JAZZ2K: Top Discs for September, Part I

September 5th, 2014, 2:00 pm by Greg

Reviews by J Hunter

Okay, I’ve been sloughing off on this feature for WAY too long! And since September is essentially Jazz Month in Greater Nippertown (with the Albany Riverfront Jazz Festival, Jazz at the Lake, and – of course – the return of A Place For Jazz), here are a few discs I’ve been meaning to talk about for some time. Next week, I’ll talk about some new stuff on the way, some of which you can see performed live this month! Until then, feast your eyes and feed your ears:

Stanton Moore: ConversationsSTANTON MOORE
Conversations (Royal Potato Family)
When I heard Galactic drummer/leader Stanton Moore was doing a straight-ahead release, I was decidedly unenthusiastic. Then I saw the liner notes for Conversations and exclaimed, “Stanton Moore AND David Torkanovsky? FUCK yeah!!” Torkanovsky’s one of those righteous NOLA pianists who proves technical excellence and downright fun are not mutually exclusive. Moore does play it (kinda) straight, with killing takes on bassist James Singleton’s waltzing “Lauren Z” and the Herbie Hancock cruiser “Driftin’,” but dancing tracks like “Carnival,” “Tchefunkta” and “Big Greaze” have that Galactic “LET’S PARTY” attitude in full force. A piano trio disc you can party to! Who knew?

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Zara McFarlane: If You Knew HerZARA McFARLANE
If You Knew Her (Brownswood Recordings)
When soul singers try to sing jazz, it’s usually a total train wreck. (Lookin’ at YOU, Freda Payne!) But UK singer/songwriter Zara McFarlane is no ordinary soul singer: She’s been recording jazz since 2011, and her latest release If You Knew Her is a fine entrance into the U.S. music scene. McFarlane’s heartfelt, unadorned vocals recall another singer/songwriter named Nina Simone, and the lyrics on “Open Heart,” “Move” and “Woman in the Olive Groves” are razor-sharp. The backing performances are crisp throughout, and McFarlane gives the Clash’s punk/ska monster “Police and Thieves” a hell of a reboot! No train wreck here: McFarlane brings it in for a perfect landing.

SF Jazz Collective: Live at SF Jazz 2013SFJAZZ COLLECTIVE
Live at SFJAZZ Center 2013: The Music of Chick Corea & New Compositions (SFJAZZ)
Anyone who caught Chick Corea at Massry Center knows the beauty is in the details. To christen their new hometown concert space, SFJAZZ Collective created a muscular tribute to the jazz piano icon that makes those details glow. The group originals are terrific, to be sure, but it’s the all-star octet’s takes on Corea’s massive songbook that make SFJAZZ Center a must: Pianist Edward Simon’s colorful arrangement of “Spain” subtly sub-references Miles Davis’ epic Sketches of Spain; Nippertown native Stefon Harris makes “Crystal Silence” literally sparkle; and Avishai Cohen’s sizzling trumpet effects bring the fusion to the Return to Forever classic “Space Circus.” This is the way to throw a housewarming party!

Oran Etkin: Gathering LightORAN ETKIN
Gathering Light (Motema)
Is it me, or do clarinet players try harder when it comes to subject matter? Don Byron’s super-eclectic discography is a fine example, but Oran Etkin may be catching up. He’s already got an award-winning, celebrity-endorsed children’s CD and a debut release that mixed traditional Malian and Jewish music. Now Etkin has taken experiences from his last world tour and poured them into Gathering Light. We’re talking amazing stuff like a lovely lower-caste Japanese lullaby, two wild takes on a Chinese cab ride, a Yiddish melody by way of Africa, and a knockout blues version of “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South.” Throw in players like Ben Allison, Curtis Fowlkes and Lionel Loueke, and Gathering Light is a total delight!

Terry Gordon Quintet: Tomorrow CallingTERRY GORDON QUINTET
Tomorrow Calling (WEPA)
The word is we’re going to have a new Arch Stanton Quartet release to play with soon, and that makes me very happy. But late last year, ASQ horn man Terry Gordon reminded us that he’s been doing this “group thing” for quite some time! Yup, Gordon put his hard-bopping electric band back together, and hearing him dance and dice with saxman Eric Walentowicz again is simply awesome. The strutting opener “Looking In,” the borderline-insane “Concatenated Cogency” and the lovely ballad “I Remember Patti” are all great, but the cherry on top of the cake? Michael-Louis Smith’s tremendous guitar work gives Tomorrow Calling three great voices to draw you in and keep you cross-eyed. So nice!