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A Tasting Menu

A Tasting Menu

Courtesy Joe Oczerklewicz

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There are fascinating players everywhere with original things to say, just waiting to be discovered.
It says a lot for the current state of the music that some of the most interesting music hitting the market is being made by lesser-known artists who might never get a look from major labels. Here are four that have their own particular—and very different—charms. All are worth a spin for the sheer joy of discovery.

Derrick Gardner & The Jazz Prophets
Pan Africa
Impact Jazz
2023

For many listeners, the early '60s lineup of the The Jazz Messengers with a three-horn front line was peak hard bop. Strong writing and arranging, compelling solos and all-in commitment made for gripping, urgent music. Trumpeter Derrick Gardner must have had that music in his ears when he assembled his Jazz Prophets for this high-voltage session. He's not afraid to hang out in his instrument's high register nor to occasionally play himself into a corner. Still it's the willingness to take risks that gives Pan Africa a thrilling immediacy. The leader's trombonist brother Vincent Gardner might be the strongest and most shapely soloist here, but attention must be paid to drummer Kweku Sumbry from Immanuel Wilkins' band who, true to Messengers fashion, unleashes mighty currents of rhythm that sometimes threaten to overwhelm the proceedings. In this context, that seems apt. Even an out-of-tune piano can't spoil the fun.

Christine Correa
Just You Stand and Listen with Me
Sunnyside Records
2023

Christine Correa has a low-lying voice with a pile-driver chest register. When she hits a particularly resonant note, it can scramble your insides. This isn't an ideal voice for every kind of material (her recordings with mentor Ran Blake are eccentric even by the standards of Blake's idiosyncratic corpus), but it's a perfect instrument for this collection of defiant anthems from the Civil Rights era. She's a kind of Jayne Cortez prequel, declaiming these lyrics of freedom with strength and utter conviction. The material by Abbey Lincoln, Oscar Brown Jr. Max Roach and others is as timely and necessary now as it was 60 years ago. That this nonstop onslaught of fist-in-the-air music doesn't become wearying is a tribute to the oblique artfulness with which Correa's excellent band approaches the music. Pianist Andrew Boudreau holds the ear with well-placed abstractions and drummer Michael Sarin, for all his sensitivity, does too. Saxophonist Sam Newsome is an inspired foil, his soprano dancing and commenting an octave above Correa.

Bobby West
Big Trippin'
Soulville Sound Recordings
2023

Los Angeles pianist Bobby West was 64 years old when he released his debut record as a leader, Leimert Park After Dark (Soulville Sound Recordings) in 2021. He's much more interesting than a punch-the-clock lounge pianist but stops short of an undiscovered genius. That doesn't foreclose the notion of originality. It would be hard to think of a living pianist who would create the grand, Lisztian fantasia that is "Variations on Various Faces" with its classical technique and thundering chords. Even in more jazz-oriented material, momentum is his thing so much so that his rhythm section often just gets out of the way. West likes big, ringing sonorities and places them where you least expect them, such as the hard-swinging, McCoy Tyner-ish waltz that he makes of Henry Mancini's winsome "Charade." Playing Big Trippin' isn't like finding another Hasaan Ibn Ali, yet the record reminds us that there are fascinating players everywhere with original things to say, just waiting to be discovered.

Christina Galisatus
Without Night
Slow & Steady Records
2023

It would be tempting to characterize Without Night, the debut release by the young Los Angeles-based pianist and composer, as a pandemic record. It's full of interior musings and inward-looking lyrics, sung with sensitivity by Erin Bentlage. Yet the mood-board sentiments and artful, pastel shaded arrangements, Galisatus' supple piano and the album's atmospheric production values sound like the beginning of something fresh. Maybe you could call it bedroom jazz or Laurel Canyon singer-songwriter music as played by an improvising group. These are not put-downs. There is abundant beauty here.

Tracks and Personnel

Pan Africa

Tracks: Djemba Kan; Appointment in Ghana; 10,000 Ships; The Sixth Village; Highlife Suite; Blues for the Diaspora; Vicente, The Afro Mestizo; Nkrumah 'da Rulah; Assin Manso ... The Last Bath.

Personnel: Derrick Gardner: trumpet; Vincent Gardner: trombone; Robert Dixon: alto and tenor saxophone; George Caldwell: piano; Obasi Akoto: bass; Kweku Sumbry: drum kit and African percussion.

Just You Stand and Listen with Me

Tracks: Driva' Man; When Malindy Sings; Mendacity; Caged Bird; Straight Ahead; All Africa; Triptych: Prayer/Protest/Peace; Who Will Buy; Tears for Johannesburg; Garvey's Ghost; Freedom Day.

Personnel: Christine Correa: voice; Sam Newsome: soprano saxophone; Andrew Boudreau: piano; Kim Cass: bass; Michael Sarin: drums.

Big Trippin'

Tracks: Big Trippin'; Only A Rose; Variations on Various Faces; Charade; Mode for Morpheus; Right Here, Right Now; I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face; Tres Palabras; Michelle; Say Si Si.

Personnel: Bobby West: piano; James Leary, bass; Jerrell Ballard, drums.

Without Night

Tracks: I Always Look to the Sky; A Fragile State; The Child; I Want to Know Her; Forward and Back; Candlelight; Interlude I (There Can't be Light); Controller; Rest; What Breathes; Lily Pads; Without Being Held; Interlude II (Together); Your Heart Could Smile; And Sing; I Always Look to the Sky Reprise.

Personnel: Christina Galisatus: piano; Erin Bentlage; vocals; Michael Blasky: tenor saxophone ; Steven Lugerner: bass clarinet ; Brandon Bae: guitar ; Joshua Crumbly: bass; Zev Shearn-Nance: drums.

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