Jazz-2K: CD Picks of the Week

Four close looks at jazz’s present and one look back at its righteous past:

Sean Jones: No Needs For Words

“No Need for Words”
(Mack Avenue, 2011)
“Love is all around you. All you have to do is look and see.” Sean Jones heard that statement during a tour of Russia, and it got the hot young trumpeter’s creative engine seriously revving. The result is “No Need for Words,” one of the most nuanced looks that love (and its associated aspects) has gotten in a long time. The bright, celebratory vibe of “Look and See” says Jones likes what he sees around him; apparently, so does Obed Calvaire, whose roaring drum solo is the climax this piece deserves. But while altoist Brian Hogans’ warm, rich “Obsession (Cloud Nine)” captures that amazing feeling you get when love is new, “Touch and Go” reminds us that the course of true love, etc., etc., and the electric howler “Love’s Fury” amply demonstrates how fiery passion can become snarling rage. Jones’ last disc “The Search Within” was an undoubted attention-getter, but “Words” is a quantum leap for Jones as composer, player and leader. See what leaving Jazz @ Lincoln Center can do for you?

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Somi: Live at Jazz Standard

“Live at Jazz Standard”
(Palmetto, 2011)
This young singer/songwriter is one of the most pleasurable surprises ever to be sprung on the Albany Riverfront Jazz Festival; her transcendent 2010 performance morphed the crowd’s attitude from “Who’s she?” to “WHO IS SHE?!” Now the rest of the world gets to experience the beauty and the soul of Somi in concert. Recorded over two nights at Jazz Standard in NYC, the set features the same knife-sharp unit Somi brought to the Riverfront: Toru Dodo’s Fender Rhodes break during “Wallflower Blues” is nothing but sumptuous, and Liberty Ellman’s in-the-clear guitar solo on the opener “Ingele” establishes the intimacy that runs through all Somi’s material – whether it’s the pleading cry of “Prayer to the Saint of the Brokenhearted” or the mesmerizing multi-lingual title track from her 2010 release “If the Rains Come First.” She’s not shy about covering legends, either, serving up a sultry take on Abbey Lincoln’s “Shoulda Been” and a wonderfully understated version of Bob Marley’s “Waiting in Vain.” This woman is the truth, pure and simple.

Anne Mette Iversen Quartet: Milo Songs

“Milo Songs”
(Brooklyn Jazz Underground, 2011)
The proverb goes, “Out of the mouths of babes oft times come gems.” For bassist Anne Mette Iversen, a simple little tune from her two-year old son was the genesis of “Milo Songs,” a marvelously intimate set that expands on the world as seen through the eyes of a child. Don’t confuse “intimate” with “quiet,” because the challenges a child (and, by extension, a parent) faces can stir roiling emotions: “Milo’s Brother” is infused with the uneasy excitement a new sibling can generate; “The Storm” demonstrates the intense dialogue a parent can have with a stubborn child that wants what he/she wants; and pianist Danny Grissett’s in-the-clear opening to “Child’s Worlds” is a great entry into the simple place kids can create – a place that usually comes with a sign saying “NO ADULTS ALLOWED!” Although Iversen’s solos are suitably meaty, her compositions are artfully lofted passes that allow Grissett, saxman John Ellis, and drum Otis Brown III to score both repeatedly and spectacularly. Parenting may not be peaceful or glamorous, but “Milo Songs” shows that it can be both beautiful and rewarding.

Itai Kriss: The Shark

“The Shark”
(Avenue K Records, 2011)
As a longtime Herbie Mann fan, my standards are pretty high when it comes to anyone looking to bring the flute back to the front in jazz. Israeli-born Itai Kriss is the latest candidate for the job, and he definitely passes the entrance exam. Kriss slides in the door on the waves of Jack Glotzmann’s soulful cruiser “The Shark”, and he doesn’t come alone: Aaron Goldberg’s piano lines slice through the disc like a scalpel, and the downtown rhythm section of drummer Eric McPherson and bassist Omer Avitel lays down foundations you could build a city on. “The Shark” really opens up when Kriss is joined on the front line by John Ellis and trumpeter Avishai Cohen: Ellis thrives on the effortless bopper “Kamuvan”, and Cohen has a blast on the reggae-laced closer “Booty Call.” But even when it’s just Kriss and the quartet, vibrant pieces like the grinning “Chang Chang” and the ebullient tango “Danzon No. 1” keep the mood lively and rewarding. You got the job, kid. Welcome aboard!

Freddie Hubbard: Pinnacle: Live & Unreleased from Keystone Korner

“Pinnacle: Live & Unreleased from Keystone Korner”
(Resonance Records, 2011)
“Pinnacle” is a bracing tonic for anyone who suffered through this jazz icon’s painful last recording “On the Real Side.” Culled from two 1980 appearances at San Francisco’s long-gone Keystone Korner, Hubbard holds the club in his hand like King Kong held Fay Wray (or Jessica Lange, depending on which version you prefer). “The Intrepid Fox” hits like a young Mike Tyson, with the muscular trumpeter looking to knock down the back wall before the show’s even a minute old, and he’s still looking to renovate the place at the close with Hubbard’s only known recording of Coltrane’s “Giant Steps.” That iron command really serves Hubbard when he’s not blowing out eardrums, keeping it cool on “Happiness is Now” and finding the sweet spot in Michel Legrand’s “The Summer Knows.” Keyboardist Billy Childs and bassist Larry Klein – the only backup musicians to appear on all tracks – easily commutes between Hubbard’s electric and acoustic personas, with Childs’ best spotlight moment coming on Rhodes during “First Light.” I’m no fan of the “Jazz’s Best Days are Behind Us” school of thought, but Pinnacle is one look back I’m more than willing to take.

Reviews by J Hunter

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