Jazz that sounds modern and is not retro. Three wordy things there in a very short sentence: jazz (not a car by Honda or a type of cheese); modern (about now); retro (playing old jazz styles as they used to be). For now beyond definition just listen to drummer Nate Smith and Kinfolk: Postcards from Everywhere, jazz that sounds like 2017 unless you live in a potting shed and listen only to dixie on a wind-up radio. To my mind Postcards is modern and in the real world: a diverse assembling that sums up where the music is heading by embracing melody, rhythm, a range of hybrids, harnessing electricity as well as delving into the unplugged fabric of the sound, a little bit of vocalising and that popular spoken word element heard more and more even from Generation Xers (Smith is 42) to land upon family history and a personal story. This is not jazz as self consciously art or deliberately inaccessible nor does it indulge in chasing radio play by jazzifying pop but neither too does it cut itself off. Maybe the word I am searching for which is more important than whether it is modern, retro or not is original and yes Smith ticks that impossible box in creating one of the best jazz albums of 2017 so far because he knows how to blend a number of elements at the composing and arranging stage and in performance retains a warmth, while at the recording stage hardly becomes hidebound by genre or mood expectations. He also values song whether it is achieved by instrumental texture, band flow, or the voice itself. Now where were we? Jazz that sounds modern and is not retro. The album actually sounds like a completed fully furnished house and not as so often like a steel structure waiting for the next phase of construction and things to put in it.
Tracks: Intro: Wish You Were Here, Skip Step, Bounce pts I&II, Mom: Postcards from Detroit/Floyd/Salem, Retold, Disenchantment: The Weight, Spinning Down, Pages, From Here: Interlude, Morning and Allison, Spiracles, Small Moves: Interlude. Issuing label Ropeadope.
Personnel: Nate Smith, drums, percussion, fender rhodes, synths, sounds; Kris Bowers, piano, Fender Rhodes; Fima Ephron, electric bass; Jeremy Most, guitars; Jaleel Shaw, alto and soprano saxophones. And featuring Dave Holland, double bass on Skip Step and Spinning Down; Lionel Loueke, guitar on Skip Step and Spinning Down; Chris Potter, tenor saxophone on Bounce parts I + II; Gretchen Parlato, vocals on Pages; Michael Mayo, vocals, vocal percussion/effects on Skip Step and Retold; Amma Whatt, vocals on Disenchantment: The Weight and Morning and Allison; Adam Rogers, acoustic and electric guitars on Spiracles; Stephanie Matthews, violin I; Juliette Jones, violin II/contractor; Christiana Liberis, viola; and Reenat Pinchas, cello.
Little Dominic’s preview: a heart warming version of legendary Brazilian accordionist Dominguinhos’ ‘Gostoso Demais’ from Dianne Reeves guitarist Romero Lubambo on his sublime new Sunnyside album Sampa out on 5 May.
Gregory Porter chilling on the Horace Silver classic ‘Song For My Father’, taken from the former Silver drummer Louis Hayes’ 26 May Blue Note album Serenade for Horace.
By complete contrast, a different kind of ritual, from the new Alice Coltrane compilation The Ecstatic Music Of Alice Coltrane that, says Uncut, “favours the ravier, jauntier side of Coltrane’s ashram music.”
And for sheer craft and heartfelt vocals how about ‘My Beautiful Enemies’ from Joel Harrison’s upcoming album The Other River? Describing the project the guitarist says: “To work with language in the context of a simple song is as great a challenge as any I’ve faced as a composer.”
And last but not least a real return to what Diana Krall does best on Turn Up the Quiet as she mines the Great American Songbook for classics to stamp her luxuriously sensuous signature on proceedings at all times.
Riverside return this summer, the twist this time not a Giuffre theme but a Carla Bley one.Led by Dave Douglas and saxophonist Chet Doxas the band includes Bley’s partner legendary bass guitarist Steve Swallow and drummer Jim Doxas brother of Chet.As for the album itself The New National Anthem has three Bley compositions plus tunes by Douglas, Swallow and Doxas.The title track of the Greenleaf Music release refers to a composition by Bley that appeared on the 1968-released Gary Burton album, A Genuine Tong Funeral.“After we made the first Riverside record,” Swallow, above in the band picture second from the right, says: “I brought it home to Carla and played it for her and I remember very well, her immediate response was extremely positive. And what she said, her first response to the music was, ‘sounds like Ornette and Don.’ And I agreed with her. I heard that as well. I heard that Dave and Chet had a kind of uncanny sense of breathing together and of singing together. That meant a lot to Carla because she was kind of there at the beginning, before the Ornette Coleman Quartet, the classic quartet with Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins came to play for weeks on end at the Five Spot and before the jazz community kind of erupted into dissent regarding their value. It was lovely to see the gleam in Carla’s eye, to see what she saw, which was that kind of spirit that had been so inspiring to her in the early 1960s was still possible, that it was still possible to play music that evoked that same kind of response. It was lovely to have her as a kind of ‘cheerleader team of one’ behind us. And she was subsequently generous in providing us with songs to play and with a kind of refined focus for what it is we’re doing.”Riverside with Bley guesting will play the Montreal Jazz Festival on 6 July
Beginning any album with a ballad is a sign of unerring confidence but also possesses a certain knowingness that only maturity as well as trial and error over the course of a number of albums can put in place. Magnifying that and painting everything in balladry is a leap of faith.
After ‘Heart in Hand’, however, the first of these six longish tracks part of a knottily absorbing quartet affair that was recorded in June last year in the welcoming fold of Avatar studios in New York it is a riddle to know where the direction can go because such a build-up of pent up emotion is captured and not completely let ever escape.
At a time when regular jazz listeners are often abandoning the discipline of listening to albums in their entirety preferring instead the relative brevity of a single track, it is fairly easy to decide that the eight minutes and nineteen seconds of the opener is more than enough musical nourishment to last days, even weeks. Certainly there is an extraordinary intensity provided on this one track that your off the peg jazz ballad treatment bathed in typically overwrought one-size-fits-all sentimentality might very well lack. Potter has gone in incredibly deeply that’s for sure and his is a compelling vision far from the greeting card sentiments of any pop song that you might hear on the radio.
David Virelles on piano, often heard on ECM albums in recent years, Joe Martin on bass and Marcus Gilmore on drums often shrink away behind the forceful saxophone presence. That reduction in the band role is perhaps unavoidable when the monstrously accomplished abilities of Potter are so significantly on display. A more telling criticism relating to the tunes themselves is that they struggle for immediate likeability. An album you cannot comfortably live in for too long without the need to come up for much needed gulps of air The Dreamer Is The Dream is easy to admire but proves much more difficult to truly fall head over heels in love with. SG