Not to make too big a deal of it; I know I’ve mentioned it once or twice before. But it’s impossible to keep up with the torrential flow of jazz releases. All we can do is try. Here’s the latest attempt—four entries.
An Evening With Herb Geller & The Roberto Magris Trio (JMood)
In the years before his death in late 2013, the American alto saxophonist Herb Geller often traveled from his home in Hamburg for appearances with Italian pianist Roberto Magris and his trio. This last live Geller album is from the 2009 Novi Sad Jazz Festival in Serbia, with bonus tracks recorded shortly after at Vienna’s Porgy & Bess club. It finds Geller still thriving at 81, playing heartily and treating the audience to stories about several of the tunes in his repertoire. He emphasizes his debt to Benny Carter, then performs a moving version of Carter’s “Lonely Woman.” The album has Geller in good form in pieces by Johnny Mandel, Zoot Sims, Cole Porter and Billy Strayhorn, among others. The energy and joy he pours into Frank Loesser’s “If I Were A Bell” inspire Magris and the young bassist Nikola Matosic to solo with equal vigor. Enzo Carpentieri is the resourceful drummer.
The recent Magris album Morgan Rewind, also on JMood, has the pianist at the head of a septet paying spirited tribute to trumpeter Lee Morgan.
Kamasi Washington, The Epic (Brainfeeder)
Much of the publicity surrounding Kamasi Washington, a young tenor saxophonist from Los Angeles, concentrates on his connections to the hip-hop phenomenon (Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, et al). That may cause apprehension among those yet to be enamored of hip-hop. They needn’t be too concerned.
In fact, this is a jazz album. It comes close to living up to its title—in the C.B. DeMille sense. Washington’s epic involves a 32-piece orchestra, a 20-voice chorus, two drummers, two bassists, at least one synthesizer, organ, piano and four horns. I heard Washington as part of someone else’s band at last year’s Portland Jazz Festival, admired the size of his sound and thought it would be interesting to see what might become of him. Six months or so later, this album showed up. I finally carved out the time to listen to its 3 compact discs. Washington incorporates much of the post-Coltrane tradition and spirit. He bows significantly toward late-career Miles Davis. His playing suggests familiarity not only with later Coltrane but also with Albert Ayler, Pharaoh Sanders and free jazz in general. And yet, this massive undertaking makes sense thematically. It is disciplined, carefully thought out and has attractive blends of instruments. Some of Washington’s solos follow Coltrane’s lead in going on too long, but in general it’s an adventurous, disciplined album with variety that makes for stimulating listening.
Aaron Diehl, Space Time Continuum (Mack Avenue)
Pianist Diehl attracted attention and favorable reviews with his first album, The Bespoke Man’s Narrative. Touring and recording with singer Cécile McLorin Savant brought him further acclaim for his thoroughgoing musicianship and grasp of all aspects of the jazz tradition. With bassist David Wong and drummer Quincy Davis rounding out a solid rhythm section, Diehl brings in four collaborators. The young tenor saxophonist Stephen Riley appears on two tracks, pleasing with his light tone and impressive for fluency and harmonic acuity reminiscent of Lucky Thompson and Benny Golson. Perhaps not coincidentally, Golson plays on two tracks. There is a rollicking guest shot on another by the venerable baritone saxophonist Joe Temperley.
With Diehl, you expect allusions to things past. Here, in a performance of his “Santa Maria” you get a bow toward Chick Corea’s “Matrix.” The rising singer Charnee Wade performs the album’s title tune. Her substantial voice brings additional power to Ms. McLorin Savant’s spiritual lyric. Diehl, Wong, Davi, Golson and Harris end the piece with individual statements, then a stretch of simultaneous soloing by everyone, including Ms. Wade. That wraps up the album with an appealing bumptiousness as it fades out.
Kenny Wheeler, Songs For Quintet (ECM)
The somber black and white photo on the cover of the great trumpeter’s last album—indeed, his final performance—might lead a listener to expect stark, autumnal music. Nine months before Kenny Wheeler died in 2014, his celebrated extreme high register was gone, but his lyricism and sense of beauty were intact. He had confined his playing to the trumpet’s gentler cousin the flugelhorn. If anything, his expression was more profound. Little abrasions in some of his notes, burryness in his tone, don’t matter because the content he invents in piece after piece is perfection. The emotion he expresses and the clarity of the spontaneous composing in his solos are flawlessly in synch. Guitarist John Parricelli, bassist Chris Laurence, and especially tenor saxophonist Stan Sulzmann and drummer Martin France, made Wheeler’s last quintet a nonpareil vessel and a mirror for his brilliance. There is much in Wheeler’s long career to remember him by. Songs For Quintet provides a heartfelt Amen.
For a Rifftides review of a 2008 Wheeler album, and another by one of his admirers, go here.