James Carter, Present Tense (Emarcy). When he burst onto the jazz scene from Detroit in the early ’90s, Carter’s virtuosity on an arsenal of woodwinds sometimes overrode content in his music. After a three-year recording hiatus, he reappears with no loss of dazzle and with the benefits of self-editing. Carter mixes original compositions and classics. Highlights: the rhythmic intensity of his flute work on Dodo Marmarosa’s “Dodo’s Bounce,” his reflective gospel coda to a speedy baritone saxophone romp through Gigi Gryce’s “Hymn of the Orient,” his bass clarinet evocation of Eric Dolphy on “Bro. Dolphy.”
David Braid Sextet, Zhen (DB). The pianist-composer and five other prominent Canadians
stomp with gusto in “Fishers of Men,” create compelling lyricism in “Lydian Sky” and find something new in Coltrane’s “Giant Steps.” Braid’s sidemen include bassist Steve Wallace, drummer Terry Clarke and the remarkable saxophonist Mike Murley. Superior small-band music arranged by Braid with ingenuity and wit.
Swiss Jazz Orchestra and Jim McNeely, Paul Klee (Mons). Swiss Jazz Orchestra leader George Robert asked McNeely to compose an album’s worth of pieces inspired by Klee’s paintings. “I’ve always loved Klee’s work, so I put a lot of research into his life and his methods and his writings,” McNeely told me recently. The result is eight Klee impressions incorporating the vision and resourcefulness of one of the best living writers of music. They include a conceptualization of Ad Parnassum (seen here) that matches its inspiration’s mystery, allusion and whimsy. To learn more about McNeely, go to All About Jazz for a comprehensive verbatim interview.
Rosa Passos, Romance (Telarc). The greatest mistress of Brazilian song since Elis Regina sings a dozen love songs. Accompanied by small groups of superb musicians from her country, she sustains an air of enchantment and saudade, her small, rich voice simultaneously transmitting innocence and world-weariness.
Ellis Marsalis, An Open Letter to Thelonious (ELM). If you’re not going to be
swallowed by Thelonious Monk’s mystique, recording a program of Thelonious Monk tunes with a rhythm section and a tenor saxophone requires a strong sense of self. Marsalis has that sense. He doesn’t solo on piano like Monk and he doesn’t comp like Monk behind saxophonist Derek Douget, who does not play like Charlie Rouse. Yet, the two of them, drummer Jason Marsalis and bassist Jason Stewart observe the letter of Monk’s music in the ensembles while accommodating it to their own spirits in their improvisation. Once, in his unaccompanied “‘Round Midnight,” Marsalis offers as a direct tribute an oh-by-the-way Monkish interval of a second. “Jackie-ing,” with its off-beat metre between Marsalis and Douget, is pure joy. I’ve been listening to Marsalis for forty years. I’ve never enjoyed him more than in this recording.