JAZZ IN THE AGE OF COVID: 5 releases that will improve your self-quarantine!
Well. What a difference a contagion makes: I’m in my third week of working my day gig from home, and since Siena College – and, by extension, WVCR – is in Lockdown Mode until (possibly) mid-May, “Jazz2K @ The Saint” is on hiatus. It could be worse, I suppose. I’m healthy (Knock on wood), I’m employed, and I have enough toilet paper to last me until mid-Summer.
Unfortunately, one of my great joys in life was being able to turn people on to 21st-century jazz once a week, and that’s not happening from an audio standpoint for the foreseeable future. The thing is, though, before I got back into radio seven years ago, I spread my musical gospel via web sites like albanyjazz.com, All About Jazz, and State of Mind. So why not do that now? Why not do that here? So, get ready to make some notes, as we begin a weekly date with the present (and future) of my favorite music in the universe.
Pursuance: The Coltranes (Ropeadope)
They say your reach should always exceed your grasp; whether that’s to keep you striving or keep you humble is a discussion for another day. But taking on the legacy of the legendary John Coltrane is a pretty tall order for the most seasoned musician. Not only has Lakecia Benjamin – one of the best sax players of this generation – grabbed that challenge with both hands, she’s also taken on the swirling music of Alice Coltrane, as well. With big assists from stone-cold killers like Gary Bartz, Regina Carter, DeeDee Bridgewater, Lonnie Plaxico and Marcus Strickland, Pursuance: The Coltranes is mind-blowing in its complexity and imagination, as Benjamin fearlessly puts her own spin on Trane classics like “Acknowledgement”, “Central Park West” and “Alabama” while giving both the music & its composers the deep respect they have always deserved.
Rec*i*proc*i*ty (Inner Circle Music)
George Burton’s 2016 disc The Truth of What I Am > The Narcissist pretty much came out of nowhere, taking the Jazz2K Rookie of The Year award for best debut as a leader. I was beginning to worry that we wouldn’t hear anything else from the Philadelphia keyboardist, but now he’s back with his second disc on Greg Osby’s Inner Circle Music label, and I’m delighted to report that the Sophomore Jinx has missed Burton by a country mile. Buoyed by solid performances from reedman Tim Warfield, bassist Pablo Menares and vocalist Alexa Barchini, Burton shows the same compositional & improvisational depth that hooked me four years ago. This is 21st-century jazz in no uncertain terms, with charms to “soothe the savage beast” and then kick that sucker right in the teeth. Here’s hoping the wait for Burton’s next release is a tad shorter, because I want a LOT more of this beautiful noise!
DAYNA STEPHENS TRIO
Liberty (Contagious Music)
In the past, I’ve said that playing music in a sax-trio format is like wiring a plug while juggling penguins – that are on fire – onstage at a sold-out Carnegie Hall. Reedman Dayna Stephens prefers to see it as “exposing yet very liberating.” Potato, poh-tah-toe. All I know is that Stephens’ latest outing – recorded at Rudy Van Gelder’s history-filled studio – delivers an elegant, uncompromising look at how less can definitely be more. Mind you, it helps if you cook with good sous chefs: Drummer Eric Harland and bassist Ben Street both have their own unique sense of accent and lyric, and act as stellar second soloists & razor-sharp foils even as they give Stephens the rock-solid support this configuration demands. After all his various health issues, it’s a blessing that Dayna Stephens is still with us, so it’s only fitting that he’s blessed us with music that is sublime in its simplicity, filled with unending joy and multiple shades of light.
DELFEAYO MARSALIS & UPTOWN JAZZ ORCHESTRA
Jazz Party (Troubadour Jass)
Like the old saw says, “Ain’t no party like a NEW ORLEANS party!” And trombonist / educator Delfeayo Marsalis has delivered a date that demands we all come down and have a taste of the musical smorgasbord that is The City That Care Forgot. Mixing originals from his band of young lions with classics from killer NOLA outfits like Dirty Dozen and the Soul Rebels, Jazz Party defies you to listen to this disc and NOT get up and dance! Trust me, it’s not possible, whether you’re hearing the Tonya Boyd-Cannon’s head-bopping title track or the funked-up Roy Hargrove tribute “Dr. Hardgroove.” Even the runaway freight train “Raid on the Mingus House Party” will have you out of your seat and looking for a partner. In the liner notes, Marsalis talks about the concept of “happy jazz.” Jazz Party embraces that concept wholeheartedly, and don’t we need some happy right about now?
EXPANSIONS: THE DAVE LIEBMAN GROUP
Earth (Whaling City Sound)
Back in 2018, the students at Skidmore Jazz Institute got an extended seminar on what fusion and free jazz USED TO be like when reed wizard Dave Liebman debuted “Earth”, the long-awaited fourth installment of his depiction of the four natural elements. The music was wild, the performances were wilder, and taking this music into the studio hasn’t dimmed its energy or creativity one whit. Liebman may be the guy on the marquee, but he not only gives his talented partners room to move and breathe, he even carves out solo slots for each instrument. Admittedly, this music isn’t for everybody or for any time, but this portrait of a world deep in the grips of climate change will definitely unlock your mind after a tRump press conference or an evening of binge-watching “Tiger King.”
See you next week, campers — same Bat time, same Bat web site. Stay safe!