The time when most recordings came from a handful of major labels is long past. As I have observed—with only enough exaggeration to make the point—now, every 18-year-old tenor player can be a record company. He or she can take advantage of technology and economies of scale that make it possible to record, package and market an album at a tiny fraction of what it cost in the days when the major labels ruled the record business.
One result is that new jazz recordings stream into Rifftides world headquarters without letup. There is no way to review even a small percentage of them, but here are mentions of three fairly recent ones that caught the staff’s attention.
Cécile McLorin Salvant, Dreams And Daggers (Mack Avenue)
With three distinguished albums and a Grammy award (for For One To Love) to her credit, Ms. Salvant went into New York’s Village Vanguard about a year ago for an engagement. The resulting in-person performances with her trio, just released, are interspersed with four studio recordings featuring a string quartet. The result is a collection in which she sings several established pieces and a few original compositions and leaves little doubt that she is moving into the rarified category occupied by such vocal heroes as Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Anita O’Day, Peggy Lee and few other singers. Her speedy short version, with just bass and drums, of the 1922 pop song “Runnin’ Wild” alone would be enough to certify her control, confidence and musicianship. She goes beyond technique to reaffirm the width and depth of her emotional interpretation in ballads that include Noel Coward’s “Mad About The Boy” and—especially—in a coruscating reading of the Gershwins’ “My Man’s Gone Now.”
Pianist Aaron Diehl, bassist Paul Sikivie and drummer Lawrence Leathers comprise no small part of Ms. Salvant’s artistic success. Their accompanying is crucial to it, and Diehl continues in his early thirties to prove himself a pianist who has solo gifts that could put him into the jazz piano hall of fame, if there is one.
Perhaps repeated hearings of the Vanguard audience’s whooping, hollering ovations get to be a bit much, but that’s the response that Ms. Salvant inspired, so there it is—on the record.
Anat Cohen Tentet, Happy Song (Anzic)
From her first unaccompanied clarinet notes in the joyous title tune
through Malian musician Neba Solo’s concluding “Kenedougon Foly,” Ms. Cohen and her tentet have a multi-faceted good time. Chances are, listeners will, too. With its warmth, roominess and range, her clarinet dominates the album’s aura of good feeling, but there are also infectious solos from trumpeter Nadje Noordhuis, trombonist Nick Finzer, baritone saxophonist Owen Broder and guitarist Sheryl Bailey, among others. Ms. Cohen and her Israeli homeland pal, arranger Oded Lev-Ari, produced the album.
Levi-Ari’s clever touches include an amusing interjection of “Salt Peanuts” into his adaptation of “Oh Baby,” a 1924 Owen Murphy piece first recorded by Bix Beiderbecke. He achieves tongue-in-cheek eeriness in the introduction to “Trills and Thrills.” After the spookiness, the piece transmutes into a full-bodied ballad tinged with the blues. It has an intense clarinet solo by Ms. Cohen. The three parts of “Anat’s Doina” encompass dance-like klezmer passages and a resourceful use of Victor Goncalves’s accordion and Robin Kodheli’s cello to enhance the Middle Eastern atmosphere. Further high points: the irresistible thrust of samba feeling in Egberto Gismonti’s “Loro;” Levi’s arrangement of Gordon Jenkins’s classic “Goodbye” and Ms. Cohen’s respectful treatment of the melody; the purity of Finzer’s trombone high notes and Ms. Noordhuis’s flugelhorn in Ms. Cohen’s “Valsa Para Alice.”
There’s a lot going on here—in the playing and the arranging. Repeated hearings disclose layered subtleties. Happy Song enriches Anat Cohen’s substantial discography.
Logan Strosahl Team, Book I Of Arthur (Sunnyside)
Alto saxophonist and composer Logan Strosahl and his longtime associate pianist Nick Sanders continue their rewarding adventures. This time they have expanded well beyond the duo format that brought them attention as YouTube regulars, and beyond the sextet of their previous Sunnyside album, Up Go We. In an imaginative examination of the King Arthur legend, Strosahl’s fascination with the mythology of early Britain combines with his knowledge and love of Elizabethan and pre-Elizabethan music. His seven-piece band and the narration he wrote for Jullia Easterlin meld ancient lore, fanciful creation and powerful uses of jazz and classical music—modern and ancient—into an absorbing, demanding work. The work is packed with Arthurian elements: King Arthur, Uther Pendragon, Sir Ector, the Battle of Bedegraine, King Bors, King Ban. I was hoping for Gwiniverre, but maybe she’ll show up in Book II or III.
“Proof: The Round Table” is an instance of Strosahl’s grasp of harmony and polyphony as narrative tools employed apart from actual narration. “Epilogue: Dance” has a pixieish spirit that might have brought knowing smiles from Gerry Mulligan and Igor Stravinsky. This music rewards concentration, an open mind, a sense of fun and willingness to hear outside the box. Indeed, outside several boxes.