Wild Lines: Improvising Emily Dickinson

Soprano saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom has always had a flair for the creation of compelling special projects. This body of music is created around, and alongside of, poems of Emily Dickinson, read by the actor Deborah Rush. The ensemble includes the multi-talented Seattle pianist Dawn Clement, along with stalwarts of the New York improvised music scene, Mark Helias on bass, and Bobby Previte on drums. True to the nature of jazz to be different each time out, the two discs here include mostly the same titles, only done … differently.

Outline, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

Reminiscent – Stanley Cowell

Though once well known, with almost a cult hero status, Stanley Cowell dropped out of performing to devote himself to a professorship at Rutgers University until his 2013 retirement. Now solidly back in the music, Cowell and his trio mates Jay Anderson, bass, and Billy Drummond, drums, deliver these originals, including “A X-mas Suite,” and well-considered compositions by Brahms, Thad Jones and Richie Powell. The music is beautifully played in the jazz piano trio tradition, with a refreshing approach and delivery.

Steeplechase, 2015
Notes by John Gilbreath

Shorter By Two – Kirk Lightsey and Harold Danko

American ex-pat in Paris, Kirk Lightsey, and Eastman professor, Harlod Danko – and the music of Wayne Shorter, who is destined to legendary status as one of the greatest composers for jazz ensembles. This 2017 release is a re-master of a much respected 1983 recording, when Lightsey was so much a part of the thriving New York jazz scene. There are a lot of notes flying around. The mastery with which this material is delivered is evident in its looseness, and faithfulness to Shorter’s roll in the second great quintet of Miles Davis, for which some of this material was written.

Sunnyside, 1983, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

To Love and Be Loved – Harold Mabern

Ah, the jazz continuum! Yes, it is largely relegated to expensive educational institutions these days, but it is still alive and well on the bandstands, and in the person to person life lessons shared by the seasoned masters. Pianist Harold Mabern, 81 at the time of this recording, has forged an epic musical link with the much younger, brawny tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, much of it played out on stage in the Smoke jazz club, on New York’s upper West Side, on Harlem’s southern edge. This warm and musically rich ensemble also includes the legendary drummer Jimmy Cobb, who was 88 at the time of this date, and who joined Mabern for a time in 1963 on Miles Davis’ Live at the Black Hawk sessions. (Cobb, incidentally, was also the drummer on the all-time top jazz recording, Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue.) The music is great; full of brilliance, sly references, and lots of love.

Smoke Sessions, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

The Pythiad – Jim Gailloret’s Jazz String Quintet

The body of this unique offering is a nine-piece suite composed by the leader for his Jazz String Quintet plus voice and bass violin. The Pythiad contains words and music written for “lesser-known Greek heroes and heroines,” unfolding under the steady guidance of a sage psychotherapist. It is fascinating throughout, and is made more so by the selection of the three additional tracks on this release; Jimmy Rowles’ beautiful The Peacocks, Jaco Pastorius’ Three Views of a Dream, and Joni Mitchell’s River.

Origin Classical, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

Trip – Mike Stern

Always a distinctive instrumentalist in that part of jazz that leans toward the oft-scorned genre of Fusion, guitarist Mike Stern has been making ever-more serious music for 40 years. For this release, named for a 2016 fall that left him with two broken arms, Stern shows that he’s stronger than ever. The assembled band-mates are phenomenal, with fellow veteran Randy Brecker sounding better than ever on trumpet. Stern’s wife, Leni, also a unique guitarist, joins on two tracks. Other standouts are Victor Wooten on bass, Dennis Chambers, Will Calhoun, and Lenny White on drums, and the saxophonist Bill Evans, who worked to great effect on several late-career Miles Davis projects.

Heads Up, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

Beautiful Love – Fred Hersch and Jay Clayton

This newly remastered release of the 1995 Beautiful Love recording brings a pristine clarity to the already intimate meeting of two masters. Vocalist Jay Clayton was a Seattle resident and Cornish College faculty member for years, before she moves back to New York. Though she is known for her extended improvisational techniques, this meeting with pianist Fred Hersch is an exquisite collection of standards, topped by Clayton’s signature rendition of Dimitri Tiomkin’s Wild is the Wind.

Sunnyside, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

Bringin’ It – Christian McBride Big Band

Rock-solid bassist Christian McBride is going to excel at everything he does. In this case, it’s leading a first rate big band through a collection of his original compositions, and a thoughtful collection compositions by jazz greats like Freddie Hubbard, McCoy Tyner, and Wes Montgomery. McBride’s prodigious chops are equally rooted in jazz and funk, and are fortified by the strength of his love of the music and his bigger-than-life personality, both of which are propelling him to the top of the jazz world.

Mack Avenue, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath