Friday, June 23, 2023

Brief Notes On New Jazz Releases

Music continues to provide that dose of humanity that is lacking in other spheres. Here are notes on a few new jazz albums you might want to check out.

The Harry Allen Orchestra: “With Roses” – Harry Allen is an accomplished tenor saxophone player. On his new album, With Roses, the band plays original material written or co-written by Roger Frankham. And actually, there are basically two bands playing on these tracks, the common elements being Lucy Yeghiazaryan on vocals, John Di Martino on piano and Mike Karn on bass. On the opening number, “It All Catches Up With You,” Harry Allen is joined by John Allred on trombone, Freddie Hendrix on trumpet, Warren Vache on trumpet, Grant Stewart on tenor saxophone, and Aaron Kimmel on drums. This song’s lyrics make me think of a certain criminal who spent a few years in the White House, particularly these lines: “You play fast and loose with the truth/You do it a lot/But the truth catches up with you, my friend/Like it or not/You’re a conman and you’re on the run now/Got your face on every database/You’re arrested on Fifth Avenue/Because it all catches up with you in the end.” And it looks like it’s finally catching up with him, doesn’t it? Let’s hope so. I particularly love the mention of Fifth Avenue, because that is the street he claimed he could stand in the middle of and shoot someone without losing a vote. Remember that? This is a lively, swinging number, with some delicious work from the horn section and a wonderful rhythm. A fantastic start to the disc. Then the second track, “Be The One,” features Peter Anderson on clarinet, Will Anderson on clarinet, Dan Block on bass clarinet, Steve Kenyon on flute, Kathleen Nester on flute, and Bryan Carter on drums. And Lucy Yeghiazaryan adjusts her vocal delivery to the different tone, the different sound of this one. “Let’s get lost/To be found/Let’s have fun,” she sings, before reminding us “There are monsters out there.” But they will present no real trouble, she assures us. This is a song of adventure, and it includes some nice work on bass clarinet. “The Maestro,” which is performed by the first band configuration, swings and contains a cool bass line as well some great stuff on drums. Bruce Brown wrote the lyrics for both this track and the opening track. Lucy Yeghiazaryan delivers a moving vocal performance on “Here In Rome,” a song about a lost love. Here she tells us, “I know travel doesn’t solve a thing/A passport’s not an answer.” Ah, but it makes sense, doesn’t it, to want be somewhere else. Roger Schore wrote the lyrics to “That Far Away Fella,” which also mentions a passport: “His passport is strictly mental.” Yup, in this one, the travel is all done in the mind. This track features a wonderful lead on piano. “That’s When The Fun Starts” is the sole instrumental track on this album, and it has a nice Bossa Nova vibe and features some really good stuff on saxophone. That’s followed by the album’s title track, with lyrics by Mark Winkler. This one begins gently, with a pretty, but lonesome opening section. Lucy Yeghiazaryan gives another strong vocal performance. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “And morning’s too early/With breakfast for one/Now I’m here, sipping coffee/Feeling just like a fool/Asking you please forgive me/With roses.” The album’s closing track, “On My Way,” was also co-written by Mark Winkler and Roger Frankham, though on this one Frankham wrote the lyrics. It’s about a relationship that is at times a long-distance one, something I know from experience is incredibly difficult. This song has a positive vibe. “Now I’m on my way/Flying home to you.” This album is scheduled to be released on June 30, 2023.

