Editor-At-Large Peter Bacon flips through his pile of recently-released CDs.
Preservation Hall Jazz Band - So It Is
(Sony Legacy 88985417912)
This New Orleans band might have been going for 50 years but it’s no mere “heritage” exercise.
PHJB stays true to the city’s tradition by maintaining the rhythms and party atmosphere but also moves it forward so that it sounds fresh and contemporary in 2017, just as it probably did when it first assembled in 1963.
Like the 2014 album That’s It, this one is made up of all original material, and it also boasts a rock co-producer. That’s It’s was My Morning Jacket’s Jim James; for So It Is it’s TV On The Radio’s David Andrew Sitek.
And this time there’s a strong Cuban influence, too, inspired by a 2015 trip there. Ben Jaffe (his dad was the band’s first musical director) leads from double bass (tuba on just one track), the two-tenor, trombone and trumpet front line is in fine form, and pianist Kyle Roussel adds tasty decoration. Light, but good fun for the summer.
Regina Carter - Ella: Accentuate The Positive
(Okeh Records 88985406042)
The violinist declares a soft spot for Ella Fitzgerald that goes back to her childhood. There are just two vocal tracks, with guest singers Miche Braden and Carla Cook, but neither is compelling. For the rest it’s a quintet with Marvin Sewell on guitars and Xavier Davis on keyboards.
Sewell’s use of slide and acoustic as well as electric, and Davis using Hammond B-3 and Fender Rhodes as well as acoustic piano all helps to widen the variety of the moods across the tracks, from gentle but chunky funk in Crying In The Chapel, to a more gospel feel on I’ll Never Be Free and pared-down ballad on Dedicated To You.
How much you like this will depend very much on how you get on with Carter’s playing style. I quite like her relatively vibrato-less tone and it’s nice to hear a fiddler who has eschewed the gipsy route, but her solos often fail to sustain my interest. Moderately underwhelming.
Phonophani - Animal Imagination
Phonophani is the alias of Espen Sommer Eide, who also makes music as half of Alog. We’re in sound installation territory here, or ambient electronics. All the sounds are made by Eide, though it’s not at all easy to say how they are made. One track, Untime Me, has a highly processed vocal from Mari Kvien Brunvoll.
In the cover is this short note: “I started hammering the keyboard with my paws, the sound rushing past me like wind while running. There was no composition or reasoning, just the beating of blood in my ears. I was finally making music like a dog.”
It makes some sense, especially the beating blood. I find it interesting that most electronic musicians end up with drawn out washes of sound, the beats of dance music - Deep Learning being a prime example here - and also love the interruption and jump of a poor radio signal running through their work. They seem to cling to such conventions despite having the freedom to escape them. The vaguer tracks are the most successful. In a word, woof!
Billy Childs - Rebirth
(Mack Avenue MAC1122)
The pianist has made a strong career for himself in Los Angeles as an arranger, especially for singers; his last album was a collection of Laura Nyro songs re-interpreted by contemporary vocalists including Rickie Lee Jones, Becca Stevens and Dianne Reeves.
This album is centred on jazz and a basic quartet with saxophonist Steve Wilson and drummer Eric Harland particularly strong. There are a couple of vocal guests - the marvellous Claudia Acuna on the title tune, and the graceful Alicia Olatuja on Stay, a Childs composition that could easily become a jazz standard.
After six original compositions the album closes with versions of The Windmills Of Your Mind and Horace Silver’s Peace.
The recording is classy and the band is highly focussed, playing with great drive and an energy which can sometimes feel exhausting to listen to. Excellent, but not one to accompany a gentle dinner - you’d end up with indigestion!
Terence Blanchard - The Comedian
(Blue Note promo disc)
The jazz-for-movies king plays it fairly straight for this Original Motion Picture Soundtrack for the Robert De Niro turkey - “…boasts an incredibly talented cast, but they’re put to poor use in an aimless rom-com,” was the verdict from Rotten Tomatoes.
In some ways that’s not a bad description of the music. Cool, sophisticated but fairly featureless cocktail jazz played by the talented cast of Terence Blanchard on trumpet, Ravi Coltrane on saxophone, Kenny Barron on piano… you get the picture.
The tunes go exactly where you expect them to, and if the solos are, understandably, more interesting, there is a sense of a band clocking in, doing the job, and getting the hell out…
Mostly Other People Do The Killing - Loafer’s Hollow
(Hot Cup HC161)
Bassist Moppa Elliott and his merry band of jazz pranksters like risky ventures which means some work better than others. I lean towards their albums that go back a fair way in jazz history, so thoroughly enjoyed Red Hot’s plundering of the 1920s and ‘30s released in 2013 but was less enamoured of their smooth jazz pastiche, Slippery Rock!, from that same year. And as for their controversial note-for-note copy of Kind Of Blue, called simply Blue, released in 2014, well let’s just say that little horrified emoji was never more apt, a response which I am certain delighted Moppa and crew.
Loafer’s Hollow finds the band more flexible decade-wise and more specific geographically. The album title is the original name for a place in South West Pennsylvania. The fact that it was subsequently called Library gives Elliott reason to theme the tunes around some of his favourite authors. They are James Joyce, Kurt Vonnegut, Thomas Pynchon, Cormac McCarthy and David Foster Wallace. It all makes sense.
The music has a healthily old-time feel and the band’s humour is enhanced by the addition of slide trumpeter Steven Bernstein to the band (his cadenza on Hi-Nella goes on just that delicious bit longer than you want in the style of a Family Guy joke). Brandon Seabrook on banjo adds a lot more joy and Jon Irabagon on saxophones manages to be both sumptuous, funny and searching all at the same time. Brilliantly subversive.