Daily jazz blog, Marlbank

The best jazz: Jan-May 2024

Click on each entry below for reviews and full listening links 10 Roger Kellaway Live at Mezzrow Cellar Live Afternotes ring and dance in the air and instantly burn themselves decaying somehow aurally on the mind's eye. Kellaway is of course a …

Published: 22 May 2024. Updated: 8 days.

Click on each entry below for reviews and full listening links

10 Roger Kellaway Live at Mezzrow Cellar Live

Afternotes ring and dance in the air and instantly burn themselves decaying somehow aurally on the mind's eye. Kellaway is of course a master. He does not need nor indeed crave you'd guess reviews. But you perhaps do given media tumbleweed. Most of the so-called quality mass market press won't even agree to know about let alone deign to acknowledge let alone review such an instant classic. You get rather than TikTok squeezes de nos jours that the culture desk might want to allot zillions of column inches to, repertoire immersed in the world of Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and Billy Strayhorn - and Kellaway who to us on 'All Blues' comes over as much Kenny Werner-like as he does Bill Evans - yes it's that kind of calibre - who is with stalwart double bassist Jay Leonhart, wonderfully softly introducing his lines on 'Blue in Green,' and the great drummer Dennis Mackrel - with Leonhart on 1990s album Two Lane Highways - who rustles up lots of treats plus guitarist Roni Ben-Hur, a d'Artagnan to these three Mezzkateers as a guest.

Tracks are a very unMantovani-like treatment, ergo no-strings-attached, treatment of 'Try To Remember,' 'All Blues,' 'Blue In Green,' 'Pages Of Life,' 'Good Morning Bahia,' 'So What,' 'All My Life,' 'Straight No Chaser' and a fabulous 'Take The 'A' Train' the best of all. Hear the way Kellaway leans into it. The album was recorded in early-May last year.

Kellaway's own piece 'All My Life' along with the luminous take on Sweet Pea's ''A' Train' are our pick of what is a marvellous album, aha, for a moondance. But seriously, and there are no fears of bothering the plod with some impromptu alfresco terpsichore at all given how civilised this all is, proper live albums - meaning nothing to do with simply documentation but ones that capture a place, a feeling, a lost-in-time set of circumstances, a spirit - raise the bar high and this is a fine example of the genre.

9 Charlie Moon Sings & Plays Charlie Moon Music

A for always sort of album. Pedigree vocals. There's strength in softness. - soft singing that is. And Charlie Moon knows that better than most. There is nothing flakey or fake here. And he has come up with the best Irish artist jazz release of the year to date and certainly Sings and Plays is up there with some of the strongest jazz vocals albums of the year more broadly. It's all delivered so lightly and gently but there's paradoxically weight in what's achieved. Beyond simply a homage to Chet Baker because that heritage lingers as more of a starting point that enlarges to find its own space with Chet somewhere there in the mind's eye but not overbearingly hovering over the shoulder the whole time. The Barney Kessel influenced guitarist knows how to accompany himself better than most and certainly you get a singersongwritery feel to what's here but with a jazz twist - in other words the instrumental lines are as important as the vocals which isn't really the case with the sort of singer-songwriters who bear their souls gutwrenchingly but a little impossibly at times with a few chords lobbed in as an afterthought.

Take your pick as there are lots of highlights. For us the cover of Jimmy Van Heusen and Phil (Sgt Bilko) Silvers' 'Nancy (With The Laughing Face)' also delivered so memorably by Kurt Elling on 2009's incredible live John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman tribute album Dedicated to You rises to the top most. Moon, 35, is a very different singer to Elling or Chet for that matter. Timbrally he has his own sound and is his own man. Harry Warren/Mack Gordon's 1940s song 'This Is Always' opens proceedings, a song you never really hear this days. It was as far back as 2019 when the last version we know, fine English singer Polly Gibbons', as it happened surfaced. The Chet link here, is it was on the ur text of the album conceptually, the 1955 Pacific album that - steady, the full mouthful - was entitled Chet Baker Sings and Plays With Bud Shank, Russ Freeman and Strings. Also well captured is the Hoagy Carmichael/Mitchell Parish classic 'Stardust'.

