Friday, March 26, 2021

Brief Notes On New Jazz Releases

In these crazy times when we need to be coming together to heal the nation and put an end to racism and gun violence, the Republican Party continues to favor voter suppression and death. Are they criminally insane or what? While they continue to divide and infuriate us, musicians continue to inspire and unite us. Here are some notes on a few new jazz releases you might be interested in.

Eric Goletz: “Into The Night…”
– I love when an album pulls me in right from the beginning of its opening track, and this disc did just that. As the first track begins, there is some sexy, kind of moody work on trombone, leading me to think it’s going in a certain direction, and then the other musicians come in and things are suddenly funky and groovy and bright, a delightful surprise. There is a delicious, though brief, percussion section toward the end, but what really stands out is that excellent and energetic work from Eric Goletz on trombone. That tune, “Say What?,” is an original composition, as are most of the tracks on this album. It is followed by one of only three covers, John Coltrane’s “Mr. PC,” which begins with a cool bass line and just takes off from there, and features some really nice work on piano. “Into The Night,” the disc’s title track, is an exciting piece, commanding our attention with its intriguing opening, then developing a funky rhythm, feeling at times like the theme music to some cool crime film from decades past, and then going in some wild directions before surprising us with a mellower, more introspective section. As for the album’s other two covers, Eric Goletz delivers an exciting and unusual take on Cole Porter’s “What Is This Thing Called Love” (here titled “What Is This Thing…”) that swings and moves, featuring some great percussion, and a tender rendition of The Rippingtons’ “Lullaby,” which closes out the disc. The band on this album is made up of Eric Goletz on trombone and keyboards, Henry Heinitsh on guitar, Mitch Schechter on piano, Mark Hagan on bass, Steve Johns on drums, and Joe Mowatt on percussion, with a horn section joining them on certain tracks. This album is scheduled to be released on April 2, 2021.

Hennessy Six With The Colorado Springs Youth Symphony: “The Road Less Traveled”
– The new album from The Hennessy 6, this one with The Colorado Springs Youth Symphony, conducted by Gary Nicholson, features all original material composed by band members Sean Schafer Hennessy, Cully Joyce and Colin McAllister. The opening track, “Pneuma,” written by tenor sax and alto flute player Cully Joyce, begins with some beautiful, contemplative work by Brad Bietry on piano. After a couple of minutes, the other musicians come in, and the piece takes on a different flavor, becoming quite lively and exciting at moments. The liner notes contain some brief thoughts on each track, and regarding this piece, they tell us, “In ancient Greek medicine, pneuma is the form of circulating air necessary for the systemic functioning of vital organs,” which of course feels relevant these days. This track features the addition of vocals by Krista Joyce in certain sections, which feels pertinent and integral to the theme. Then “Haunted Eyes” commands our attention from its intriguing opening, and soon becomes a sexy, timeless, bluesy number, that basically oozes Cool. There is even an excellent bass solo by Jason Crowe in the second half. This one was composed by trumpet player Sean Schafer Hennessy, and is one of my personal favorites. Of course the bass also plays an important role in “Funky Winkerbean,” which, as its title promises, is a funky tune. That track also features some wonderful work by Colin McAlister on guitar. And hey, is that a little nod to the “Axel F” theme toward the end? And then the briefest of nods to theme of The Twilight Zone? That’s followed by a gorgeous love song, “O & D,” which features some wonderful work on both trumpet and alto flute. Then “Desert Fever” features some great work by Chris Gaona on drums. “Dos Mil Uno” is the only track on the album written by Colin McAllister, and it begins with some interesting work on guitar, and becomes a rather exciting number, one that feels alive and contains some surprising moments. I love that groove toward the end. The strings then open “Stacy’s Arabesque,” a rather sweet number, and play an important part in the overall vibe and style of the piece. The strings likewise begin the disc’s title track, which closes out the album. At its beginning, this one feels like standing on some high plateau, and seeing the whole world open before you, its beauty, its majesty. And then we start our journey, and the work begins, a groove is developed, and we are immersed in the process. This album was released on January 29, 2021.

