Singer/pianist Bob Dorough (1923 to 2018) is best known for his work as musical director and composer for the children’s TV show, Schoolhouse Rock!, which aired from 1973 to 1985. Under his direction, millions of children learned about conjunctions, the magic number three, how a law becomes a bill, and the preamble to the Constitution (my personal favorite). But few know that Dorough collaborated with many jazz greats like trumpeter Miles Davis, singer Blossom Dearie, and pianist composer Dave Frishberg, and that he recorded for various labels, even turning out three (magic) albums for Blue Note Records in the late 1990s.
In December 2017, singer/composer Claudia Villela was all set to catch a return flight to California from her native Brazil when a fire broke out in her Rio de Janeiro apartment. She sustained several severe injuries that day, and the computer that held years’ worth of her unreleased recordings—including some tracks of compositions that she’d written in 2008 under commission from New York University—were destroyed. The catastrophe prompted Villela to reassess her career path.
Pianist Giovanni Guidi’s new album for ECM, Avec le temps, opens with a penetrating take on the title cut, a somber French chanson by composer/lyricist Léo Ferré. But Guidi’s touch on the keys is so light, and his interplay with bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer João Lobo so thoughtful, that a quiet optimism subsumes the tune’s doleful message (“In time, all love fades...”).
Seattle-based trumpeter Samantha Boshnack draws creative inspiration from the Earth’s most dramatic displays of power on Seismic Belt: Live in Santa Monica (Orenda Records), her latest release and fifth album as a composer. Fascinated by the Ring of Fire, the span of volcanoes that hem the entirety of the Pacific Ocean, Boshnack set out to compose musical allegories for the grand seismic movements that have sculpted the Earth’s surface into landscapes of astonishing—and at times terrifying—beauty.
On “Alone Together”, the title cut from Catherine Russell’s new release, available Mar 1, the singer/bandleader sticks close to the melody, in tight formation with her band—a rhythm section and a panoply of horns. Her vocal tone is resonant and buttery, and her delivery hits the sweet spot between passion and detachment. Perfect.
Five-time Juno-winning pianist/composer, Renee Rosnes leads an elite quintet in “Singin’ and Swingin’: A Jazz Summit” at second annual Oscar Peterson International Jazz Festival in St. Catherine, Ontario.
With Love Hurts, Julian Lage’s third trio album of Americana for Mack Avenue Records, the Grammy-nominated guitarist completes a trilogy. The two previous trio recordings, Modern Lore (2018) and Arclight (2016), dug deep into the pre-bop and rock-and-roll eras respectively; the subject of the new release is the unfettered musical milieu of the late 1960s and early 1970s, when free jazz was reaching toward its zenith.
On the first track of her new album, From Untruth (Northern Spy), composer Amirtha Kidambi leaps into her takedown of income inequality without preamble. “Eat the rich or die starving,” she sings to the wheezing drone of her harmonium on “Eat the Rich.” But boldly confrontational vocals are only one of the many pointed arrows in Kidambi’s quiver. She has a lot to say—and many musical devices through which to speak.
With her latest record, Move On: A Sondheim Adventure, French-born singer Cyrille Aimée takes on the Stephen Sondheim canon, a departure from her usual gypsy-jazz-driven material. Aimée’s expertise lies in laser-precise improvisations and lightly voiced phrasings—neither of which usually comports with Sondheim, whose vocally demanding musical theater compositions leave little room for experimentation or subtlety. So what’s a jazz singer to do with his sumptuous syncopation, extended harmonies, and whip-smart lyrics? Aimée has a few good ideas.
Every moment of Miho Hazama’s third recording Dancer In Nowhere (Sunnyside) seems intended for full emotional impact—there isn’t one throw-away on this meticulously crafted recording. As a composer, she maximizes the sound and scope of each of the 13 instruments in her experimental ensemble—a standard rhythm section, a cluster of horns, an array of strings—collectively called m_unit. (She didn’t want to call them an “orchestra,” she says.) And as a conductor she makes sure that each sound gets its own hearing as it cycles into prominence through the kaleidoscopic changes in her compositions. This said, there’s nothing overblown about this recording. Hazama’s compositions are as economical as they are lush—a tricky balance to achieve.