8 Fred Hersch Silent, Listening ECM

A solo piano album recorded in a Lugano studio during May last year: Seven originals of the great American pianist - whose sound is a key influence on his former pupil Brad Mehldau - on 'Little Song' at the beginning the debt Mehldau owes to Hersch stylistically in terms of touch and a specific darting triplet feel in the first few bars is significant. It's like seeing Mehldau's face in front of you such is the immediacy and the luminessence, a very ECM kind of word. The first 5-star solo jazz piano album of 2024 it's barkingly obvious. Herschtory in the making. How cool.

Begs shuttling back and forth immediately to listen to Chet Baker & Strings (Columbia, 1954) that pianist Russ Freeman writer of 'The Wind' featured here contributed heavily to. We love what Hersch does even more after soaking that lush Chet and strings treatment up and then going back to the transformation in the Hersch. But c'mere. The jazz time travelling doesn't even stop there. Cos Hersch had already recorded the tune (listen, above) on a 2001 Nonesuch album, Songs Without Words. That version is marginally longer, the new one begins with a more declarative and completely different opening.

Versions of Billy Strayhorn’s 'Star-Crossed Lovers,' Sigmund Romberg’s 'Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise' and Alec Wilder’s 'Winter Of My Discontent' are also on the album. Now 68 the Cincinatti born Hersch says that the title piece ''has written material at the beginning and the end, and I improvise on its motives and feel”. Spontaneous compositions among the set in the titling riff on Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008) work - 'Volon', the name also for instance of a 1971 cardboard artwork; and 'Aeon' sees a Rauschenberg reference in the assembling of a work called the Aeon machine, an element of the set design for dance choreographer Merce Cunningham's work Aeon.

The line in 'Star-Crossed Lovers' also known as 'Pretty Girl' among the material is from Romeo and Juliet, “From forth the fatal loins of these two foes,/ a pair of star crossed lovers take their life” (Prologue 5-6) and appeared on 1957's again Bard-citing Ellington classic album Such Sweet Thunder (this time the play that the line in the album title came from was from the comedy A Midsummer Night's Dream) and has been interpreted notably in recent years by saxophonist Charles Lloyd and pianist Jason Moran. Yet another Shakespearean reference is hinted at in the titling on Silent, Listening of the Alec Wilder piece 'The Winter of My Discontent' (Richard III) is a tune that Hersch began playing after meeting Wilder in 1978. Hersch has interpreted the piece before as an instrumental duo with the acclaimed soprano saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom on their As One album released in 1985.

So all together up there with Hersch's greatest work which for us are his Thelonious: Fred Hersch Plays Monk album (Nonesuch, 1998), Songs and Lullabies with Norma Winstone and Gary Burton (2003) and the recent duo album with Esperanza Spalding, Alive in the Village Vanguard released in 2022.

7 Ian Shaw and Tony Kofi An Adventurous Dream: The Music of Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington At Pizza Express Live In London PX Records

The UK's top male jazz singer. A torchbearer for everything we need from a top jazz singer: wit, incredible technique and bohemian savoir faire mainly because we prefer set against other approaches the more Mark Murphy jazz side of the road derived from the enduring literary legacy of the Beats whose work Ian Shaw riffs off so well. Entering the hallowed halls of Ellingtonia this is one of Shaw's very best records up there with the magical Fran dancing to the music of time found on A Ghost in Every Bar and his work in New York with Cedar Walton. In his element corresponding intimately on the stand with saxophonist Tony Kofi in very good form these last few years in a whole range of situations whether paying homage to Cannonball Adderley with Alex Webb and Andy Davies, going more celestial with Alina Bzhezhinska and kicking home hard with Sharp Little Bones, on this very fine Sweet Pea and Duke themed album.

The unrelated everGreens Barry and Dave on piano and bass respectively are intergenerationally ideal especially given how long the younger of the pair Barry has worked with Ian. For instance, in the same room as An Adventurous Dream was recorded, the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho, Barry was excellent at a gig circa The Theory of Joy in 2016 - probably the best gig of all of Ian's we have attended down the years. Green, B's best bits are on 'Day Dream' while bassist Dave, known for his work with Ian and Tony's labelmate Scott Hamilton, keeps stately authoritative time throughout and is just the steadying vintage beatmaker needed for the material. He also knows how to handle classic Swing Era tunes expertly.

Other highlights are when Shaw sings ''Azaleas drinking pale moonbeams'' the incredible line of Strayhorn lyrical poetry found on 'A Flower is A Lovesome Thing' and makes us immediately listen for extra enjoyment to the deeper register in Murph's voice on his Links (HighNote, 2001) version.

