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Six of the Best

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Here are some thoughts on six recent quality jazz releases of varying types.

Malcolm Earle Smith
Vocal Intent
Self Produced
2022

British musician Malcom Earle Smith is a trombonist by trade but on this album, he confines himself to vocals with pleasing results. His light, swinging voice sounds a bit like Bob Dorough without the Southern drawl as he breezily goes through a program of familiar standards. He shows a real facility for scat vocalizing on up-tempo pieces like "Stompiin' At The Savoy," "Just In Time" and Charlie Parker's "Confirmation," and elegantly swoons through ballads such as "Time On My Hands" and "Don't Take Your Love From Me" with authority. He gets fine support from his backing group, particularly Chris Eldred's subtle piano and Leo Richardson's deep tenor and baritone sax sounds which harmonize well with Smith's voice.

Sam Reider
Petrichor
Self Produced
2022

Sam Reider is best known for playing accordion with the bluegrass-jazz band, Human Hands, but here he returns to his first instrument, piano, in a solo performance. His playing respects the traditions of jazz but mixes them subtly with classical and folk motifs. "Petrichor" evokes the charging South African rhythms of Abdullah Ibrahim while "Panoramic Highway" brings in American folk and gospel sensibilities with a sensitive touch reminiscent of Keith Jarrett. The most impressive track, "Emahoy," has a sweeping sophistication that takes off from George Gershwin's "Rhapsody In Blue" as well as a dreamy blues syncopation that hearkens back to Scott Joplin. Whatever sounds Reider pulls from his piano, an overall feeling of calm and serenity comes out.

Lynne Arriale Trio
The Lights Are Always On
Challenge Records
2022

Lynne Arriale's latest set of piano trio music pays tribute to the often unsung heroes of the last few years, caregivers who have tirelessly treated the sick and people who have stood up for the truth in troubling times. She conveys those feelings through the implacable gospel and blues movement of "March On" and "Walk In My Shoes," the quiet beauty of "Sounds Like America" and the wary danger of "Into The Breach," dedicated to those who defended the U.S. Capitol during the January 6 insurrection. Arriale's piano sound has a reserved firmness that evokes nobility and strength on pieces like "Sisters" and "Honor" and her blues sense recalls Mary Lou Williams. The rhythm section, bassist Jasper Somsen and drummer E.J. Strickland, frame her playing beautifully.

John Yao's Triceratops
Off-Kilter
See Tao
2022

Triceratops, the band led by trombonist John Yao, has a front line of two saxophones and trombone but its free-wheeling ways are in the same ballpark of multi-sax outfits like the World Saxophone Quartet and the Microscopic Septet. With no piano or other chording instruments to tie them down, they roll in and out of each other on this album's quirky compositions. Yao and saxophonists Jon Irabagon and Billy Drewes are a formidable team either blowing en masse or peeling out individually on a frantic solo. They do slinky rippling harmonies on "Quietly" over Robert Sabin's stalking bass, a funky Latin-tinged strut on "Crosstalk," and high-pitched, weaving sax lines on "The Morphing Line." There is even a romantic duet between Yao and Irabagon's tenor sax on "Unfiltered." The front line has the freedom to combine any way they want and Sabin and drummer Mark Ferber are flexible enough to keep up with their frisky behavior.

Myra Melford's Fire And Water Quintet
For The Love of Fire and Water
Rogue Art
2022

Pianist Myra Melford assembled an all-star quintet here to play a ten-part suite inspired by the abstract paintings of artist Cy Twombly. It begins with busy solo piano by Melford who is joined by the scrapings of Tomeka Reid's cello. Then Susie Ibarra's drum patter kicks in and a lively improvised conversation ensues joined by Ingrid Laubrock on saxophone and Mary Halvorson on guitar. Highlights of the suite include the slowly rising massed notes from piano, sax, cello and guitar under Ibarra's percussion accents in Part IV, a cranky tenor-piano duel in Part V and Halvorson's jittery, Robert Fripp-like prog guitar circles in Part VII. This is an intense and lively exercise by five outstanding musicians, best experienced as one 44-minute whole instead of random individual tracks.

Miles Okazaki
Thisness
Pi Recordings
2022

This is the third album by guitarist Miles Okazaki's band, Trickster, and it does not deal in finite musical compositions. Instead the four instruments in the band, guitar, piano, bass and drums flow in and out of each other, tempos and textures shifting gradually enough to let the individual players register. On the opening track, "In some far off place" Brazilian guitar chords and twisty electric guitar lines bounce off heavy funk bass and the rest of the album follows that lead. Eventually it all develops into a mix of the earthy and spacey that sounds like a minimalist reworking of Miles Davis' On The Corner, (Columbia, 1972) with sounds from a Herbie Hancock Headhunters session bleeding through from the next studio. Okazaki's chittering guitar, Anthony Tidd's gritty bass, Matt Mitchell's creeping keyboards and Sean Rickman's off-the-beat drumming all sound like they should be on separate records but somehow they mesh together. This album is a wild, expansive fantasia on Seventies jazz-rock.

Tracks and Personnel

Vocal Intent

Tracks: Stompin' At The Savoy; Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams; Confirmation; Don't Take Your Love From Me; I Had The Craziest Dream; Just In Time; Time On My Hands; Dream Dancing; Old Fashioned Love.

Personnel: Malcolm Earle Smith: vocals; Leo Richardson: saxophones; Chris Eldred: piano; Conor Chaplin: bass; Douglass Marriner: drums.

Petrichor

Tracks: Mirror Lake; Petrichor; Emahoy; Panoramic Highway; Kansas; Nocturne; Wandering Aengus; Land's End.

Personnel: Sam Reider: piano.

The Lights Are Always On

Tracks: March On; The Lights Are Always On; Sisters; Honor; Loved Ones; Sounds Like America; The Notorious RBG; Into The Breach; Walk In My Shoes; Heroes.

Personnel: Lynne Arriale: piano; Jasper Somsen: double bass; E. J. Strickland: drums. Off-Kilter

Tracks: Below The High Rise; Labyrinth; Interlude No. 1; Quietly; Crosstalk; Unfiltered; The Morphing Line; Interlude No. 2; Off-Kilter.

Personnel: John Yao: trombone; Billy Drewes: soprano and alto saxophone; Jon Irabagon: tenor and soprillo saxophone; Robert Sabin: bass; Mark Ferber: drums.

For The Love of Fire and Water

Tracks: Parts I -X.

Personnel: Myra Melford: piano, melodica; Mary Halvorson: guitar; Susie Ibarra: drums, percussion; Ingrid Laubrock: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; Tomeka Reid: cello.

Thisness

Tracks: In some far off place; years in space; i'll build a world; and wait for you.

Personnel: Miles Okazaki: guitar, vocals; robots; Matt Mitchell: piano, Fender Rhodes, Prophet-6; Anthony Tidd: electric bass; Sean Rickman: drums.

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