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Being both evolutionary and tradition-channeling, jazz is an art form predisposed to honor its most influential creators. The legacies of legends gone by, and some still in the making, are ripe subjects for tribute projects, as this group of heartfelt new recordings attests.
Alto saxophonist and flutist T.K. Blue is a likely candidate to pay homage to the late pianist Randy Weston, who died in 2018. Blue worked with Weston off and on for nearly 40 years, and he channels Weston’s spirit on the aptly titled The Rhythm Continues (JaJa). The album presents a selection of songs from Blue’s Weston-themed suite, as well as tunes by Weston and his chief arranger, Melba Liston.
With its 19 tracks and suite-like structure, the album weaves a tapestry displaying Weston’s enduring essence and influence. Layered horns enrich “Night in Medina,” segueing into the rhythmic charge of “Kucheza Blues.” The luminous ballad “Where” eases into Weston’s signature song, “Hi Fly,” a model of inspired simplicity in the jazz canon, but here folded into an Afro-Cubanized arrangement with the melody left out. Blue receives stellar support throughout from a hard-charging rhythm section, as well as fellow saxophonist Billy Harper and a rotating roster of young pianists.
On the Frank Foster Songbook (Sony/The Orchard), by the Kenyatta Beasley Septet, the two-disc, 10-track live album intentionally avoids Foster’s signature song, “Shiny Stockings,” as well as the generous body of Foster compositions written in his fruitful connection with the Count Basie Orchestra. Instead, trumpeter Beasley creates a portrait of Foster — who died in 2011 and was a Beasley mentor — from a variety of sources, vintages and moods beyond Basie (with the exception of the Basie-aligned blues “Katherine the Great”).
Beasley’s compact big band, with four horns fronting a piano-bass-drum rhythm section, hints at a big band palette, but in lean form, with cameos by fellow New Orleans native Wynton Marsalis, guitarist Mark Whitfield, vocalist Carla Cook and Eric Wyatt on tenor sax. The material ranges from the Latin-tinge of “Cidade Alta” and “Chiquito Loco” to the spidery swing of “Skull Dougery” to the lithe balladry of “Grey Thursday” and “Cecilia Is Love.” The latter, written for Foster’s wife-manager, concludes this fine, mainstreaming set on a lyrical note.
Brazilian legend Antonio Carlos Jobim left the planet in 1994, but his personal influence and cultural cachet retain their impact. On Samba Jazz & Tom Jobim (Sunnyside), led by drummer Duduka Da Fonseca and pianist Helio Alves, with guest vocalist Maucha Adnet, the Jobim songbook is well-accounted for, with vibrant takes on “Dindi,” “Pato Preto,” “Você Vai Ver” and “Polo Pony.” But beyond his compositions, Jobim’s deeper impact is evidenced through the embedded bossa nova attitude and the general Brazilian/jazz symbiosis. Guest spots by trumpeters Wynton Marsalis and Claudio Roditi abet the effort, with saxophonist Billy Drewes and guitarist Romero Lubambo in the core group.
Bridging the presumed borders of jazz and new music/contemporary classical is a growing venture of late. And it’s an essential, distinguishing element in the collaboration of acclaimed contemporary string quartet Brooklyn Rider and project-hopping saxophonist Joshua Redman. With Sun on Sand (Nonesuch), the artists meet on the common ground of music by composer Patrick Zimmerli, who effectively works across classical and jazz zones and puts forth a driving and accessible energy with his often minimalist-fueled scores. This is evident from the start of Sun and Sand, which kicks off with the celebratory linear gymnastics of “Flash.” Impressionistic mistiness enters the textural conversation on “Soft Focus” and “Starbursts and Haloes,” and the eight-track suite circles back to an anchoring theme with an album-closing reprise of “Between Dog and Wolf.” Brooklyn Rider supplies the foundation, while Redman serves as the resident improviser in the enticing mix. - Josef Woodard