Monday Recommendation: The Surprising Tom Varner

Varner Nine Surprises

Tom Varner, Nine Surprises (Tom Varner Music) In writing for his nine-piece ensemble, Tom Varner layers and interleaves parts for the seven horns so that his textures of harmony and rhythm often create the illusion of a larger band. His skill as a composer and arranger equals his virtuosity as one of the few first-rate French horn improvisers in jazz history. “Seattle Blues,” the sixth movement in this 15-part suite, is a prime example of his achievement in both areas. In the decade since he … [Read more...]

Monday Recommendation: Terry, Keepnews & Monk

In Orbit

Clark Terry, In Orbit (Riverside) The coincidence of trumpeter Clark Terry and producer Orrin Keepnews passing within a few days of one another brings to mind a timeless album on Keepnews’s Riverside label. Terry’s 1958 In Orbit featured a special sideman. He asked for Thelonious Monk on piano. For a reissue of the album the producer wrote that, to his surprise, “…Monk agreed without hesitation, did not ask for a heavy fee (I believe he was paid no more than twice the union-scale maximum) and … [Read more...]

Monday Recommendation: Pullman On Powell

Wail Bud Powell cover

Peter Pullman, Wail: The Life of Bud Powell (Pullman) Pullman’s research, detail and zeal override flaws of style in this indispensible study of the architect and spirit of modern jazz piano. The author is illuminating in his treatment of Powell’s early years as a child prodigy. He is chilling in his documentation of the mature pianist’s tribulations in the hands of police, mental institutions, lawyers, the courts, and some of his women companions. He paints a bleaker picture than the … [Read more...]

Monday Recommendation: Vijay Iyer Trio

Iyer Break STuff

Vijay Iyer, Break Stuff (ECM) It would be safe to say that the pianist Vijay Iyer is the only jazz musician who constructs his music on the Fibonacci sequence of numbers introduced by the Medieval Italian mathematician. Safe that is, if Iyer didn’t credit saxophonist Steve Coleman with giving him the idea years ago. Maybe Coleman got it from Bartók (e.g., “Music For Strings, Percussion and Celesta”). Whether Iyer’s ascendency in jazz can be credited to his mathematical expertise and … [Read more...]

Monday Recommendation: Lisa Parrott

Lisa Parrott Round Tripper

Lisa Parrott, Round Tripper (Serious Niceness Records) There is muscle and grit in the sound of Ms. Parrott’s baritone saxophone on Ornette Coleman’s “Round Trip.” Playing alto, she comes closer to essence of Coleman in “Rosa Takes a Stand” and “D. Day.” Her work on both horns is inflected with a kind of Coleman chanciness, but it would be a mistake to categorize this Australian who moved to New York in the 1990s. In a song written with her bassist sister Nikki, “Do You Think That I Do Not … [Read more...]

Monday Recommendation: Bley, Sheppard, Swallow

Carla Bley Trios

Carla Bley, Andy Sheppard, Steve Swallow, CBTrios (ECM) Trios concentrates the essence of understanding that Bley, Sheppard and Swallow have developed over two decades of collaboration. She recorded the album’s five pieces in various configurations on earlier albums, but the spare instrumentation of her piano, Sheppard’s saxophones and Swallow’s bass creates space for leisurely exploration of the deep harmonic possibilities in her compositions. Most of all, though, melody is what dominates … [Read more...]

Monday Recommendation: Art Tatum

Tatum, God

Art Tatum, God Is In The House (High Note) The title comes from what Fats Waller said when he saw Art Tatum walk into a club where Waller was playing. Dan Morgenstern tells the story in his notes for this essential collection, “…he stopped the music and announced: 'Ladies and gentlemen, I play the piano, but God is in the house tonight.'” Tatum was Waller’s primary inspiration. The master had no hesitation about paying obeisance to the student. Using a disc recorder, Jerry Newman captured … [Read more...]

Monday Recommendation: Jimmy Greene

Greene, Beautiful Life

Jimmy Greene, Beautiful Life (Mack Avenue) The album opens with saxophonist Jimmy Greene’s 6-year-old daughter Ana angelically singing “Come Thou Almighty King” at a 2011 family Christmas celebration. A year later Ana was one of the 26 pupils and teachers murdered in the assault on Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. In his notes, Mr. Greene stresses that the album is in memory not of how she died, but of “how she lived, lovingly, faithfully and joyfully.” Joining him in the … [Read more...]

Monday Recommendation: Nat Hentoff

Hentoff Doc.

