Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Brief Notes On New Jazz Releases

As the world outside continues to be bafflingly stupid and dangerous, with psychotic fiends arguing for the freedom to own semi-automatic weapons, many people are turning inward. Fortunately, musicians are here to help us get through these troubling times. Here are brief notes on some new jazz releases you might be interested in checking out.

Peck Allmond Quartet: “Live At Yoshi’s 1994” – This album captures the performance of the Peck Allmond Quartet on July 5, 1994 at Yoshi’s in Oakland, California. The album opens with Sonny Rollin’ “Tenor Madness,” which starts with a cool solo from Peck Allmond. It is more than a minute before the other musicians come in, and though it feels a bit messy as they come in, that loose vibe is part of the track’s appeal. And soon Peck Allmond is taking the group into exciting territory. Ed Kelly then takes a turn at lead nearly halfway through, keeping things hopping with some impressive work on piano. Then John Wiitala delivers a solid, spirited lead on bass. This track just gets better and better, leading to some great drum solos by Bud Spangler, that section of course being my favorite. The group then turns romantic for a rendition of “Like Someone In Love,” which features a good lead on bass early on. I like that John Wiitala is given the space to stretch out and explore here. But it is the piano solo that especially stands out, at first for its gentle beauty that seems to stop whatever commotion may be around us. And it grows from there. The sense of romance then deepens with “I’m Confessin’ (That I Love You),” which features some sweet and tender work from Peck Allmond. Then Kenny Brooks joins the group on tenor saxophone for “Softly As in A Morning Sunrise,” a track that moves with a great energy. Peck Allmond is on trumpet for this one. This disc features two piano solos, the first being a warm, touching rendition of John Coltrane’s “Moment’s Notice.” Peck Allmond begins “Invitation” with a solo. That track also features some excellent work on piano. That’s followed by “Blues By Five,” which moves with a sense of urgency, and features some fantastic playing by all four musicians, with some especially exciting work on piano. The album concludes with the second of its two piano solos, “All Blues” by Miles Davis. This is a gentle, pretty rendition. This album was released on May 20, 2022.

Evan Drybread: “Tiger Tail” – Saxophone player Evan Drybread’s new release features all original material, most of which he composed. Joining him on this release are Mark Buselli on trumpet and flugelhorn, Christopher Pitts on piano and organ, Scott Pazera on bass, and Kenny Phelps on drums. The album opens with “Blackball,” which has a strong groove and features an excellent lead on piano.  Evan Drybead’s lead in the second half is also seriously good, and I wish that section where he is supported mainly by that delicious bass line went on a little longer. Wonderful work. That’s followed by “High Priestess,” a funky jazz fusion piece featuring some great stuff on both organ and drums, with an exciting lead by Evan Drybead that pulls us through the track. I especially love that drum work in the second half, and how the bass continues to play through that section. The track then ends with short drum solo. “The Queen Of Cups” is another of the disc’s highlights. This is one you just let carry you along on its own interesting journey, without imposing your expectations on where it should lead. Perhaps the most exciting piece is the album’s title track, which moves with a powerful energy and sense of purpose, and gets more interesting as it goes on. This one too contains some wonderful work on drums. “Atlantic Mirror” is the first of two tracks written by Christopher Pitts, a beautiful and contemplative tune featuring just Christopher Pitts on piano and Evan Drybread on saxophone. There are moments when the saxophone reaches some magnificent heights. “The Downey Wives” has an enjoyable, easygoing vibe. The group then gets funky with “Woodruff Place Town Hall,” a track that brings a smile to my face. It features some bright work from both Evan Drybread and Mark Buselli, and a cool lead on bass. The album concludes with the second of two pieces composed by Christopher Pitts, “Waltse,” which has something of a carefree sound. Like his other composition on this disc, this one features just Pitts and Drybread. This album was released on May 1, 2022.

