Jazziz Discover

Enjoy listening to some of the best new jazz available in hi-res audio and with information about each featured album below. For subscribers only.

Woodland

“Canons”

(Newvelle Records)

The understated radiance of pianist Carmen Staaf has been on full display in recent years. An accomplished musician, composer and educator, Staaf turned heads in projects alongside drummer Allison Miller, as well as with her own trio, whose first recording, 2019’s Bloom, was actually under drummer Jeff Williams’ name. The threesome, also featuring bassist Michael Formanek, recorded the lovely Woodland for Newvelle in 2019, just before the pandemic lockdown, and the poignant music, released in 2020, seems to split the difference between wistful and hopeful. The delicate “Canons” is just such an expression, quietly unfolding from Staaf’s classically inspired playing. Formanek’s gorgeous tone provides the perfect counterpoint, as Williams supplies rhythm and texture with deft brush work and open-hand strikes. Staaf’s featherlike touch just about registers as she all but hovers over the piano keys during Formanek’s solo, and the bassist concludes the song with quiet reverberations along the neck of his bass (all of which can be seen on the YouTube video for the song).


Irmãos de Fé

“Irmão de Fé”

(Newvelle REcords)

On Irmãos de Fé (Brothers of Faith), a 2017 release for the Newvelle label’s second season of recordings, the John Patitucci Trio plunged into compositions by Brazilian masters including Chico Buarque, Egberto Gismonti and Milton Nascimento. Given their knowledge and understanding of Nascimento’s music, it’s unsurprising to learn that bassist Patitucci and Brazilian drummer-percussionist Rogério Boccato both played in the beloved singer-songwriter’s band. In fact, Nascimento’s composition, “Irmão de Fé,” written with Márcio Borges, kicks off the album and gives it its title. Made whole by guitarist Yotam Silberstein, the Patitucci trio wades gingerly into the melody, as the bassist’s resonant electric bass and Boccato’s lightly applied percussion suggest a dark undercurrent. Silberstein treads carefully along the rhythmic path sketched out by his trio mates, at one point ceding the lead to Patitucci’s woody acoustic pizzicato. The track grows in intensity as it winds on, echoing the positivity that shone through the original version from Nascimento’s 1967 debut recording Travessia and offering a sublime instrumental interpretation.


Terrestrial Dance

“It’s Time To Shout It Out”

(Newvelle Records)

Bass virtuoso Rufus Reid boasts a remarkable résumé. His credits include recording and performing with jazz giants Eddie Harris, Harold Land, Lee Konitz, Dexter Gordon and Stan Getz, to name a few. However, the 77-year-old Reid also studied under James Harnett of the Seattle Symphony and Warren Benfield and Joseph Guastefeste of the Chicago Symphony — so writing for strings is not a skill that he recently acquired. Reid displays his arranging skills on his 2017 album Terrestrial Dance, the final release of Newvelle’s second season of recordings. Here, Reid invited the Sirius Quartet to join him and his Out Front Trio with pianist Steve Allee and drummer Duduka Da Fonseca. The bassist penned arrangements for all the tracks, some incorporating the Sirius strings and some just allowing the trio to blow. Reid’s “It’s Time To Shout It Out” is an example of the latter, a hard-bopping trio piece that rides a heavy bass motif. The leader’s hard-plucked solo opens the song before he lays down a meaty riff, with which Allee engages in a spirited call-and-response. And Da Fonseca supplies a solid rhythmic foundation as he joyfully engages his trio mat


Quiet Revolution

“All Across the City”

(Newvelle Records)

Quiet Revolution was the perfect title for the Ben Allison Trio’s season one Newvelle offering. Bassist Allison teamed up with saxophonist/clarinetist Ted Nash and guitarist Steve Cardenas in a group that takes its cue from reedist Jimmy Giuffre’s drummerless trios of the 1950s and ’60s. In addition to tunes by Giuffre, the trio also delves into the work of another “quiet revolutionary,” guitarist Jim Hall, as well as compositions by each of the trio mates inspired by those men and the eras in which they thrived. The trio’s version of Hall’s “All Across the City” begins with a stark and lovely acoustic guitar solo by Cardenas, who’s soon joined by Allison’s unrushed pizzicato. Nash’s lush, cinematic tenor adds a noirish feel to the proceedings, the trio conjuring a lonely daybreak in the city as an apt aural accompaniment to the album’s impressionistic cover image.


