Thursday, January 13, 2022

Brief Notes On New Jazz Releases

We are done with the awful year of 2021, which had followed the even worse 2020. So that means things are improving, right? Let’s hope so. As we begin 2022, we may not be filled with as much hope as we were at the beginning of 2021 (that hope and optimism were dashed by the sixth day of that year), but there is still the sense that things could turn around. They certainly should! And we have plenty of good music to help us in that direction. Here are some brief notes on a few new jazz releases you might want to check out.

Kristen R. Bromley Quintet: “Bluish Tide” – Guitarist and composer Kristen R. Bromley presents mostly original material on her new album, which opens with “Pillar Of Fire,” the guitar work here having a wonderfully cheerful sound, that lead flying along as if without a worry, and we who are listening want to jump aboard. Joining her on this release are Ray Smith on tenor saxophone and alto flute, Steve Erickson on piano, Matt Larson on bass, and Jay Lawrence on drums, each of them getting moments to shine on this opening track. That’s followed by “Groove O’clock Time,” its title giving a pretty good idea what it’s all about. And check out Ray Smith’s lead on saxophone over that delicious groove. Then Kristen R. Bromley’s lead on guitar rocks. This is a lively and fun track. The only cover on this disc is “O Great God – How Great Thou Art!” This is a pleasant piece that features nice leads on piano and guitar. “Between Canyon Walls” also features a good groove and some excellent work on guitar. But perhaps the most fun number is the album’s title track, “Bluish Tide,” which is a delight from its opening moments, its main theme being rather catchy. It is her lead on guitar that is at the center of this one and makes this track stand out, her guitar dancing and popping and grooving. Plus, this track features a cool section featuring bass and drums. Then “Paint Me A Picture My Love” begins with a sweet guitar solo, and later features Ray Smith on alto flute (the only track on which he plays flute). “Just Walkin’” is another fun, enjoyable track with a groove that will bring a smile to your face. And check out that lively, hopping conclusion to “Junkyard Dawg.” This album was released on November 5, 2021.

Amos Gillespie: “Unstructured Time” – As alto saxophonist Amos Gillespie says in the liner notes, this new album is “about finding introspective peace in a loud world.” That is a theme and a goal I bet most people can appreciate in these crazy days of misinformation and loony conspiracy theories. The album opens with “Shades Of Red,” a seriously cool track that right away features some delicious and catchy bass work. It sets up the busy atmosphere the work is addressing, each instrument at times acting like a different voice, simultaneously adding to and reacting to sounds of a busy world. There is a good drum solo toward the end. The group is made up of Amos Gillespie on alto saxophone, Andy Schlinder on tenor saxophone, Gustavo Cortinas on drums, Paul Bedal on piano, Casey Nielsen on guitar, and Dan Thatcher on bass, with Alexandra Olsavsky providing vocals on many of the tracks. The second track, “Deconstructed,” is the first to feature Alexandra Olsavsky, and is song about breaking habits. “Take a look at your routine/Make it much less routine/Freeing up your thoughts.” Then “Like A Blossom” addresses how fleeting this all is, and also features the vocal work of Alexandra Olsavsky. “Finding peace and quiet in a storm/Listening to a little light from within.” It also features a beautiful lead on piano. “Sleepless” is about the anxiety that much of the country feels in this time of pandemic and the rise of fascism, with Alexandra Olsavsky singing, “Why is this happening, it makes no sense/I can feel the hopelessness on the rise.” The music itself takes on a sense of urgency and anxiety, and there is some excellent, powerful work on saxophone. That is followed by “Fewer Words,” which feels like it should be a key song in a musical about these strange times we find ourselves immersed in. It’s about how certain so-called news programs are deliberately leading people astray. The music itself feels like busy machinery, people in motion not stopping to think what it is they are doing. “What does it mean, nothing at all/I’m so annoyed, I’m ready to brawl/Disinformation, not okay.” I really like that lead on piano in the second half. The disc concludes with an instrumental number titled “Juiced,” with a vibe of excitement and joy, of life. This album is scheduled to be released on February 4, 2022.

