The Jazz Loft According to W. Eugene Smith

Sara Fishko, Director (2018, not rated) – This film, and the compelling book of photos that also came out of the Jazz Loft project, document a particular place, in a particular time, with a fluid cast of characters at who’s pinnacle is the distinctive genius of Thelonious Monk. Centered around, and documented by, the photographer Eugene Smith, whose apartment in New York’s Flower District became the nexus of after-hours jazz hangs, rehearsals, jam sessions, and various nefarious activities, this collection captures the sad and joyful ambience of a scene than can only be rendered in black and white. This video also captures a rare look and listen into Monk’s way of being; whether on the piano or not, always immersed in the jazz life.

DVD
2018, not rated
Notes by John Gilbreath

Nina

This is one of two documentaries developed around the same time, each of which seemed to reveal different aspects of strong and troubled presence of pianist/vocalist/activist, Nina Simone. These videos both provide an opportunity to expand the context of our understanding of one of the most enigmatic women in jazz; a piano prodigy as a child, who was kept from the development she should have had by social (read, racist) constraints, and developed, through abusive relationships and episodes of relative fame, into a troubled and disturbed icon of resistance through music.

DVD
2016, not rated
Notes by John Gilbreath

King of Jazz

ohn Murray Anderson, Director – (2018, not rated) – Some of bandleader Paul Whiteman’s legacy was crafted during his prolific career, and some has followed in the years that follow, as jazz history continues to be written. To many Black musicians, Whiteman’s (whose very name is apocryphal) claims to be the King of Jazz, who made the first jazz recordings, is insulting. But the nude woman character riding the party-clef on the cover of this video hints at a whole other story; for better or for worse, a key component in the history of jazz.

DVD
2018, not rated
Notes by John Gilbreath

Bird’s Eye View – Turtle Island Quartet

The playlist is not entirely Charlie “Bird” Parker material, as the title may suggest, but this remarkable string quartet has the chops and the cred to take on anything they want. The tunes are right out of the jazz canon (Miles, MJQ, Lee Konitz, etc), and they’re played with such facility and such respect, that one can only love them. In fact, they capture Parker’s spirit so capably, that he would love this date as well.

Azica Records, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

After the Fall – Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock, Jack DeJohnette

While it may be true that, after 30 years, this trio – one if the finest, ever — has run is course of live performances, it is probably also true that the German ECM label has a treasure trove of brilliant live recordings that it can release at will for years to come, and no one will complain. This date from a 1998 concert that was the first that Mr. Jarrett played after being knocked down by chronic-fatigue-syndrome for several years. The fare is jazz standards, the energy and intuition is freshly renewed, and the playing, as always, is absolutely stunning.

2 CDs
ECM, 2018
Notes by John Gilbreath

Autumn Wind – Scott DuBois

This multinational quartet has released some under-the-radar masterpieces over its 10-year history. In this ambitious progression of compositions, each piece starts with a different tone, up to the complete 12-tone line; and each selection adds one more instrument, from DuBois’ solo guitar, through the building of the quartet, then the addition of string players, up to a complete 12-piece ensemble. The German saxophonist, Gebhard Ullmann, is primarily known as a one of the world’s great clarinetists, and his work with the Danish drummer Kresten Osgood and the idiosyncratic NYC bassist Thomas Morgan is the perfect fabric for Scott DuBois’ compelling designs.

ACT Music, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

Unfiltered Universe – Rez Abbasi

Gaining ever more recognition as one of the top instrumentalists in the expanding universe of jazz, Pakistani guitarist Rex Abbasi has been producing challenging but engaging work for some years. On this release he joins forces with an astounding international band of geniuses. Pianist Vijay Iyer and saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa have worked with Abassi on several rewarding projects, but drummer Dan Weiss, bassist Johannes Weidenmueller, and cellist Elizabeth Mikhael are newer to this blistering complexity. Rudresh blows the roof of with “Disagree to Agree.” Abbasi’s thoughtful guitar work both guides and challenges the rest of the band.

Whirlwind Recordings, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

Live and Uncut – Mark Whitfield

Though jazz guitarist Mark Whitfield has roots in the Pacific Northwest, he left town long ago and has not looked back since. Here, in a trio setting, he rips through a set of mostly standards in the company of an equally blazing rhythm team of Ben Allison, on bass, and the veteran Billy Drummond, on drums. These guys can take anything Whitfield throws at them, and on this live date, ideas and execution are flying around the bandstand like horizontal fireworks.

Chesky Records, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

More Powerful – George Colligan

Even with 28 albums as a leader, the deep respect of his peers, and piano chops to burn, George Colligan is far from a household name. His work is always excellent, as is the case with this date with the great drummer, Rudy Royston, bassist Linda May Han Oh, and saxophonist Nicole Glover. But as Matthew Kassel once said, “Colligan isn’t a conceptualist; he’s a workhorse.” His work at Portland State University brings him to this region often, and, as anyone who has ever seen him, will attest, he is at his best when he is surrounded by brilliant players, and sailing through fast-paced, straight-ahead jazz. That’s the case here, and Colligan is amazing.

Whirlwind Recordings, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

Regina – Becca Stevens

Blessed with a beautiful, clear-as-a-bell voice, Becca Stevens has created a body of work is which is clearly informed by, and true to, her fascinating worldview. That it is difficult to categorize is both a blessing and a curse. Since the world seems to want clear labels, the jazz world should not be slow to embrace this woman. Regina is a meditation on queens in history and, like a gathering of strong women, is complex and engaging on many levels. Stevens is joined on this release by other vocalists; Laura Mvula, Jo Lowry, and bassist/vocalist Alan Hampton. And, incredibly, by rock legend David Crosby.

Groundup Music, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath