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Catching Up With 2021 Releases

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Despite another year of pandemic-related restrictions and limited live jazz performances, there was still the usual flood of new jazz recordings in 2021. Here are a few of the overlooked gems from the past few months that deserve some recognition.

Joe Fielder's Open Sesame
Fuzzy and Blue
Multiphonics Music
2021

Trombonist Joe Fielder has been the musical director for the Sesame Street television series since 2009. This is his second album of music from the show that was mostly written by himself or the original musical director, Joe Raposo.

Fielder's band does wry, playful takes on these themes in the Carla Bley-The Jazz Passengers mode that feature of musicians like trumpeter Steven Bernstein and saxophonist Jeff Lederer who are experienced in playing with tongue-in-cheek approaches. The band brings bits of funk, rhumba, klezmer, reggae and African jazz into their versions of the likes of "Bein' Green" and 'One Of These Things" with a lot of energy and humor. They are joined on two songs by the throat-shredding sound of vocalist Miles Griffith, a medley of "C Is For Cookie" and "I Love Trash" done as a waltz-calypso mashup and a powerhouse James Brown-style funk treatment of "I Am Somebody" which was originally recited on the show by Reverend Jesse Jackson back in 1972.

Rich Halley
Boomslang
Pine Eagle Records
2021

Saxophonist Rich Halley's recent string of powerful small group albums continues with this quartet session done with cornet player Dan Clucas, bassist Clyde Reed and drummer Carson Halley. The two horns consistently tussle and bounce off each other in the tradition of Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry. while the rhythm section usually keeps the music in a compact and swinging shape. Tenor and cornet play a forceful unison line to the solid rhythms of "The Drop Off" and "The Lean" and work through a tricky melody over a relentless funk beat on "Quintuplify" before flying into spurts of bracing chaos. This album can get wild but the bass and drums always keep it grounded.

Keith Loftis
Original State
Long Tone Music
2021

There is nothing fancy about this one. Keith Loftis is a tenor player with a heavy, authoritative sound whose quartet is recorded with crystal clarity on this album. He plays with the drive of middle period John Coltrane on "Oak Cliff," brings the haunted desolation of Wayne Shorter to the slow elegance of "Fall's Beauty" and glides easily through the walking blues groove of "The Intangible." As for the rest of the group, Willie Jones III's nimble drumming, John Chin's elaborate piano and Eric Wheeler's solid bass all make their mark. The band's version of the standard "Weaver Of Dreams" stands out as a model of lovely jazz balladry.

Dabin Ryu
Wall
Self Produced
2021

This is the recorded debut of Dabin Ryu, a pianist and composer from South Korea, who uses several different-sized groups here. Her music has a gentle but forceful sound that comes through even when it is played by a five-horn nonet, as on "The Light." Elsewhere there is "Moon," a rippling quintet waltz that flows out of a two-alto sax conversation, "Taxi Driver," a graceful and uplifting piano trio selection, "Suspicion," a bit of quick-firing fusion funk and 'Stillborn," a dreamy, blues-tinged piano solo. Ryu's writing on pieces with multiple horns like "Wall (Pt. 2)," "Temple Run" and "We Will Meet Again" is involved but not overly complex. As a pianist she has a firm, lilting touch and as a composer, she comes across as promisingly diverse and imaginative.

Cameron Mizell & Charlie Rauh
Local Folklore
Destiny Records
2021

This is a set of lyrical and folksy duets by guitarists Cameron Mizell and Charlie Rauh. Mizell plays both electric and acoustic guitars while Rauh sticks to acoustic. The ten, self-penned pieces are rich in atmosphere and melody, with familiar-sounding blues and folk elements present. Mizell's "Old Sardis Road" has a sentimental, blue-tinged melody while Rauh's "A Single Cloth" carries a gentle, leisurely drawl brought out by the interplay of the two guitars. Much of the album is just the pure sound of two guys playing together but "A Forgiving Kind Of Place" and "On Sundays I Walk Alone" have faint electronic shimmers out of the realm of Pat Metheny that give the sound more depth and character. This is all charming material but the processed elements provide more bite.

