Heard a lot of music since I last did a round-up and it is impossible to review it all. So what follows is a short summary (even shorter than usual) of those new releases that have made a positive impression on me. Starting first with some recent jazz releases.
Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society – Infernal Machines
Excellent, modern big band jazz. The music is inventive, brilliantly played with instruments darting in and out of the mix. It mixes 60′s bebop, classic big band jazz, modern jazz with the jazz soundtracks of the 50s. Echoes of Maria Schneider and Mingus. One of my favourite jazz release of the year so far.
Steve Kuhn Trio – Mostly Coltrane
I hadn’t realised until I heard this album that Kuhn had played with Coltrane in 1960. On this wonderful release Kuhn pays tribute to Coltrane. The whole band is excellent but much of the success of the album is down to Lovano’s playing and the interplay with Kuhn. A very fine album.
Geoff Eales Trio – Master of the Game
The first time I’ve (knowingly) heard this British pianist even though he has been recording for many years. This is a very tight trio. Eales playing is lyrical and brings to mind Bill Evans. But the influence of EST is never far away with one track actually a tribute to Svennson. A very strong album.
Helge Lien Trio – Hello Troll
This Norwegian trio have been around for sometime – this is their sixth release. The comparisons with EST are inevitable, but like so many other trios around they have taken what EST developed and built on it. There is a good mixture of slower, meditative numbers and more dance orientated jazz with EST like grooves, all held together by Lien’s superb piano playing including some Jarrettesque solos.
Laurence Hobgood – When The Heart Dances
A relatively mellow, but certainly not dull album by pianist Hobgood with bassist Charlie Haden and, on some tracks, by highly regarded vocalist Kurt Elling. I don’t particularly like Elling but there is much else to admire. Hobgood and Haden have a great understanding and there is enough room here for each to express themselves without being too showy.
Andy Sheppard – Movements In Colour
One of three recent albums I’ve heard which combine jazz with world music. The most successful tracks on this are those with a strong Indian influence. The album is mostly quite meditative and soothing. Contains some lovely guitar work from Eivind Aarset (normally I steer clear of jazz guitar but I am happy to make an exception for Aarset who brings something special to most things he touches.)
Jon Balke – Siwan
The second world/jazz album reviewed here, even if there is a big question about whether it is jazz. Scandanavian keyboardist Balke is joined by Jon Hassell and a range of North African and Middle Eastern musicians, including Moroccan vocalist Amina Alaoui whose voice soars across the album. Given the line up the album naturally has a very strong Middle Eastern feel. It may not be jazz but it is a world album of the highest quality.
Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Indo-Pak Coaltion – Apti
Mahanthappa’s Kinsmen appeared on many critics best of lists last year and Apti is arguably even better. It is a fluent melding of South Asian traditional music and jazz with Mahanthappa’s superb sax playing holding it together and demonstrating why he is considered one of the finest saxophonists around.
Phronesis – Green Delay
A young trio headed by Danish bassist Jasper Hoiby, who seems to be at the centre of so much good in the jazz world right now, and with the highly rated Ivo Neame on piano. The trio work very well together and the playing is inventive. Hoiby’s bass is to the fore with excellent piano by Neame. What lets this down for me is the percussion – on many tracks it sounds like someone banging a metal tray.
Mark Lockheart – In Deep
This is already turning out to be a great year for British Jazz. Former Polar Bear saxophonist Mark Lockheart backed by Jasper Hoiby (again), brilliant British pianist Liam Noble (there are so many excellent young jazz pianists around now – a legacy of Esjborn Svennson?), drummer Dave Smith trumpeter Dave Priseman (who I had never heard of but shines here). Less frenetic than Polar Bear this is another very strong album.
Fly – Sky and Country
This bass/drums/ sax trio of Mark Turner, Larry Grenadier and Jeff Ballard has excellent jazz pedigree (Ballard and Grenadier having played with Brad Mehldau). The quality of the recording is exceptional (as you’d expect from ECM) each player being given space to express themselves but no one player dominating. All three wrote tracks making this a very real collaboration. The material is varied but the album comes together brilliantly as a whole.
Joe Lovano US Five – Folk Art
Almost everything Lovano seems to touch lately turns to gold – the last few albums have all been excellent and he shines on the collaboration with Steve Kuhn (see above). This album is nine originals. It is free (but not really free-jazz), rhythm heavy (he employs two drummers) and often very impressive.