Jeanne Lee and Ran Blake, “A Night in Tunisia”
The Newest Sound Around was Jeanne Lee and Ran Blake’s first duo album, released on RCA Victor in 1962 — and if there’s a hint of a boast in that title, it was fully warranted, then as now.
Lee, a vocalist with a deep, smoky tone and an exploratory ken, died of cancer in 2000, at 61; Blake, a pianist who brings rational sense to the pursuit of shadow intrigue, is still productive at 83. The two artists, who met at Bard College, released a scant amount of subsequent material: one live recording from the mid-‘60s, and a studio effort from 1989.
So it’s worth making some noise about a fantastic new archival release, The Newest Sound You Never Heard. Recorded in 1966 and ’67 at the studios of VRT, a Belgian radio and television station, it’s releasing Friday on A-Side Records, in partnership with the Ran Blake Foundation and the New England Conservatory, where Blake has taught for more than 50 years.
The album, containing almost two hours of previously unissued music, perfectly captures the rare intuitive bond between these artists. Along with jazz standards by Thelonious Monk and others, it includes popular songs of the day, like Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” and The Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night.” Among the highlights is this magnificent version of “A Night in Tunisia,” which has its premiere here.
Blake has continued his tradition of transcendent duo performance with vocalists, including Sara Serpa and Dominique Eade, who observes in the album liner notes: “Hearing these recordings after knowing their previous work so well creates a sensation similar to that of dreaming you have found an extra room in your house.”
But there remains a special, unsurpassable chemistry between Blake and Lee, as these historic recordings attest. That quality will suggest both a presence and an absence when Blake performs a solo concert this Sunday at the New England Conservatory, as a tribute to Lee, before what would have been her 80th birthday.
Allison Miller’s Boom Tic Boom, “Zev – The Phoenix”
Drummer and composer Allison Miller has been busy in recent months — out on tour with Artemis; working in bands jointly led by Jenny Scheinman or Carmen Staaf; furthering the cause of melodic drumming. She’s now about to release a new album by her band Boom Tic Boom, which has a decade’s worth of music in the rear view, with Scheinman on violin, Myra Melford on piano, Kirk Knuffke on cornet, Ben Goldberg on clarinets, and Todd Sickafoose on bass.
The album is Glitter Wolf, due out on the Royal Potato Family label on Feb. 1. The track above is “Zev – The Phoenix,” inspired by the energy of an 8-year-old child. Beginning with a bittersweet toll of piano chords, the song features a sun-dappled melody of the sort favored by cornetist Ron Miles. It’s a portrait of watchful curiosity, delivered with sensitive flair.
Julian Lage, “Tomorrow is the Question”
After burnishing his trio credentials with a terrific album called Modern Lore, guitarist Julian Lage takes another step forward and one to the side. His new album — Love Hurts, arriving on Mack Avenue on Feb. 22 — features a new trio lineup, with Jorge Roeder on bass and Dave King on drums. It’s a lean, rangy band with a shared commitment to surprise, as you can see in the studio footage below.
“Tomorrow is the Question” is an Ornette Coleman anthem, with a title that still rings of untroubled confidence in an age of discovery. Lage embraces its spirit of expedition without losing a rootsy foothold; like Pat Metheny, he knows how to access Coleman’s music from a place where Jim Hall meets Chet Atkins. The rapport in this band is as clear as Lage’s sense of phrase, and it should raise expectations for the album.
Dave Douglas and ENGAGE, “Showing Up”
Last year, trumpeter and composer Dave Douglas channeled his activism (some of it, anyway) into a subscription series he called Uplift, available in regular installments from Greenleaf Music. He has a new related series under the moniker ENGAGE, and has just shared the first track, “Showing Up.”
“Showing Up,” Douglas writes in a note accompanying the track. “That’s what so many of us did over the past year. Change is coming, and it feels like we’re collectively waking up to the bigger, more fundamental changes that need to happen.” As on the rest of ENGAGE, Douglas enlists a brilliant team of collaborators: cellist Tomeka Reid, flutist Anna Webber, bassist Nick Dunston, drummer Kate Gentile — and guitarist Jeff Parker, whose solo is a focal point in the track. To experience the full sweep of ENGAGE.
Theo Croker, “Subconscious Flirtations and Titillations”
When we last encountered trumpeter Theo Croker, he was plugged into the groove matrix known as The RH Factor, as part of a marathon tribute to Roy Hargrove. Croker’s next album, Star People Nation, also aligns with that general idea, placing his production and songwriting in a funk-forward mode.
“Subconscious Flirtations and Titillations” is the first single from the album, which will be released on Sony Masterworks. As the title implies, it’s a portrait of seduction: Croker’s horn moves with assurance through a layered soundscape, giving the synth drums and electronic textures a steady human touch.