Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Brief Notes On New Jazz Releases

Strange times, eh? It is incomprehensible why Republicans wish to put a traitor back in the White House, why they have decided that autocracy is better than democracy. I am thankful that musicians continue to put out great albums, reminding us that art and humanity still exist, and in fact thrive. Here are notes on a few new jazz releases you might want to check out.

Julie Kelly: “Freedom Jazz Dance” – On this new album, vocalist Julie Kelly delivers some wonderful renditions of songs in the jazz, pop and even folk and country realms. She is joined by Josh Nelson on piano and keyboard (Nelson also did most of the arrangements and co-produced the album), Larry Koonse on guitar, Luca Alemanno on bass, Dan Schnelle on drums, Aaron Serfaty on percussion, and Danny Janklow on alto saxophone and flute. The album opens with a rendition of “Sunday In New York” that will likely have you snapping your fingers and smiling. Julie Kelly’s delivery is warm and friendly, and she is coming from a place of experience and wisdom, and so we trust her as she tells us, “If you’ve got troubles, just take them out for a walk/They’ll burst like bubbles, in the fun on a Sunday in New York.” There is some delightful work on guitar and piano, as they trade licks, supported by a delicious rhythm. And then the rhythm section takes over for a time, which I love. She follows that with “Take Me To The Alley,” a song that a large segment of our population should hear, for the lyrics describe something that is completely foreign to the Republican Party and its twisted leader. This track features some wonderful work on saxophone. Julie Kelly delivers “A Ra (The Frog)” in Portuguese, giving us a fun and catchy rendition. This track also contains a great lead on guitar. She then slows things down with her cover of Sting’s “Practical Arrangement,” her vocals having an intimate quality that makes this track quite moving. The energy increases again on the disc’s title track, which features some excellent work on drums and a seriously cool lead on saxophone that helps make this track a highlight. “River People” is a song that Julie Kelly wrote with Catina DeLuna. It begins with the sound of water and some laughter, but soon that fades out and the song becomes the focus. “Listen to the water/Sing the current song.” Julie Kelly did the arrangement for this song, which features some pretty work on piano. She then plays guitar on her rendition of Gordon Lightfoot’s beautiful “Early Morning Rain.” Andrew Synowiec also joins her on guitar for this song. Julie Kelly also covers Willie Nelson’s “Funny How Time Slips Away,” treating us to another intimate vocal performance, combining a portion of that song with Bill Withers’ “Hello Like Before.” She concludes the album with “Ponteio,” sung in Portuguese, and featuring some nice work on flute. This album was released on February 8, 2024.

Doug MacDonald: “Sextet Session” – The new release from guitarist Doug MacDonald contains mostly original material. On this album he is joined by Doug Webb on tenor saxophone, Aaron Janik on trumpet, Josh Nelson on piano, Mike Gurrola on bass, and Charles Ruggiero on drums. The disc opens with “Desert Blues,” an original tune that gently swings and has some truly delightful moments. Doug MacDonald’s guitar work is light and lively, particularly during his lead, and it is that section that makes this track stand out. It’s not his just lead, but the way the rhythm section supports and interacts with his playing that makes it such an enjoyable part. And in the second half, the track features great leads on saxophone and piano. That’s followed by “Whispering,” one of three tracks not composed by Doug MacDonald, here given a bit of a bossa nova vibe. This track features some wonderful work on trumpet, and it is that instrument that seems to drive things forward most strongly. I also love the way Doug MacDonald’s guitar lead develops, at one moment making me think of “Brazil.” There’s something playful about “Gee’s Flat,” as you might expect from its title, and it features a good lead on bass early on. In the track’s second half, it’s the brass players who get a chance to shine. Then we get the album’s second cover, “You’ve Changed,” a song largely associated with Billie Holiday. Doug MacDonald offers some touching guitar work on this track, and the horns have a soothing effect. Things get a little funky with “AT #33,” which features a very cool rhythm, as well as a wonderful lead on saxophone. The trumpet then begins to fly, lifting us all up with it, while the rhythm keeps our feet moving. In the track’s second half, there is a rather exciting lead on piano. Then there is a good energy to “Try Ads” right from the start, the song’s title a play on triads. I’m particularly fond of the guitar work on this track. That’s followed by another playfully titled song, “Si Miner,” which begins with an excellent bass solo, and contains some fantastic playing by each of the musicians. It’s the album’s longest track, with room for some exploration, and is certainly one of the highlights, in part because of that delicious rhythm. The track contains an engaging drum solo. The album concludes with its third cover, “Bubbles In The Wine,” a cheerful and vibrant number. This album was released on March 1, 2024.

