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With its deep African-American roots, jazz has branched out to the entire world. Historically, Europeans were the first to embrace this uniquely American export. Here are some of the best jazz albums the continent had to offer in 2019.
On Psychosis (Challenge), her fifth release, Italian saxophonist Carla Marciano and her quartet expressively interpret six of composer Bernard Herrmann’s film scores, including three from iconic Hitchcock pictures. The group infuses these pieces with spontaneity and deconstructs them in a thrillingly original way.
The most representative track, “Theme From Psycho,” opens with pianist Alessandro La Corte’s angular improvisation. Bassist Aldo Vigorito bows the ominous, now universally recognized lines associated with the shower scene. The ensemble’s tense and riotous performance of the main melody follows. Marciano takes center stage with an ardent and eloquent extemporization over drummer Gaetano Fasano’s rumbling, expectant polyrhythms. As with all her oeuvre, Marciano has imbued this aptly cinematic homage with her signature passion and candor.
Marciano’s distinctive style is, nevertheless, squarely in the mainstream. Hungarian reedman Mihály Borbély, on the other hand, is a genre-bender. On his enchanting Grenadilla (BMC), Borbély engages in pan-cultural experiments and showcases his skills on several woodwinds, some from his homeland’s folk canon.
On “Our Favorite Things,” Borbély switches between the dvojnice’s resonance and the tárogató’s fiery wail as he quotes fragments of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “My Favorite Things.” His inventive lines encompass Western angularity and Eastern fluidity with melancholic elegance. Pianist Áron Tálas’ crystalline keys and drummer Hunor G. Szabó’s galloping beats propel the tune. On the title track, Borbély sticks with the clarinet as he lets loose a warm and undulating song, to which bassist Balázs Horváth contributes a charmingly agile solo. With the masterful Grenadilla, Borbély creates a truly universal language that bridges gaps of both space and time.
Borbély’s BMC label mate, the collaborative French trio Deep Ford, takes yet another creative approach. Its introspective explorations are quite cerebral yet pack a visceral punch. The trio’s stimulating debut, You May Cross Here, brims with lively spontaneity within ethereal ambiances.
Pianist Benoit Delbecq’s percussive chords and drummer Sylvain Darrifourcq’s thumping beats join saxophonist Robin Fincker’s staccato honks on the clamorous “Loop of Chicago.” Melodic shards make up Delbecq’s contemplative improvisation. Over the jagged cadence, Fincker constructs a provocative abstract image with his fervent, brassy tenor. The trio becomes more adventurous on the hypnotic “Inner Whatever.” Darrifourcq’s thunderous percussion drives Fincker and Delbecq’s pensive duet, as prepared piano, zither and droning saxophone set an otherworldly mood. Heavily influenced by avant-garde jazz, Deep Ford brings a singularly French sophistication to extemporized music.
Another captivating trio debut, Icelandic guitarist Mikael Máni’s Bobby (Smekkleysa), is profoundly lyrical and introspective. Drawing inspiration from chess grandmaster Bobby Fischer’s biography, Máni has crafted 10 interlinked tracks that form a remarkably cohesive and dynamic record.
Some are short and poetic, like the free-flowing “Lend Me Your Finger and I’ll Take Your Whole Arm,” while others are fully realized narratives, like the intricate and multilayered “Down in the Well.” On the former, Máni, bassist Skúli Sverisson and percussionist Magnús Trygvason Elíassen build a serene yet penetrating musical haiku with their sparse tones and thuds. On the latter, the trio’s percussive refrains coalesce around Máni’s poignant and graceful notes. The synergistic interchange within the band changes the mood from tender to anxious and the melody from darkly shimmering to clear and acerbic. On the brilliant Bobby, Máni exhibits maturity and a distinctive voice that belies his 24 years.
These four intriguing works, with their unique sounds and disparate origins, give further testament to jazz’s lasting appeal in Europe and beyond. - Hrayr Attarian