Jason Kush: “Finally Friday” – Jason Kush is a saxophone player and composer. His new album, Finally Friday, features all original compositions. The quartet on this album is made up of Jason Kush on tenor saxophone, Alton Merrell on piano, Jeff Grubbs on bass, and David Glover on drums. Things get going with “Hasty J,” a lively and exciting number that features some energetic playing on saxophone that keeps charging forward, until approximately halfway through the track, when the piano takes over, keeping that lively spirit going. This track feels like it is about letting loose, seizing and enjoying the moment, not looking back at all. That’s followed by the album’s title track, which expresses relief and joy at reaching the end of a work week, of getting to that time when one can relax, cease to care or pretend to care about someone else’s business. This works for the end of any stressful time or situation, or at least a respite from it. And it features a wonderful lead on piano that seems to say that it’s fine to grab some time for repose, but what is even better is turning to your own joys, finding your own freer ways of expressing yourself. The idea that you can only be yourself for a couple of days each week is depressing and absurd, but nothing is stopping you from taking the feel of this track and applying it to the rest of your time. And the saxophone seems to announce, to shout, I am here, I am alive. May we all find ways of expressing that same thing, that same joy. Then “Slipping Through The Cracks” seems a bit more pensive at the start, at least in the saxophone work. Interestingly, the drumming has a good deal of energy, a good deal of movement, even in those opening moments. And that sense is what takes us into the main body of the piece, and soon things are cooking, particularly during Alton Merrell’s lead on piano. That is when this track gets particularly exciting. And toward the end, there is a cool lead on bass. That section features largely just bass and drums, with some occasional comments on piano. Things then get mellower on “With Thoughts Of Agnes,” which has a gentler approach and looks into memories for solace. “Asked And Answered” also begins in a more relaxed, contemplative place, and picks up energy at certain moments. Then “Easy Going” has a wonderfully soothing vibe, the saxophone seeming to tell us thing are going to be all right. Sometimes we can all use a little encouragement. “Soledad Del Otoño” has a somewhat haunted vibe as it begins, and the saxophone has a lonesome tone. There is a longing here, a feeling of loss. But the music does not dwell in one place, finding power at times. The album concludes with “Razor Burn,” a fun and rockin’ number to raise your spirits, featuring a delicious bass line. Everyone gets a chance to cut loose here, and the results are excellent. This album was released on March 3, 2023.

Eric Lilley Trio: “Three” – Eric Lilley is a pianist and composer who has been performing and recording since the 1980s. This trio, however, is relatively new, putting out its first album in 2020. The trio is made up of Eric Lilley on piano, Mark Diamond on bass, and Tony Black on drums. Three, the trio’s third release, features all original material, including two piano solos. The album opens with “Goats,” which has a fun, breezy feel from its start, Tony Black setting things in motion on drums. This track moves, pops, swings, and has a delicious Latin vibe that is more pronounced in certain sections, with Jose Espino joining the trio on percussion. It is a delightful opening number. That’s followed by “Jereices’ Step,” which is a nod to “Gloria’s Step,” and so contains some wonderful and cool work on bass, including a really good lead. There is a playful sense to this track, as it moves us through different sections. “Kendras’ Waltz” has a light opening that makes me think of a bright sky and carefree summer days, with hints of something more serious. I can’t help but wonder about the placement of the apostrophes in the titles of this track and the previous one. Is this a waltz danced by two people named Kendra, and the other a step done by two people named Jereice? Anyway, this track also features an excellent lead on bass. That is followed by “Bill Evans,” and as you might expect of a song with that title, it contains some wonderful work on piano, taking inspiration from Evans. And of course I am delighted to find a good drum solo in the second half of this track. “May Day” is a solo piece that features some gorgeous, timeless work by Eric Lilley. He pulls us in closer toward the end, when the piece gets somewhat quieter and takes more breaths. “About Face,” which follows, is a cheerful, fun number, and it includes a conversation between bass and drums in the second half. Then “Few And Far Between” begins on piano, the instrument like an interesting character you just want to follow through its day. “Any Day Now” is the album’s second solo piece, this one having a more lonesome, thoughtful feel at the beginning, and grows, with moments of hope and wonder. Jose Espino joins the trio on percussion again for the disc’s closing track, “Visiting Hours,” this one having quite a different feel from the opening track. Here we are placed in a strange, late-night realm where there is the possibility of magic. This album was released on March 17, 2023.