Troy Roberts: “Green Lights” – The new album from saxophone player and composer Troy Roberts features all original material. Joining him on this release are Paul Bollenback on guitar, John Patitucci on bass, and Jimmy MacBride on drums. The album opens with its title track, and right away a seriously cool vibe is established. There is clearly something positive about the idea of green lights, and we all love those times when we hit several green lights in a row, feeling connected to the universe in those moments, feeling that things are just working. And things are certainly working on this track, which has something of a relaxed attitude at times, a sense of things flowing and moving just right, no need to stress out or push hard. Yet there is a darker element lurking in the corners, more noticeable as the track progresses. Each of the musicians shines at various points in this track, but I am perhaps most drawn to the drum work, which has a loose feel but keeps everything moving. That’s followed by “The Question,” which feels more contemplative as it begins, particularly the work on tenor saxophone. And if there is an answer to the question, it is likely in the playing, in the quest itself. The guitar lead seems capable of creating an answer, should one not be found. Then “By Your Side” begins with some warm, beautiful work on sax, setting the mood. The musicians shift gears with “Solar Panels,” which opens with some great drumming, and gets even more exciting from there. I love when the bass and saxophone are racing together, and with each new turn the track takes, things just get cooler and cooler. This track is a total delight. “Harry Brown” starts in a darker, more uncertain place, putting us on edge with its compelling atmosphere. We begin to emerge from that with a good bass line, but this track still has intriguing territory to lead us into to, particularly during that guitar lead. That’s followed by “Jive Dumpling,” a title that makes me smile. And yeah, there are some cool elements here, particularly certain themes on sax. Then there is something playful about “Up To No Good,” especially in its opening moments. The sax soon begins to get spirited, though as it does, that particular lead seems to be cut short, the guitar taking over. But there is plenty of great stuff throughout the track, and the sax lead toward the end is excellent. They change gears again with “The Scotsman’s Ballad,” a mellower and pretty number. Then things get hopping again with “Stretch Armstrong,” which features some fantastic guitar work and some wonderful stuff on saxophone, along with a delicious rhythm. There is even a good drum solo toward the end. Troy Roberts concludes the album with a short piece titled “Soundcheckin’” that is basically a bit of banter in the studio. This album is scheduled to be released on May 10, 2024.

Curtis Taylor: “Taylor Made” – Trumpet player Curtis Taylor has played with a lot of artists over the years, and has put out a couple of albums as leader. His new release focuses on his original compositions. All the tracks on the aptly titled Taylor Made were written by Curtis Taylor. Joining him on this release are Marcus Elliot on tenor saxophone, Theron Brown on piano and electric piano, Jonathon Muir-Cotton on bass, Alex White on drums, and David Castañeda on percussion. The album opens with “Kham’s Dilemma,” a tribute to Curtis Taylor’s young son. It has a rather serious vibe in the opening section, through delivered with warmth and concern. Then the rhythm starts to swing a bit, and Curtis Taylor’s lead conveys a joy and excitement. Marcus Elliott’s lead on saxophone likewise gets exciting, as does Theron Brown’s lead on piano. A good deal of the power is created by the rhythm section beneath these leads. Wonderful stuff. The track returns to that opening theme before the end. That’s followed by “After The Rain,” which has a warm and pleasant vibe. It’s a track that will relax you, remind you that life can be wonderful. It’s a needed step away from the stress of life. I especially like the piano work on this one. There is then a drastic tone change with “Heightened Awareness,” which is anything but relaxed. There is a wild energy to this track that feels anxious, nervous, as the bass races along and the horns express their particular worries. There is certainly plenty to be nervous about in the world these days, and sometimes we are assaulted with information, with knowledge of things that should terrify and anger us. How do we assimilate it, react to it, and somehow maintain perspective and sanity? I don’t know. A gentler vibe is established at the beginning of “For Her.” There is both love and admiration expressed in the trumpet work, and there is something light in this song’s motion, like it could step up into the air and continue walking there. Then in “Indomitable,” there is a strength, a resilience heard in the tone. This track features some really nice work on saxophone, and there is a great spirit to the trumpet lead. “Hashtagged” is a piece that Curtis Taylor put on an earlier live album, and revisits here. The first time I saw a word placed after the number sign (#), I was irritated, for it made no sense. People tell me this is progress. Sure, whatever. Still, I enjoy this track, especially the lead on piano. The album concludes with “Journey,” and there is the feeling of setting off on an adventure, eager for new experiences. Interestingly, there is also the sense of having been on a journey, having gained some wisdom along the way. This album is scheduled to be released on April 12, 2024.

Tucker Brothers: “Live At Chatterbox” – Chatterbox seems an apt name for the venue, for at the beginning of this album the sound of patrons talking is audible. But that fades into the background as the band gets into the first number, an unusual rendition of Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer’s “Skylark” that features a strong rhythm, some wonderful stuff on saxophone, and an excellent lead on guitar that gets the crowd applauding. The band is made up of Joel Tucker on guitar, Nick Tucker on bass, Sean Imboden on tenor saxophone, and Carrington Clinton on drums. They follow “Skylark” with “Shakshuka,” an original composition by Joel Tucker. This one moves at a good clip and has a delicious energy. Check out that lead on saxophone. The band is cooking here. The energy relaxes a bit during the bass solo, but quickly picks up again. That section near the end where Carrington Clinton cuts loose on the drums is my favorite part of this stellar track. That’s followed by the group’s impressive take on “Caravan,” the saxophone delivering the familiar theme, while the guitar adds a more modern element. That guitar work is a large part of this rendition’s appeal. And the drumming is fantastic. It’s an overall exciting version of this classic number, and you can hear the audience respond to it. “Mantra” is an original composition by Nick Tucker, who gets it going with a rather moving bass solo. It’s a surprisingly captivating track, and you find yourself soon caught up in its unhurried and soothing movement. That’s followed by another original tune, “Away,” written by Joel Tucker. I love the way this one builds toward exciting moments, with the sax soaring. And there are parts of that guitar lead that will elate fans of jam bands, as it has that sort of vibe. This track ends up being another of the disc’s highlight for me. Then “You And The Night And The Music” contains some excellent leads, and has its own undeniable power, driven by that great work on bass. I am particularly fond of the guitar lead on this track, but there is also an outstanding lead on bass. The album concludes with another original piece, “Rhythm Changed,” composed by Joel Tucker. It’s a quirky and dramatic gem, one that keeps you on your toes, featuring some impressive work by each of the musicians. This album was released on February 1, 2024. Also released on that date was an EP by another group that features Joel Tucker on guitar, Communal from Commodore Trio.

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