Jeremy Monteiro & Alberto Marsico: “Jazz-Blues Brothers” – This album, in a somewhat different configuration, was originally released in 2014, except in North America. The new North American release contains some different tracks, and in a different order than the original disc. Joining pianist Jeremy Monteiro and organist Alberto Marsico are Shawn Letts on tenor saxophone, Eugene Pao on guitar, and Shawn Kelley on drums, with Miz Dee Logwood on vocals for two tracks (those being two of the tracks that were not on the original release). The album features mostly original material, beginning with “Opening Act,” which was composed by Alberto Marsico, and has a delightful energy, a tune to get you snapping your fingers and feeling good. I particularly enjoy that cool lead on saxophone, which kind of slides in to brighten our day. But really, everything about this track seems to encourage us to smile. What a perfect start to the album. Interestingly, it had a different placement on the original issue. That’s followed by the funky “Olympia,” written by Jeremy Monteiro and featuring a fantastic lead by him on piano. Everybody is grooving and having a good time. Then we get the first of the album’s two covers, “I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water,” which was recorded live in London and features Miz Dee Logwood on vocals. This song was included on Lou Rawls’ 1962 album Stormy Monday, and Miz Dee Logwood delivers a great performance of it here. The other cover, also a live recording featuring Mis Dee Logwood on vocals, is “I’d Rather Go Blind,” which was originally recorded by Etta James, and here features an excellent lead on guitar. “Mount Olive,” written by Jeremy Monteiro, builds wonderfully and by the end totally rocks, especially his work on piano. That’s followed by a delicious and beautiful blues number, “Lou,” a tribute to Lou Rawls that features some absolutely wonderful work on saxophone. Then check out that guitar on “Jack-Pot.” So good! Alberto Marsico also really delivers on this one. “Catastrophy” moves a great clip, featuring a great bass line and some wild work on piano, as well a fun drum solo toward the end. The album concludes with “Wishy Washy,” another song that was not included on the original issue. This is a fun and lively song that was recorded remotely during the pandemic. This album was released on October 15, 2021.

Benjamin Schnake Ensemble: “The Joy Of Playing” – Guitarist Benjamin Schnake presents mostly original compositions on his new album, and we can hear the joy in his playing from the disc’s opening moments. That first track, “Marisol,” named after a woman he was seeing, features not only some excellent work on guitar, but some bright work from the horn section, made up of Dave Pietro on alto saxophone, Tim Struven on tenor saxophone, John Blevins on trumpet, Eric Quinn on trombone, and Jennifer Wharton on bass trombone. I want the good cheer of this track to spread out into the crazy world. That’s followed by the title track, “The Joy Of Playing,” which has a kind of playful sense about it, contains some interesting changes, and features some nice work by Santiago Leibson on piano. Also, I really like that section that features Paul Shaw on drums. “Fragment” begins with some solo guitar work that might seem simple, but has its own beauty. Nearly a minute in, he is joined by the other musicians as that chord progression continues for a bit, before Santiago Leibsen takes a lead on piano. Then Benjamin Schnake delivers an excellent lead on guitar, while the music swells at times below. This track also features some nice work by Sunhyun Yoo on alto saxophone, with Paul Shaw’s drumming rolling and moving everything forward. “She’s Gone” is a gentle, loving piece, featuring some sweet work from the horn section. Benjamin Schnake plays mandolin on “Lakitas,” a completely enjoyable piece that also features Ammon Swinbank on flute. In addition to the original compositions, Benjamin Schnake Ensemble covers a Chilean piece titled “Aju” and Charles Mingus’ “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat.” This album was released on October 22, 2021.

The Dave Wilson Quartet: “Stretching Supreme” – On this album, saxophone player Dave Wilson pays tribute to the great work of John Coltrane, covering the first two parts of his 1965 album A Love Supreme. Those tracks, as well as two others, were recorded live at Chris’ Jazz Café in Philadelphia in 2017 (the other recorded in 2018). The album begins with a short introduction to “Acknowledgement,” which feels like spring to me, music of possibilities and joy. That leads straight into “Part 1: Acknowledgement,” Tony Marino getting it started on bass. The quartet, by the way, is made up of Dave Wilson on tenor and soprano saxophones, Kirk Reese on piano, Tony Marino on bass, and Alex Ritz on drums. Dan Monaghan plays drums on the two tracks that were recorded in 2018. There is a good amount of joy to “Part 1: Acknowledgement,” in the playing of all the musicians, but especially Dave Wilson’s work. It feels like a celebration of life, a nod to the wonder of our existing at all. The group is grooving and working together beautifully. Things then begin to get a little wild toward the end, exciting, before winding down for the track’s conclusion. That’s followed by “Part 2: Resolution,” which has a  bright energy from the moment it begins, Dave Wilson’s saxophone a strong voice. And I love Kirk Reese’s lead on piano here, the way it moves and flows, and then just takes charge at one point. Fantastic stuff. And that section of saxophone and drums is also exciting. That’s followed by an original composition by Dave Wilson, “On The Prairie,” the first of the two tracks from 2018, featuring Dan Monaghan on drums. This one was included on Dave Wilson Quartet’s 2015 release, There Was Never. This new version gets to its looser, more unhinged place more quickly, then eases into that sweet tone. There is something beautiful about this piece, and in its quieter moments it really grabs us. The other track from 2018 is a wonderful cover of Henry Mancini’s “Days Of Wine And Roses” that has a great warmth while being totally cool, and features a good bass solo. Then we return to the show from 2017 for the album’s final two tracks, two more written by John Coltrane. The first is a moving and thoughtful rendition of “Dear Lord,” the second a passionate version of “Naima.” This album was released on January 7, 2022.

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