It’s time for a roundup of new releases that have come my way over the past several months. It’s interesting to note that with an economy on the verge of crashing and continued predictions about the demise of the CD format, jazz musicians remain committed to getting their music out to the public. And with the quality of musicianship that is exhibited on all the discs here, the music appears to be in very capable hands.
I lead off with “Notes From the Village,” by Anat Cohen, an Israeli clarinetist, saxophonist and composer who lives in New York City. The music on the disc is split evenly between Cohen’s fine originals and four lesser known standards that go in a variety of directions. Traces of her Israeli roots can be heard in the rhythmic groove of the opening tune, “Washington Square Park,” which features Cohen’s full sounding soprano sax dancing over the pulsating energy of pianist Jason Lindner, guitarist Gilad Hekselman, bassist Omer Avital and drummer Daniel Freedman. On John Coltrane’s “After the Rain,” Cohen uses her rich, full-bodied clarinet sound to great advantage on a spacious yet probing solo that explores the very open form of the tune. She gets off a fiery swinging solo on an energetic take of Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz.” Cohen is one of the very important new voices on the jazz scene today and is well worth checking out. The disc is available on Anzic Records (www.anzicrecords.com).
J.D. Allen is another promising voice featured on two recent releases. On “I Am, I Am,” released on Sunnyside Records (www.sunnysiderecords.com), the tenor saxophonist places himself in a trio setting with bassist Gregg August and inspired drummer Rudy Royston. The trio’s music is comprised totally of originals and is open enough to allow for many fine moments of collective improvisation. Allen is an imaginative player who displays a keen sense of melodic development in his solos. Yet, there are moments when it seems Allen is holding back, trying a little too hard to keep his playing in check. This isn’t a big negative, as it gives the music on the disc a very exploratory feel. Still, especially with a colorful drummer like Royston stoking the fire, I would like to have heard Allen let loose a little more and play.
Allen does let loose to excellent advantage on trumpeter Jeremy Pelt’s “November,” released on Maxx Jazz (www.maxxjazz.com). Along with a superb rhythm section made up of pianist Danny Grissett, bassist Dwayne Burno and drummer Gerald Cleaver, Pelt and Allen explore a program of Pelt originals that cover territory pioneered by the mid-1960s Miles Davis Quintet, but with a contemporary flair. Allen is more aggressive on this disc, offering solos that fully display his deep harmonic and melodic inventiveness. He acts as the perfect foil for Pelt’s rich-toned and fiery trumpet work. Tunes like “Clairvoyant” and “Monte Cristo” are superb straight-ahead swingers, while “Dreamcatcher” and “Rosalie” have a quiet, more reflective sound.
Releases from area musicians include a collaboration between woodwind player Don Davis and pianist Joe Deleault, called “Davis & Deleault.” They are joined on several cuts by cellist Eugene Friesen and percussionist Glen Velez. The music is a heady blend of jazz, folk and world music, featuring a mix of originals and standards. All of these musicians are accomplished players who bring a sense of adventure and a little humor to the tunes. The recording’s highlights include incisive arrangements of J.J. Johnson’s “Lament” and Lennon and McCartney’s “Strawberry Fields Forever,” as well as the saxophone/percussion duo on the original “Having Said That.” It is available at www.davisanddeleault.com.
Boston-based singer Beth Logan offers a straight up program of standards on her new CD “Time After Time.” Accompanied by the Harvey Diamond Trio, Logan is a no-nonsense vocalist who laces an emphasis on good solid swing. Her main inspiration is taken from vocalist Sheila Jordan and there are times when she sounds as if she is channeling the jazz great, such as on “I’m Old Fashioned” and “I Wish I Knew.” On “Do Nothing ’Til You Hear From Me,” Logan offers more of a sense of her ability, and I’d like to hear more of that on her next outing. Still, this is a good CD from a singer with lots of promise. It’s available from the artist via e-mail at
Two other releases to mention include “Monday Night Live at the Village Vanguard” from the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, released on Planet Arts (www.planetarts.org). A two-CD set that captures this stellar organization at its famous home base in New York, the music crackles and burns with the type of energy we’ve come to expect form the VJO. Thad Jones staples like “Mean What You Say,” “Morning Reverend” and “Little Rascal on a Rock,” along with Bob Brookmeyer’s reworking of “St. Louis Blues,” are among the many highlights of this remarkable recording, which is offered as a tribute to VJO bassist Dennis Irwin, who passed away earlier this year. The disc serves as a reminder that the VJO is one of this country’s most distinguished and exciting large jazz ensembles.
Meanwhile, bassist Dave Holland adds a new group to his stable of ensembles with “Pass It On,” released on Holland’s Dare 2 Records (www.deccarecords.com). Among the sextet’s members are Mulgrew Miller on piano, Antonio Hart on saxophone and long-time Holland associate Robin Eubanks on trombone. The music is vintage Holland, full of interesting grooves and textures that bring out superb playing from all involved. The colorful and explosive drumming of Eric Harland is especially noteworthy.
I would also like to give a shout out to Munich-based ECM Records. The ECM back catalog is going through a major reissue program, with the label having released close to 50 titles over the last couple of months. The catalog is rich with imaginative recordings, many of which are considered classics in the contemporary jazz world. All of the CDs are packaged in an environmentally friendly cardboard gate-fold sleeve. No plastic casing and no plastic tray to hold the disc. While this isn’t a new concept—various Japanese reissue labels have been doing this for years—it is a significant step to have a prominent label like ECM take this approach. Hopefully, labels here in the United States will follow suit. Check out Jack DeJohnette’s “Special Edition” or Dave Holland’s “Extensions” for some truly great music.
Finally, the latest batch of “Jazz Icons” DVDs has hit the market, and this group may be the best set yet. If you’re not familiar with the series, “Jazz Icons” are produced by Reelin’ In The Years, a video production company, and are distributed by Naxos. All the videos are live performances by jazz greats, mostly recorded in Europe. Featured in the new set are saxophonists Cannonball Adderley, Sonny Rollins and Roland Kirk; singer Nina Simone; the big band of Lionel Hampton; and the trios of pianists Oscar Peterson and Bill Evans. Buy the complete set and you can get an extra disc of bonus material from Rollins, Kirk and Simone. The Icons Web site is www.jazzicons.com. These DVDs provide us with the visual and aural experience of hearing many of our long gone jazz greats.
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