Following swiftly on from the more 1970s themed Shaw singersongwritery of Greek Street Friday our vocals album of the year in 2023 here on this excellent live album certainly this latest however much it contrasts is no disappointment. The bonus factor is the live feeling you gain ably captured in the album's top of the tree sonics. And partly it's also the focus. After all An Adventurous Dream concentrates on some of the crown jewels of a century-plus of jazz in terms of composition, repertoire and the art of the song. Kofi is best on 'Isfahan' and 'Blood Count' shows the rigour of his instrumentalism and discipline of his approach most exactingly. The album title borrows from the lyric to Ellington and Strayhorn song 'Something To Live For' introduced to the canon by Duke Ellington and His Famous Orchestra in 1939 and covered by many down the years including notably by Carmen McRae on a 1956 release, Nina Simone and Ella in the 1960s, the great Nat King Cole influenced easy listening singer Johnny Mathis in 1990 and the marvellous Jane Monheit in the early 21st century.

6 Karrin Allyson A Kiss for Brazil Origin

A dynamic year so far for jazz vocals - and there's something inside so strong as the feeling intensifies still more liltingly on A Kiss for Brazil. Featuring the great singer from Bahia, Rosa Passos (Amorosa, 2004 is her classic) - there are few singers on the planet who can take a note for a walk like US singer Karrin Allyson.

The A Kiss for Brazil version of Tom Jobim's 'Wave' covered so often since Equinox by Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66 is for these ears among the 21st century treatments peerless. Walk into any winebar an ocean distant from Rio and say from unequatorial Redditch to a less than sweltering Scunthorpe, Carlisle to Carlyon Bay guaranteed - some time some day - the bossa nova breeze of 'Wave' somehow lifting up out from the in-house PA will make your day if sufficiently receptive to hear it as if or even for the first time.

One of the year's best jazz albums and not only because of the version of 'Wave' but for the Passos contributions and the feel the rhythm section injects. Personnel with Karrin include gifted guitarist - known for his work with Monty Alexander - Yotam Silberstein, whose own album Standards lit us up inside earlier in the year. Recorded in a Teaneck studio in New Jersey last year Harvie S is immaculate on bass. Another triumph for jazz indie Origin - their best album since Nnenna Freelon's sublime Time Traveler.

5 John Surman Words Unspoken ECM

Six years since we have had a new ECM album by the iconic British saxophonist and bass clarinettist John Surman, who turns 80 later in 2024, Words Unspoken is a beautiful, resonant, quartet album that, like its predecessor, Invisible Threads, was recorded at the Rainbow in Oslo. American vibist Rob Waring who like Surman lives in Norway is once again in Surman's band but both are joined for the first time by British guitarist Rob Luft and by Norwegian drummer Thomas Strønen.

It's all very pared back and softly conveyed containing a pastoral, naturalistic feel shaped around robust motifs that are delicately unpeeled harmonically by Luft and Waring while Surman himself weaves weighty explorations around the themes with both a gravitas and a sense of grace and playfulness as active ingredients. Quite wonderful - and certainly up there with some of Surman's best work in a long and distinguished career.

4 Monty Alexander D DAY Pee Wee


2 Amaro Freitas Y'Y Psychic Hotline
1 Tutu Puoane Wrapped In Rhythm Vol. 1 Soul Factory

A deeply stirring and powerful collection of songs from Belgium residing South African singer Tutu Puoane written in collaboration with her husband Belgian pianist Ewout Pierreux, produced by Larry Klein, themed around the poetry of Lebo Mashile whose In A Ribbon of Rhythm Puoane has long since found inspirational. Mashile's work tackles themes such as life in the new South Africa and dwells on such issues as the place of women within the societal fabric of the Rainbow Nation. Among the personnel are guest Larry Goldings whose Hammond organ sound pops up vividly on 'Illicit Love.'

Tutu Puoane, photo: via Bandcamp

Tutu Puoane plays Ronnie Scott's on Thurs 30th


Today's top new 10 jazz to start your day

Updated daily - specially selected - the 10 new tracks that you need to stop right now and listen to asap. plus Tuesday's 10 to play again: Milton Suggs photo: Imani on Bandcamp

Published: 22 May 2024. Updated: 31 days.

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Updated daily - specially selected - the 10 new tracks that you need to stop right now and listen to asap.

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Milton Suggs photo: Imani on Bandcamp