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Ryan Keberle & Catharsis: The Hope I Hold (Greenleaf)

Is it really protest music if the dominant emotion within the songs is hope? That’s one of the questions raised by the sometimes reflective, sometimes questioning, always uplifting music on The Hope I Hold, the third album by trombonist Ryan Keberle and his socially aware band Catharsis. “I am the poor white, fooled and pushed … Read More “Ryan Keberle & Catharsis: The Hope I Hold (Greenleaf)”

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Yoko Miwa Trio: Keep Talkin’ (Ocean Blue Tear)

The hard thing about Yoko Miwa is that she makes it sound so easy. It isn’t just that the Boston-based pianist, a longtime instructor at Berklee, keeps her harmony elegantly consonant, and her improvised lines tunefully logical; she also plays with such a big, classically-informed sound that even the rough bits in her music, like … Read More “Yoko Miwa Trio: Keep Talkin’ (Ocean Blue Tear)”

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Rajna Swaminathan: Of Agency and Abstraction (Biophilia)

Rajna Swaminathan is a virtuoso on the mrudangam, the two-headed, tuned hand drum essential to Carnatic music, and in a surprisingly brief time has made a name for herself both in Indian classical music and jazz. But Of Agency and Abstraction is not just another entry in the catalog of Indian-flavored jazz albums. As a … Read More “Rajna Swaminathan: Of Agency and Abstraction (Biophilia)”

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Seamus Blake Is Playing Between Many Worlds

In 2002, the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition focused on saxophonists. There were 15 musicians, and the bar was set high enough that a player as polished and original as Marcus Strickland only placed third. The winner was 31-year-old Seamus Blake, a British-born, Vancouver-reared New Yorker who, at that point, was little known outside of … Read More “Seamus Blake Is Playing Between Many Worlds”

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Dave Zinno Unisphere: Stories Told (Whaling City Sound)

When you get right down to it, there are few things as essential to jazz as a solid groove. Virtuosity is nice, sure, and it’s hard to be great if the spark of originality doesn’t burn bright beneath every solo, but even an average combo can kill if they’re deep enough in the pocket. Stories … Read More “Dave Zinno Unisphere: Stories Told (Whaling City Sound)”

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Le Rex: Escape of the Fire Ants (Cuneiform)

Thanks in large part to the popularity of the Dirty Dozen, the brass-band sound has become as formulaic as it is popular. It’s almost a postmodern version of Dixieland, with carefully prescribed roles—the sousaphone must always be huffing, the unison horn lines jagged and funky, the drum beat built around the snare—and a similar sense … Read More “Le Rex: Escape of the Fire Ants (Cuneiform)”

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Jim Brenan 11 (Featuring Chris Andrew): 50/50 (Death Defying)

Because major cities in Canada are much farther apart than they are in the States, local jazz scenes there tend to be more isolated than in the U.S. This is particularly true for musicians who live outside the Big Three metro centers of Toronto, Montréal, and Vancouver. Calgary is 1,686 miles from Toronto, Canada’s English … Read More “Jim Brenan 11 (Featuring Chris Andrew): 50/50 (Death Defying)”

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Jordan Pettay: First Fruit (Outside In)

Say the words “gospel jazz,” and what comes to mind is likely something along the lines of Nat Adderley’s “Sermonette”: bluesy, down-home, and uplifting. But when saxophonist Jordan Pettay offers her take on “I Surrender All”—a classic hymn that has been recorded by everyone from Mahalia Jackson to Cece Winans to Michael W. Smith—don’t be … Read More “Jordan Pettay: First Fruit (Outside In)”

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Gregor Huebner: El Violin Latino Vol. 3: Los Soñadores (Zoho)

When Gregor Huebner launched his El Violin Latino project, it seemed innocently transnational, an opportunity for the German-born violinist to show his appreciation for (and mastery of) a wide range of Latin music: tango, bossa nova, son, charanga, and so on. With Vol. 3: Los Soñadores, however, Huebner seems less a musical tourist than a … Read More “Gregor Huebner: El Violin Latino Vol. 3: Los Soñadores (Zoho)”

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David Torn/Tim Berne/Ches Smith: Sun of Goldfinger (ECM)

That David Torn is the most electric of jazz guitarists is made clear in the opening minutes of “Eye Meddle,” the first of three 20-minute-plus performances here. Before even the first note is plucked, there’s a pulsing thrum of feedback from Torn’s Marshall amp, while in the background, a sampler oscillates between two notes like … Read More “David Torn/Tim Berne/Ches Smith: Sun of Goldfinger (ECM)”

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Joachim Kühn: Melodic Ornette Coleman (ACT)

Let’s be honest: A solo piano recording of what is described as Ornette Coleman’s “most beautiful melodies and ballads” will likely seem, to some jazz fans, like someone’s idea of a prank. And yet, what Joachim Kühn delivers with Melodic Ornette Coleman is a vivid reminder not only of Coleman’s compositional gifts but also of … Read More “Joachim Kühn: Melodic Ornette Coleman (ACT)”

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Gary Burton: Take Another Look: A Career Retrospective (Mack Avenue)

At 75, Gary Burton—a jazz giant since his teens—is one of the few musicians for whom a five-disc career retrospective seems too tiny. This is, after all, a man who not only led a pioneering fusion group with Larry Coryell rocking out on guitar, but was also equally at home playing with Stephane Grappelli or … Read More “Gary Burton: Take Another Look: A Career Retrospective (Mack Avenue)”

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Allison Au Quartet: Wander Wonder (Independent)

