I'm still catching up on my CD-discovery reviews, but I'm just about on track now. This week, a thoughtful big band, a tender hard-bop quintet, Swedish jazz-folk, jazz-soul with a Prestige spin, relaxed jazz-fusion, Canadian country, three Californians in love with New Orleans and more...
David White Jazz Orchestra—The Chase (Mister Shepherd). Four years after trombonist, composer and arranger White first formed a 17-piece big band in 2007, he released their first album. Now White has released their second, which features arrangements that wrap around original compositions in a fascinating way. Instead of smashing songs to bits with blaring solos or swinging them over the moon, White's charts take the Thad Jones approach, creating interesting silos of original lines by using sighing sections and plenty of space, time changes and warm textures. The Sweetest Bite of Cherry is a perfect example. The same goes for Blues for Sally Draper. A thinking artist's approach to big band writing that comes across almost cinematic in its measured, moody approach.
Eddie Allen—Push (Edjalen). A tasteful and gentle hard-bop album all the way through. Trumpeter Allen composed and arranged eight of the nine tracks here, which showcases his wide range of talents. He's backed by Keith Loftis on tenor sax, Dion Tucker on trombone, Misha Tsiganov on keyboards, Mark Soskin on piano, Kenny Davis on bass and E.J. Strickland on drums. The sole standard is Who Can I Turn To, on which Allen delivers a solid reading. Allen's prior work with Art Blakey, Joe Henderson, Randy Weston, Dizzy Gillespie and others shows, especially when it comes to taste. When he's not running a quartet, White is leading a quintet, an Afro-Cuban/Brazilian group called Salongo and a 16-piece big band called the Eddie Allen Aggregation.
Nils Landgren—Eternal Beauty (Act Company). This album was a big surprise. I had no idea what to expect and it knocked me out instantly. The music is a fascinating mix of jazz and folk-rock. Landgren's voice has a hayfield tranquility to it, sort of like Cat Stevens or James Taylor whispering a secret. When he's not singing, Landgren plays trombone or listens to the rest of the jazz ensemble—Michael Wollny (piano), Johan Norberg (guitars), Lars Danielsson (bass and cello), Rasmus Kihilberg (drums) and Lisa Nilsson (vocals on For Your Love). Dig Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight and One Frozen Moment. And to think they're all Swedish.
Enrico Pieranunzi—Play Morricone 1&2 (CamJazz). This two-CD re-issue features Pieranunzi (piano), Marc Johnson (bass) and Joey Baron (drums) playing the music of composer, arranger and conductor Ennio Morricone. Pieranunzi in the 1970s and '80s was a studio musician and recorded on the soundtracks for dozens of films, so he thinks in terms of drama. There's a brooding tenderness and inquisitiveness about Morricone's music that travels beyond slick to sentiment and soul. Fortunately, the trio here has a fine understanding of Morricone's musical language and intent, lifting songs like Mio caro Dottor Graesler to new levels with jazz interpretations. Johnson, of course, spent years with pianist Bill Evans, while Baron played behind many avant-garde and mainstream artists. The material was recorded in Rome in 2001 and 2002. Great to have them combined here.
Eric Alexander—Chicago Fire (High Note). Alexander is at it again, this time with a groovy soul-jazz album reminiscent of Prestige releases of the 1960s. He kicks off the CD with a swinging Save Your Love for Me, which singer Nancy Wilson made famous on her album with Cannonball Adderley in 1961. There's a barn-burning rendition of Just One of Those Things, a Sonny Stitt tribute called Mr. Stitt and a double-down hat-tip to Stitt and Gene Ammons on Leon Spencer Jr.'s You Talk That Talk. Clean, aggressive wailing with a bottomless pit of ideas. Alexander is backed by Harold Mabern (piano), John Webber (bass) and Joe Farnsworth (drums), with Jeremy Pelt (trumpet) on several tracks.
Ellen Rowe Quintet—Courage Music (PKO). This album's title is a bit misleading. You not only get to hear the quintet led by pianist Rowe but also the University of Michigan Chamber Jazz Ensemble, a six-musician unit. Composer, arranger and pianist Rowe has appeared on Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz and is on the staff of the Michigan School of Music, where she is chair of the jazz department and directs the university's jazz ensemble. What I love about this album is its delicate, caring approach, particularly on the two-part And Miles to Go and Gentle Spirit. Rowe proves that not all jazz has to rock houses to make a point.
Viper Mad Trio—Buddy Bolden's Blues (Sono). These three—Molly Reeves (guitar and vocal), Ryan Robertson (trumpet and vocal) and Kellen Garcia (bass)—are a trad jazz trio with a full grasp of the languid 1930s, making an incursion or two into the 1940s on songs such as I'm Beboppin' Too. Though all three musicians are from California, they have a yen for New Orleans, and their passion shows in the music's subtle inflections. The trio works through each song patiently rather than frantically, which allows the vocals to sound like warmed caramel, moving slowly and sweetly through melodies. And Reeves turns on the sexy kitten voice just enough to make a point. Dig 8, 9 & 10, the title track and the engaging I'm Confessin' That I Love You. Just jazzy enough.
Mark Egan—About Now (Wavetone). When it comes to jazz fusion, Egan has it covered. A member of the Pat Metheny Group from 1977 to 1980, and the Gil Evans Orchestra, he co-founded Elements, a jazz fusion band. On this album, Egan plays bass as if he were soloing on trumpet. Improvised lines don't thump but hammer with purpose. While Egan sounds like he's backed by a dozen musicians, the lineup is merely Mitchell Forman on a range of keyboards and Danny Gottlieb on drums. Some tracks have a rock-funk Steely Dan feel (Slinky and McKenzie Portage), others are tender (Graceful Branch) or mildly uptempo (Puerto Plata and Sailing). Perfect for a late night drive home.
Del Barber—Prairieography (True North). When country is sincere, it hits my buttons. Canadian guitarist, singer and composer Barber delivers songs with innocence and conviction, letting each member of his band bleed through—especially the steel guitar and fiddle. Songs have a far-from-home sound, and song lyrics aren't just clever phrases but have meaning and story-telling heft. Dig Farewell, God Bless You, Goodbye and Peter And Jenny Lee. If you've ever driven South for hours and stopped at the end of a day for a long-neck pulled out of ice water, you'll find this one hard to take off.