Half Light

“Crossing Iowa”

(Newvelle Records)

Tenor saxophonist and composer Andy Zimmerman received an ideal showcase for his introspective songcraft with Half Light, his season three recording for Newvelle. The native Chicagoan is surrounded by simpatico confederates who help him establish his twilit soundscape, and it helps that label founder Elan Mehler is a longtime friend and collaborator going back to their days at New York University — Zimmerman also recorded with Mehler, a pianist, and toured Europe with him. So it’s an understatement to say that artist, label and sidemen were tightly aligned. Trumpet player Dave Douglas lays out on the wistful “Crossing Iowa,” which features just the trio of Zimmerman, pianist Kevin Hays and bassist Matt Penman. The three engage in hushed conversation, Hays’ sparkling keys and Penman’s rich bass tones providing sensitive yet substantial support for Zimmerman’s questing tenor. “Crossing Iowa” was also the title of a story collection by the saxophonist’s dad, Jack Zimmerman, with whom he teamed up on stage to present a combination of narrative and music.


Congeries of Ethereal Phenomena

“Evidence”

(Newvelle Records)

With a few notable exceptions, the words “jazz” and “cello” don’t frequently appear in the same sentence. Nonetheless, musicians Tim Berne, Bill Frisell, Marc Ribot and John Zorn made cello virtuoso Hank Roberts a vital part of their adventurous, genre-defying music. The Indiana native had moved to New York in the 1980s, his timing just right to dip into the creatively burbling Downtown scene, where he became a regular at the Knitting Factory as both sideman and leader. The cellist’s singular aesthetic was at the center of his fourth-season Newvelle recording, Congeries of Ethereal Phenomena, in which Roberts teamed up with pianist Jacob Sacks and drummer Vinnie Sperrazza on an intense set comprising bop covers and original music. The trio dives into a read of Thelonious Monk’s “Evidence” with an appropriate puzzle-piece approach, the jagged edges rubbing against one another in the song’s first two minutes. Roberts then switches from bow to fingers, functioning as the trio’s bassist and allowing Sacks and Sperrazza to lock into a more conventional rhythmic flow. Switching between arco and pizzicato, Roberts engages in a bit of shadow tag with Sacks, as Sperrazza maintains deceptively complex patterns. It’s a fresh take on a jazz classic that sounds not just unmistakably Monk-ish, but completely Roberts-like.


From Scratch

“I Surrender Dear”

(Newvelle Records)

How do artists slip the bonds of training and influence and develop a voice of their own? This question haunted pianist Billy Lester, a longtime student of Sal Mosca, who was himself a disciple of Lennie Tristano. In his early 30s, Lester was determined to discover his voice, intently concentrating on his emotional state as he sat at the piano and allowed his feelings to guide his hands. The experience was an epiphany, one that has served Lester well over the ensuing decades and informs the deeply personal music on From Scratch, his 2019 release for Newvelle’s fourth season. Joined by veteran bassist Rufus Reid and drummer Matt Wilson, the pianist strives for emotional truth on his renditions of Great American Songbook standards such as “Body and Soul” and “These Foolish Things.” Like a gymnast taking a few preliminary bounces on the trampoline, Lester picks out the introduction to “I Surrender Dear,” Bing Crosby’s first solo hit in 1931 (also covered by Louis Armstong in 1930 and by Thelonious Monk many years later). Without altering the tempo or the mood, Reid and Wilson layer Lester’s dreamy phrasing with cat-step quiet accompaniment. Lester gets to the poignant heart of the matter as he concludes the song on a tear-stained note, underlined by Reid’s heartbeat pulse and Wilson’s shimmering cymbals.