There was a time when “fusion” meant wailing synths and distorted electric guitar, a loud, showy sound that traded the bounce of swing for the on-the-one insistence of funk or rock. These days, though, jazz musicians who draw influences from outside of the postbop continuum don’t trade one set of clichés for another, but simply … Read More “Allison Au Quartet: Wander Wonder (Independent)”

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Greg Murphy Trio: Bright Idea (Whaling City Sound)

The truly bright idea on keyboardist Greg Murphy’s Bright Idea was to bring in drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts. It isn’t just that Watts is a legendarily powerful player who, after making his name with the Marsalis brothers, went on to energize albums by Michael Brecker, Danilo Pérez, David Kikoski, and others; he also fits well … Read More “Greg Murphy Trio: Bright Idea (Whaling City Sound)”

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Ernesto Cervini’s Turboprop: Abundance (Anzic)

On paper, Ernesto Cervini’s Turboprop looks like nothing so much as Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers—a drummer-led sextet fronted by three horns. But where Blakey’s leadership focused heavily on rhythmic drive, Cervini takes a more nuanced approach. It isn’t just that he routinely scales his patterns to fit what bassist Dan Loomis and pianist Adrean Farrugia … Read More “Ernesto Cervini’s Turboprop: Abundance (Anzic)”

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Don Byron/Aruán Ortiz: Random Dances and (A)tonalities (Intakt)

If the last word of this title gives you pause, please note the parentheses. Although Don Byron and Aruán Ortiz are not above dancing out to the furthest reaches of conventional harmony, most of what they play here is solidly tonal. At times, as with their understated reading of Ellington’s “Black and Tan Fantasy,” it’s … Read More “Don Byron/Aruán Ortiz: Random Dances and (A)tonalities (Intakt)”

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Ivo Perelman/Rudi Mahall: Kindred Spirits / Ivo Perelman/Jason Stein: Spiritual Prayers (Leo)

On most of the 30-odd albums Ivo Perelman has released over the last three years, the saxophonist has articulated his free-form vision through mostly conventional jazz combos, generally involving some combination of piano (usually Matthew Shipp), drums, and bass. What sets his latest pair of recordings apart is that instead of squaring off against a … Read More “Ivo Perelman/Rudi Mahall: Kindred Spirits / Ivo Perelman/Jason Stein: Spiritual Prayers (Leo)”

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Randy Brecker & Mats Holmquist: Together (MAMA)

Don’t be misled by the billing. Although Randy Brecker’s trumpet is featured throughout this album with Finland’s UMO Jazz Orchestra, the creative force behind the project is clearly composer Mats Holmquist, whose inventive, coloristic arrangements are what ultimately keep Together together. Take “All My Things,” which somehow finds a common thread between Jerome Kern’s “All the … Read More “Randy Brecker & Mats Holmquist: Together (MAMA)”

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Mark Turner & Ethan Iverson: Temporary Kings (ECM)/Mikkel Ploug & Mark Turner: Faroe (Sunnyside)

Each of these two duet albums features tenor saxophonist Mark Turner working with someone with whom he normally plays in a quartet. In the case of Temporary Kings, that someone would be pianist Ethan Iverson, who works with Turner in drummer Billy Hart’s quartet; on Faroe, it’s Danish guitarist Mikkel Ploug, who invited the saxophonist … Read More “Mark Turner & Ethan Iverson: Temporary Kings (ECM)/Mikkel Ploug & Mark Turner: Faroe (Sunnyside)”

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Aaron Shragge & Ben Monder: This World of Dew (Human Resource)

Because the dewdrop is both beautiful and fleeting, it has been used in Buddhist teaching as a metaphor for the impermanence of existence. In the haiku that gave This World of Dew its title, the Japanese poet Kobayashi Issa makes a similar point but adds, “and yet, and yet”—a comment that speaks to the sense of … Read More “Aaron Shragge & Ben Monder: This World of Dew (Human Resource)”

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Gilad Hekselman: Ask for Chaos (Hexophonic Music/Motéma)

Despite its title, Gilad Hekselman’s Ask for Chaos has a tuneful gentleness that may tempt some to presume the music is all surface and not listen any deeper. It’s an understandable reaction, given the amount of electronic effects applied here, but equating processing with a lack of depth is a mistake, because there’s quite a lot … Read More “Gilad Hekselman: Ask for Chaos (Hexophonic Music/Motéma)”

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Geoffrey Keezer Trio: On My Way to You (MarKeez)

There are a number of pianists blessed with such technique that they could play pretty much anything. Where Geoffrey Keezer has them beat is that he can also think of pretty much anything—and on this album, he does. Granted, he’s had time to gather his thoughts, having gone five years since his last album, the understatedly … Read More “Geoffrey Keezer Trio: On My Way to You (MarKeez)”

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Ronnie Cuber: Ronnie’s Trio (SteepleChase)

It’s easy to play standards, but damned difficult to play them well. The problem is one of familiarity: How does one take a tune that’s been played literally a million times and find something fresh in it? Some younger musicians deal with this problem by avoiding the familiar tropes of straight-ahead playing (Tom Rainey’s Obbligato … Read More “Ronnie Cuber: Ronnie’s Trio (SteepleChase)”

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Dexter Gordon Quartet: Tokyo 1975 (Elemental), Woody Shaw: Tokyo ’81 (Elemental)

How ironic that concert performance, once the definition of musical ephemerality, has become the richest vein to mine for vintage jazz gold. Working with producer Michael Cuscuna, Elemental has unearthed a cannily matched pair of albums recorded (mostly) in Japan that offer fresh sounds from two musically related giants. Dexter Gordon’s Tokyo 1975 catches the … Read More “Dexter Gordon Quartet: Tokyo 1975 (Elemental), Woody Shaw: Tokyo ’81 (Elemental)”

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