A short piece on some of the most interesting Jazz records to be released so far in 2008. From this list the James Carter and Miguel Zenon albums are definitely among the best releases that I’ve listened to this year.
Though not mentioned in the article, there are some other notable recent records by Marcus Miller, Omar Sosa, David Sanchez and Irvin Mayfield & Ellis Marsalis.
2008 is shaping up as a fantastic year for Jazz enthusiasts.
A good summer for jazz lovers
SIT BACK, STRAP ON THE HEADPHONES AND SAMPLE THESE DISCS
By Richard Scheinin
Summer arrives, and everyone goes searching for those books they’ve been meaning to read. Great idea, but here’s another: How about curling up in the hammock, putting on the headphones and catching up with some music? Here are some of the best jazz releases of the first half of 2008, a baker’s dozen.
• Brian Blade Fellowship: “Seasons of Change” (Verve). An essential recording by the great drummer’s longstanding band. The music is darkly beautiful, at once melancholy and optimistic, evoking wide-open American vistas. You can feel Blade’s Southern heritage, his love of gospel, folk music, loose-limbed rock and Coltrane’s yearning. Jazz has always had roots; this has roots. Several of today’s most important players are in the sextet, which feels like a little orchestra: Blade, guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel and saxophonist Myron Walden.
• Jane Ira Bloom: “Mental Weather” (Outline). Every year or two, the soprano saxophonist releases a jewel of an album. Here’s another: It’s brainy and lovely. I listen and imagine gardenias at midnight.
• James Carter: “Present Tense” (Emarcy). Straight out of the gate, this record bristles with energy. In the tradition of Roland Kirk, saxophonist/multi-reed master Carter is an upholder of tradition, an avant-gardist and an entertainer. His solo work on flute, bass clarinet and soprano, tenor and baritone saxophones is brimming with personality, with reverence for past masters
– and with an irreverence they would have appreciated. A highlight: Carter’s gorgeous baritone solo on “Tenderly.”
• Guillermo Klein and Los Guachos: “Filtros” (Sunnyside). Mesmerizing, pulsing like a jellyfish in the moonlight, flooded with pastel colors and irrepressible soloists, the latest record by the Argentinian pianist, composer and singer and his 11-piece band is pretty astonishing. It’s pop-inflected, folkloric and forward-gazing. A who’s who of the current scene, the band throws off sparks; the recording came on the heels of a week at New York’s Village Vanguard. Among the notables are saxophonists Miguel Zenón and Chris Cheek, drummer Jeff Ballard and guitarist Ben Monder.
• Charles Lloyd Quartet: “Rabo de Nube” (ECM). The saxophonist’s newly configured quartet incites him to some especially lofty flights on this live recording: roaring, then fluttering, riding the breezes in that special Lloydian dream-place. Lloyd always had an eye for talent – he put Keith Jarrett in the spotlight 40 years ago. But improving on this latest band (drummer Eric Harland, bassist Reuben Rogers and pianist Jason Moran) may prove difficult.
• Lionel Loueke: “Karibu” (Blue Note). Born and raised in Benin, the guitarist brings West and South African folkloric elements to his simmering conception. He sings in imaginary languages; flows through virtuoso rhythmic modulations with his trio; ascends to outer-harmonic space with a pair of mentors, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. Fresh sounds.
• Bennie Maupin Quartet: “Early Reflections” (Cryptogramophone). I love this album by multi-reedist Maupin, best known for his years (late ’60s to mid-’70s) with Herbie Hancock, his history-making appearance on Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew” and earlier recordings with McCoy Tyner and Lee Morgan. Here, with a group of young Polish musicians, he makes music of quietly swirling rhythms, colors and song. (Maupin’s classic “The Jewel in the Lotus” from 1974 has also been recently reissued on ECM.)
• “Miles from India” (Times Square). Producer Bob Belden conceived this “celebration of the music of Miles Davis,” hiring a squadron of Davis’ friends (Wallace Roney, Ron Carter, Lenny White et al.) and cross-pollinating that team with jazz and classical musicians from India. The percussionists include Badal Roy, who played in Davis’ 1970s electric bands, on tablas. Check out “Spanish Key,” with its roiling rhythms and a melody that rises up and vanishes like smoke.
• Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis: “Two Men With the Blues” (Blue Note). Break out the horseshoes and the barbecue, and pump this through the stereo speakers. Good tunes, good times. Extra-special are “Night Life” and “Star Dust,” bursting with soulful exclamations.
• Kurt Rosenwinkel Group: “The Remedy: Live at the Village Vanguard” (ArtistShare). Guitarist Rosenwinkel is a seeker, a hero of the new generation of players and fans. He leads groundbreaking bands, like the one here, and works with advanced harmonic concepts – though you wouldn’t know it, because his melodies and overall sound emerge with such seeming simplicity. This two-disc set is filled with visceral, beautiful performances; his searing solo on “Chords” may be the best he’s ever recorded.
• Grant Stewart: “Young at Heart” (Sharp Nine). The tenor saxophonist has a warm, brawny sound and spins ideas the way Sonny Rollins did in the ’50s. On this straight-ahead set, he is joined by an excellent quartet, with Tardo Hammer, a real-deal bebop player, on piano.
• Cassandra Wilson: “Loverly” (Blue Note). Her first album of standards in 20 years is informal, surprising, occasionally perplexing – on “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly,” the band wobbles along, it seems so unfamiliar with the tune. Yet the album gains traction. Wilson’s cigarettes-and-honey voice – it’s the Greatest Voice on Earth – is alarmingly unique and alluring, still a revelation. “The Very Thought of You,” a duet with bassist Reginald Veal, stopped me in my tracks.
• Miguel Zenón: “Awake” (Marsalis Music). The alto saxophonist invokes the pure, buoyant sounds of Bird, Adderley and Ornette. He’s also an explorer of new rhythmic and harmonic ideas, and, like Rosenwinkel, projects a corelike Rosenwinkel, projects a core quality of simple, beautiful melody. On this superb record – whether he surrounds his quartet with a string section; alludes to flamenco and Puerto Rican folk forms; or touches on free improvisation – he invites the listener into the music.