Sharon Sable & Joe Holt: “Once Upon A Summertime: The Music Of Blossom Dearie” – Vocalist Sharon Sable and pianist Joe Holt team up for a celebration of the music that Blossom Dearie is known for, including a couple of songs she co-wrote, and are joined on several tracks by Amy Shook on bass. They kick off the album with “Little Jazz Bird,” the song Blossom Dearie chose as the first track for her My Gentleman Friend album. You can never go wrong with Gershwin, and Sable and Holt deliver an absolutely delightful rendition of this song from Lady, Be Good. Sharon Sable gives us an adorable vocal performance here, one that is friendly, cheerful and warm. And Joe Holt’s work on piano is equally wonderful, particularly his solo in the track’s second half. They keep the mood light with “You Fascinate Me So,” another song that Blossom Dearie included on My Gentleman Friend. Sharon Sable’s performance on this track is a bit more breathy, and works perfectly. And I love when Joe Holt’s fingers seem to be dancing upon the keys. Sharon Sable and Joe Holt choose a total of five songs from My Gentleman Friend, the other three being “L’Etang,” “Gentleman Friend” and “Boum.” “L’Etang” is beautiful, sung in French. “Boum,” also sung in French, is another of the album’s delights. They also give us several songs from Dearie’s 1958 album Once Upon A Summer Time, including the title track (which obviously also functions as this disc’s title track), “Tear For Two,” “Surrey With The Fringe On Top” (which is delivered as a solo piano piece) and “Down With Love.” “Down With Love” moves at that great breezy pace, like Blossom Dearie’s rendition, and it is the first of this disc’s tracks to feature Amy Shook on bass, who keeps things popping. This track has me smiling the entire time. Then “Once Upon A Summer Time” is gorgeous and moving, and has me lost in memories that may not, in fact, be my own. Sharon completely inhabits this song. “They Say It’s Spring” comes from another 1958 Blossom Dearie album, Give Him The Ooh-La-La. When Sharon sings of spring, her voice sounds like that season, like new joy and excitement. When she sings “light as a feather,” her voice takes on that light feel. While Sharon Sable and Joe Holt focus on material from early in Blossom Dearie’s career, they do include two songs she released in the 1970s. The first is “Inside A Silent Tear,” which was included on Dearie’s 1970 album, That’s Just The Way I Want To Be. Sharon Sable and Joe Holt deliver a touching rendition, joined by Amy Shook on bass. The second is “I Like You, You’re Nice,” which was included on her 1973 album, Blossom Dearie Sings, Volume 1. These two later songs are the two that Blossom Dearie co-wrote. This album was released on April 11, 2023.

Melvin Smith: “Perseverance” – Melvin Smith is an incredibly talented saxophone player and composer. His new album, Perseverance, finds him playing in two different configurations. Both feature Jeremy Warren on drums, while one includes Jeb Patton on piano and Corcoran Holt on bass, and the other includes Greg Lewis on organ. Melvin Smith plays tenor saxophone and soprano saxophone on this album. The album begins with “Sound For Sore Ears,” written by Jimmy Heath. This track features Jeb Patton on piano, who offers some warm playing. For me, this track starts to get really good a couple of minutes in when Melvin Smith is able to get looser and freer on saxophone. That’s when his playing has a greater joy. Jeb Patton then delivers a delicious lead on piano. And check out that work on drums beneath that lead, as exciting as the drum solo which follows. Then Greg Lewis plays organ on “Karita,” a track written by Robert Watson Jr., at first holding back as Melvin Smith gets things going. Lewis then gets a chance to shine nearly three minutes into the track. But for me, it is Jeremy Warren’s work on drums that is the main draw of this piece. Jeb Patton returns for Melvin Smith’s rendition of “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child,” and here it is the bass that first gets our attention. And Melvin Smith’s playing is passionate, his sax giving us what would be the vocal line of the song, before things get loose and cool, leading to some really nice work on piano. “Letter To The Ancestors” is the first of Melvin Smith’s original compositions, and it is performed by the organ trio. It is both somber and joyous, acknowledging and celebrating those who have come before. And even more than that, this piece seems to communicate with them. The next Melvin Smith composition, “Gettin’ It,” is a delicious, funky number featuring a great beat. The saxophone at times seems to be dancing to that beat. This one is also performed by the organ trio, and that lead on organ halfway through is a lot of fun. Plus, this track features a fantastic drum solo. The final of this album’s Melvin Smith original compositions is its title track, “Perseverance,” a strong piece featuring Jeb Patton on piano. This exciting tune drives forward with a sense of purpose and desire, all four musicians delivering some of their best work here, with Melvin Smith in particular shining throughout. This album is scheduled to be released on July 14, 2023.

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