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Springtime Sunshine

Geno Thackara By

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Even though they came at different times and are good for all seasons, this is a batch of small delights that all share a certain brightness and playfulness. They make a fine bill when put together, with or without any direct connections.

Chance Hayden
Grab & Go
Ropeadope
2020

The life of a working player is often a nonstop whirl, at least under normal circumstances: zipping around from one setting to the next, ready for anything, jumping in to play one thing for a moment and then trotting off to probably do something completely different the next. If Grab & Go emerged during pandemic time when life didn't quite work that way, you wouldn't know it from the way this crew grooves and hops. It delightfully encapsulates that constant hustle and bustle in snappy jazz-funk style.

As on Hayden's debut Get Somethin' (Ropeadope, 2018), it's a nonstop party where the groove might slow but never ends. The leader's fluidly versatile guitar has an equally slick foil in Michael Elson's organ, and their interplay keeps things constantly cooking while a crew of rhythm players do the same on the bouncy low end. The pieces keep shifting and bubbling in much the same way; Hayden picks and strums through blues, soul and rockabilly stomp while not excluding a little hard-rock fuzz either. It makes for a trip even more brisk than the last—fast, frisky and above all fun.

Bear Garden
Sunshine Fruit
Bolero Recordings
2021

Though circumstances, personnel and overall tone may happen to change, Bear Garden's scope and restlessness clearly don't. Martin Wirén's electric psych-jazz-fusion outfit creates a vast sonic atmosphere here recognizably similar to that of its self-titled predecessor (Self produced, 2019). While Sunshine Fruit also has no shortage of sweeping dynamics, it also takes a drastic turn for the bright and beautiful. Picture a movie montage at the point where everyone's reaching their happy ending, and most of these tracks could serve as a rousing score.

Wirén's pieces here are smart and catchy soul-jazz, as warm as the first day of June. He doesn't need to show off with flashy sax, but largely blends with several other horns in close harmony. The production has enough deep sound and reverb to make things sound vast without going bombastic. The circular melodies radiate brightness, while vibrant drum grooves give it a contagious kick. Chiming piano and evocative synth tones add just enough of a background as the horns reach for the sky. The individual elements don't need to be terribly big, but they blend to make a beautifully expansive whole. Even if it's a short EP, Sunshine Fruit packs enough of that sunshine to have the warm glow lingering a good while afterwards.

B/Y Organism
The New Beginning
Alessa Records Jazz & Art
2020

Daniel Bulatkin and Kirill Yakovlev are very old souls in much younger bodies. To get a blind taste of their namesake B/Y Organism, anyone would think it was an outfit with many years of both playing and traveling under their belts. They're as likely to base their jams around Latin rhythms as urbane jazz, or to spice up the rhythms with light electronics as often as African hand percussion. A New Beginning really sounds like almost a dozen potential beginnings, with each track a potential springboard to go somewhere different—geographically or figuratively—from all the others.

Fortunately (and somewhat miraculously), the eclecticism feels anything but forced. The B/Y crew has enough flair, skill and smarts not to sound like they're ticking boxes on a checklist. They inhabit light reggae-tinged funk as smoothly as soft balladry or flying Pat Metheny-ish fusion, before changing gears again to Brazilian rhythms and skipping between 5/8 and 6/8 just for the fun of it. When they settle largely into blues mode for the late stretch, it's spiced up with a little dusty Eastern drone and chicken-scratch slide for good measure. With the leads' stimulating interplay tying it all together, The New Beginning is inclusive enough for nothing to quite feel out of bounds.

Shelly Rudolph
The Way We Love
Origin Records
2020

Imagine a smoky sonic concoction with equal parts sugar and whiskey, and you've probably got something close to Shelly Rudolph's voice. While there's some world-weariness behind it, her rich contralto brings out the sweetness even when things get sad. She glides more than capers here, often packing a lot of nuance into one drawn-out note. The Way We Love makes a setting to perfectly play to her strengths, full of dreamy balladry and drawing on a deep well of soul.

The backing is on the sparse side—largely sunny piano with guitar, sax or strings sprinkled around as called for—which puts the songs' simple beauty front and center. While things stay largely in that one mode (an overly cutesy spoken title track aside), the singing provides all the variety and heart this recording needs. "The Slow Life" makes one particular highlight with Redray Frazier stepping up to duet, while a soothing "Stand by Me" and suddenly exuberant gospel closer provide other charming surprises. Whatever the material, Rudolph has enough bluesy grit and diva class to carry the day.

Tracks and Personnel

Grab & Go

Tracks: Squeeze Tight; Grab & Go; Papa's Shiny Shoes; The Comedown; What's Behind; Three Wheelin'; Displaced; Solace; Double Oven; One Plus One.

Personnel: Chance Hayden: guitar; Michael Elson: organ, electric piano; JP Downer: electric bass (1-5, 8-10); Tyrone Hendrix: drums (1-5, 8-10); Damian Erskine: electric bass (6-7); Mark Griffith: drums (6-7); Alex Milsted: electric piano & synthesizer (4, 10); Sarah Clarke: vocals (4).

Sunshine Fruit

Tracks: Cherry Tree; Electric Butterfly; New Kid; Invisible Wave; Sunshine Fruit; Liquid Limit; Catching My Childhood Friend.

Personnel: Martin "Bear Garden" Wirén: saxophone; Per "Texas" Johansson: woodwinds; Calle Stenman: trumpet; Carl-Johan Fåglefeldt: trumpet; Filip Tunevi: trombone; Hampus Adami: trombone; Susanna Risberg: guitar; Joakim Simonsson: piano; Arvid Jullander: double bass; Gustav Nahlin: drums.

The New Beginning

Tracks: F-Major Tune; Duduk Interlude; Water World Symphony; Anavi; Lady of the Lake; June 17th; Love Letters; Early Blues; Slide Blues; 13.7.13; Flow (13.7.13 Outro).

Personnel: Daniel Bulatkin: organ, piano, Fender Rhodes & synths; Kirill Yakovlev: guitars, balalaika, duduk, percussion & synths; Utsi Zimring: drums & percussion (1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 8); Petr Nohavica: drums & percussion (4, 6, 9, 10, 11); Allison Wheeler: vocals (11); Jonathan Ramirez: vocals (11).

The Way We Love

Tracks: Close Enough; Faith; Stand by Me; Butterfly Heart; The Way We Love; The Slow Life; The Mystery; Humanity; Calling Me Home.

Personnel: Shelly Rudolph: vocals; Chance Hayden: guitar; David Darling: cello; David Goldblatt: piano; Tom Grant: piano; Red Ray Frazier: vocals (6); Devin Phillips: saxophone; Darrell Grant: piano; Dave Captein: acoustic bass; David K. Matthews: piano.

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