Champian Fulton
Live From Lockdown
Self Produced
2021

Pianist and singer Champian Fulton is one of many musicians who have kept active during the pandemic by doing a regular series of streaming performances from home. This album continues that concept, featuring Fulton accompanied only by her father, trumpeter Stephen Fulton. As both a singer and player Fulton comes off relentlessly upbeat, but with a knowing worldliness. She is far more out of Dinah Washington than Billie Holiday. She gives a coquettish sass to sad songs like "You've Changed" and "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles" and really swaggers on "Blow Top Blues" and "Look For The Silver Lining." Her piano playing is a full-bodied blues and stride style that fits snugly against her father's trumpet. Stephen Fulton can play jolly and bright or lowdown and bluesy as needed and is not adverse to the occasional nod to Dizzy Gillespie or Clark Terry.

Tracks and Personnel

Fuzzy and Blue

Tracks: ABC-DEF-GHI; Bein' Green; Fuzzy and Blue; I Am Somebody; I Am Blue; Elmo's Song; I Love Trash / C Is For Cookie; Bip Bippadotta Suite (Mah-Na Mah-Na), Everybody's Song, Fat Cat}; Ladybug's Picnic; We Are All Earthlings; One Of These Things; X Marks The Spot; Captain Vegetable.

Personnel: Joe Fielder: trombone; Jeff Lederer: soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone, clarinet; Steven Bernstein: trumpet, slide trumpet, flugelhorn, G trumpet; Sean Conly: acoustic bass, electric bass; Michael Sarin: drums; Miles Griffith: vocals (4,7).

Boomslang

Tracks: Corroboration; Northern Plains; The Drop Off; Situational; Dispholidus; The Lean; Intermittent; The Converse; Quintuplify.

Personnel: Rich Halley: tenor saxophone; Dan Clucas: cornet; Clyde Reed: bass; Carson Halley: drums.

Original State

Tracks: Oak Cliff; Premonition; Fall's Beauty; Brigitte's Song; The Intangible; Smoke & Mirrors; Wifi Addiction; For The Love of You; Weaver of Dreams.

Personnel: Keith Loftis: tenor and soprano saxophone; John Chin: piano; Eric Wheeler: bass; Willie Jones III: drums.

Wall

Tracks: The Light; I'll Never Know; Temple Run; Wall (Pt. 1); Wall (Pt. 2); Moon; Stillborn; Suspicion; Taxi Driver; We Will Meet Again.

Personnel: Dabin Ryu: piano; Fernando Ferrarone: trumpet; Jack Kotze: trombone; Nathan See: alto saxophone; Zoe Obadia: alto saxophone; Boyce Griffith: tenor saxophone; Jarod Apple: baritone saxophone; Kevin Scolins: guitar; Benjamin Young: bass; Willis Edmondson: drums; Anthony Mardsen: voice.

Local Folklore

Tracks: Local Folklore; Petey & Kyle; Old Sardis Road; Jed's Theme; A Forgiving Sort of Place; Rita's Theme; Greenwood Waltz; Arolen; A Single Cloth; On Sundays I Walk Alone.

Personnel: Cameron Mizell: acoustic & electric guitar; Charlie Rauh: acoustic guitar.

Live from Lockdown

Tracks: I Hadn't Anyone Till You; You've Changed; Satin Doll; Blow Top Blues; Moonglow; What Is This Thing Called Love; What Will I Tell My Heart; Look For The Silver Lining; I Had The Craziest Dream; Pass The Hat; I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles; Midnight Stroll; Message From Champian & Stephen.

Personnel: Champian Fulton: piano, voice; Stephen Fulton: flugelhorn, trumpet.

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