Saturday, May 15, 2021

Brief Notes On New Jazz Releases

As more people become vaccinated and we continue our journey back to normalcy (whatever that might mean), there is a renewed optimism. Bands and artists are beginning to book tours for the late summer and autumn. Yes, live music is right around the corner. In the meantime, artists continue to release albums to help us get there. Here are some brief notes on a few new jazz releases you might be interested in checking out.

David Larsen: “The Mulligan Chronicles”
– On The Mulligan Chronicles, David Larsen explores the compositions of fellow saxophonist Gerry Mulligan. Larsen is joined by Dave Glenn on trombone, Bill Mays on piano, Dean Johnson on bass, and Ron Vincent on drums. The album opens with a totally enjoyable rendition of “Walkin’ Shoes,” a tune from early in Mulligan’s career, appearing on a 1952 LP. There is something uplifting and joyful about this track, in the way it moves, in that delightfully light quality that each of the musicians is able to bring to it. Even the lead on bass seems to dance several feet above the ground. That’s followed by “Curtains,” which was included on an album from close to the end of Mulligan’s career, 1989’s Lonesome Boulevard. There is a different tone to this track, a more introspective sound at times, but there is still a light vibe at its heart. David Larsen pulls a lot from Lonesome Boulevard, covering a total of six tracks from that album here. In addition to “Curtains,” he tackles “Good Neighbor Thelonius,” “Rico Apollo,” “The Flying Scotsman,” “Ring Around A Bright Star” and its title track. “Good Neighbor Thelonius” is particularly cool, the way it kind of struts. I love that lead on piano. “Rico Apollo” is a delight. And check out that great bass lead on “The Flying Scotsman.” By the way, Dean Johnson, the bass player on this album, plays bass on Lonesome Boulevard. And actually all the musicians David Larsen gathered for this release played with Gerry Mulligan at one point or another. Another highlight of this disc is “Festive Minor,” a song that was included on the 1959 LP What Is There To Say? and the 1963 LP Night Lights. This version seems more inspired by the former. “Open Country” features an excellent lead on saxophone, and “Etude For Franca” features some beautiful work. This album was released on March 1, 2021.

Dan Moretti: “Tres Libre”
– From the moment the opening track, “Jim Brown’s Cousin,” kicks off with that delicious groove, I am into Tres Libre, the new album from saxophonist Dan Moretti. This track is funky, and it soon flows so well into a more free jazz realm. This track is performed by the trio of Dan Moretti on alto saxophone, Marty Ballou on electric bass, and Marty Richards on drums. Each of these tracks is performed by a different trio configuration, sometimes Dan Moretti taking two of the three places, and in one case all three. “Mumbo Jumbo” also very quickly establishes a good groove, with Dan Moretti’s tenor saxophone sounding so cool and sly over it, strutting about, knowing it owns the place. “The Inner Side” develops a strange mood with a repeated part on keys that is also played by Dan Moretti. Over that part, Dan’s tenor saxophone and Michael Farquharson’s electric bass at first work in conjunction. This track has a somewhat haunting vibe, yet the work on saxophone is also rather pretty at moments. Also featuring Dan Moretti on both tenor sax and keys is “When You Leave This World,” the only track on the album not composed by Dan Moretti. It is his jazz arrangement of a traditional Indian bhajan. On this one, it is the bass line he plays on keys. It is a rather beautiful piece, played with a somber tone, and features some great work by Marty Richards on drums. The album then concludes with “The Missing Breath,” with Dan Moretti playing three sax parts. It has a timeless, spiritual vibe. This album was released on April 30, 2021.

