Did a complete 180 on Jason Moran’s All Rise, which I originally planned to lump in with the couple other lemons here. But something happened on a Saturday morning and that was that. It’s a pretty bizarre choice given my personal proclivities.
More than that, there are still a few jazz records I haven’t included here, including Vijay Iyer’s Mutations, one I’m still not sure about. Undoubtedly I underrated 2012’s Accelerando, which I put on par with Holding it Down, a strange project I’d like to revisit. Also, I only recently discovered there’s a new Mostly Other People Do the Killing album, a note-for-note remake of Miles Davis’ seminal Kind of Blue. If I do another dump before the year’s out, I’ll probably include the limited jazz releases with the pop and rock.
AMBROSE AKINMUSIRE – The Imagined Savior is Far Easier to Paint (Blue Note): Young trumpeter’s third, featuring his quintet: Walter Smith (tenor s.), newly-added Sam Harris (p.), Harish Raghaven (b.), and Justin Brown (d.). Pulls in plenty of others, too: a guitarist, vocal trio, and string section. A real mystical and especially spiritual feel to this, with the spoken word bits borderline cheesy (the laundry list of slain POC emphasizing T. Martin intoned by a child undercuts its own message), and being an impatient man, I find the 79-minute running time to be fucking obnoxious. Nevertheless, Akinmusire intones narrative a way I’ve only known classical composers to do, and with a record as emotional as this, guidance is appreciated. A MINUS
CHARLES LLOYD & JASON MORAN – Hagar’s Song (ECM ‘13): Tenor saxophonist Lloyd employs pianist Moran for an hour low-key avant bop, the duo switching styles and aesthetics fluently, playing off each other like they’re friends from former lives. A MINUS
THE JOHN LURIE NATIONAL ORCHESTRA – The Invention of Animals (Amulet): Leader of the mercurially-manned Lounge Lizards and also a well-known painter, producer, and sometimes director, John Lurie’s National Orchestra was created as a lark-of-sorts with drummer Billy Martin and percussionist G.C. Weston in the early ‘90s. This archival compilation collects material recorded around that time, a series of short exercises, two live, including the tail-end eponymous piece stretching toward the 20-minute mark. An interplaying portrait between Martin and Weston’s African and Eastern tribal rhythms and Lurie’s alto-or-soprano sax scats, this is a miniature minimalist masterpiece we might not have heard had little else been cut by this group beyond this and their only other album, Men With Sticks. A MINUS
JASON MORAN – All Rise: A Joyful Elegy for Fats Waller (Blue Note): Despite my admittedly irrational distaste for electric bass and keyboards in jazz, I enjoy pianist Moran’s reworkings of the sagacious stride styler’s best the more I listen. Even though he takes occasionally dangerous nu-hip-hop/R&B turns, Moran’s signature style prevents anything else from stealing the spotlight unless he wants it that way; so when the horns and rhythm section come out swinging on “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” it’s not because he’s been drowned out. And if like me you’re here for finger fodder, get past the short stretch of sagging vocal numbers in the middle for the fantastic “Handful of Keys” and “Sheik of Araby/I Found a New Baby.” Fats Waller purists, while mayhaps not taking to the new sound Moran’s laid down, will sure enough admit the kid’s got moxie. A MINUS
VINCENT HERRING – The Uptown Shuffle (Smoke Sessions): Alto sax player with the inimitable Cyrus Chestnut (piano), Brandi Disterheft (bass), and Joe Farnsworth (drums). A lot of Cannonball comparisons, probably inevitable when you play swingin’ hard bop and have pocketsful of talent. Regardless, this is a fiery live performance, most compelling on the title track’s tradeoffs between Herring and Chestnut. (“Uptown Shuffle”) ***
ADAM LANE’S FULL THROTTLE ORCHESTRA – Live in Ljubljana (Clean Feed): Octet with leader Lane on bass and feat. notable Nate Wooley (trumpet), this kinda big group sounds like a pretty big band with plenty of winks and tips of the hat to Ellington, et al. No shortage on the swing, even when co-trumpeters Wooley and Susana Santos Silva take a ride on the groove train, Lane’s ensemble is about as authentic you can come to 1920s orchestration without swerving into schmaltz. (“Power Lines/Feeling Blue-ish”) ***
