Along with gripping new music by the avant-garde super trio Alcorn / McPhee / Vandermark, pianist Victor Gould, and the late alto saxophonist Art Pepper.
Jazz meets the Gullah culture of the Carolina coast in the exuberant music of Ranky Tanky, which has come a long way in a few short years. The band, a five-piece, just released its second album, Good Time — an aptly titled clutch of songs that proudly show their roots, evoking a Lowcountry blend of deep spirituals, West African folk songs, rustic country, and creolized soul.
As with Ranky Tanky’s self-titled debut album, which was released to high acclaim in 2017, Good Time puts Quiana Parler’s commanding voice front and center, to strong effect. But this is a group that also touts its supporting players: the rubbery groove of drummer Quentin Baxter and bassist Kevin Hamilton, the smart trumpet work of Charlton Singleton. And this album draws a bit more focus on Clay Ross, both as a guitarist and a singer.
In fact, Ross takes the vocal lead on the title track, sounding the call in a spirited call-and-response. It isn’t until the back end of the song that Parler steps up to the plate, using her gospel chops to kick everything instantly into a higher gear. A music video for the song, shot in the band’s hometown of Charleston, S.C., dramatizes this moment with a narrative about a juke joint on the verge of foreclosure. (Spoiler alert: the endangered spot, actual Charleston landmark The Commodore, is saved by means of a killer show, rent-party style.)
Good Time is available now on Resilience Music. Ranky Tanky performs in Hanover, N.H. on Wednesday; in Ventura, Calif. on Saturday; and in Phoenix, Ariz. on Sunday.
Susan Alcorn, Joe McPhee & Ken Vandermark, “Invitation to a Dream”
Susan Alcorn, an exploratory ace on pedal steel guitar, and Joe McPhee, a boundless explorer on saxophone, trumpet and valve trombone, made news together last summer as the inaugural winners of the Instant Award in Improvised Music. The award, conceived and presented by the Chicago art gallery Corbett vs. Dempsey, came with an unrestricted prize of $50,000, and no small amount of prestige. What wasn’t at all clear, at the announcement of the award, was the intention that McPhee and Alcorn had to collaborate — an intention that has now yielded Invitation To A Dream, a forthcoming album with multi-reedist Ken Vandermark, a MacArthur fellow and linchpin of the Chicago improvised-music scene.
Recorded in Austin, Tx., and due out on the Astral Spirits label on Aug. 23, Invitation to a Dream can be understood as a marvel of spontaneous communion. That much is apparent on the title track, which unfolds at a gradual pace but with a clear intensity of focus, as Alcorn and Vandermark seem to carefully test the air in the room. McPhee finally joins the fray just after the seven-minute mark, on trumpet — and it couldn’t be more effective an entrance. His partners give him space for a few moments, and then Alcorn creeps into the background, providing him with a foil. There’s a severe beauty in the exchange, and in the remainder of this recording, a true document of musical interplay as a developing story.
Taylor McFerrin, “Now That You Need Me”
The producer, keyboardist, DJ and vocalist Taylor McFerrin has been an increasingly visible force over the last several years; perhaps you’ve encountered him alongside Robert Glasper, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah and others in the jazz-R&B supergroup R+R=Now. McFerrin is now poised to deepen his impact with a second solo album, Love’s Last Chance, due out Aug. 16 on AWAL.
On the album’s lead single, “Now That You Need Me,” McFerrin creates a dreamy soul entreaty, with flickers of influence from the 1970s (e.g. Shuggie Otis), the 1990s (e.g. Maxwell), and the 2010s (e.g. Frank Ocean). His singing is understated but assertive, and the musicianship on the track is effervescent and seamless.
Victor Gould, “Thoughts Become Things”
Victor Gould has established his reputation as an astute pianist and a thoughtful composer, on his own steam and as a sideman to artists like trumpeter Jeremy Pelt. Gould has just released his third album, Thoughts Become Things, on Blue Room Music, and it shows every sign of strengthening his stature.
The title track features a string quartet alongside Gould’s all-star ensemble, featuring Pelt, flutist Anne Drummond, saxophonists Godwin Louis and Dayna Stephens, bassist Vicente Archer and drummer Rodney Green. Listen for the keening glimmer of Susan Mandel’s cello, which leads into Gould’s piano solo, a study in articulate cool.
Art Pepper, “A Song For Richard”
Laurie Pepper, the widow of alto saxophonist Art Pepper, has made a veritable cottage industry out of his previously unissued music: she has now released 10 albums under the series banner Unreleased Art Pepper, the most recent of which was recorded in Toronto in 1977. Laurie, the essential coauthor of Art’s ageless autobiography Straight Life, has also taken it upon herself to share the occasional stray gift, free to any and all. Last week she shared two such tracks, including this version of “A Song For Richard,” composed by Joe Gordon.
The song, a contrafact of “Autumn Leaves,” finds Pepper at the helm of a sensitive quartet featuring the Bulgarian pianist Milcho Leviev, and a regular rhythm team of bassist bassist Tony Dumas and drummer Carl Burnett. It seems likely this was recorded at Ronnie Scott’s in London on June 28 or 29, 1980, during the same engagement that yielded Blues for the Fisherman: Unreleased Art Pepper, Vol. 6. The playing is first-rate, relaxed and direct, with plenty of grease on the wheels. (Check out the approving yawp in the crowd at 2:22, just after the rhythm section shifts into a walking swing.)