Arturo O’Farrill and The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra: “Virtual Birdland”
– Last year was a disaster, the pandemic made much worse by an incompetent and soulless administration, and most of the joys we did have were “virtual” ones, a lot of our lives lived out over the internet. And that’s where a lot of great music took place. Arturo O’Farrill and The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra’s new album, Virtual Birdland, was recorded in the homes of the various musicians who took part, and yet in our ears it all comes together beautifully as if we are all in the same place. It opens with “Gulab Jamon,” a lively and joyous piece written by Arturo O’Farrill. It is that great rhythm that really grabs me, but there are fantastic moments when the horns are dancing and singing without the help of any rhythm section. It is like everyone has something to say, some bit of joy to add to the conversation. Then a couple of minutes in, we are treated to a cool and unexpected section led by Arturo O’Farrill on piano. And that’s another thing about this recording, the way it can surprise us with the directions it takes, which adds to the excitement of the music. Yet nothing seems out of place or jarring. The rhythm is also at the heart of “Pouvoir,” an uplifting track that features some wonderful vocal work by Malika Zarra. “Desert” takes us right into the middle of a strange, busy and fascinating place. It was composed by Rafi Malkiel, who delivers some excellent work on trombone. Another of my personal favorites is “Alafia,” a vibrant piece that has a cool introduction before the percussion suddenly bursts in and takes over. This one will have you moving, no doubt about it. Then “En La Oscuridad” is a beautiful, soulful number featuring some impassioned work by Ivan Renta on saxophone. The album concludes with another of its highlights, an excellent, fun rendition of Tito Puente’s “Para Los Rumberos.” Is there more great percussion here? You bet there is! This album was released on April 9, 2021.

Troy Roberts & Tim Jago: “Best Buddies”
– The pandemic and these crazy times have helped us appreciate certain things all the more, one of those things being friendship, which is precisely what Best Buddies, the new album from Troy Roberts and Tim Jago, celebrates. It features all original music written by saxophonist Troy Roberts and guitarist Tim Jago. Both are from Australia, both moved to the United States, and both happened to be back in Australia when the lockdown went into effect. And so this excellent album came about. Joining them are Karl Florisson on acoustic bass, and Ben Vanderwal on drums. The album kicks off with “Chythm Ranges,” a fast-paced, energetic number written by Tim Jago, based loosely on “I Got Rhythm.” And they’ve certainly got rhythm here. Ben Vanderwal’s work on drums is a delightful and wild pulse through the piece, while Troy and Tim trade leads, and at the end he delivers a cool drum solo. Then “Best Buddies,” the title track, begins in a mellower place, gently swinging, and you might very well find yourself adding finger snaps as you enjoy it. This one was written by Troy Roberts, and it features some really nice work by Karl Florisson on bass, including a great lead in the first half. “Zeena” is a short, soulful and interesting piece, the only track on this album composed by all four musicians. One of my favorite tracks is “A New Porpoise,” written by Tim Jago, which features a catchy groove and a wonderful guitar lead that is somehow simultaneously easygoing and hopping. And Troy keeps that vibe going on saxophone. Another of my favorites is “King Of Hearts,” which has a delicious vibe right from the moment Karl Florisson gets it started on bass. This one was written by Troy Roberts, who really lets loose on sax at moments, while Ben keeps things moving and bopping on drums. And the final track, “Overlook,” begins with these two best buddies in total sync, flying along for fifteen seconds or so before the bass and drums come in. It’s all about friendship, and this friendship sounds fantastic. This track really moves. This album is scheduled to be released on June 18, 2021.

Judy Wexler: “Back To The Garden”
– On her new album, vocalist Judy Wexler delivers jazz renditions of some classic 1960s and early 1970s material, choosing songs that are relevant in today’s strange climate. She opens the album with an interesting and hopeful rendition of The Youngbloods’ “Get Together.” I like the heartfelt way she delivers the lines “You can make the mountains ring/Or make the angels cry.” It feels these days we are more often making the angels cry. This track features some excellent work on guitar, as well as some unusual and appealing backing vocal work. That’s followed by “Up On The Roof,” which might seem an odd choice for this album until you hear the opening lines: “When this old world starts getting me down/And people are just too much for me to face.” Those lines describe how many of us have felt for like five years. And in these harsh times, Paul Simon’s lyrics from “American Tune” speak to us: “Still, when I think of the road we’re traveling on/I wonder what went wrong/I can’t help it, I wonder what went wrong.” Judy Wexler’s voice in this rendition feels like a friend on that road with us. She delivers a thoughtful, contemplative rendition. She also gives us a cool take on Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi,” featuring some nice work on sax. Interestingly, given the album’s title, Judy Wexler does not cover Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock.” She does give us a compelling rendition of Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth,” a song that has certainly been in the air lately. Given the album’s theme, it is no surprise that she turns to Bob Dylan for material. She covers two Bob Dylan songs, “The Times They Are A-Changin’” and “Forever Young.” Sara Caswell plays violin on this pretty rendition of “Forever Young.” The album concludes with a really good rendition of Sandy Denny’s “Who Knows Where The Time Goes.” This album is scheduled to be released on June 4, 2021.

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