CLIFFORD BROWN – Brownie Speaks: The Complete Blue Note Recordings (Blue Note): Three disc collection comprising all four albums Brown cut with Blue Note in the ‘50s—The Eminent J.J. Johnson, Vol. 1 (1953), New Star on the Horizon (1953), A Night at Birdland (1954), and New Faces New Sounds (1956), mostly listed as featuring Brown rather than as bandleader, with Art Blake, Lou Donaldson, and others. Best taken one disc at a time so as not to overload on superfast hard bop. Worth it for Brown enthusiasts obsessed with alt takes and/or struggling to land a copy of the long out of print Lou Donaldson disc. ***
TRIO 3 + VIJAY IYER – Wiring (Intakt): Oliver Lake, Reggie Workman, and Andrew Cyrille team up with MacArthur Genius Grant recipient Vijay Iyer in a continuation of their series of assaults on contemporary jazz with young pianists. Where their Geri Allen disc had bop and swing and their Jason Moran hookup smooth soul with avant dips, here they go head on into the garde-n of avant, though surprisingly Iyer is often backseat to Workman’s bass and Lake’s sax. True to Iyer fashion, though, each number is rooted in riffs and rhythms as bread crumbs for the leads to work their way back towards once they’ve gone off the deep end. A three-piece suite is dedicated to Trayvon Martin (and millions more), a funeral song for the departed, and by far the best section. ***
JIMMY COBB – The Original Mob (Smoke Sessions): Aging drummer teams with pianist Brad Mehldau, guitarist Peter Bernstein, and bassist John Webber for no-frills hard bop. Despite this being Cobb’s mob, there aren’t too many drum solos (which is fine), and Cobb feels more like a backseater, relying heavily on Bernstein and (especially) Mehldau to take center stage. Bernstein’s the true delight, delivering solid performances on “Old Devil Moon” and “Composition 101.” ***
MICHAEL GRIENER / RUDI MAHALL / JAN RODER / CHRISTOF THEMES – Squakk: Willisau & Berlin (Intakt): Squakk actually being the name of this Berlin band, a highly avant group heavy on improv. Mostly Thewes’s show, a solid clarinetist and leading composer. (“Mostly Harmless”) ***
HAROLD MABERN – Right on Time (Smoke Sessions): Pianist with John Webber (bass) and Joe Farnsworth (drums), live recording at his 77th bday, kills it when he rolls on numbers like “Dance with Me” and “Blues for Frank ‘N Paul ‘N All.” **
SONNY ROLLINS – Road Shows, Vol. 3 (Okeh): Live recordings from 2001-2012, with a (mostly) consistent sextet lineup, the aging Rollins’ latest collection has one highlight: “Patanjali,” an unreleased colossus. **
SOREN KJAERGAARD / BEN STREET / ANDREW CYRILLE – Syvmileskridt (ILK): Probably worth further investigation, though most beyond the opener/closer “Cyrillic Circle” nears a nefarious abstraction. **
TRIO 3 – Time Being (Intakt): Too loose and unhinged for my tastes, with none of the three geezers cohering long enough to have anything to follow. Without a pianist (or anyone else) to ground them, their meandering captures Lake’s worst habits. *
ORRIN EVANS – Liberation Blues (Smoke Sessions): Bummed about former bassist Dwayne Burno’s death, hence the title: celebratory freedom from fleshy burden yet the bittersweet goodbye that comes with. So slow, though, it sounds like mourning more than anything else. *
The Sound of Next (Okeh): Sampler of the recently renewed label’s 2014 releases. Anything good is worth checking out on its own. Useless comp. *
THE OCULAR CONCERN – Sister Cities (PJCE): Quintet comprising Dan Duval (guitar), Andrew Oliver (piano), Stephen Pancerev (drums), Lee Elderton (clarinet), and Nathan Beck (vibraphone/mbira), from San Fran but relocated to Portland. Avant but with strong undercurrents of groove, though the leaning on the vibraphone (not to mention it’s electric guitar, bass, and piano) puts me off a bit. Regardless of how smooth the tunes are, the slickness is too obvious. *
THE FAT BABIES – 18th & Racine (Delmark): Septet founded in 2010 by bassist Beau Sample, comprised of Andy Schumm (cornet), John Otto (reeds), Dave Bock (trombone), Jake Sanders (banjo/guitar), Paul Asaro (piano), and Alex Hall (drums). Steeped in 1920’s jazz, this classical imitation is too much for me, as it aspires to be nothing more than a period piece, not willing to take a risk by incorporating what jazz has learned since, resulting in a plodding, no-fun, dire Dixie flashback. *
BRIAN GRODER TRIO – Reflexology (Latham): Not proven to be of any use medically, soul nurturing included.
EVAN PARKER / PETER EVANS / CRAIG TABORN / SAM PLUTA – Rocket Science (More is More ’13): Avant quartet, four pieces, all extremely long, so abstract and so free-jazzy I nearly find it disingenuous of them to dare call these compositions when I doubt they could be reproduced. I expect this kind of thing from Parker, but Evans should know better.