The Pleasures Of Being Out Of Step: Notes On The Life Of Nat Hentoff (First Run Features) In his 89 years, Nat Hentoff has melded defense of the freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment of the US Constitution with his love of jazz. His writings on those passions have made him a powerful voice in music journalism and in the turbulent arena populated by those who debate what the American founders intended in the Bill of Rights. This David L. Lewis film presents Hentoff reflecting—often … [Read more...]

Monday Recommendation: Edward Simon

Simon Venezuelan Suite

Edward Simon, Venezuelan Suite (Sunnyside) Few jazz albums have been devoted to the music of Venezuela. Victor Feldman’s superb The Venezuelan Joropo (1967) was an exception. Latin musicians were impressed with the authenticity that Feldman achieved using Los Angeles colleagues to interpret traditional Venezuelan music. When it comes to authenticity, however, Edward Simon has an advantage. He is a native of Venezuela who has established himself in the US as a versatile pianist, composer and … [Read more...]

Monday Recommendation: Holly Hofmann

Hofmann Low Life

Holly Hofmann, Low Life (Capri) Holly Hofmann made her reputation concentrating on the C flute, an instrument whose flexibility and three-octave range are suited to her customary orientation toward the bop tradition. Here, she sets it aside in favor of its relative the alto flute. Pitched in G, the alto is capable of bewitching resonance and dynamic presence at the low end of its range. Ms. Hofmann takes full advantage of those qualities in a collection that tends toward romanticism tinged … [Read more...]

Monday Recommendation: Stefano Bollani

Bollani Joy In Spite...

Stefano Bollani, Joy In Spite Of Everything (ECM The Italian pianist, his Danish rhythm section mates and two American stars emphasize the joy of the title, but Bollani’s album also has moments of thoughtful stateliness. Tenor saxophonist Mark Turner, guitarist Bill Frisell, bassist Jesper Bodilsen and drummer Morten Lund join Bollani in various combinations from duo to quintet. Bollani’s eight compositions reflect inspiration from the Caribbean, Africa, bebop and his fertile imagination. … [Read more...]

Monday Recommendation: Dayna Stephens

Dayna Stephens Peace

Dayna Stephens, Peace (Sunnyside) With blissful slowness, Stephens explores ballads in the company of superior sidemen. On soprano, tenor and baritone saxophones, he plumbs the emotional and harmonic content of 11 songs. Among them are Horace Silver’s title tune, Dave Brubeck’s “The Duke,” two Ennio Morriconne film themes and Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Zingaro.” In “Body and Soul, with spare accompaniment by Larry Grenadier’s bass, Stephens’ baritone playing emphasizes the brilliance of Johnny … [Read more...]

Monday Recommendation: Hush Point, Blues And Reds

Hush Point

Hush Point, Blues And Reds (Sunnyside) Suspended ageless between neo-traditionalism and the iconoclasm of free jazz, trumpeter John McNeil and alto saxophonist Jeremy Udden continue adventures in the Shangri-La of their pianoless quartet. Blues And Reds picks up more or less where the first Hush Point album left off in 2013, but with even more attention to sound dynamics, and with deepened symbiosis between the horns. Replacing Vinnie Sperrazza, drummer Anthony Pinciotti brings his own brand … [Read more...]

Monday Recommendation: Good Old Zoot

Zoot Down Home Cover

Zoot Sims, Down Home (Bethlehem) One of the later albums in Bethlehem’s reissue series presents the tenor saxophonist in a rollicking 1960 quartet session. Sims and pianist Dave McKenna were often together in the New York loft scene of the fifties and sixties. Bassist George Tucker broke in with Earl Bostic, Sonny Stitt and John Coltrane. Drummer Dannie Richmond was most often employed with Charles Mingus. What might have seemed an unlikely combination of musicians from different branches of … [Read more...]

Monday Recommendation: Art Jackson

Underground Masterpiece

Art Jackson: Underground Masterpiece (Independent) The CD is in general release, and its title claim of masterpiece status could be questioned. Nonetheless, it is impressive music from contemporary Latin bands arranged and led by Jackson. From track to track, the groups range in size from a percussion-voice trio to a nine-piece ensemble. The musicians include some of the west coast’s most able Latin and studio musicians, among them drummer Alex Acuña, pianist John Beasley, tenor saxophonist … [Read more...]

Monday Recommendation: Dee Daniels

Dee Daniels Intimate

Dee Daniels, Intimate Conversations (Origin) Accompanied only by Martin Wind’s forthright bass lines, the singer sets her story-telling course with the imperishable 84-year-old “Exactly Like You.” She and Wind are so convincing again in “I Wish You Love” that this listener found himself wishing for an entire album with just the two of them. However, Daniels is equally effective accompanying herself on piano and coloring “All The Way” with blues feeling as Wycliffe Gordon provides wa-wa … [Read more...]

