Monday, September 27, 2021

Brief Notes On New Jazz Releases

As more people get vaccinated and concert venues open their doors once again, some sort of normalcy seems within reach. Meanwhile, artists are continuing to release excellent music to help us through these strange times. Here are notes on a few new jazz releases you might want to check out.

David Finck: “BASSic Instinct” – Bassist David Finck gives us a playfully titled album, a sequel of sorts to his 2019 release, BASSically Jazz. Here he offers some standards and some original material. The album open with its title track, one of the original compositions by David Finck, and as you might imagine, it’s an enjoyable and light number. It features Ryan Quigley on trumpet, Andy Snitzer on tenor saxophone, Mike Davis on trombone, Quinn Johnson on keys, and Teo Lima on drums. It is approximately a minute before David Finck takes his lead on bass. With that title, I expected that would come even sooner. But this isn’t a showcase for the bass, but rather a pleasant ensemble piece. That’s followed by a wonderful rendition of Irving Berlin’s “The Best Thing For You (Would Be Me),” performed by the trio of David Finck on bass, Tedd Firth on piano and Eric Halvorson on drums. I love David’s lead on bass here, and the way Tedd Firth adds light touches on piano during it. And check out that playful touch David adds just before the end during the brief drum solo. One of the more surprising choices is “Theme From ‘Mannix,’” this cool version featuring Bob Mann on guitar, as well as some really nice work from Cliff Almond on drums. Another highlight is the beautiful “Seascape,” which David Finck performs as a duet with Meg Ruby on piano. Meg Ruby also shines on “Tico Tico No Fubá,” one of my personal favorites, in part because of the delightful way it moves. Three tracks on this album feature vocals. The first of these is “Bateu, Levou/Who’s Wrong Or Right?” with Téka Penteriche and Trist Curless. “You rant and rave and overanalyze/You want a war/Who needs those anymore?” And the presence of vocalists does not mean a lack of a good lead on bass, for in the second half of this track David Finck certainly delivers. Kelly Mittleman provides the vocal work on “So What,” a track that also features some nice work on saxophone. Then Melissa Errico sings on “I Remember,” which was written by David Finck and Jack Murphy, a gorgeous track to conclude the album. This album is scheduled to be released on October 1, 2021.

Alexis Parsons: “Alexis” – Vocalist Alexis Parsons works with two trios on her new album, Alexis, delivering warm and personal renditions of some beloved standards. She opens the album with Cole Porter’s “Easy To Love,” backed by David Berkman on piano, Drew Gress on bass, and Matt Wilson on drums. She eases into the song, this rendition having a wonderfully intimate late-night vibe, and she completely sells us on this love that should be. With that same trio, she then gives us “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was,” written by Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers. I love how she is totally in the moment, seeming to live the song. This track also features a good bass solo.  Because she fully inhabits each song, it means a different vocal approach depending on the track’s mood, so in “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most” we hear a different sound from her. That one also features a rather unusual, gentle drum solo. Then with the trio of Arturo O’Farrill on piano, Jonathan Gilley on bass, and Willard Dyson on drums, she tackles Franz Schubert’s “Organ Grinder.” This track features some moving work on bass, and then there is a surprising section in the second half with some of the lines delivered almost as spoken word, with an improvised feel. With that same trio, she sings “Summertime.” I’ve said it often, but you can never go wrong with Gershwin. And this trio delivers a version that is unusual right from its opening, creating a strange atmosphere from which Alexis Parsons’ voice emerges. It is a different sort of summer in these musicians’ hands. This is a fresh approach that is captivating. The album opened with a Cole Porter song, and it likewise closes with one, “In The Still Of The Night,” featuring the trio of David Berkman, Drew Gress and Matt Wilson. This one also has a gorgeous and intimate sound, coming from those hours so late that time seems to have stopped entirely. This album is scheduled to be released on October 1, 2021.