Joseph Howell Quartet: “Live In Japan”
– The music on this album was recorded back in May of 2018, without the aim of an official release, but rather as a way for the musicians to remember and revisit their time together. But fortunately for us, drummer Kenichi Nishio decided to have friends professionally mix the recording, which led to this release. The group is made up of Joseph Howell on clarinet, Keigo Hirakawa on piano, Kenji Shimada on bass, and Kenichi Nishio on drums. They open the album with a delightful rendition of Joe Henderson’s “Serenity,” with Keigo Hirakawa shining right away on piano. His lead both flows and hops, over that great, loose groove, and it seems he could carry on like this forever. But eventually he gives way to a lead by Joseph Howell on clarinet, which has a wonderfully playful quality, like a sprite or some other fanciful creature dancing in bright sunlight. The track then mellows a bit as Kenji Shimada begins his lead on bass. But there is a great cheer to his playing, which keeps the energy moving. “Serenity” is the first of three Joe Henderson compositions on the album. The other two are “Jinrikisha” and “Mamacita,” both from fairly early in the saxophonist’s career. “Jinrikisha,” in fact, is from his debut LP, Page One. The version here features some excellent work on piano, which moves with a wonderful sense of freedom. And then Joseph Howell’s lead ends up soaring and flying. “Mamacita” is an inherently fun number, and these guys do a great job with it, Kenji Shimada getting it going on bass. They get into the spirit of the music, cutting loose, and I particularly like Kenichi Nishio’s work on drums. This track has something of a playful ending. This group also delivers a version of Tadd Dameron and Count Basie’s “Good Bait” that should have you smiling before too long. The joy these musicians take in their craft is obvious. They wrap up the album with a tender, gentle, beautiful rendition of “My Foolish Heart” and a cool version of “Take The A Train” on which each of the musicians really shines. This album was released on February 11, 2021.

Zoe Scott: “Shades Of Love”
– Vocalist Zoe Scott turns to bossa nova on her latest release, Shades Of Love. As you might expect, there is some Antonio Carlos Jobim material here. But there are also some surprising interpretations of pop songs. The album opens with Jobim’s “Quiet Nights,” this version featuring Daniel Jobim (Antonio Carlos Jobim’s grandson) on piano. Zoe Scott provides a wonderful vocal performance, somewhere between sweet and sultry, and is backed by strings. That’s followed by one of the album’s more surprising choices, a cover of The Pretenders’ “I’ll Stand By You,” a moving song from the band’s 1994 release Last Of The Independents, here delivered in a bossa nova style, which actually works quite well. And this is a song we need in these dark and depressing days. In the original, Chrissie Hynde sings, “I get angry too/Well, I’m a lot like you.” Here Zoe Scott changes the line to “I get angry too/‘Cause I’m alive like you,” which seems fitting these days. She also presents an easygoing, sweet version of “Baby It’s You,” which features some good work by Jesse Sadoc on flugelhorn, and a romantic, luscious rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour.” I also really like her take on The Beatles’ “In My Life,” which is one of my favorite Beatles songs. Of the Jobim material, Zoe Scott also delivers a really good rendition of “Wave” that features Daniel Jobim on vocals, as well as a gorgeous version of “Once I Loved.” And I love how she dips into her lower register when delivering the line “Because love is the saddest thing when it goes away.” The final Jobim song she presents here is “Triste,” and she does a wonderful job with it. The album then concludes with a totally cool rendition of Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good.” This album was released on January 15, 2021, though made available digitally on October 2, 2020.

Lauren White And The Quinn Johnson Trio: “Ever Since The World Ended”
– Yes, the title is part of what got me excited about this release. Because, honestly, doesn’t it feel like the world ended a while ago, and we’re just adrift on some of its broken pieces? I know a guy who believes the world ended at some point in the 1980s. Anyway, that wasn’t the only thing that got me interested in this album. I’ve been enjoying vocalist Lauren White’s output since I heard her 2015 release, Experiment. As with that album, here she performs with The Quinn Johnson Trio, which is made up of Quinn Johnson on piano, Trey Henry on bass, and Ray Brinker on drums. There are also some guests on certain tracks. The album opens with “If You Never Fall In Love With Me,” which she gets swinging and moving with her bright vocal performance. This track also features some really good work on bass, and an exciting lead on piano. “This little tragedy could turn into a rhapsody.” Ah yes, I think she can turn everything around with just the positive energy of her voice. That’s followed by an interesting rendition of “Just The Two Of Us” that features Kevin Winard joining the group on percussion. It seems to have hints of darkness at certain points, particularly in the verses, creating a greater contrast with the vibe of the chorus. And the title track is a total delight, a bluesy gem with a sense of humor, its first line being “Ever since the world ended, I don’t go out as much.” Understandable. This track is absolutely perfect for our time, and Lauren White is joined by Dolores Scozzesi on vocals, the two of them doing a fantastic job with it. It is my personal favorite of the album’s tracks. “It’s just as well the world ended/It wasn’t working anyway.” On “Remembering The Rain,” Lauren White is joined by Kevin Axt on bass, Alex Budman on flute, Grant Geissman on guitar, Chris Wabich on drums, and Kevin Winard on percussion. I particularly like Grant Geissman’s work on guitar on this track. Another of the disc’s highlights is “Take Love Easy,” in part because of Ray Brinker’s work on drums, but also because of Lauren White’s vocal approach. This album was released today, March 26, 2021.

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