Life of the Party

“Perfectly Out of Place”

(Newvelle Records)

The members of the OWL Trio first met in New York City about 20 years ago. Bassist Orlando le Fleming, saxophonist Will Vinson and guitarist Lage Lund found each other while playing in ensembles together and gigging at the same clubs. Their first performance as a trio took place at the intimate Bar Next Door, and before long they recorded their debut album in 2012, a session for which they neither rehearsed nor prepared a set list. Life of the Party, their 2020 outing for Newvelle’s season five, took a different tack, as the trio brought in compositions by each member, as well as a few durable standards, and recruited friend and fan Kurt Elling, who supplies vocals on a couple of numbers. Elling also penned lyrics to Vinson’s composition “Perfectly Out of Place,” a lovely ballad that features the instrumentalists at their most communicative. The song begins with just the duo of Lund and Elling, the guitarist commenting on each of the singer’s quietly intoned phrases. Vinson and Le Fleming enter unobtrusively, also supporting Elling and his imagistic poetry, before the saxophonist offers a deeply expressive solo followed by an equally stirring statement by Lund. It’s easy to hear the intelligence and cohesion that Elling raved about after seeing the trio at a bar in Brooklyn, and to understand his determination to work with them.


Midnight Sun

“What Reason Could I Give”

(Newvelle Records)

When approached about recording for Newvelle’s season two, bassist Chris Tordini rounded up a couple of old friends, vocalist Becca Stevens and guitarist Greg Ruggiero. Tordini and Stevens met at the New School in Manhattan and have played together in various settings for more than a decade. And Tordini and Ruggiero are likewise longtime musical comrades on the New York City jazz scene. On their 2019 recording Midnight Sun, the trio delve into a highly personalized set of standards, which begins and ends with songs by Ornette Coleman. In between, they interpret gems from the Great American Songbook, including the title track, Ellington’s “Prelude to a Kiss” and “My Funny Valentine.” The album’s kickoff song, “What Reason Could I Give,” is an eccentric choice, hailing from Coleman’s redefining 1971 recording Science Fiction. Stevens delivers the impossibly romantic lyric with great sincerity, sounding at once tremulous at the thought of life without her beloved, yet absolutely assured of her feelings. Tordini and Ruggiero offer supportive scaffolding, as they play in unison with the vocalist, then echo her emotions in a heartfelt instrumental interlude.


Book of Dreams

“Wedding Song”

(Newvelle Records)

While working on other projects, saxophonist and composer Patrick Zimmerli would often find songs coming to him unbidden, sometimes waking him from his sleep and begging for him to jot them down. Thus comes much of the material on Zimmerli’s season five Newvelle release, Book of Dreams, sourced from compositions the New York native had filed away during a period of about 20 years. The saxophonist teams up with pianist Kevin Hays, a longtime confederate with whom he shares a similar career trajectory, and drummer Satoshi Takeishi. The trio dips into a couple of standards (“Insensatez,” “Fly Me to the Moon”), but for the most part plays the music that sprung from Zimmerli’s unconscious. One of those tracks, “Wedding Song,” evokes a fast-moving folk dance performed at a joyous wedding party, perhaps taking place in Eastern Europe or South America. The tune begins with polyrhythmic handclaps then gives way to the whirl of piano, soprano sax and drums engaged in frenzied merry-making. After a quiet interlude that never loses the festive spirit, the song builds back up to an incantatory pitch before winding down like a weary wedding guest dropping into a chair when the band goes on break.


