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Eric Hofbauer/Dylan Jack, Period Pieces (Creative Nation Music)
This Boston quartet has conjured up a triumph. Hofbauer’s slurry acoustic guitar, Jerry Sabatini’s intrepid trumpet work, Tony Leva’s acoustic bass and trippy electronics, and Jack’s wonderfully musical drumming meld into a flowing suite of improvised pieces that move through spacey free improv, smoldering funk, warped bop, noise-jazz and more. The music is spacious, never clotted. Of special note, Jack issues a master class in minimalist groovemanship on “Tread Lightly … .”
Chuck Owen and The Jazz Surge, Within Us (Summit)
Big band agnostics would do well to give this orchestral jazz effort a spin. Owen, a Tampa-based composer, arranger and conductor, leads a 20-piece ensemble through eight complex, multi-movement pieces that showcase a prismatic array of colors (a Dobro solo?) and shifting dynamics. The music, while challenging, is uniformly melodic, highly listenable throughout, and — perhaps most important — goes easy on the blare and bombast.
Lionel Loueke, Close Your Eyes (Sounderscore)
Working with drummer Eric Harland and bassist Reuben Rogers, guitarist Loueke puts his wiry, percussive sound to solid use on an 11-track collection of jazz classics (“Solar,” “Blue Monk”) and standards (“Moon River,” “Close Your Eyes”). The trio ably delivers on the swing pieces and ballads, but the music most comes to life when rooted in Loueke’s West African background — best heard on “Footprints” and “Skylark.”
Orrin Evans, The Magic of Now (Smoke Sessions)
For his first album since ending a three-year tenure with The Bad Plus, pianist Evans put together a stellar quartet that includes stalwart drummer Bill Stewart, superb young alto saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins and bass ace Vicente Archer. The album, a decidedly straight-ahead affair, succeeds on the strength of the spirited playing more so than the seven standard-issue originals — four by Evans and three by Wilkins.
Artifacts Trio, … and then there’s this (Astral Spirits)
Flutist Nicole Mitchell, cellist Tomeka Reid and drummer Mike Reed — all third-generation, Chicago-based members of the AACM — put their charged chemistry on display throughout this set of predominantly originals, ranging from atmospheric (“Song for Joseph Jarman”) to Afrocentric (“Dedicated to Alvin Fiedler”) to swinging (“In Response To”). Most of the tracks, though, are built upon quirky iterations of funk.
Enrico Rava, Edizione Speciale (ECM)
Recorded in Antwerp two days before the Italian trumpeter’s 80th birthday in August 2019, this live set comes barreling out of the blocks with the frenetic, Ornette-indebted Rava original, “Infant.” The all-Italian sextet chomps hard, and — surprisingly for an ECM title — most of the rest remains loose, uptempo and often boisterous. It’s fun to hear Rava, exclusively on flugelhorn, keep up with his younger bandmates.
Lena Bloch & Feathery, Rose of Lifta (Fresh Sound New Talent)
Saxophonist Bloch’s airy, cerebral sound gets overshadowed by the forceful triumvirate of pianist Russ Lossing, bassist Cameron Brown and drummer Billy Mintz. The Russian-born Bloch’s musical background in Israel and Europe lends a worldly scope to her compositions — especially the Middle Eastern-influenced “Promise of Return” — but her comparative lack of improvisational acumen prevents Rose from blooming.
Scott Reeves Quintet, Alchemist (Origin)
Reeves’ use of alto flugelhorn and alto valve trombone — both arcane instruments rarely heard in jazz — provides this 2005 live set an appealing extra dimension. (The horns sound quite similar, both round-toned and sonorous.) Out of six tracks, it’s the two percolating funk pieces — “New Bamboo” and the title tune — that fare best. Mike Holober’s electric piano meshes particularly well with Reeves’ downsized trombone. - Eric Snider