Monday Recommendation: Ali Jackson

Ali Jackson Amalgamations

Ali Jackson, Amalgamations (Sunnyside) In this appropriately titled collection, the irrepressible drummer and 13 colleagues from the Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra and elsewhere combine in groups as small as two. Jackson's precision and drive stimulate trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, pianist Eldar Djangirov and saxophonists JD Allen and Ted Nash, among others. Performances include the laconic “Done Tol’ You Fo’ Five Times” in which trombonist Vincent Gardner and electric pianist Jonathan Batiste … [Read more...]

Monday Recommendation: Mark Turner

Lathe of Heaven

Mark Turner, Lathe Of Heaven (ECM) The tenor saxophonist bases the CD’s title on an Ursula K. LeGuin sci-fi novel in which dreams seem to change reality. Her story line turns on unclear perceptions, but Turner’s music is unambiguous in its extension of modern mainstream jazz tradition. Though the harmonized lines he plays with trumpeter Avishai Cohen bear intimations of Miles Davis and Wayne Shorter, Turner’s compositions and the emotional unity of the quartet’s playing, particularly in … [Read more...]

Recommendation: Brookmeyer For The Vanguard

Over Time, Vanguard

The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Over Time: Music of Bob Brookmeyer (Planet Arts) This is the album Bob Brookmeyer was preparing for the Vanguard orchestra before he died at the end of 2011. As a composer and arranger, Brookmeyer was a creative force in the Vanguard’s predecessor, the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra, and its forerunner, the big band co-led by Lewis and Thad Jones. With Jones-Lewis, he was also a principal soloist, on valve trombone. Brookmeyer's rich history with all of the band’s … [Read more...]

New Recommendation: Tom Harrell

Harrell Trip

Tom Harrell, Trip (HighNote) A dozen compositions by trumpeter Harrell provide a framework for variety and surprise in this recording by the pianoless quartet he calls Trip. The centerpiece, “The Adventures of a Quixotic Character,” is a six-part suite inspired by Miguel de Cervantes’ 15th century novel Don Quixote. Harrell’s solo on “The Ingenious Gentleman” is a highlight among highlights. If some of the tracks summon thoughts of Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker, it may be more than a … [Read more...]

Monday Recommendation: Mehmet Ali Sanlikol

Sanlikol, WhatsNext

Mehmet Ali Sanlikol, What’sNext? (Dünya) Using orchestral techniques that stem in part from his early training as a classical pianist, Sanlikol blends aspects of music of his native Turkey and of Arabic countries into contemporary jazz. A graduate of the Berklee School of Music and the New England Conservatory, he studied arranging with Bob Brookmeyer, whose influence is one ingredient in Sanlikol’s eclecticism; the audacious “On the Edge of the Extreme Impossible” is a dramatic instance. … [Read more...]

Monday Recommendation: Ahmed Abdul-Malik

Spellbound cover

Ahmed Abdul-Malik, Spellbound (Status) Of Sudanese heritage, the bassist Ahmed Abdul-Malik (1927-1993) was born Jonathan Timms in Brooklyn. After working with Art Blakey and Thelonious Monk, among others, Abdul-Malik studied music of other cultures. He was among the first to incorporate Middle Eastern and Indian influences into jazz. Except for a straight-ahead blues, this 1965 album consists of themes from movies: “Spellbound,” “Never on Sunday,” “Body and Soul” and “Delilah.” Sudanese oud … [Read more...]

Monday Recommendation: Duke Ellington

Ellington Jazz Haus

Duke Ellington, BigBands Live (Jazz Haus) Watching the Ellington band perform in the late 1960s and early ‘70s, the listener was likely to be struck by the contrast between the sidemens’ laconic demeanor and—on a good night—the joy of their performances. March 6, 1967 was a good night at the Liederhalle in Stuttgart, Germany. Beautifully recorded, the concert combines famous and barely known pieces. Good humor reigns in the ensemble performances, passion in the solos. Trumpet star … [Read more...]

Monday Recommendation: Jarrett And Haden

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Keith Jarrett, Charlie Haden, Last Dance (ECM) Following Haden’s death last Friday, this duet recording of the bassist with his former boss takes on poignancy even beyond the empathy that he and the pianist develop in nine standard songs. The exceptions to ballad tempos are a brisk bop excursion through Bud Powell’s “Dance of the Infidels,” and “Everything Happens to Me” at the pace of a leisurely walk. The session also produced Jasmine, released in 2010. It took place shortly before Haden’s … [Read more...]