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Catching Up On Mostly 2020 Releases

Mark Sullivan By

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Lots of interesting albums piled up in the last few months, most of them released in 2020.

Dusan Jevtovic
If You See Me
Self Produced
2020

Serbian guitarist/composer Dusan Jevtovic assembled a strong core band for this album, which was mostly recorded live in the studio: touch guitarist and looper Markus Reuter, fretless bassist Bernat Hernandez, and drummer Gary Husband. They make an immediate impression on the opener, "Walking Seven." After a rubato introduction, the band launches into an infectious odd-metered groove. Reuter creates an evolving looped texture behind Jevtovic's free guitar solo. "Babe (Grannies)" begins with guest Aleksandar Petrov's tapan—a traditional Macedonian drum—and is the first of six tracks he plays on via overdubbing. It's followed by the sampled voices of Serbian folk singers. When the group kicks in with a driving distorted riff, it is quite a contrast. The folk sample then fades in under the riff for a ghostly effect to make an altogether very striking track. "If You See Me Again" features Reuter's distorted touch guitar on the theme, which builds continuously to an intense conclusion. The touch guitar plays a similar role on the much gentler "Once Ocho," a kind of progressive ballad that also features a thoughtful guitar solo. This album is another product of the marvelous La Casa Mirada studio, home of so many recent Moonjune Records sessions.

Xavier Reija
Dreamscape Room
Self Produced
2020

Spanish drummer/composer Xavier Reija returns with an acoustic trio project similar to the earlier Reflections (Self Produced, 2017), but with a new pair of accompanists—pianist "Popo" (Jose Carra) and bassist José Manuel Posada—completing the well-integrated band. "Remembrance" opens the set with a contemplative melody suited to the title and the whole band playing the song. "Two Steps Ahead" ups the tempo and the energy level while adding a more clearly delineated piano solo with the same empathetic interplay. "To My Friend" puts a spotlight on the bass: first doubling the melody with the piano and then in a brilliant solo. After other memorable and highly rhythmic songs (many in odd meters that never feel forced or unnatural), "Mom" returns to the contemplative sound of the opener. Composed in memory of Reija's mother, it bookends "Remembrance," which is dedicated to his late father. The title tune closes the set with a sprightly 12/8 feel that at times sounds like a waltz. It builds to a big climax before tapering down to a gentle unaccompanied piano. La Casa Murada studio was also the location for this session: proof that the magic comes in many forms

Ghost Rhythms
Imaginary Mountains
Self Produced
2020

With Imaginary Mountains, French experimentalists Ghost Rhythms present a set of compositions inspired by imaginary mountains found on old maps. The concept is similar to Live At Yoshiwara (Cuneiform Records, 2019), a live performance that took place in an imaginary place. That album featured compositions by several group members, while this one returns exclusively to the writing of co-leaders Camille Petit and Xavier Gélard.

"Path to Oyapock" begins atmospherically before a heavy riff takes it briefly into a different place. "Tumuc Humac" has an insistent rhythm introduced by handclaps driving it and the rich texture of additional musicians providing voice, flute, guitar, and plucked piano. Tom Namias's guitar solo leads into the final climax, concluding with a lyrical coda for piano and strings. The first of three "GR" interludes follows, which are all brief chorale-like pieces mostly arranged for strings. "Sierra de Tamuraque" is an exercise in minimalist phrase repetition. "Oayana Circles" is a gentle ballad with flute as the lead voice. "Horizontal Ascension" and "Coudreau's Dream" both set insistent figures over a driving rock beat. "Vie de Raymond Maufrais" ends the set with another slow and majestic chorale, now more fully arranged and developed than the earlier interludes.

Lots of variety here, and very much a contemporary version of the European Rock In Opposition bands. A fascinating and eclectic blend of rock, classical, and folk music.

