty bass lines. The drummer switches to the kalimba (African thumb piano) and hand percussion while Gardony picks up the melodica for the hypnotic "Savanna Sunrise", a gentle piece built upon simple phrases.
Photo: Chris Drukker
Six of the last eight tracks on the album are group improvisations. They are a varied and often fascinating collection of ideas, rhythms, and interactions. Ranging from the tender, Abdullah Ibrahim-like, "Everybody Needs a Home" (a nod to bassist Lockwood's native land of South Africa) to the lovely, meditative, "Hopeful Vision" to the quiet interactions of "All that Remains" to the fiery "Night Run" (check out the swinging rhythm section plus the nod to the opening melody of Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring") to the album closer "Cold Earth" (a rumination of the state of the world featuring splendid arco bass work), the music stands as a testament to the friendship of the Trio, to their fertile musical imaginations, and their intelligent interactions.
"Close Connection" will make you sit up and listen. Laszlo Gardony, along with Yoron Israel and John Lockwood, has created music that shines in the darkness that seems to envelop our world. Recorded as the pandemic still had its tight grip on this country and abroad, this music, even with several darker moments, brims with hope, joy, and fun!
For more information, go to www.lgjazz.com. To hear more and to purchase the album, go to
Looking for the perfect gift for the "jazzhead" on your Holiday shopping list, look no further "Emerald City Nights : Live at The Penthouse", two 2-CD sets from pianist Ahmad Jamal. The sets are the first releases on producer-historian Zev Feldman's new Jazz Detective label. Feldman has built quite a reputation for discovering never-before-released music from the 1950s and 60s and releasing intelligently package albums for Resonance Records (he's also worked on several archival releases for Blue Note). His work not only features music but also interviews with many of the musicians involved in each project as well as with writers, presenters, and others who give great insight on each project.
The first two CDs from the Seattle, Washington nightclub, are subtitled "1963-1964" and feature one session recorded in June of 1963 while the other has selections from March 28 and April 2 1964. The 1963 date features Mr. Jamal with bassist Richard Evans and drummer Chuck Lampkin; opening with the lively and truly swinging "Johnny One Note" from the 1937 Rodgers & Hart musical "Babe In Arms". One can help but notice the flexible yet solid rhythm section giving the pianist lots of space to dance. Because the bassist and drummer are not sideman but partners in the creative process. Yes, the pianist selects the material but the music is continually reshaped on the bandstand and in the studio by all three. Bassist Evans composed "Minor Adjustments", a classically-inspired work that shows how graceful both he and the pianist can play. The highlight of this first Trio set is the high-energy "Squatty Roo"––the blistering pace allows Mr. Jamal to play both minimalistic and also let loose. He throws quotes from several songs in his fiery solo.
Bassist Evans is gone by the two 1964 sessions of CD 2, replaced by the gracious sounds of Jamil Nasser. The set starts with "Bogota", a handsome piece by the departed bassist that, to these ears, builds on the mood of the pianist's biggest "hit" "Poinciana". Other highlights include the sweet unaccompanied piano opening to the 1960s "pop" tune "Lollipops & Roses" plus the gospel-infused "Keep On Keeping On" (also composed by Richard Evans). The latter tune, recorded a week later, breaks out into a lively jam with Mr. Jamal's displaying his blues chops. On the next cut, "Minor Moods", stays in the blues mood albeit in waltz tempo–this time, his two-handed solo pushes against the bass and drums until he dances away; when he adds in several long escapades up and down the keyboard, it's hard not to smile. Lampkin's brushes blend so well with the melodic moves of both Mr. Jamal and Nasser. The bassist and drummer both get to solo to appreciative responses by the leader.
The booklet that accompanies the package includes interviews with Mr. Jamal, with Marshall Chess (whose Argo label released a number of seminal Lps by the pianist), with Ramsey Lewis, Hiromi, and a long history of the pianist and review of the album's performances written by reviewer/critic Eugene Holley, Jr.
Here's "Tangerine" with the 1964 Trio of Mr. Jamal, bassist Jamil Nasser, and drummer Chuck Lampkin:
The second double-Lp and CD set begins in March 1965 with the same trio that appeared the previous year. Like the 1963 set, the album opens with a Rodgers & Hart song; this time, it's "I Didn't Know What Time It Was" from the 1939 musical "Too Many Girls". After a fairly formal-sounding opening, the rhythm section breaks into a brisk tempo and Mr. Jamal creates an incredible solo. Far and away, the longest track on either package (15:07), there are solos by Lampkin and Nasser and nary a dull moment. Just when you think the song is about to end, the Trio slows the tempo down and plays a sweet take on the melody before a short drum solo helps take the tune out. The other three songs on the first CD/Lp were composed by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse and all from their 1964 show "The Roar of the Greasepaint––the Smell of the Crowd". Mr. Jamal caresses the melody of "Who Can I Turn To" but the next track, recorded seven nights later, "My First Love Song", toggles between an medium-tempo ballad and a swing beat. The Trio's take on "Feeling Good" is a deep-blues with the hint of Middle Eastern tempos. There's a sly musical reference to the music of Herbie Hancock near the close of the piano.
CD/Lp 2 opens with two tracks from late October 1965. Drummer Vernal Fournier replaces Lampkin for these cuts including "Concern", a bluesy Jamal original that swings with a purpose. The playful solo features a slew of song "quotes", a quiet section then a bass solo, a drum solo, then back to Mr. Jamal for more "play". "Like Someone in Love" opens with an expansive unaccompanied piano solo that, when the rhythm section comes in, there's pedal point bass and quiet drums while the pianist quotes the opening melody from "The Sound of Music". When the Trio breaks into a swing mode, Mr. Jamal creates yet another playful solo.
The last three tracks come from September 1966; Frank Gant is now the drummer and the Trio hits the ground running with the Bronislaw Kaper classic "Invitation". The sound quality on these cuts is crisper, louder, yet the Trio still swing the pieces with abandon (Mr. Jamal even strums the piano strings!). Next up is the tune most people associate with Ahmad Jamal, "Poinciana". First recorded for his 1958 album "Live at The Pershing", the hypnotic rhythms and two-handed piano approach has mesmerized audience for over six decades. The version here does not stray much from the original save for the playful piano solo. The set closes with Benny Golson's "Whisper Not"––dig the Fats Waller-inspired solo piano opening before the Trio jumps into a high-powered romp featuring a jaunty piano excursion. The music fades out at around 2:40 just as the leader seems to heading into another solo.
The accompanying booklet features another fine essay by Eugene Holley, Jr, a repeat of the statements by Feldman, Mr. Jamal, and Marshall Chess plus essays from Kenny Barron, Jon Batiste, and Aaron Diehl. All told, "Emerald City Nights: Live at The Penthouse" is a gem that should not be missed. There is a promise of a third CD in 2023––what a treasure! If you have ever wondered why pianist Ahmad Jamal, now 92 and retired from performing, is held in such high regard, just listen to these two great recordings!