The Sound of a Dry Martini: Remembering Paul Desmond – Brent Jensen

“Educator, clinician, and A-one alto sax player, Brent Jensen honors one of the most self-effacing musicians in the history of jazz, Paul Desmond… Dedication to Desmond notwithstanding, Jensen’s playing stands on its own feet. That he prefers to play in the manner of Paul Desmond is a credit to his taste and his respect for the melodies that come from his horn.” –Allmusic

Origin, 2002

A Pouting Grimace – Matt Mitchell

One of the most in-demand pianists of today, Matt Mitchell (Tim Berne’s Snakeoil, Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Bird Calls) releases his audacious record, A Pouting Grimace. It’s an “eclectic collection” (All About Jazz) of compositions with a substantial roster of guest artists, including Ches Smith, Tyshawn Sorey, Dan Weiss, Jon Irabagon, and more. Filled with a “free nature, density, and complexity,” writes All About Jazz, it’s “an album focused on detail; it can be identified in slight, contrasting hues and in unflinching statements.”

ECM, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

Small Town – Bill Frisell & Thomas Morgan

Small Town captures the instant poetic chemistry between guitarist Bill Frisell and bassist Thomas Morgan, recorded live at the hallowed Village Vanguard in NYC. Opening with a tribute to the late drummer, Paul Motian, the album also includes arrangements of the works of Lee Konitz and even the iconic “Goldfinger” theme, and is a simply enjoyable listening experience—these two always deliver.

ECM, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

Open Book – Fred Hersch

One of the most refined and forthright pianists in jazz, Fred Hersch has indeed been an “open book” throughout his long career. This release, of early September 2017, accompanies the newly published, and highly revealing, biography, Good Things Happen Slowly: A Life In and Out of Jazz. Hersch is the first jazz artist to identify as openly gay and HIV positive. He has been living with full-blown AIDS for over 35 years. The music on Open Book is solo piano, recorded on Korea, and claims to be the most emotionally raw, but artistically refined of Hersch’s many recordings. It includes a magical, freely improvised, 20-minute piece, a couple of originals, and several beautifully rendered jazz standards. This is one for the ages.

Palmetto Records, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

Gnosis – David Virelles

The tradition of Cuban pianists is so deeply defined by tradition that its foundations typically show up in even the most adventurous avant-gardists. In the complexities of David Virelles’ creative endeavors, the Cuban feel is implicit and respected, but is rarely overt. In Gnosis, Virelles once again works with a large ensemble of collaborators, from Cuban ethnic percussion (yes, there is a coconut player listed) to NYC jazzers, and from woodwinds to a small string section. The music is complex, but not off-putting, contemplative, but far from boring.

ECM, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

There’s a Sweet Sweet Spirit – Cyrus Chestnut

Cyrus Chestnut is the best of a remarkably few jazz pianists who’s considerable technical skills are ever more overtly, and deeply, immersed in the Black Church. Even the Miles Davis composition and the Chopin Etude are so soulfully delivered that they could be part of a Baptist liturgy in his native Baltimore. With veteran soul-mates Buster Williams on bass, and Lenny White on drums, this trio re-defines a comfortable and nourishing piano trio experience.

HighNote, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

Far From Over – Vijay Iyer Sextet

The title says it all. Iyer’s enormous intellect and creative drive are propelling him through an extraordinary arc of prominence in the history of jazz, written in real time every year. Far From Over features a sextet of virtuoso improvisers with horn players Graham Haynes, Steve Lehman and Mark Shim alongside rhythm partners Stephan Crump and Tyshawn Sorey. With influences from West African drumming to Indian Classical music, the flow has a subtle, almost implicit groove that pushes boldly forward. The music ranges from the thrillingly explosive (Down to the Wire, Good on the Ground) to the cathartically elegiac (For Amiri Baraka, Threnody), with melodic hooks, entrancing atmosphere, rhythmic muscle and an elemental spirit all part of the allure. Sure to be one of the top releases of 2017.

ECM, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

Parking Lot Symphony – Troy Andrews

Absolutely steeped in New Orleans tradition but ever more raucous with each new release, Troy Andrews (aka Trombone Shorty) has hit a very popular vein in the cross-genre public, with concert tours that play the bigger stages around the word and CD releases on a pure jazz label that find air play on a variety of station formats. I guess people actually want to feel good. Who knew? It’s like a loud and funky second line, with a limo parked at the curb.

Blue Note, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

Find the Way – Aaron Parks

Whidbey Island native Aaron Parks has been gone from these parts for so long, it’s easy to picture him as older than his early 30’s. That’s partly because he went into the UW at age 14, chewed it up and left for New York at 16. There is an old soul in that young body, and he’s found his perfect multi-generational band mates in bassist Ben Street, and veteran drummer, Billy Hart. The balance in this trio is so cool. Ironic, because the young Parks is the more sedate and romantic, and it is the oldest trio member who is the troublemaker; mixing up tempo and accent at will, acting the provocateur. The blend is perfect for making art in this time-honored, piano trio setting.

ECM, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

December Avenue – Tomasz Stanko

The Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko has always been brave, and dedicated to the art. Before the fall of Communism, he literally risked life and family for jazz, making recordings and bringing a dark energy into the music. Now, years later, after many releases, and several different bands, he has convened a distinctive and inventive New York Quartet, with the Cuban David Virelles on piano, Trinidadian Reuben Rodgers on bass, and New Yorker Gerald Cleaver on drums. And, like the best of masters, he is willing to be shaped by their new ideas and various cultural languages, rather than impose his aesthetic on them. This is music for a quiet twilight, when the weather outside is cold, wet, and unforgiving.

ECM, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

Dreams and Daggers – Cecile McLorin Salvant

A prodigiously gifted old soul in a yet-to-reach-30 body, Salvant carries the deep history of jazz as well as a fondness for its mandate for progression. As on her first two release, Dreams and Daggers shows a willingness and an ability to completely rethink the familiar structure of standard tunes and to deliver them in arrangements that are new, but also familiar. This two-disc set is well conceived and executed, but recorded in a way that, at times, unfortunately harshens the high register of her voice. With beautiful work by her long-time pianist Aaron Diehl, Cecile McLorin Salvant is sure to take a place in the pantheon of jazz vocal greats.

Mack Avenue, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath