May 23, 2024

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Top 15 Jazz new albums and reviews of 2019: Videos

1 Keith Jarrett Munich 2016 – 19 (ECM)

Virtuoso pianist Keith Jarrett will have Munich 2016, a recording of his concert at Munich’s Philharmonic Hall on 16 July 2016, released by ECM on 1 November. The album captures the last night of Jarrett’s tour of that year, and a concert in which he was at the peak of his improvisational powers. He plays music of polyrhythmic and harmonic complexity, intermingled with blues and folksong lyricism in what was recognised as one of his finest performances. The attentive and admiring German audience hangs on every note in a show that featured an encore of ‘It’s A Lonesome Old Town.’

2. Branford Marsalis Quartet The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul (OKeh)

That some will talk trash about the Marsalis brothers forever is a given. Wynton and Branford are jazz warriors unafraid to chart their individual courses against trend, against style, against East and West Coast jazz divisions. Branford and pianist Joey Calderazzo live in the South, bassist Eric Revis in L.A., and drummer Justin Faulkner wherever his hat falls; this seeming group dislocation is mirrored in the oddly open-ended but focused splendor of The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul. While many pay mere lip service to the idea of free expression, the Quartet raise the creative stakes to incendiary levels, adding classical and operatic influences to the common jazz menu of blues, swing, and solos, with searing group interplay. An hour of envelope-smashing improvisations, the record tilts on Revis’ rowdy “Dance of the Evil Toys” and Calderazzo’s stately “Conversation Among the Ruins,” while Marsalis’ “Life Filtering from the Water Flowers” battles through nearly 10 minutes of nose-diving improvisations and refined instrumental ballistics. Andrew Hill’s “Snake Hip Waltz” and Keith Jarrett’s “The Windup” form the opposing poles of this album’s bipolar but beautiful character.

3. Dave Holland, Zakir Hussain, Chris Potter Good Hope (Edition)

Saxophone, bass, and drums make a relatively standard trio—except when the drums are tablas, and the player is Zakir Hussain. But don’t mistake this for raga-jazz, as Hussain meets bassist Dave Holland and saxophonist Chris Potter on their own turf, sparking performances that range from the bass-driven “Good Hope” and the easy, tuneful “Island Feel” to the swirling group improvisation in “Lucky Seven.”

4. Tom Harrell Infinity (HighNote)

Joined by familiar associates, including drummer Johnathan Blake, the trumpeter and flugelhornist offers searing, soaring lines on well-drawn compositions that feel distinctly forward-looking. With saxophonist Mark Turner and guitarist Charles Altura (replacing piano for a more open sound) as chief foils, Harrell opens with the chugging groove and speedy head of “The Fast,” hints at Gaelic themes on “Dublin” and “The Isle,” and makes great use of a hypnotic riff on closer “Taurus.”

5. Chick Corea, Christian McBride, Brian Blade Trilogy 2 (Concord)

The ever-restless pianist collaborates with bassist Christian McBride and drummer Brian Blade on a double-disc sequel to their 2013 triple-disc release. Taking a mostly democratic approach to music making, they cook up arresting versions of Return to Forever tunes “500 Miles High” and “La Fiesta,” nod to Monk on “Crepuscule with Nellie” and the rarely played “Work” (also on the first Trilogy), and put creative spins on “How Deep Is the Ocean” and “But Beautiful.”

6. Brad Mehldau Finding Gabriel (Nonesuch)

In the beginning, Brad Mehldau plays a simple synthesizer melody, ringing with felicity and melancholy, like church bells celebrating simultaneous marital and funereal rites. Over the next seven minutes the song builds as instruments and voices join the repeated phrase until the music crescendos into glorious, frantic chaos. “The Garden,” the first track on the pianist and composer’s new album, Finding Gabriel, establishes the biblical nature of music at the outset. The record’s 10 tracks take inspiration from Old Testament verses that Mehldau details in the liner notes as instructive in reading our current political and cultural moment.

7. Dave Douglas, Uri Caine, Andrew Cyrille Devotion (Greenleaf)

Jazz is glutted with tribute albums—to Bird, to Monk, to Dizzy—but Dave Douglas’ trio album Devotion is a more personal and nebulous kind of homage. The trumpeter’s compositions, written for pianist Franco D’Andrea (“D’Andrea,” “Francis of Anthony”), composer Carla Bley (“False Allegiances”), and even a Stooge (“Curly”), sound open and egoless, leaving room for pianist Uri Caine and drummer Andrew Cyrille to play off each other both sympathetically and irreverently.

8. Joe Lovano Trio Tapestry (ECM)

oe Lovano’s first album as a leader on ECM introduces a new trio. Marilyn Crispell is a pianist from the jazz avant-garde. Her background is unusual for a Lovano collaborator. Carmen Castaldi is a drummer from the Paul Motian school of minimalism. The first track, “One Time In,” opens with Lovano on gongs. You know the haunting sound from your dreams. A nocturnal atmosphere descends. Lovano’s first tenor saxophone notes are soft and measured, adjectives not often applied to his music. Such rapt inner focus, such quietude, has long been associated with the ECM aesthetic. Whether producer Manfred Eicher influenced the atmosphere of Trio Tapestry or whether Lovano found the right label for his new music is perhaps not important. In press notes Lovano says that his 11 new compositions “draw upon twelve-tone processes.” On pieces like “Seeds of Change,” “Tarassa” and “Sparkle Lights,” tone rows are starting points from which Lovano flows directly into emotion. He is known for his power and his wealth of ideas. But here, in this spare context, he deals with fewer ideas and therefore concentrates on the essential ones. It is fascinating to hear him develop diverse melodies from the stepping stones of his tunes. In this bare trio, the beauty of his musical logic is laid bare. The reverberations of his gongs add mystery and also suggest key centers for improvisation.

10. Bill Frisell, Thomas Morgan Epistrophy (ECM)

Yes, it’s more of the same: further recordings from the 2016 Village Vanguard duo engagement that gave us Small Town two years ago, with a similar set list (Motian, John Barry, “Wildwood Flower”). But does anyone really have a problem with a few extra quiet epiphanies? Frisell and Morgan further demonstrate their shared fondness for the surprising pause, as the Vanguard stage becomes a cozy cantina on the border between the expressed and the unexpressed thought.

11. Nicolas Bearde I Remember You: The Music Of Nat King Cole

I like that we took an unexpected direction with this music. Too often I think that artists will try to evoke some aspect of the musician or singer that they intend to honor. Working with Josh and the rest of the players, we all quickly came to the unspoken understanding that we were just going to work in a way that reflected our own individual styles. Also since we were working on material that much of the band had not heard or played before, we didn’t have to struggle against ingrained performances of Nat’s classics.

12. Dom Minasi Remembering Cecil

When Cecil died it was heartbreaking to me and many of his fans. I decided I wanted to pay tribute to him in my own special way, which meant not copying his style put to bring most of myself into it which meant,  to me, my own history and the free jazz  history. I  listened to a lot of his solo concerts and I would play along, not to copy but to get the essence of the man and his music. I think I got it. I just sat in the studio and played. Every cut was on the first take.

13. John Finbury Sorte!

The creative process for the album was unlike my previous releases, in that I joined forces with producer Emilio D. Miler, who in turn introduced me to singer/lyricist Thalma de Freitas. Thalma’s lyrics are deeply rooted in her spiritual and metaphysical beliefs; some of those we share, and some were new to me. Working with Thalma, I learned to work outside my comfort zone as some of her lyrics spoke of things I did not understand, and so I read and studied the work of some of Thalma’s mentors such as Robin D. C. Kelley to get closer to her poetry. Allowing my work be influenced by Thalma’s artistry as opposed to having her lyrics adapt to my pre-conceived lyrical preferences, was an important learning experience for me that will surely positively inform my approach to future collaborations.

14. Rich Willey Down & Dirty

I love the arrangements, what the arrangers heard and did with my tunes, and I love the incredible band that Dan Fornero lined up for the sessions (including my old friend and current principal trumpeter for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Thomas Hooten on piccolo trumpet!). I love the fact that it’s not all “cerebral” and doesn’t require you to be some sort of musical genius to understand and appreciate (and enjoy) what’s happening. I love the variety of feels that the arrangers presented and that the rhythm section achieved. Finally, I love the last tune (But For The Grace Of God) and I even love the fact that Dan had me play his flugelhorn (against my better judgment, mind you) on that tune and that it’s an absolutely amazing arrangement (by Mike Abene) played by an absolutely amazing band with 34 strings (the strings were my wife’s idea!) and four French horn parts.

15. Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah Ancestral Recall (Ropeadope)

With its layers of roiling African-suffused percussion crossbreeding with Western instrumentation, gripping spoken-word interludes, and Adjuah’s own trumpet and electronics, Ancestral Recall teems with audacity and authority. At times there is an overpowering sense of otherworldliness and displacement within these incessantly engaging grooves, the music transcending conventional rules of time and space to forge its own self-contained world.

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