It is impossible to review even a smattering of the dozens of albums that land in the Rifftides mailbox. With the Sweden trip looming, time allows for mentions of a few relatively recent releases that have caught the staff’s attention.
Maryanne de Prophetis, Tell A Star (ENNArecords)
In this collection of her compositions, Ms. de Prophetis melds a clear voice and solid musicianship with a sense of daring. The title song begins as a straightforward ballad with a story-telling lyric. A beguiling section of Ron Horton’s flugelhorn and Frank Kimbrough’s piano follows. When the singer re-enters, her lyric becomes abstract, but not as abstract as other songs with wordless vocals that also provide settings for Horton’s and Kimbrough’s improvisations. Drummer Satoshi Takeishi contributes patterns that reinforce and reflect the firmness or gentleness of Ms. de Prophetis’s singing and the bold, often witty, musings of the instrumentalists.
Kevin Eubanks, East West Time Line (Mack Avenue)
Playing electric guitar on some tracks and acoustic on others, Eubanks shows the skill and versatility that made him well known on television during his years as music director of the Tonight Show band. The album presents him with all-star quintets, one recorded in New York, the other in Los Angeles. His collective sidemen include trumpeter Nicholas Payton, pianist Orrin Evans, bassist Dave Holland, tenor saxophonist Bill Pierce, drummers Marvin “Smitty” Smith and Jeff “Tain” Watts. Eubanks wrote all of the music for the New York band. In L.A. he drew on compositions by Duke Ellington, Chick Corea, Ray Bryant and Marvin Gaye, plus the standard “My One and Only Love.” Eubanks restructures Bryant’s “Cubano Chant,” giving it an intriguing slinky feeling. Payton has a superbly contained solo on the opening “Time Line” and another in “Something About Nothing.” Pierce and Eubanks share the melody to great effect in “My One and Only Love.” Throughout, Eubanks is, in turn, relaxed and incisive. It’s a comfortable album.
Mary Halvorson Octet, Away With You (Firehouse 12 Records)
Expanding her band to eight musicians, guitarist Halvorson assembles young New York players whose esthetic matches hers. Their leanings toward unfettered expression are balanced by exacting musicianship. Ms. Halvorson’s writing here underlines the craftsmanship of her composing, arranging and improvising. I can imagine Igor Stravinsky smiling at the audacity of her ensemble constructions in the opening piece, “Spirit Splitter.” Pedal steel guitarist Susan Alcorn not only generates contrasts between her and Halvorson, as in the title tune, but also emphasizes how they complement one another, as in the piece called “Fog Bank.” Alto saxophonist Jon Irabagon, trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson, trombonist Jacob Garchik and the vigorous tenor saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock are splendid in the ensemble and in solo. Bassist John Hébert and drummer Ches Smith are a formidable rhythm team. This album further establishes Mary Halvorson at the forefront of today’s avant garde.
Terry Gibbs, 92 Years Young: Jammin’ at the Gibbs House (Whaling City Sound)
Coaxed by his drummer son, vibraphonist Gibbs came out of retirement to record and insisted that he do it at home. The session with son Gerry, pianist John Campbell and the rising young bassist Mike Gurrola finds the vibraphonist playing with energy, speed and ebullience that has amazed his listeners and colleagues for seventy years. In a session that ran four days, Gibbs called tunes as he thought of them. The quartet recorded them as first—and only—takes and came up with an album that is enjoyable from beginning to end. Campbell is in great form, particularly impressive nailing “Donna Lee” in counterpoint at high speed as Gibbs and company finish a romping “Back Home Again in Indiana.” Among the 14 tunes “Yardbird Suite,” “Take The ‘A’ Train” “Imagination” and “All the Things You Are.” The old man sounds young on all of them.
Jeremy Pelt, Make Noise! (High Note)
The adventurous trumpeter has succeeded in the past few years with various applications of electronics. Here, however, he and his band are all acoustic. Whatever the loss in trendiness, there’s a gain in clarity and accessibility. Pelt’s command of the instrument is in clear relief in a set that also gives his sidemen plenty of exposure. Percussionist Jaquelene Acevedo introduces the opening track with a prelude on congas that sets up the title tune. She is a driving source of energy on several pieces, including the Latin-spirited “Bodega Social.” The rhythm section of pianist Victor Gould, bassist Vicente Archer and drummer Jonathan Barber are impressively attuned to one another. An individualist from the time of his first album, Pelt nonetheless is straightforward in acknowledging his heroes, as he does Miles Davis by way of tone and phrasing in “Prince,” a reflective piece that the liner notes emphasize has nothing to do with the late rock musician.