Thursday, May 26, 2022

Brief Notes On New Jazz Releases

It sometimes feels like we are stuck in one ugly moment of time, with the ongoing pandemic and gun violence, and no one yet from the previous administration being put on trial. It’s like we are unable to move forward, and it’s frustrating beyond measure. I continue to be thankful for musicians and singers for making this moment palatable with the release of excellent music. Here are brief notes on some new jazz releases you might be interested in checking out.

Jimmy Branly Trio: “The Meeting” – Drummer Jimmy Branly, guitarist Will Brahm and bass player Sezin Ahmet Türkmenoğlu deliver a combination of original material and standards on their new album. The album opens with “Bis Bis,” a composition by Will Brahm, which he starts off on guitar. Soon the others join him, and Jimmy Branly offers an impressive beat. You’ve probably heard Branly’s playing, for he has supported an incredible range of artists over the years, including Michael Nesmith, Sheila E. and Flora Purim. And of course this track features some excellent guitar work. I particularly like that sweeter section in the second half. That’s followed by a couple of the album’s standards, first “If I Should Lose You,” written by Ralph Rainger (with lyrics by Leo Robin), and then “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes.” On the latter, while Will Brahm plays that familiar theme, Jimmy Branly provides something a little different on percussion, a rhythm that has a good amount of cheer to it. And check out Sezin Ahmet Türkmenoğlu’s work on bass. This is a wonderful rendition. But it is the original material that is particularly exciting, especially “Presume,” written by Will Brahm. Jimmy Branly starts that one off, and sets a good pace. Rhythm is at the heart of this piece, and this is a track with a great pulse, with breath, with life and energy. I especially love that section toward the end, where Branly cuts loose. That sort of ominous repeated pattern reminds me a bit of the Grateful Dead’s “The Other One.” Another of the disc’s highlights is the album’s title track, which was composed by Jimmy Branly. This one is just completely cool from the moment it starts, in large part because of its rhythm. There is just a whole lot of great work on drums here. That’s followed by “One Day,” written by Sezin Ahmet Türkmenoğlu. This is one of the most interesting tracks, in part because it has a much mellower vibe while the percussion still moves things forward at a good clip, and also because of that beautiful work on guitar. “Blues 14,” the album’s final original track, features some fantastic work on guitar. It was composed by Will Brahm. This trio also delivers an excellent rendition of Joe Henderson’s “Gazelle.” This album is scheduled to be released on May 27, 2022.

Matt Hall: “I Hope To My Never” – This is trombonist Matt Hall’s debut album, and it features mostly original compositions. The title comes from something his great aunt would exclaim while Matt Hall was practicing during his childhood, which of course is adorable. Joining Hall on this release are Charlie Arbelaez on alto saxophone, Louis Valenzuela on guitar, Jason Shattil on piano, Mackenzie Leighton on upright bass, and Kevin Kanner on drums. The album kicks off with “Biscuits & Gravy,” a lively number with a blues base, one to get your toes tapping. Not only does it give us a good taste of what Matt Hall can do on trombone, but it also features a spirited lead on saxophone. Actually, there is delicious work from all the musicians on this track. That’s followed by the title track, which has more of an easygoing vibe and features a cool lead on bass early on. There is something sweet in Matt Hall’s work here that is engaging and comforting. “The Thing About Sloan Hill” is a fun track that includes some wonderful work on guitar. I also love the bass line. This music is raising my spirits, something I imagine we all need right about now. The album’s only cover is “Deep In A Dream,” written by Eddie DeLange and Jimmy Van Heusen. This interesting arrangement by Matt Hall grabs me right at the track’s start. It is both exciting and warm. And I love that solo at the end. Things start to really move on “Spearhead,” one of the disc’s highlights. This track is a total delight, with some impressive and thrilling work from Hall and Arbelaez. Kevin Kanner starts off “No Going Back,” which was written by Charlie Arbelaez. This one also moves at a good clip and has a delicious sense of freedom about it. I love the way it feels like dancing, particularly Jason Shattil’s work on piano. Plus, this track includes a great drum solo, which makes me happy. The most surprising track is “3G (Cadenza),” featuring some wild work and leading to the disc’s final piece, “Charlie’s Harley,” which really moves. Just try catching up to this one. There is certainly a great deal of joy and excitement in the playing. This album was released in February 2022.