Jackson Potter: “Restless”
– Guitarist Jackson Potter’s debut album features mostly original compositions, beginning with “Bird Flu,” an energetic piece that contains some delicious leads on piano and guitar and saxophone, and seems to be in constant motion. What is exciting about this piece is that during a lead the other musicians do not settle into the background waiting their turns, but keep up their own energy and fantastic work. The band is made up of Patrick Leavy on bass, Gibb Mandish on drums, and Leo Folsom on piano, with David Mason on alto saxophone, Joey Curreri on trumpet, and Carter Key on tenor trombone. “Bird Flu” is followed by “Falling Grace,” one of only two covers, this one written by Steve Swallow. As with the opening track, there is a strong sense of movement here, particularly in Jackson Potter’s guitar work, which seems to flow and dance. Then “Mulberry Tree” has a pleasant and warm, nostalgic vibe. “Sophia’s Waltz” has a sweet, gentle sound, a love song that will bring to mind that special person in your life. Then “Amalfi” features some really good work on drums, particularly toward the end. The album’s second cover is Horace Silver’s “Peace,” which begins with a pretty guitar solo, and features a wonderful lead on bass. That’s followed by “Hindsight Is 2020,” which was written during the pandemic. And though 2020 is technically in the past, the pandemic certainly isn’t, and most of the events and effects of last year are still with us, and so this track doesn’t really look back, but captures the current mood. It features some great work on drums, as well as from the horn section. The album concludes with “Restless,” which comes as a surprise, Jackson Potter turning to more of a rock guitar sound at the beginning. Before long, this track commands your attention. This album is scheduled to be released on October 8, 2021.

The Scenic Route Trio: “Flight Of Life” – With a name like Scenic Route Trio, you can expect this group of musicians to play music that will lift your spirits. And indeed, with the album’s very first track, “The Optimist,” they do so. That opening track has a wonderfully cheerful vibe. It might be enough to make an optimist of the most cynical among us. And certainly the world is in need of some optimism, some spirit. The trio is made up of Javier Santiago on piano, Ollie Dudek on bass, and Genius Wesley on drums, and all three deliver some delicious and delightful work here. This is the kind of track you just want to go on and on, so that you can remain in a good mood. It, like all the tracks on this album, was written by Ollie Dudek. Then “Flight Of Kawan” has a somewhat more relaxed, pleasant vibe at first, and still carries a great amount of joy to the listener. Soon it feels like each musician is dancing with his instrument, just the sort of thing to get us through the bad days. Things then get mellower with “Children Of The Sun,” which features some beautiful work on piano. I wasn’t sure what to expect from “Pandemia,” a tune which is obviously inspired by, and reflects, these crazy times, and indeed it goes through different sections, much as we’ve run through a wide array of emotions the last couple of years. I especially like the livelier sections of this track, the more joyous moments, and of course the drum solo. “Dreamscape” begins in a pleasant, welcoming place, and feels partially like memory, partially like desire. And soon it feels that are much more active within this place. “Lover’s Quarrel” is a fun track, much more enjoyable than any lover’s quarrel I’ve ever had, and it features a great drum solo. The album concludes with an alternative take of “Children Of The Sun.” This album was released on September 18, 2021.

Cathy Segal-Garcia: “Social Anthems Volume 1” – Certain songs from the past seem to address present troubles. Or perhaps those troubles never went away. Jazz vocalist Cathy Segal-Garcia presents her own renditions of a few of these songs on her new album, beginning with Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth,” a song that has popped up a lot lately, especially after the police’s response to Black Lives Matter protests, and after authorities attacked peaceful protesters in D.C. so that the orange conman could pose with a bible. Cathy Segal-Garcia’s rendition is thoughtful and soulful, and features some nice percussion by Lorca Hart. Listen to the powerful and pointed way she delivers the lines “What a field day for the heat/A thousand people in the street/Singing songs and carrying signs.” There is also an excellent instrumental section. That’s followed by “What Are We Gonna Do,” the album’s original composition by Cathy Segal-Garcia. The song has a gentle feel, but in it she asks some big questions, including how we are going to justify the human race. “How do we recognize what’s wrong and make it go right?” I think we’ve got a handle on the first part of that question, but not the second. This song features some wonderful work on guitar. When I think of artists who have written social anthems, I don’t usually think of Billy Joel, though his “Goodnight Saigon” and “Allentown” address important topics and are seriously good songs (it is best to forget the awful “We Didn’t Start The Fire”). The song of his that Cathy Segal-Garcia covers here is “And So It Goes,” from Storm Front, and she delivers a touching rendition, joined on vocals by Paul Jost. She also delivers a cover of Peter Gabriel’s “Down To Earth” that features a fantastic instrumental section. One of my favorites is her take on “Get Together,” which she combines with “Can’t Find My Way Home,” an interesting choice. Her vocal work grabs us right from the introduction, and is at times haunting, as on the lines “We shall surely pass” and “We are but a moment’s sunlight/Fading in the grass.” And all the musicians really shine on this track. The album concludes with Marvin Gaye’s “Save The Children,” with Mon David joining her on vocals. This album was released on September 17, 2021.

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