Much of drummer Allison Miller’s life is about juxtapositions these days. She’s the creative force behind two related but different bands. She’s managing an active musical career while co-parenting her two preschoolers. And she gives voice to her activism through her art. All of this creative tension finds an outlet in Miller’s new album, Glitter Wolf (Royal Potato Family), the fifth album with her experimental jazz sextet Boom Tic Boom.
What would jazz without patriarchy sound like? It’s a provocative question—and one that drummer Terri Lyne Carrington seeks to answer. To this end she recently founded the Jazz and Gender Justice Institute at Berklee College of Music, inaugurated at an open house at the Boston campus on October 30. Through the Institute, Carrington, who serves as Artistic Director, and her board of prominent thought leaders will help to guide select groups of music students across the rocky terrain that lies at the intersection of jazz, gender, and our modern culture. No small undertaking.
As the title of Merje Kägu’s debut as a leader and composer, When Silence Falls (Losen Records), suggests, the Sweden-based guitarist deals in subtlety. On the seven compositions on this album, even when the pulse is true and the melodic line active, the mood is one of introspection, as if the players are deep in musical meditation.
While students at Bard College, pianist Ran Blake and vocalist Jeanne Lee (1939-2000) formed an experimental jazz duo that took top prize at the Apollo Theater’s Amateur Night once in 1961. Blake brought to their collaboration an open, spontaneous comping style; Lee brought a poet’s sensibility to her interpretation of a vocal line. From that auspicious beginning, the two went on to become one of the 20th century’s most influential pairings in modern vocal jazz.
With Jazz Batá 2 (Mack Avenue), Cuban pianist/bandleader Chucho Valdés returns to the small-group format that he used for his 1972 album Jazz Batá (Agrem). That album—recorded with just piano, bass, and batá drums—heralded the later success of Valdés’ group Irakere, an Afro-Cuban big band that forwarded the evolution of Latin jazz by an order of magnitude.
The graceful, fleeting original “Even The Sun Sets”—the penultimate track on Anne Sajdera’s latest album, New Year (Bijuri Records)—gives listeners a hint of the jazz pianist’s strongly classical orientation. You can hear the decades of training in her well-practiced touch, her smooth legato, her confident attack on the keys. What Sajdera builds with this masterful technique, though, is sturdy post-bop constructs, accentuated with razor-sharp rhythms and commanding horn syncronizations. The new album showcases nine such tunes, each a cleanly delineated musical idea in its own right.
Earlier this year jazz pianist Harold Mabern faced the considerable challenge of compressing almost 60 years of playing and recording into a three-week run at the New York jazz club Smoke. A complete retrospective of Mabern’s storied career would have to include all of the albums he’s recorded to date (25+ as a leader and 80+ as a sideman) and then some—most notably his gigging with too many jazz greats to list here and his contributions to hard bop, soul jazz, and post-bop. For all of this heavy lifting Mabern has been dubbed the Iron Man, the moniker that crowns his latest release for Smoke Sessions Records, The Iron Man: Live at Smoke. By the end of the two-disc set listeners will likely agree that Mabern just might be some kind of a jazz superhero.
Scandinavian jazz is its own thing. Affective, free-spirited, and daringly improvisational. Finnish jazz, a vibrant constituent of the Nordic scene, pushes this individualism to an uncommon degree. Producer Matti Nives champions the effort through We Jazz, a music collective whose wingspan covers a magazine, an annual jazz fest, and a record label. This fall three new releases on the Helsinki-based We Jazz Records affirm the ascendancy of the Finnish small group approach to new jazz.
Saxophonist Houston Person and bassist Ron Carter first played together as a duo on their 1990 standards album Something In Common (Muse). What these two distinguished players had in common then was a diehard appreciation for the musical alchemy behind well-crafted songbook tunes. What they have in common now is six albums and nearly 30 years of collaboration on this voluptuous material. This year’s Remember Love (High Note) marks the next installment in their noteworthy oeuvre.
In January 2017, drummer Sanah Kadoura fell in her New York apartment and hit her head on the sharp corner of a windowsill. Three days later she was on her way to a gig when she became disoriented and unable to breathe, and by the next day she’d lost her vision, speech, and ability to walk. At the hospital she was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury, a condition that can cause permanent neurological damage and is sometimes fatal. This chilling diagnosis threatened to sideswipe Kadoura’s budding career: She was forced to cancel the session for the album that she was just two days away from recording—her debut release, Hawk Eyes.