Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Brief Notes On New Jazz Releases

At a time when the Supreme Court has lost all claims to legitimacy and respect, and the Republican Party has essentially become a criminal organization, it feels like we have lost our way. But musicians still provide us with that needed and desired dose of humanity. Here are brief notes on a few new jazz releases you might want to check out.

Greg Abate/Paul Del Nero Quartet: “Reunion: Live At WICN” – Whenever I visit my family just outside of Worcester, Massachusetts, I set my parents’ car radio to WICN, a station that plays mostly jazz. This new album from Greg Abate/Paul Del Nero Quartet was recorded at the radio station’s studio, and it features mostly original material. This is the first time that Greg Abate and Paul Del Nero have recorded since 1994. Joining them on this release are Matt DeChamplain on piano and Gary Johnson on drums. The album opens with “Maria’s Ocean,” composed by saxophonist Greg Abate, who delivers some lively work on this track. And in the track’s second half we are treated to a good lead on bass by Paul Del Nero. There was a small audience at the recording of this album, and you can hear their applause at the end of the track. It must have been something to be able to attend this special and intimate show. “Maria’s Ocean” is followed by “Light Speed,” also written by Greg Abate. And while this track doesn’t move at quite the speed of light, is does move at a fairly good clip, the saxophone flying at the beginning. This track also features a wonderful drum solo. Then in “DSR,” the saxophone is reaching out, connecting with something larger, something universal. There is something bluesy in Matt DeChamplain’s piano lead as it starts, which is great. This track also features a really nice lead on bass. “Clare’s Ostinado,” the first of the album’s three tracks composed by Paul Del Nero, has an interesting beginning, with a repeated phrase on bass that creates some tension. On this one Greg Abate switches to flute, and that instrument lifts us, seeming determined to remove that tension. The two instruments might want to take the piece in different directions, but the results work surprisingly well. “Reunion,” the album’s title track, was composed by Greg Abate, and is a cheerful, friendly piece that leaves you feeling good. “Mose Knows” has a delicious vibe from the start, mainly because of that cool bass line, but with fantastic playing by all four musicians. This one was written by Paul Del Nero, in honor of Mose Allison. “In The Moment” begins on drums, so I’m immediately interested, and from there it maintains a good rhythm, a good pace, as well as a sense of excitement, heard especially in Greg Abate’s playing. That’s followed by the album’s only cover, Charlie Parker’s “Quasimodo.”  The quartet wraps things up with “Positive Energy,” a fast-paced gem delivered with strength and joy, each of the musicians shining here. We could all use some positive energy these days, right? This album was released on July 7, 2023.

Eunmi Lee: “Introspection” – This is the debut release from pianist and composer Eunmi Lee, who moved from South Korea to New York just before the pandemic took hold and shut everything down. That was a time for introspection, no question about it, and this album features all original material. Joining the pianist on this release are Vinicius Gomes on guitar, Matt Clohesy on bass, Ari Hoenig on drums, and John Ellis on tenor saxophone and clarinet, along with guests on various tracks. She opens the album with “Gimmick,” a piece that about using a somewhat different personality in social situations to meet some end. It feels like the track establishes a situation at the beginning, where there might be some tension, then settles in a pleasant groove when that personality takes over, when there then is a freedom to move, heard particularly in John Ellis’ work on tenor saxophone and then in Eunmi Lee’s work on piano. Her playing has a light feel that works to relax us in moments before she then hints at something else underneath. I also really like the drum work on this track, the way it builds in power toward the end, driving to the track’s conclusion. The second track, interestingly, does not feature Eunmi Lee, but rather features the string work of Joyce Hammann on violin, Lois Martin on viola, and Jody Redhage on cello, along with John Ellis on bass clarinet. It is an intriguing piece that feels like it could function as the soundtrack to a film. Then “5.19” begins with some pretty work on piano, sounding hopeful and ready. There is a relaxed joy to the sound, and on this one Eunmi Lee is joined by the string section, with the addition of Meg Okura on violin, and Maria Jeffers replacing Jody Redhage on cello. There is the sense of being at ease, particularly during that lead on piano in the middle, while there is also a curiosity felt at moments.  Then at the beginning of “Narcissism,” there is a strong sense of movement, thanks to the rhythm section, a sense of being on the go, while the horns then give the track a more reflective vibe, creating an interesting overall effect. Alan Ferber is on trombone, and Remy Le Boeuf is on saxophone. Eunmi Lee’s lead on piano begins gently, then seems to become more engaged in the dance with the bass and drums. And the track’s final section, where all the elements play together, is delightful. Then “Mr. Weird” has more of a big band sound, with Tony Kadleck on trumpet and Jon Gordon on saxophone joining the other horn players. “Wavelength” begins with some cool, thoughtful work on bass, and is performed by just the core quartet, featuring some good work on guitar. This track is soothing, easing the tension that now seems unnecessary. The album concludes with “Azure,” which has an uplifting, hopeful vibe, which is encouraging. This album was released on July 14, 2023.

