The weekend is a good time to consider music that the Rifftides staff has ignored, overlooked or allowed to languish among the burgeoning boxes of incoming CDs. Keeping up isn’t hard to do; it’s impossible, but here are three albums rescued from the stacks. All are of recent vintage, meaning that they were released in or near the present decade.
The Jazz Thieves, Brooklyn Elegy (CD Baby)
Bassist John Gray leads a quartet whose publicity claims that they are inspired by a strange-bedfellow sort of eclecticism—Duke Ellington, Ray Charles and Tom Waits. There may also be a dash of Mose Allison. In any case, this tight little band draws on rock, pop, gospel and blues for a series of performances with a distinct contemporary New York edge. Pianist Matt Robbins sings Gray’s compositions and lyrics in a light voice that on the title tune he laces with a tough-guy growl. Tenor saxophonist Ayumi Ishito matches Robbins’ toughness with her obbligatos and solos on “I’m Hopeful” and “You’ll Turn Out OK.” Gray uses his bow to dramatic effect in the ballad “Cayuga.” Drummer Tim Ford weaves a backbeat into his cymbal and snare patterns on “Friday.” This short, solid album could have what it takes for a breakthrough of the kind that occasionally happens to independently published books.
Modern Jazz Quartet, Lost Tapes: Germany 1956-1958 (Jazzhaus)
The MJQ was born as the rhythm section of Dizzy Gillespie’s big band. They first recorded on their own for Prestige Records in 1952. By the mid-1950s pianist John Lewis had achieved his vision of the quartet as the jazz parallel to classical chamber groups—with a firm bebop and blues foundation. Lewis’s “Django” became a jazz standard that boosted the quartet’s fame. It led to commissions for film scores including No Sun in Venice, whose “Cortège” section is adapted in this album. “Django” and Lewis’s “Midsömmer” are spirited collaborations with studio orchestras. The repertoire includes “Buesology,” “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen,” “I’ll Remember April” and other MJQ staples at a time when the quartet was breaking out as a phenomenon and the members were feeling good about themselves. Lewis, vibraphonist Milt Jackson, bassist Percy Heath and drummer Connie Kay sound ebullient, nowhere more than in the impromptu “J.B. Blues” that ends the album.
Mattias Nilsson, Dreams of Belonging (Nilsson)
I heard pianist Mattias Nilsson briefly at the 2015 Ystad Jazz Festival in Sweden as part of the rhythm section accompanying singer Sharon Clark and was intrigued. His solo album Dreams of Belonging arrived a few weeks ago and intrigued me further. It opens with “Folk Melody From Västmanland” and includes three other pieces with folk-like melodies incorporating major/minor harmonic aspects that make so much Swedish music—well—intriguing. I don’t know whether Thore Swanerud’s “Södermalm” came to Nilsson equipped with the bluesy turns he gives it or they are his own, but he makes it compelling. Touch, phrasing and blending with keyboard and pedal are among Nilsson’s strong suits. They are valuable assets in the performance of his lyrical title tune.