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Choose Joy

Choose Joy

Courtesy Olli Suutela


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The nine musicians from three nations represented on these releases reaffirm the unquenchable desire to create and inspire.
What should music sound like as the world emerges from the musical Ice Age of the pandemic years? An elegiac tone is an inevitable and perhaps necessary acknowledgment of the desolation of those years. Equally valid is an expression of joy and gratitude for the transformative power of music to heal and uplift. In their own way and with their motivations, the nine musicians from three nations represented on these releases reaffirm the unquenchable desire to create and inspire.

Leap Day Trio
Live at the Café Bohemia
Giant Step Arts

There are live recordings and then there are recordings that are alive. Maybe it is because Jimmy Katz made his name as a photographer that the releases on his Giant Step Arts label have such a vivid and immediate sense of occasion. It does not hurt that in bassist Mimi Jones, saxophonist Jeff Lederer and drummer Matt Wilson, Katz captured musicians who prize quick-twitch spontaneity and a zest for adventure. Lederer's tannic saxophone sound nods to both raucous R&B shouters and New-Thing fire-breathers. So does his rangy, loose-limbed approach. This suits Wilson, who came up in Dewey Redman's '90s bands, just fine. His rhythmic bounce and sly sense of humor spice the 68-minute program with the playful elation of Ornette Coleman's best aggregations. Jones picks up the vibe with thrumming Charlie Haden-esque pedal tones. Little did the band and Katz know when they recorded this material on February 28-29, 2020, at the newly-reopened Greenwich Village club, that a far less welcome event would darken the scene just two weeks hence. In the meantime, we have this engaging document to remind us of what was lost and why we yearn so fervently for its return. And speaking of returns, let us hope this wonderful band doesn't wait until February 29, 2024, to reconvene—and when they do that Katz is there to catch all the magic.

Antti Lötjönen Quintet East
Circus/Citadel, Pt. II
We Jazz Records

Ornette Coleman is also evoked on Finnish bassist Antti Lotjonen's Circus/Citadel, Pt. II, but Coleman's music, especially that of the "Science Fiction" band with Redman and trumpeter Don Cherry, is just one element among many—so many that it is hard to list all of them. Look closely and you can find nearly every common jazz dialectic—solos vs. ensembles, inside vs. outside, writing vs. blowing, deep blues vs. joyous shouts—woven into these compositions. Yet Lötjönen's clever compositional mechanics never call attention to themselves. This is music intricately arranged and played with the spontaneity and offhand fervor of a children's playground chant. Teeming with freshness, creativity and wit, Lötjönen and his Helsinki quintet offer music that is more circus than citadel on one of the most captivating and original releases of 2023.

Jean-Michel Pilc
Justin Time Records

By now, any pianist attempting a spontaneously composed solo piano recording risks comparison with Keith Jarrett, the artist who created the genre. But while such an assessment might be unavoidable, the Montreal-based Jean-Michel Pilc more than holds his own on Symphony. At 58 minutes long, Symphony is more concise (no long vamping sections here) and more tuneful than Jarrett's discursive solo recordings. Pilc makes frequent allusions to the idiom: "The Encounter" is consolatory and moody, with a motif that reoccurs in "Way To Go" with a jazzy, syncopated melody that recalls Herbie Hancock's "Dolphin Dance." Pilc's structures are clear and readable and his presumably extemporaneous melodies striking. "Not Falling This Time," the penultimate of the ten sections, could be a pop song. Within sections, he builds dramatic arcs such as the low-string thunder at the end of the ballad "Understanding," which leads to the playful two-hand game of tag of "Waltz for Xose." The prayerful "I'll Be Back" that concludes the album is less Schwarzenegger than Schubert and it melts the heart.

Tracks and Personnel

Live at the Café Bohemia

Tracks: Dewey Spirit; Leap of Faith; The Dream Weaver; Ghost Town; Strival for Survival; Leap Leap; Wind Spirit; Gospel Flowers; For Friends.

Personnel: Mimi Jones: bass; Jeff Lederer: saxophone; Matt Wilson: drums.

Circus/Citadel, Pt. II

Tracks: Circus/Citadel Pt. I; Citadel Pt. II; Circus/Citadel Pt. III; Ode to the Undone; Defenestration; (for) Better People; It Goes On.

Personnel: Antti Lötjönen: bass; Verneri Pohjola: trumpet; Mikko Innanen and Jussi Kannaste: saxophone; Joonas Riippa: drums


Tracks: Leaving; Discovery; The Encounter; First Dance; Just Get Up; Way To Go; Understanding; Waltz For Xose; Not Falling This Time; I'll Be Back.

Personnel: Jean-Michel Pilc: piano.

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