Strength and Sanity

“Man of Words”

(Newvelle Records)

Trumpeter Booker Little was just 23 when he died in 1961. His recorded output revealed a prodigiously talented instrumentalist and composer, and he went out with a bang with a couple of classic albums, Out Front and Booker Little and Friend, both recorded in the year of his death. Among the all-star ensembles on those recordings — including Eric Dolphy, Max Roach, Julian Priester and Ron Carter — was pianist Don Friedman, just a few years older than Little when he recorded these sessions. Recording for Newvelle’s season one more than 50 years later, Friedman revisited songs from those albums, bringing a lifetime of experience to these fresh interpretations of Little’s music. Friedman engaged his working trio with bassist Phil Palombi and drummer Shinnosuke Takahashi for the project, titled Strength and Sanity after one of Little’s compositions that the group explores here. Another is the somewhat somber “Man of Words,” a track from Out Front that Little dedicated to jazz and social critic Nat Hentoff. Palombi begins the song with a stately bowed intro, which sets the tone. Friedman sprinkles notes like handfuls of stars into an inky night sky, counterbalancing the mournful weight of the bass and creating an aura of mystery and wonder that’s amplified by Takahashi’s cymbal splashes and mallet rumbles. The album serves as a reminder of Little’s brilliance as a composer, as well as testament to Friedman’s brilliance and soulfulness as a musician; the pianist died in 2016 at age 81.


The Best of Mindi Abair

“April”

(Pretty Good for a Girl)

Stuck at home during COVID lockdown, saxophonist Mindi Abair had the opportunity to revisit some of the music she had recording during the past two decades. Among the tracks she unearthed were rarities and collaborations with blues and roots artists such as Gregg Allman, Booker T. Jones, Keb’ Mo’ and Joe Bonamassa. A lightbulb clicked on, and Abair decided to release a first-ever compilation under the title The Best of Mindi Abair on her own Pretty Good for a Girl imprint. While she does include some smooth-jazz hits dating back to her 2000 debut album Always and Never the Same and her 2003 breakthrough release It Just Happens That Way, and tunes from her four albums with the blues-R&B outfit The Boneshakers, she also features unreleased tracks and team-ups with the above-mentioned artists, as well as some new material. Among the latter is the contemporary-jazz tune, “April,” which she “recorded just before everything shut down,” she told JAZZIZ writer Jonathan Widran. “It’s reminiscent of my earlier smooth jazz hits. It marks a return to me being a solo artist and coming back to me.”


Kaleidoscope

“Presence”

(Brass Tonic)

Trumpeter, vocalist and composer Sarah Wilson is the first to admit that she stands on the shoulders of giants. On Kaleidoscope (Brass Tonic), her latest recording, the native Californian dedicates several songs to the important mentors and influences who inspired her — including pianist Myra Melford, who also plays on the album. Having moved to New York City in the 1990s (before returning to the West Coast), Wilson absorbed the creative vitality of a thriving Downtown scene, which continues to inform her artistry. For her new album, Wilson assembled a like-minded, A-list ensemble, featuring Melford, violinist Charlie Burnham, guitarist John Schott, bassist Jerome Harris and drummer Matt Wilson. A heady Calypso rhythm drives the festive “Presence,” a tip of the hat to pianist-composer Carla Bley that was inspired by Bley’s tune “Major,” from her 1999 duo album with Steve Swallow, Are We There Yet? Harris and Wilson establish the groove at the top and soon are joined by Schott’s lively guitar. The party picks up with the introduction of mellow brass and then gives way to Burnham’s buoyant bowing, the rhythm section never relinquishing the infectious groove.


Been Down This Road Before

“Been Down This Road Before”

(Ropeadope)

Trombone virtuoso Clifton Anderson wrote the music for the title song to his recent release, Been Down This Road Before (Ropeadope), following the 2013 murder of Trayvon Martin. However, continued violence, by police and others, toward people of color in ensuing years prompted him to pen lyrics for the song, as well. Anderson recruited venerable jazz singer Andy Bey to deliver those lyrics, and Bey’s warmth and wisdom express the sadness and hopefulness inherent in the music. “I heard somebody say, that they don’t like the way some people look or pray,” he sings. “Stand your ground, ask questions later/OK to shoot them down/As long as they’re black or brown.” It’s nothing new for Black folks, he notes in the recurring lines, “I know for sure, I’ve been down this road before.” The tune begins with a sigh-inducingly lovely duet between Anderson and guitarist Peter Bernstein, before the rest of the band enters the mix. A jaunty rhythm maintains a somewhat optimistic vibe, punctuated by Anderson’s uplifting commentary on trombone. The nephew of another socially concerned jazz artist, Sonny Rollins — whose Freedom Suite rang loud during the Civil Rights era — Anderson has been playing trombone since his uncle gave him one at the age of 7. He seems to conclude that the road to justice may be long and the scenery woefully familiar, but it’s still worth traveling to “find a better way.”


