Jazz CD Reviews – mid-October 2014

October 16, 2014

Ezra Weiss Before You Know It (Roark Records no number)

Subtitled Live In Portland, this new release by Ezra Weiss has him leading a fine sextet playing music largely composed by himself. An exceptionally talented pianist, Ezra presents an extremely attractive set, the music ranging through sensitive ballads to driving burners. Appearing in the band are trumpeter Farnell Newton, alto saxophonist John Nastos, tenor saxophonist Devin Phillips, all of whom have excellent solos, while the rhythm section is ably rounded out by bassist Jon Shaw and drummer Christopher Brown. John Coltrane’s Alabama is a moving treatment of music composed originally in the aftermath of the 1963 Birmingham church bombing, only recently brought unhappily to mind by the Sandy Hook killings.ezra weiss The Gershwin brothers’ standard, A Foggy Day, is given an unexpectedly lively interpretation. All the other tracks vividly demonstrate that Ezra’s listings as winner on more than one occasion of both the DownBeat Critics Poll and the ASCAP Young Jazz Composer Award are especially well deserved. Among these tracks are lovely and deeply personal musings written for Ezra’s wife, Jessie’s Song, and his son, Before You Know It. All of the music heard here is rich with soulful undertones while the instrumental virtuosity on display is striking. Recorded live at Ivories Jazz Lounge in October and December 2013, this CD must surely widen Ezra’s growing reputation as a major composer and performer.

From November 10 five bonus tracks will be available for download HERE and/or HERE. These additional tracks will not be available on CD.


Wadada Leo Smith The Great Lakes Suites (TUM Records CD 041-2)

Although he might now be regarded as an elder statesman of free jazz and of contemporary improvised music in general, Wadada Leo Smith has not lost any of the exploratory zeal that has marked his music since the late 1960s. Back then, he left R&B to become an early member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (with Muhal Richard Abrams, Jodie Christian, Henry Threadgill, Anthony Braxton, Leroy Jenkins, Jack DeJohnette, and others) and he was co-founder of Creative Construction Company (with Braxton and Jenkins). During these years, he worked with Derek Bailey among many leading practitioners of cutting-edge jazz. He also studied extensively, steeping himself in ethnic musical forms from many parts of the world, composed, and by the early 1990s was passing on his musical knowledge and philosophical beliefs to students at Cal Arts. In more recent years he has worked with musicians such as Henry Kaiser, Michael Manring, Anthony Davis, and Malachi Favors. Key factors in Smith’s work include his understanding of the role of musicians, and indeed all artists, in society today.wadada He has declared that this should encourage the development of character and morality, among many qualities, if today’s universal problems are to be faced, understood and solved. On this new double album, Smith is joined by two of his previous collaborators, Threadgill and DeJohnette, as well as John Lindberg, in a performance of music he has composed to aurally depict the impressive scenic wonders of the inland waterways that have contributed so much to the of making and development of his country. Moving, intelligent, absorbing, this music makes clear that Wadada Leo Smith still has much to say about the world in which we live.


Kalle Kalima & K-18 Buñuel de Jour (TUM Records CD 038)

A leading figure on Finland’s contemporary improvised music scene, Kalle Kalima is a guitar virtuoso who plays here with his group K-18, the other members of which are Mikko Innanen, Teppo Hauta, and Veli Kujala. This album’s title will indicate to all the inspiration for the music heard here. The group’s name will need some explanation for those outside Finland: K-18 is the rating for films not suitable for persons under 18 years of age. A little while ago, Kalima was inspired by the films of Stanley Kubrick; here he takes his cue from revolutionary filmmaker Luis Buñuel, whose own career was rooted in the avant-garde from where he developed into an outstanding international figure, making films in many genres and languages.kalima Among his films are several that are frequently listed among the best ever made. Eleven of the twelve tracks Kalima has composed for this album are titled for Buñuel films, among them Belle de Jour, Diary of a Chambermaid, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Un Chien Andalou. Musically, this album is inventive and carries reflections of the intriguing complexity that marked Buñuel’s work.


For more information contact the artists through their websites (highlighted above), or via Braithwaite & Katz (ann@bkmusicpr.com), or to buy these albums visit Amazon.