Sketches Of Influence
The Grind: Live at Middle C Jazz
Self Produced
2021

Big stylistic shift to contemporary jazz music recorded live in March 2020, just as the pandemic was being declared. Drummer/composer Joe Barna led the latest version of his band Sketches Of Influence through a varied set of his compositions. The album had a soft release in mid-2020 but was not formally released until 2021. This razor-sharp, hard-swinging band is sort of a contemporary version of the Jazz Messengers if Art Blakey had been the band's composer and musical director as well as drummer. The title tune opens the set with hard swing and an infectious melody. Dillard takes an exciting tenor solo followed by Whitfield's piano. "Oh Feline, I'm Glad You're Mine" gives a solo spot to Gardner's bluesy bass. Other high points include the slow waltz of "A Children's Song," the beautiful ballad "Living Without You," and the funky closer "Nine Maple Syrup." Top-notch modern hard bop all the way.

Tania Giannouli Trio
In Fading Light
Rattle Records
2020

Greek pianist/composer Tania Giannouli presents chamber jazz with an unusual trio of instruments joined by trumpeter Andreas Polyzogopoulos and oudist Kyriakos Tapakis. "Labyrinth" opens the set with a mysterious, insistent piano figure that is gradually echoed by the other instruments until the trumpet takes flight. The driving rhythmic ostinato of "When Then" inspires even greater trumpet heights. The rippling arpeggios of "Night Flight" set up a lyrical oud solo. "Bela's Dance" delivers what the title promises, a swirling dervish of dance rhythms, while "Moth" is a moody oud feature. "Disquiet" begins with an unsettled dialogue between oud and trumpet and ends with a three-way conversation. The title tune ends the set with a final rubato soundscape. An intriguing amalgam of classical, jazz, and world music that would sound right at home as an ECM release.

Tracks and Personnel

If You See Me

Tracks: Walking Seven; Babe (Grannies); Blue; If You See Me Again; Something In Between; Once Ocho; Si Pooro?; Ending.

Personnel: Dusan Jevtovic: guitar; Markus Reuter: Touch guitars® AU8, live looping; Bernat Hernandez: fretless bass; Gary Husband: drums; Aleksandar Petrov: tapan.

Dreamscape Room

Tracks: Remembrance; Two Steps Ahead; To My Friend; Time Warps; Mirror; Mom; Dreamscape Room.

Personnel: José Carra: piano; José Manuel Posada "Popo": bass; Xavier Reija: drums.

Imaginary Mountains

Tracks: Path to Oyapock; Tumuc Humac; GR 1; Sierra de Tamuraque; Oayana Circles; GR 2; Horizontal Ascension; GR 3; Coudreau's Dream; Vie de Raymond Maufrais.

Personnel: Alexis Collin: accordion and sounds; Xavier Gélard: e-bow, drums, guitar chorus (10); Augustin Lusson: violin; Nadia Mejri-Chapelle: cello; Gregory Kosovski: bass; Tom Namias: guitars, viola; Camille Petit: keyboards; Maxime Thiébaut: saxophones, flute; Darja Zemele: harpsichord; Julien Bigorgne: flute (2, 7); Guillaume Aventurin: guitar chorus (2); Sarah Baroux: voice (2); Sonia Bricout: voice (7); Samuel Collin: plucked piano (2).

The Grind: Live at Middle C Jazz

Tracks: The Grind; Oh Feline, I'm Glad You're Mine; A Children's Song; The Return Of Shah; Living Without You; Nine Maple Syrup.

Personnel: Stacy Dillard: saxophones; Davis Whitfield: piano; Otto Gardner: bass; Joe Barna: drums.

In Fading Light

Tracks: Labyrinth; When Then; Hinemoa's Lament; Night Flight; Fallen; Bela's Dance; Ingravada; Moth; No Corner; Disquiet; Inland Sea; In Fading Light.

Personnel: Tania Giannouli: piano; Andreas Polyzogopoulos: trumpet; Kyriakos Tapakis: oud.

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