Recent Listening In Brief
Edward Simon, Sorrows & Triumphs (Sunnyside)
Pianist-composer-arranger Simon is engrossed in jazz, his heritage in Latin-American music and his studies of Buddhism. Sorrows & Triumphs blends those and other aspects of his preoccupations, and Simon refines the individuality that has made him one of the most interesting—although insufficiently recognized—musicians to have emerged in the past three decades. The album, due for release this month, brings together the combo known as the Imani Winds with Simon’s ensemble Afinidad and vocalist Gretchen Parlato. Afinidad includes alto saxophonist David Binney, bassist Scott Colley and drummer Brian Blade. Percussionist Rogerio Boccato and Luis Quintero and guitarist Adam Rogers are guest artists. If that rundown reads like the description of a contemporary all-star group, it is.
The album’s two sections of music, “Sorrows and Triumphs” and “House of Numbers,” encompass a variety of moods and textures. For all its liveliness in some pieces, the collection has an air of contemplation about it. That is particularly true of Simon’s final two pieces, “Chant” and Venezuela Unida,” the latter clearly created with his native country in mind.
Rich DeRosa, Perseverence (University of North Texas)
Distinguished as a jazz educator at the University of North Texas, Rich De Rosa has wider recognition as one of the premier arrangers of the 21st century. Since joining the UNT faculty in 2010, DeRosa has written brilliantly for the school’s legendary One O’Clock and Two O’Clock Lab Bands and for other orchestras in the United States and abroad. Perseverance provides copious evidence of his mastery. It includes a dazzling version of Ellington’s “Take The ‘A’ Train”; a fugue full of wit and complexities; perfectly integrated electronics in the title tune; a quiet, reflective version of the Wayne Shorter ballad “Infant Eyes”; the expansive five-part “Suite For An Anniversary”; and a tribute to the longtime UNT jazz program head Neil Slater. Slater’s work fills this 4-CD UNT box.
As for the One O’clock Band And and Two O’clock Band soloists, it stretches belief to accept that they are students, not seasoned professionals.
Azar Lawrence, Elementals (High Note)
Lawrence was one of the young saxophonists all but consumed by John Coltrane’s revolutionary transformation of the instrument’s role in jazz in the 1960s. Elementals establishes that on soprano and tenor sax, he continues as a loyal Coltrane disciple. Particularly on the title track, the Latinate “Brazilian Girls” and “African Chant,” he reestablishes his dedication to Coltrane’s expansiveness and vitality, although with little evidence of his mentor’s tonal graininess on tenor. Pianist Benito Gonzales is correspondingly loyal to McCoy Tyner’s energetic approach. Drummer Marvin “Smitty” Smith is supportive and energetic throughout. Guest guitarist Greg Poree adds atmospheric touches to “Solar Winds.” An odd matter of titleing: the piece called “Koko” bears no apparent relationship to the classic Charlie Parker composition of the same name that was based on “Cherokee.” The album is enjoyable and stimulating not in spite of but because of what we might call its Coltraneity.
Willie Nelson, American Classic (Blue Note)
Sometimes an album arrives, sinks into the sea of new releases and doesn’t surface for years. That’s what happened with American Classic. When the minimally packaged 2009 advance release finally popped out of hiding, I hoped that it would be a worthy successor to Nelson’s Stardust, his previous collection of standard songs. Sorry, it isn’t. Johnny Mandel provided arrangements of four songs, but anyone who didn’t know that would never have guessed it based on the evidence. Diana Krall and Nora Jones are sui generis as duet partners on a couple of tracks. If the rest of the pieces had the verve and insouciance that Nelson finds in “On The Street Where You Live” and his bluesy touches to Buddy Johnson’s “Since I Fell For You,” it would come closer to the claim of the title.