Jazz CDs reviewed – late October 2012

October 25, 2012

Sara Serpa & Ran Blake

Many times during his long career, radical jazz pianist Ran Blake has teamed up with singers, notably Jeanne Lee. Importantly, he has often worked with young singers, still at the start of their careers and with many routes beckoning, often confusingly so. With Ran’s sophisticated guidance, the results have been very rewarding. An outstanding example of this musical relationship is his mentoring of Dominique Eade. (See review of Ran & Dominique’s Whirlpool in the mid-August 2012 post.)

Sara Serpa is another young singer working productively with the pianist. Sara’s debut album came in 2008 and she also recorded with Ran (Camera Obscura). This time, on Aurora (Clean Feed CF264CD), the pair explore a wide selection of material, offering intriguing, sometimes captivating, andAurora-cover always rewarding treatments of songs such as Margo Guryan’s Moonride, Charles B. Ward and John F. Palmer’s 19th century-favorite, The Band Played On, and there are two songs by R.B. Lynch, originally written for Abbey Lincoln, When Autumn Sings and Love Lament. Although Sara sings unaccompanied on the Abel Meeropol-Billie Holiday classic, Strange Fruit, the pervading influence of Ran’s iconoclastic approach to music is evident as she explores the shadowed musical byway of this haunting tale. The album closes with an evocative take on Last Night When We Were Young, a Harold Arlen-Yip Harburg gem, with motion picture origins. This last point is fitting, as much of the music heard on this album has connections with the world of films, especially those on the darker side of that vast array and reinforces the pianist’s ongoing admiration for film noir that has resulted in several albums and concerts through the years. Ran Blake’s contribution to the world of music, and to the New England Conservatory in particular was rewarded in October 2012 with the NEC’s Lifetime Achievement Award.


Danny Green

Based in San Diego, jazz pianist-composer Danny Green comfortably embraces Latin and classical touches, drawing them effortlessly into his jazz work. On his second album, A Thousand Ways Home (Tapestry 70018-2), danny-green coverhe presents music that is melodically engaging, sprightly, and filled with invention. He is joined here by saxophonist Tripp Sprague, bassist Justin Grinnell and drummer Julien Cantelm, as well as guests mandolinist Eva Scow, guitarists Peter Sprague, Chico Pinehiro and Dusty Brough, and singer Claudia Villela.On several tracks, Danny displays his particular affection for the music of Brazil, notably on Quintal Da Solidão. Throughout this very pleasing set, it is plain to hear that Danny is a virtuoso pianist, yet he keeps this aspect of his talent tightly wrapped, thus providing strong undercurrents that add immeasurably to the experience of hearing him play.


Wadada Leo Smith & Louis Moholo-Moholo

Among the most consistent of contemporary creative musicians are trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith and percussionist Louis Moholo-Moholo. Given their prominence in this particular jazz arena, it is surprising that this is their first collaboration on record. ancestors coverOn this collection of duets, both men vividly display the reasons why they are held in such high regard. On Ancestors (TUM CD 029), their playing is inventive, imaginative and inspirational; the manner in which they play off one another is at times breathtaking in its audacity. These are musicians of the highest caliber and the Finnish record company is to be congratulated on bringing together these leading figures of the American and African improvised music scenes.


Kalle Kalima & K-18

A key figure in the European improvised music scene, electric guitarist Kalle Kalima has a deep and abiding affection for movies, especially those with edginess. out to lynch coverHere, on Out To Lynch (TUM CD 030), Kalima has chosen to mine ground first explored by writers of scores for films of David Lynch.  This director’s films are sometimes disturbing, always thought-provoking, and Kalima’s aural reflections of them are similarly multi-faceted. The leader’s key collaborator here is saxophonist-flautist Mikko Innanen, the pair being ably supported by quarter-tone accordionist Veli Kujala and bassist Teppo Hauta-aho. Not only do these musicians spark ideas from one another, they also create musical tapestries that prompt the listener to see the films again, preferably with this music echoing in the background.


If you want to know more about any of these albums, take a look at the websites of the artists or the record companies.

If you want to buy any of them, Amazon is a good place to look. 


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