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Mostly Other People Do the Killing, Disasters Vol. 1 (Hot Cup)
Bassist Moppa Elliott’s MOPDtK has good fun turning the piano-trio format on its ear. The central conceit here is drummer Kevin Shea’s frenetic transitions between grooves and wildly free barrages that underpin the relatively straight, often blues-based work by Elliott and pianist Ron Stabinsky. Occasional synth squeals and squiggles add an extra coat of irreverence. While Disaster Vol. 1 is quite a feat, and is for the most part a kick, it can tax the ears at times.
Somi, Zenzile: The Reimagination of Miriam Makeba (Salon Africana)
The dynamic and rangy singer Somi Kakoma, the daughter of African immigrants raised in Illinois and Zambia, makes a grand statement with this sprawling, 17-song tribute to the late South African singer/activist. Zenzile mixes signature Makeba songs (including “Pata Pata,” ambitiously deconstructed) with Somi originals. Several tunes hew to contemporary jazz and related styles (including a slinky duet with Gregory Porter, “Love Tastes Like Strawberries”), but it’s the African-derived material — with its undulating grooves and innate soulfulness — that makes this album a winner. (The original release date, in October 2021, was pushed to March.)
Jeff Parker, Forfolks (Anthem/Nonesuch)
The long-time guitarist for post-rock linchpins Tortoise drops a solo guitar album, much of which layers loops and electronics to create lush sound sculptures — although he does play a brief and lovely version of the standard “My Ideal” on a lone guitar. The music is uniformly subdued and elegant, but is often so vaporous, so lacking in bite, that at times it just drifts away in an amorphous cloud.
Cecil Taylor, The Complete, Legendary, Live Return Concert: The Town Hall NYC, November 4, 1973 (Oblivion)
The avant-garde piano icon, who ended a five-year hiatus from live performance with this two-hour-plus concert, clearly had plenty of pent-up creativity to unload. Taylor, 44 at the time, is a dervish at the keyboard, all boundless energy and spontaneous imagination. The opening piece, “Autumn/Parade,” goes on for 88 minutes. Alto saxophonist Jimmy Lyons proves the ideal sparring partner, while drummer Andrew Cyrille and bassist Sirone provide telepathic support. Crisply recorded, this (streaming-only) album marks a monumental achievement in ’70s free jazz.
Frank Kimbrough, Meantime (Newvelle)
Originally released in 2015 on vinyl only, Meantime is now available as a digital download. This straightahead quintet album, at turns probing and playful, exudes a generous spirit. Kimbrough, who died in December 2020 at age 64, shows off his chameleonic piano approach, which ranges from lushly romantic to stridently quirky. The 12 tightly constructed tunes — only one of which exceeds five minutes — allow ample space for all the players to shine with concise solos.
Will Bernard, Pond Life (Dreck to Disc)
Guitarist Bernard sprays an array of slurs, warbles, wails, scratches and metallic zoinks amid high-wire solos and compositions that segue from serrated melodic fragments to floating passages, from taut grooves to bursts of collective din. A truly stellar band — drummer Ches Smith, bassist Chris Lightcap, keyboardist John Medeski and saxophonist Tim Berne — masterfully navigates the serpentine music.
Steve Coleman and Five Elements, Live at the Village Vanguard Volume II (Mdw/Ntr) (Pi)
Alto saxophonist-composer Coleman has always been a more-is-more artist, and this live set from 2017 would’ve been better with less. Eleven pieces clock in at two-and-a-quarter hours, so even fans are apt to feel bludgeoned by the onslaught of agitated funk and simple melodic figures that Coleman and trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson explore well past the nth degree. “Wordsmith” Kokayi’s rap/holler segments add a layer of annoyance.
Kit Downes, Vermillion (ECM)
Kit Downes uses the same dog-eared playbook as a legion of ECM pianists, past and present: trio music that’s calm and ethereal, with a premium on prettiness. But for an album titled after the color of life, Vermillion shows precious little signs of it.