Elegy – Theo Bleckmann

After appearing on two ECM albums (Meredith Monk and Julia Hülsmann), vocalist Theo Bleckmann makes his label debut as a leader with Elegy. This album showcases Bleckmann as a fascinating composer as much as a very distinctive singer, and combines the torrential talent of guitarist Ben Monder, pianist Shai Maestro, bassist Chris Tordini, and drummer John Hollenbeck, a long-time collaborator. A “sound painter” who creates what JazzTimes calls “luminous webs” in music, Bleckmann’s ECM foray is well worth a listen.

ECM, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

Tipico – Miguel Zenon

Saxophonist, Grammy nominee, and Guggenheim and MacArthur Fellow Miguel Zenón is widely considered one of the most groundbreaking and influential saxophonists of his generation. Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Zenón’s compositions are largely informed by his heritage. Performing with his quartet of 10-plus years – pianist Luis Perdomo, bassist Hans Glawischnig, and drummer Henry Cole – Zenón focuses on this nucleus on Típico, giving the album a more intimate feel with a distinct voice.

Miel Music, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau

Two geniuses of the age, mandolinist/singer Chris Thile and pianist Brad Mehldau make their duo debut with their eponymous album, a mix of covers and originals. Thile, the virtuosic darling of bluegrass, who was selected to follow Garrison Keilor on the beloved NPR staple, A Prairie Home Companion, and Mehldau, the most influential jazz pianists in the last two decades, combine their chops in a superbly delightful rapport – two artists who “come from different worlds but the same species,” writes the New York Times.

Nonsuch, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

Rumbler – Bill Anschell

It’s been more than five years since celebrated Seattle pianist/composer Bill Anschell released a record, and Rumbler couldn’t be a more worthy one. A “globally aware musician of wide-ranging activities and interests,” Anschell “push[es] his music in new directions with odd meters, unexpected juxtapositions and textures, intricately creative arrangements and rock flavors, all without neglecting the elemental power of melody and nuance,” writes Andrew Luthringer in Earshot Jazz. Featuring his core trio of bassist Chris Symer and drummer Jose Martinez, Anschell also brings on guests including saxophonist Jeff Coffin and guitarist Brian Monroney to accentuate each texture and melody.

Origin Records, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

Swivel – Honey Ear Trio

The sunny determination of drummer Allison Miller shines through all of the Honey Ear Music. The other constant in this group is the bassist Rene Hart, a former Seattleite having lived in NYC for a number of years. The new guy in Honey Ear is saxophonist Jeff Lederer, and the additional spark and depth that he brings is immediately noticeable, even if you’ve never heard the group before. This music is inventive, spirited, and fun.

Little i Music, 2015
Notes by John Gilbreath

Daylight Ghosts – Craig Taborn

Keyboardist Craig Taborn celebrates his third ECM release as a leader, bringing together two other luminaries from the New York scene – Chris Speed (tenor sax, clarinet) and Chris Lightcap (bass) – as well as fellow Minnesota native Dave King (drums), of The Bad Plus. Informed by free improv, rock, electronic, world music, and more, these musicians are dynamic and questing, working proficiently together in an electrifying performance on Daylight Ghosts.

ECM, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

Laughing at Life – Duchess

Since their 2015 debut, vocal trio Duchess (Amy Cervini, Hilary Gardner, and Melissa Stylianou) have captivated listeners with their joyful, sassy, and polished performances. On their new release, Duchess joins with instrumentalists of quite some talent, including guitarist Jesse Lewis, clarinetist Anat Cohen, saxophonist Jeff Lederer, and trombonist Wycliffe Gordon. Laughing At Life is filled to the brim of simply satisfying music, complete with tight harmonies and swinging surprises.

Anzic Records, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Up and Coming – John Abercrombie Quartet

Guitarist John Abercrombie, who has recorded as a leader for ECM since 1974, returns with a second album of his heavyweight quartet of pianist Marc Copland, bassist Drew Gress, and drummer Joey Baron. Of their 2013 39 Steps, Financial Times said, “The emphasis is on subtle intrigue, flowing lyricism and the interplay between the leader’s warm, cleanly articulated guitar and Copland’s piano…with bassist Gress and drummer Baron equally supple and sinewy companions.” Up and Coming highlights that same interplay, yet with even more emphasis on the enduring values of songs.

ECM, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

Henry “Red” Allen And His Orchestra 1935-1936

New Orleans trumpeter/vocalist Red Allen, one of the most popular bandleaders of the early “Jazz Age,” has been beautifully represented by this re-mastered set of early recordings. This release, 1935-1936, is part of a much larger Chronological Classics Series, and includes 24 super-clean early recordings, from a career that included 9 nationally charting hit singles. The liner notes are fascinating, and the music serves as a clear beacon to the distant past, from which ground work one can clearly hear the development of the art form; “America’s great gift to world culture.”

Classics, 1991
Notes by John Gilbreath

Urban Landscape – Manuel Valera & Groove Square

The Cuban pianist Manuel Valera continues to surprise with each new release. This Urban Landscape brings forward a host of cultural traditions, including Valera’s unique artistic vision and E. J. Strickland, the drummer from his most recent work, into a brand new stew. As AllAboutJazz says, “Decidedly adult contemporary, Urban Landscape is exactly what it purports to be; an urban vision of funk, groove, and habanera.”

Destiny, 2015
Notes by John Gilbreath