Angela O’Neill And The Outrageous 8: “Light At The End Of The Tunnel” – The title of this one is of course appealing for all of us who keep hoping for a glimpse of that light. After two years of a pandemic, and the ongoing troubles caused by the previous administration, we are eager for such a light, which at times seems to be just around the bend. Well, this band is doing its part to will that light into existence with this wonderful album. The disc opens with “I’ve Grown Accustomed To His Face,” and in the liner notes they joke how during the lockdown people became very accustomed to each other’s faces. That’s followed by a fantastic rendition of “Cry Me A River,” featuring a strong vocal performance and a lot of great stuff from the brass section. It is certainly one of the disc’s highlights. The band, by the way, is made up of Angela O’Neill on vocals; Sam Morgan on tenor saxophone; Ron Cyger on alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute and clarinet; Rich Walker on baritone saxophone and flute; Paul Litteral on trumpet and flugelhorn; Harry Smallenburg on trombone; Rocky Davis on piano; Bill Bodine on electric bass; and Tony Pia on drums. There are also some guests on various tracks. This group delivers a really good version of “Come Rain, Come Shine,” a perfect choice of songs for a time when, figuratively speaking, it’s been mostly rain. The energy is then pumped up for “I’m Gonna Live Till I Die,” featuring guest vocalist Al Timss. Another great choice for these troubled times. That’s followed by “Now And Again,” the album’s only instrumental track. Death has been on my mind lately, and “New York Minute” hits me kind of hard. Check out these lines: “And in these days when darkness falls early/And people rush home to the ones they love/You’d better take a fool’s advice, and take care of your own/Because one day they’re here, the next day they’re gone.” Then Bill A. Jones joins the group on vocals for a spirited rendition of “On A Clear Day You Can See Forever.” Another of this release’s highlights is “Hallelujah I Love Him So,” which features Beth Anderson and Jackie Gibson joining Angela O’Neill on vocals, and includes some good work on harmonica by guest musician Michael Rosen. Jackie Gibson then takes lead vocal duties on “It Might As Well Be Spring.” The group wraps things up with “When The Sun Comes Out.” This album was released on May 21, 2022.

The Paxton/Spangler Septet: “Ugqozi” – The title of the new album from trombonist John Paxton and percussionist RJ Spangler translates as “inspiration,” and in these tracks we get a sense of what inspires them, but also will find inspiration ourselves. The album opens with “You Ain’t Gonna Know Me ‘Cos,” which features some delicious work on bass. It is the brass section, however, which lifts us up almost immediately. The brass has a full sound, many joyful voices. Toward the end, it feels like the track is concluding, but instead it returns to a more relaxed vibe, as at the beginning. The septet, by the way, is made up of Dan Bennett on saxophone, Kasan Belgrave on alto saxophone and flute, John Douglas on trumpet, Phillip J. Hale on piano, Damon Warmack on electric bass, Kurt Krahnke on acoustic bass, Sean Perlmutter on drums. This disc also features special guests Salim Washington on tenor saxophone, oboe and flute; and Alex Harding on baritone saxophone. “Ithemba” is a pretty piece with a welcoming, mellow vibe, its title translating as “hope.” We can all use a healthful dose of hope these days, and this music should give us just that. I imagine I am not the only one who turns to music for hope and inspiration. And this piece takes on a powerful and positive energy midway through. “Part Of A Whole” has a catchy groove that I want to sway and dance to. This track is a wonderful jam, with many moments where the musicians shine. There is a sweet, light sense to “Lwandle’s Lullaby,” a track composed by Salim Washington. It is like it is gently opening up a door to a fairy tale and inviting us inside. Once inside, we are surrounded by a loving and exciting sound. Then “Water No Get Enemy” features another great groove, with a certain funky element, and some passionate work from the brass section. “Pata Pata” is a fun piece with some bluesy elements, and a loose feel. Again, it feels designed to raise our spirits and get us moving. I love that work on piano. The disc concludes with “Jabulani – Easter Joy,” as you might guess from its title, there is an air of celebration. I love the pace and momentum, with the rhythm section propelling this track into some wild territory. We even get a good drum solo halfway through. This album was released on May 27, 2022.

John Wasson’s Strata Big Band: “Chronicles” – There is nothing like some good big band music to shake us loose from these stressful times. John Wasson’s Strata Big Band delivers some excellent original material, as well as some well-chosen covers. The album opens with an original number titled “Heat-Seeker,” which has some bright, exciting playing and a good deal of swing, and features fantastic stuff from Pete Clagett on trumpet and Jeff Robbins on tenor saxophone, over a delicious rhythm. I particularly love that work on drums at the end. That’s followed by “Funk City,” another original piece by John Wasson. As its title promises, this is a funky number, with Eric Hitt’s great bass work standing out. Noel Johnson delivers some wonderful stuff on guitar, and that lead by Chris Beaty on tenor saxophone feels like that giant heart of this track. So is a whole lot of fun. Then “Señor Salsa” features a totally delicious percussion section toward the end. That’s followed by a moving and warm rendition of Jiggs Whigham’s “Bodge,” which features some wonderful, soulful work by Dave Butler on trombone.  This disc also features an exciting, lively rendition of Charlie Parker’s “Blues For Alice,” featuring the trombone section. But probably the coolest of all this album’s tracks is “Tank!” From that work on bass at the beginning, it’s clear this track is something special. Apparently, this is the theme to an anime show. It is great fun, and that lead by Bruce Bohnstengel on alto saxophone is absolutely fantastic. The album concludes with another cool track, “The Detective Chronicles,” an original piece that creates its own atmosphere and characters, taking us along on a ride as a detective does his work. Suddenly in the middle of the action comes a pretty, though brief, solo on piano. And then, bam, we are right back in the chase. Then that section with saxophone and drums is one of my favorite parts of this entire disc. So good! This album was released on May 20, 2022.

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