Doug MacDonald Trio: “Edwin Alley” – The new release from guitarist Doug MacDonald features mostly original compositions. In addition to MacDonald, the trio includes Mike Flick on bass and Kendall Kay on drums. The album opens with “Zoot And Pepper,” a seriously cool number featuring a delicious rhythm and a wonderful guitar line. I love bluesy numbers like this, and the piece was written in tribute to Zoot Zims and Pepper Adams, who were both saxophone players. Mike Flick’s lead on bass in fantastic. That’s followed by “Eyow/Is This It,” the first section of which is an interesting guitar solo. As the others come in, the track develops a strong groove, over which MacDonald’s guitar seems to dance at times. This piece is a whole lot of fun, even before the drum solo. The trio then mellows things out a bit with “Benedetto’ Theme,” which has a gentle vibe. That’s followed by “Three For Two,” which has an unusual rhythm, yet feels like it is driving forward, determined to take us to some place we haven’t before visited, or to approach a familiar place from a new angle so that we view it with fresh eyes. Then we get the aptly titled “Groove Blues,” a delightful number that moves and swings, and is one of my personal favorites. On this track Doug MacDonald plays both guitar and Coimbra, a Portuguese guitar. “JT” has an interesting vibe about it, at times feeling much fuller and bigger than three musicians, and featuring some excellent work on drums, and some changes that make me smile each time I listen. “Rapini” has a light and playful mood. It’s named after a type of broccoli, after all. That’s followed by “Tuned Out,” with another strong, prominent rhythm. This track includes a good drum solo in the second half and features some wonderful guitar work. The album concludes with its only standard, “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To,” written by Cole Porter. Doug MacDonald puts his own spin on this great song, and it swings and rocks and pulses. There is an excellent bass lead in the middle of this lively rendition. This album is scheduled to be released on August 1, 2023.

Ben Powell: “New Jazz Standards Volume 6: The Music Of Carl Saunders” – The New Jazz Standards is an unusual series in that it celebrates the music of one composer, Carl Saunders, with each volume being by a different artist. The series began in 2014 with an album by Sam Most, his last before his passing. This sixth volume is the first to be released after Carl Saunders’ death (though it was recorded earlier and includes liner notes by Saunders). Ben Powell plays violin and viola, and is joined by Christian Jacob on piano, Kevin Axt on bass, and Peter Erskine on drums. The album opens with “Just A Samba,” with an arrangement by Thomas Parisch. There is a wonderful joy to this track, particularly in Ben Powell’s playing, which soars at times. And the lead on piano has a delicious energy. Everything here works to renew the listener’s own energy. Ben Powell does the arrangement for “Main Squeeze,” which follows. There is a light, breezy sense to his playing right from the start, and this track too should lift your mood. And toward the end, Peter Erskine gets a chance to cut loose on the drums a bit, which I love. Ben Powell slows things down then with “Solicitude,” the arrangement by Scott Tibbs. Ben Powell delivers some moving work on this track. “Blues For Dexter Gordon” has such a cool vibe, in part because of its bass line. This is a track that seems to get more and more delicious as it progresses. And speaking of good bass work, check out the beginning of “African Dreams,” the bass and drums establishing the mood. Then “In Simple Terms” has a relaxed, gentle vibe, like a dream you just want to wrap yourself in. Things turn light and playful with “Ricocheting,” which features some wonderful stuff on drums. “Good Vibes Blues” is another fun and delightful track, featuring a good groove and some excellent work on strings. “Latin Tendencies” also features a catchy groove, the instruments seeming to dance at times. The album concludes with “Sacred Secret,” which has a more intimate feel, the piano work having a certain warmth. This album was released on April 21, 2023. A seventh volume is apparently in the works.

Linda Purl: “This Could Be The Start” – Linda Purl is both an actor and singer, known for roles on shows like Happy Days, Matlock, and The Office, and movies like Mighty Joe Young. And she has extensive experience in the theatre. Her new album, This Could Be The Start, finds her delivering some beloved standards, and her talent as an actor comes across in her delivery at times. For example, on the album’s opening track, “This Could Be The Start Of Something Big,” listen to the way she gives a line like “Declining a Charlotte Russe, accepting a fig” or “There's no controlling the unrolling of your fate, my friend/Who knows what's written in the magic book.” Supporting her on this release are Tedd Firth on piano, David Finck on bass, Ray Marchica on drums and percussion, and Nelson Rangell on reeds. She follows “This Could Be The Start Of Something Big” with a wonderful rendition of “I’m In The Mood For Love,” holding us in her spell from that first line. She gives us the song, but also the character of the song, with a talent that somehow seems effortless. This track also features some really nice work on both piano and drums. Then check out the excellent bass work on “Let’s Get Lost.” And again, her combined talents for acting and singing are clear in that opening section of “Blue Moon,” a section that is often dropped. “Once upon a time before I started smiling/I hated the moonlight/Shadows in the night that poets found beguiling/Seemed flat as the noon light.” She puts her own spin on this song, and the track also features some delicious work on piano. She then delivers a sweet rendition of Cole Porter’s “Dream Dancing,” followed by a beautiful and moving version of “Let Me Down Easy” that features a nice lead on bass. And check out that wonderful piano lead on “Live Alone And Like It.” Her rendition of “I Love Being Here With You” has a great spirit about it, and is one of my favorite tracks. She and the band seem to be having a lot of fun with this one. The album concludes with another highlight, “Wrap Your Troubles (In Dreams).” On this track, Linda Purl sounds like a friend who is there to help us get through the tough days. This album is scheduled to be released on August 25, 2023.

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