David Larsen: “G2 And You” – The new album from saxophonist and composer David Larsen is actually two EPs collected on a single disc. The title of the first EP is also the title of this album, G2 And You, and it contains four tracks – two original compositions and two covers. It opens with a seriously cool rendition of “Angel Eyes,” a standard written by Matt Dennis. David Larsen’s saxophone seems to strut confidently through the evening atmosphere, and at times turns more joyful. His saxophone really drives this track, and isn’t until approximately four minutes into it that Danny McCollim takes a turn at lead. The band on this release, by the way, is Danny McCollim on keyboards, Josh Skinner on bass and Brendan McMurphy on drums. That’s followed by an original tune, “Another Porter Please.” I assume he is referring to the drink, and this music is certainly making me crave a good ale, but perhaps he’s not. Perhaps the guy at the hotel dropped all his luggage, and he’s asking politely for a different porter. The track has kind of an easygoing, smooth vibe, and I dig Josh Skinner’s bass line. There is also a delightful lead on keys in the second half. Yes, I want to be at a pub, among good folks, ordering another ale. The first EP also includes a good version of Dave Brubeck’s “In Your Own Sweet Way,” featuring some wonderful and warm work on saxophone. The other original composition is “Latin Silver,” which has a somewhat relaxed and inviting feel. The second EP, Bright Days, likewise contains two covers and two original pieces. It begins with Joseph Kosma’s  “Autumn Leaves,” which features a great rhythm, some pretty work on keyboard and a strong lead on saxophone. Things then get lively with “Bright Days,” that EP’s title track, an original composition, which features some great stuff on drums, and is one of my personal favorites. The other standard on this EP is “Come Rain Or Come Shine,” which has a bright, cheerful vibe. The disc concludes with an original composition titled “Through And Through,” featuring a beautiful lead on keys and some moving work on sax. This album was released on April 8, 2022.

The Jim Self/John Chiodini Duo: “Hangin’ Out” – Tuba and guitar? What’s not to love? This album contains plenty of delights and some surprises as well, for the duo is joined by guests on several tracks. The album opens with its title track, an original composition by John Chiodini, and it’s a fun, playful tune with a good deal of swing to it. I enjoyed this track’s vibe so much, that the first time I listened to this album, I ended up listening to this track three times before moving onto the next track, and its last note made me laugh each time. That’s followed by a wonderful rendition of Chick Corea’s “Spain,” that begins with some gorgeous guitar work and some incredibly moving playing on fluba, an instrument that Jim Self helped to create. And then from there, this track becomes lively and fun. Then Scott Whitfield joins the duo on trombone for “Lydian Afternoon,” a piece that Whitfield wrote, feeling like a warm summer breeze. Jim Self and Scott Whitfield trade licks in the second half. They Jim Self and John Chiodini both deliver some beautiful playing on Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Dindi.” That’s followed by one of the album’s total delights, a cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke,” another track on which Jim Self plays the fluba, getting funky on that odd instrument. Tom Peterson joins them on tenor saxophone on “Another Thing,” which he also composed. It’s a cool, easygoing number. David Angel joins them on baritone saxophone for a wonderful rendition of “Everything Happens To Me,” delivering a beautiful lead, helping to make this track another of the disc’s highlights. That’s followed by a surprisingly sweet and pretty rendition of “Up Jumped Spring” that features some excellent work on guitar. On “I Walk A Little Faster,” the duo is joined by Ron Stout on flugelhorn. Jim Self plays fluba on this one, the final of the album’s tracks to feature that instrument. They ease into this one, and then after a couple of minutes the track starts hopping, another of the disc’s delights. That’s followed by “Modal I Tease,” the only track composed by Jim Self, and yet another highlight. It is perhaps the most unusual of the album’s tracks, the instruments feeling characters in a short animated film. They also deliver a pretty rendition of Billy Joel’s “Just The Way You Are.” Then all the guests join in on the album’s closing number, a totally enjoyable rendition of “It Could Happen To You.” This album was released on April 1, 2022.

The Margaret Slovak Trio: “Ballad For Brad” – Jazz guitarist Margaret Slovak’s new album is her first in many years, its original compositions inspired by family and friendships, the music being full of love and hope, just what we need in these dark days. Joining her on this release are the incredible Harvie S on bass and Michael Sarin on drums. The album opens with “Again,” which has a gentle and hopeful vibe, with an inquisitive, curious sense as well in the guitar work. The bass and drums have their own clear voices here, and Harvie S.’s lead on bass has a comforting effect. That’s followed by “Flowers For Marie,” which has a more somber sound on guitar at the start, and goes through a few changes as it develops, becoming quite pretty approximately halfway through, like a fond memory you like to revisit from time to time. This track was written about a friend. Then “The Answer Within” begins with an exciting rhythm. I love Michael Sarin’s work on drums here, and he delivers a solo at the end. “Song For Anne” begins in a rather dark place, then opens into a more peaceful landscape a minute or so in, and builds from there. This piece was written for Margaret Slovak’s sister, and it is followed by another track inspired by her sister, who died from a drug overdose at the age of 44. In “Forty-Four” is a sense of loneliness and uncertainty, her guitar looking both inward and outward for answers, for understanding. It is a moving solo guitar piece. “Courage, Truth And Hope” is a title that stands out for me, because all three of those things are in somewhat short supply these days, being completely absent from the Republican Party. This track starts off slowly, easing in, and then takes on a certain joy. The trio then delivers a cool, playful blues number, “Carrot Cake Blues,” which features some fantastic work on bass. “Ballad For Brad,” the album’s title track, was written for her husband, who has been battling cancer. It begins with some beautiful, thoughtful, gentle work on guitar, and grows from there. “Thirty-Three” also features some beautiful guitar work. And “Will You Ever Know?” features a good lead on bass. By the way, the striking artwork on the album’s cover was also done by Margaret Slovak. This album is scheduled to be released on June 1, 2022.

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