By J Hunter
Okay, the trophies are distributed, and we’ve seen the best of the rest. That means it’s time to let the chips fall where they may. IT’S FOR THE WIN!
JOE LOCKE – Love is a Pendulum (Motema)
It’s become a cliché to say that a piece of music is “inspired.” However, in the case of vibes master Joe Locke’s latest release, we have a set of beautiful, expansive, thrill-seeking music that was literally inspired by the poetry of Barbara Sfraga. Backed by the killer core group of pianist Robert Rodriguez, bassist Ricky Rodriguez and drummer/co-producer Terreon Gully, Locke weaves brilliant color splashes from Donny McCaslin, Paul Bollenbeck and Theo Bleckmann into this sublime “song cycle,” bringing a range of creativity that is just as deep and wide as all the emotions surrounding the word “love.”
PETE RODRIGUEZ – El Conde Negro (Destiny)
Imagine if Arturo Sandoval had chosen Miles Davis as his inspirational compass instead of Dizzy Gillespie. That’s what we get on the latest release from this trumpeter, vocalist, percussionist and educator. (It is “Dr. Pete Rodriguez”, if we’re going to get technical about it.) Powered by knock-out musicians like pianist Luis Perdomo, drummer Rudy Royston, percussionist Robert Quintero and the aforementioned Ricky Rodriguez, this second-generation Nuyorican wonder serves up an outstanding set of 21st-century Afro-Cuban jazz that carries a sense of exploration and experimentation you don’t usually get from the Latin sub-genre.
JOEL HARRISON – Spirit House (Whirlwind Recordings)
Every time I think über-guitarist Joel Harrison can’t surprise me any more, there he is again with music that is more exciting, inspirational and off-the-wall than the last time he spun my head like a top. Big love to the risk-taking UK label Whirlwind Recordings for encouraging Harrison to let his freak flag fly one more time. Cuong Vu’s otherworldly trumpet combines with Paul Hanson’s effects-laden bassoon to give Harrison another incendiary front line not found in nature. Drummer Brian Blade and bassist Kermit Driscoll adds just the right amount of foundation to let this unique blend of sounds coalesce into something truly inspiring.
JASON MILES & INGRID JENSEN – Kind of New (Whaling City Sound)
Much to the chagrin of traditionalists who loathed Miles Davis’ iconic Bitches Brew right from the jump, keyboardist Jason Miles and trumpeter Ingrid Jensen have made one of the best tributes yet to the sound that literally changed it all in jazz. While Miles & Jensen show great respect with their fresh takes on Davis tracks like “Sanctuary” and “Jean-Pierre,” it’s monster originals like the crushing effects fest “The Faction of Cool,” the snarling “Ferrari” (a piece Miles co-wrote with the late Michael Brecker in 2005), and the funked-out “Street Vibe” that show Davis’ electric visions can still thrive – and thrill – in the 21st century.