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Jazz Journal

Spring 2019


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Jazz Journal is a regular column consisting of pithy takes on recent jazz releases of note as well as spotlights on those titles in the genre that might otherwise go unnoticed under the cultural radar.

Brandon Goldberg
Let's Play
Self Produced

Brandon Goldberg's debut album offers proof positive that Joey Alexander is not the only piano prodigy working in the contemporary jazz field today. But the young man with his name at the top of the bill here no more needs to flaunt his instrumental technique than his composing chops: a preponderance of standards like Duke Ellington's "In A Sentimental Mood" and Lennon/McCartney's "Blackbird" surround three comparably distinct originals. The musicianship itself is likewise divided between the rollicking and the ruminative, though it's permeated with a fluidity that's simultaneous accessible and provocative; bassist Ben Wolfe and drummer Donald Edwards defer to their precocious bandleader, but only enough so they don't wholly sublimate their own instrumental personalities. And the same goes for special guest tenor saxophonist Marcus Strickland: his appearances on two cuts, Brandon's own "You Mean Me" and and Herbie Hancock's "Dolphin Dance," spice up the proceedings in exactly the same proportion as the use of Fender Rhodes piano to complement the acoustic grand. To say this record opens up possibilities for Brandon Goldberg is to understate the potential of his recording career.

OGBJ Quartet
TUM Records

Sometimes the whole is much greater than the sum of the parts, even when, in the case of the OGBJ Quartet, two of the names are immediately recognizable. Saxophonist Oliver Lake and drummer percussionist Barry Altschul collaborate with cornetist Graham Haynes and bassist Joe Fonda on an outing as accessible as it is spontaneous, not to mention ingenious: the title track, to name just one, consists of a poem recited by its author Lake fused to Haynes' music, arranged for exotic instruments including dousn'gouni and mbira. In keeping with its colorful yet subdued cover art—like the enclosed booklet with extensive liner notes, a given with this label—such implicit topicality referenced in a tune titled "Listen to Dr. Cornel West," is at once a comment upon and an extension of the various and wholly honorable intent(s) at the heart of this music. The sum of this combined effort on the part of musicians, studio personnel and graphic designers constitutes a celebration of acting decisively yet cooperatively, the end result invariably arising from inspired moments accurately preserved for posterity.

Iro Haarla, Ulf Krokfors & Barry Altschul
Around Again
TUM Records

Around Again brings to mind the ECM Records motto 'The Most Beautiful Sound Next to Silence' because pianist Iro Haarla, double bassist Ulf Krokfors and drummer Barry Altschul leave so much space open within their instrumental interactions. All three musicians proceed with remarkable patience, not so often prodding (though each does so gracefully), but more frequently offering ideas for thought in the midst of an ongoing dialogue. The practical result of such restraint is that releases like this one position the Tum Records label in as distinguished a fashion similar as its aforementioned iconic forebear: digi-pak design featuring original artwork likewise mirrors deeply cerebral music, the potential for overall satisfaction not limited to just listening. The overall experience, in fact, is directly proportionate to the piquing of curiosity about how such rare musical alliances as this trio's come into existence (not to mention such bountiful fruition). This well-deserved and respectful homage to The Music of Carla Bley calls for devoted attention the likes of which a voracious reader might devote to a book or a rabid cinephile to a film.

Denny Zeitlin
Solo Piano: Remembering Miles
Sunnyside Records

Call Denny Zeitlin brave or foolish for offering his tribute to Miles Davis in the spontaneity of a live setting and on solo piano to boot, but his action(s) might well bring a smile (albeit a somewhat wry one) to the face of "The Man with the Horn." This testimonial is exactly that which defines the concept of homage in a musical context because it reveals aspects of the subject otherwise overlooked, in this case, compositions that might otherwise be overshadowed not only by the personality of the bandleader himself, but so many influential members of his various bands. Undaunted by the distinctive musicianship of jazz icon and his various stellar ensembles, Zeitlin's interpretations of such songs as "Milestones" and "Circle" are, in turns, roiling and tranquil, and amazingly enough, on occasion, both at the same time. As a result, even a number so familiar a "Flamenco Sketches" simultaneously stands on its own and compels a return to earlier recorded versions, a reference that will no doubt evoke a rediscovery of playing and material corresponding to this record itself.

Jentsch Group No Net
Topics in American History
Self Produced

Beginning with "1491," then the longest track on the album, appropriately titled "Manifest Destiny," this music at first seems to lack direction. But it's not much further into the seven pieces before there coalesces a purposeful, deceptively unpredictable interweaving of arrangement and improvisation. The former involves careful orchestrated horns imbued with classical overtones while the latter is carefully plotted to offset the structure with a growing sense of liberation. The combination of the two approaches is ultimately right in keeping with the themes implicit in the title. Headman Chris Jentsch's instrument is at the forefront of the jamming, but he utilizes his electric guitar not only to steer the ensemble into some open spaces but also to navigate it back to the structures of the tunes on which he is prominent. In that sense—and with no disrespect intended to the formal designee of that title, J.C. Sanford—he is the secondary conductor, wielding his own baton with such authority he facilitates quick responses from the other nine musicians with whom he interacts to share reciprocal intuition.

Tracks and Personnel

Let's Play

Tracks: Well You Needn't; Blackbird; You Mean Me; Angel Eyes; The Understream; Dolphin Dance; Caravan; In A Sentimental Mood; McCoy.

Personnel: Brandon Goldberg: piano, Fender Rhodes; Marcus Strickland: tenor saxophone; Ben Wolfe bassist; Donald Edwards: drums.


Tracks: Listen To Dr. Cornel West; Bamako; Be Out S'Cool; Stick; GS #2; Just A Simple Song; Is It Alright?; 3 Phrase 09; OGJB #2; OGJB #1.

Personnel: Oliver Lake: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, recitation (2); Graham Haynes; cornet, dousn' gouni (2); Joe Fonda: double bass; Barry Altschul: drums, mbira (2).

Around Again

Tracks: Closer; Vashkar; Batterie; Ida Lupino; Around Again; Olhos De Gato; Intermission Music; King Korn; And Now, the Queen; Utviklingssang; Start; Jesus Maria.

Personnel: Iro Haarla: piano; Ulf Krokfors: bass; Barry Altschul: drums.

Solo Piano: Remembering Miles

Tracks: Solar; Dear Old Stockholm; Flamenco Sketches; Stablemates; Tomaas; Milestones (1958 Version); Milestones (1947 Version); Circle; So Near, So Far; Time After Time; Lament; The Theme; Weirdo.

Personnel: Denny Zeitlin: piano.

Topics In American History

Tracks: 1491; Manifest Destiny; Lincoln-Douglas Debates; Tempest-Tost; Suburban Diaspora; Dominos; Meeting at Surratt's.

Personnel: Personnel: Chris Jentsch: electric guitar; Michel Gentile: flutes; Michael McGinnis: clarinets; Jason Rigby: saxophones; David Smith: trumpet, flugelhorn; Brian Drye: trombone; Jacob Sacks: piano; Jim Whitney: acoustic bass; Eric Halvorson: drums, percussion; J.C. Sanford: conductor.

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