Convergence

“Samba Diabolico”

(Summit)

More than 25 years have passed since Lunar Octet captured their funky brand of Afro-Latin groove on their first (and only) album, Highway Fun. The group now reunites for their sophomore release, Convergence (Summit), the album’s title describing their committed commingling of rhythms and styles as well as the gathering of the musicians, who had since gone their separate ways. First forming in the Ann Arbor/Detroit metro area in 1984, Lunar Octet (then known as the Lunar Glee Club), evolved from an Afrobeat jam band to a sophisticated jazz outfit with globe-spanning influences, thanks in large part to the writing and arranging of saxophonist Steven Hiltner. Most of the original crew, plus two new members — pianist Keaton Royer and second percussionist Olman Piedra — combine their skills on Convergence’s sizzling 14 tracks, a mix of brass-fueled samba, salsa, mambo and Afrobeat with a decidedly funky feel. Brandon Cooper’s flugelhorn sounds a bold introduction to “Samba Diabolico,” and he’s joined on the frontline by altoist Hiltner and tenorist Paul Vornhagen (also heard on soprano sax and alto clarinet). Pianist Royer offers a brisk and exciting solo, bolstered by bassist Jeff Dalton, drummer Jon Krosnick and the twin percussion of Piedra and Aron Kaufman. Building in intensity, the track proves Lunar Octet haven’t waned a bit in the decades since their previous recording.


Colors of Brazil

“Caravana”

(Rosetta)

Kansas City, Missouri, native Kenney Polson has had a long love affair with Brazilian music. In fact, the saxophonist spent five years as a resident of Rio de Janeiro, playing with some of the area’s best musicians. Polson’s passion for those vibrant rhythms resounds throughout his latest recording, Colors of Brazil (Rosetta), on which he performs songs by Brazilian composers such as Djavan, Ivan Lins, Toninho Horta and Dori Caymmi, among others, accompanied by A-list Brazilian musicians. He and his ensemble also offer a thrilling read of the Juan Tizol/Duke Ellington classic “Caravan,” here dubbed “Caravana” for its Latin sabor. The track begins with thundering drums and percussion, soon joined by a thumping little big band undergirded by Nico Assumpção’s fluid electric bass lines. Polson’s sinewy alto sax leads the charge, although he hands off fiery solos to pianist Marinho Boffa and bassist Assumpção. Trumpeter Paulinho Trompete and tenor saxophonist Marcello Martins engage in an exciting back-and-forth that takes the track to its final fade. Perhaps Polson’s feel for hard-charging swing comes naturally: His grandfather, “Chubby” Wayne Harshaw, played in the bands of Count Basie and Cab Calloway.


New Love

“New Love”

(Motema Music)

If the music on New Love, Charnett Moffett’s seventh album for the Motéma label, sounds fresh and of-the-moment, it’s likely because the bassist and composer only shared it with his collaborators when they arrived at the studio. This bespeaks deep trust between Moffett and his bandmates, to one of whom he’s actually married. The relationship between Moffett and guitarist/Motéma label chief Jana Herzen, who wed in February 2019, provides the raw material for several of the songs on New Love, including the space-filled, Eastern-influenced title track. The bassist underlines his tender vocals with a frisson of fretless bass lines in the opening of the song, accompanied by Corey Garcia’s shimmering cymbals and Irwin Hall’s ethereal alto flute. The tune opens up as Moffett’s bass becomes the lead melodic voice, his virtuosity never obscuring the emotional content. Herzen’s textured electric guitar adds yet another joyful voice to the proceedings, before receding behind Moffett’s devotional vocals. Song themes throughout the album integrate both personal and universal love, but seem to reveal that Moffett, a former teen prodigy and son of jazz drummer Charles Moffett, is in a good pla


Path of Seven Colors

“Path of Seven Colors”

(Pyroclastic)

Adventurous jazz fans may recognize the name Ches Smith from his work alongside avant-garde artist such as Marc Ribot, Darius Jones and Kris Davis, or perhaps from his group Hammered Arches or his 2016 ECM release The Bell with Craig Taborn and Mat Maneri. The New York-based drummer also harbors a long-held fascination with Haitian music, a passion that was sparked by his accompaniment of a Haitian dance class more than 20 years ago. He formed his group We All Break to blend traditional Haitian rhythms with jazz composition and improvisation, and the band released its self-titled debut in 2015. On their new release, Path of Seven Colors (Pyroclastic), Smith has expanded the model of piano and three drums to an octet, adding another drummer, a bassist, a saxophone and a vocalist to his original format. The results are quite heady, the battery of drums creating mesmerizing backings for the swirl of instrumental and vocal colors, all of which evoke the mystery of Vodou culture. The title track, an instrumental, begins with Matt Mitchell’s ominous piano shadowed by light percussive touches. The tune builds to a brisk trot with the introduction of Miguel Zenón’s saxophone, Nick Dunston’s bass and more insistent drumming. Mitchell and Zenón each take point, the polyphonic drumming energizing their somewhat frantic leads with an undercurrent of anxiety. Smith credits drummer Daniel Brevil for much of We All Break’s repertoire, either through his compositions or his research into traditional Haitian music, the lines of which they happily blur.


Wild Is the Wind

“Everybody Wants To Rule the World”

(Slea Head)

When vocalist Kari Kirkland initially went into the studio for a quintet session produced by pianist Shelly Berg, it was with the intention of recording a six-song EP. However, over the course of two days, the synergy between singer and musicians was scintillating enough to convince them that a full album was warranted. The results are captured on Wild Is the Wind (Slea Head), Kirkland’s debut release featuring a mix of jazz standards — including the Nina Simone title track, which Kirkland says was inspired by David Bowie’s version — and jazzified pop and rock tunes. A beautifully reimagined take of the 1985 Tears for Fears’ hit “Everybody Wants To Rule the World” is a prime example of Kirkland’s ability to find jazzy expression in non-jazz material, aided by the sublime backing of Berg, guitarist Dean Parks, bassist Kevin Axt and drummer Gregg Field, A-list players all. Kirkland’s delivery contains an aching world-weariness appropriate to the material, the rather bleak lyrics — still relevant  today (“Acting on your best behavior/Turn your back on Mother Nature”) — at odds with the jaunty melody. Kirkland has been successful at several things she’s turned her hand to — Ironman Triathlete, private chef, flying trapeze/aerial bungee artist — and now can add jazz singer to a remarkable résumé.


It's a Jazz Day

“Sweet Control”

(La Pantera)

If you’ve heard Tom Petty’s “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” Billy Idol’s “Mony Mony,” Gino Vannelli’s “I Just Wanna Stop” or Donald Byrd’s “Stepping Into Tomorrow” — and chances are good that you have — you’ve heard Stephanie Spruill. The singer’s sterling pipes have graced hundreds of hit records, she’s performed at the White House for three different administrations, and she’s received the Living Legends of Jazz Award from the city of Los Angeles. Like her contemporaries chronicled in the film 20 Feet From Stardom, Spruill was better known by studio cats and industry insiders than the public at large. Jazz has long been an important part of her tool kit — she recorded with Nat Adderley, Johnny Hammond Smith and Gene Harris, among others — and it’s at the heart of her recording It’s a Jazz Day (La Pantera). Spruill interprets standards including “Dindi,” “Round Midnight” and “Here’s to Life,” as well as some original selections. She penned “Sweet Control” with Jeff Lorber and Dianne Quander for vocalist Jon Lucien’s 1991 release Listen Love, and reprises it here with her own band. A lights-low ambience sets the mood for Spruill’s seductive vocals, as she goes from quiet and controlled to a more impassioned delivery.