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Summer 2020


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Jazz Journal is a regular column comprised of pithy takes on recent releases of note, spotlighting titles that might otherwise go unnoticed or that deserve special attention.

Claus Waidtløw
The Game
Self Produced

A saxophonist who, over the last 3 decades, has recorded and toured with a who's who of jazz, including Toots Thielemans, John Scofield, Christian McBride, and Chris Potter, the in-demand Danish musician Claus Waidtløw presents The Game, his 9th album as bandleader and 2nd with the chordless trio Nice Chair. The aggregate displays a joyfully loose-limbed musicianship as it parlays the unpredictable likes of this title song, their individual and collective instincts consistently in play and on-point. It's no small accomplishment to have the liner notes for our album authored by the eminent bassist/composer Steve Swallow, but with no disrespect intended, that's the least notable feature of the record. Comparatively quiet ruminations like "Stills" provide pacing and contrast throughout the handful of tracks during the course of which the bandleader is no more or less patient and graceful than his comrades in allowing plenty of space to play: hearing The Game is akin to watching fine ballet.

Rudresh Mahanthappa
Hero Trio
Whirlwind Recordings

There is hardly a more liberating sound in jazz (or otherwise) than that of a saxophone in full flight anchored by a free-wheeling but otherwise stable bass and drums rhythm section. And so it is with Hero Trio: the man with the horn, Rudresh Mahanthappa, charts a course for the upper altitudes while long-time compatriots Francois Moutin on bass and Rudy Royston on drums supply ballast for exploration of that rarely-charted territory. Virtually uninterrupted for the duration of forty-five minutes, the threesome avails itself of material from musical icons as disparate as Johnny Cash ("Ring of Fire"), Stevie Wonder ("Overjoyed") and Keith Jarrett ("The Windup"), the intrinsic nature of which provides pacing through the nine tracks but which Hero Trio elevate through the individuals' sensitivity to each others' motions: none of the three impinge on the action(s) of their compatriots and thus only enhance the infectious sense of freedom that emanates from their joyous interactions.

Dayna Stephens Trio
Contagious Music

Courageously beginning on a reserved but progressively brighter upbeat tone. Dayna Stephens and his trio comport themselves with equal parts assurance and ingenuity over the course of these eleven tracks and fifty-five or so minutes playing time. It's a deceptively engrossing listening experience because, bereft of flashy technique or wildly innovative material, the music unfolds slowly but surely, In the process, however, Liberty refuses to become mere background through production by the esteemed Matt Pierson at the venerable Rudy Van Gelder Studios (with mixing and mastering by Chris Allen), the audio quality is just as all-encompassing as the musicianship. As if tapping into a perpetual flow within which they navigate, the threesome plays with an unfettered glee, and while saxophonist/leader Stephens, bassist Ben Street and drummer extraordinaire Eric Harland are mutually charitable to each other in allowing room to roam, the accessible nature of their playing also constitutes a tacit and generous invite to listeners.

Brian Andres Trio Latino
Mayan Suite
Bacalao Records

Mayan Suite first impresses through the high quality of its recorded sound. Drums, bass and piano span the stereo spectrum in a reflection of the threesome's stylistic reach, yet the depth and breadth of the audio hardly diminishes comparably superior qualities of musicianship and composition on this LP. In essence, this is a pristine distillation of the eclectic reach of this leader/percussionist's eight-piece Afro-Cuban Jazz Cartel, not to mention pianist Christian Tumalan's Pacific Mambo Orchestra. As such, it may only stand to reason the threesome stakes out this territory for itself with a lively interpretation of long-time Spanish music advocate Chick Corea's "Got A Match." What may be more surprising—and definitely more delightful—is to hear how the album unfolds over its sixty-minute plus duration: Trio Latino plays compositions by every one of its members, along with five covers including "On Green Dolphin Street," each piece of which sounds arranged to highlight a different facet of Latin jazz.

Brian Landrus/FredHersch/Drew Gress/Billy Hart
For Now
Blueland Records

It might be said this foursome suffers from an embarrassment of riches, but discerning musicians that they are—and humble to boot!—multi-instrumentalist/composer Landrus, pianist Hersch, bassist Gress and drummer Hart emphasize the music here, not themselves. Individually and collectively, the quartet leaves room to move within pithy but nonetheless eloquent instrumental statements and that, in turn, allows the trumpet of Michael Rodriguez to insinuate its inimitable tone within the additional string textures of Joyce Hamman on violin, Lois Martin on viola and Jody Redhage-Ferber on cello. Logic might dictate such a comparatively compact ensemble would not possess the means to conjure up such lush orchestrated sound, but to defy that logic is perhaps the most ethereal of the many virtues this group exhibits here. That is, if if it were not for the imaginative mesh of traditional acoustic jazz and exotic neo-classical themes via the string quartet: this whole ensemble, swings, no matter the style.

Tracks and Personnel

The Game

Tracks: The Game; Stills; Free; Fats; Cheryl.

Personnel: Claus Waidtløw: saxophone; Kasper Vadsholt: bassist: Martin Maretti Andersen: drums.

Hero Trio

Tracks: Red Cross; Overjoyed; Barabados/26-2; I Can't Get Started; The Windup; Ring Of Fire; I'll Remember April; Sadness; Dewey Square. Personnel: Rudresh Mahanthappa: alto saxophone: François Moutin; acoustic bass; Rudy Royston: drums.


Tracks: Ran; Faith leap; Kwooked Stweet; The Lost and Found; At Least 37th Cousins; Loosy Goosy; Tarifa; Rhyming History; Planting Flowers; The Sound Goddess; Wil's Way.

Personnel: Dayna Stephens: saxophone, tenor; Ben Street: bass; Eric Harland: drums.

Mayan Suite

Tracks: Got a Match? Viento Solar; 3: Mayan Suite—The Mayan Emperor; Sacrifice Ritual; Mayan Dance; The Return of the Mayan Emperor; Ball Game; Escucha; Someday My Prince Will Come; Islands; Morning Sprite; Si Tu Vez; Higashi Nakano; On Green Dolphin Street. Personnel: Christian Tumalan: piano; Aaron Germain: electric and acoustic bass; Brian Andres: percussion.

For Now

Tracks: The Signs; Clarity in Time; The Miss; JJ; For Now; 'Round Midnight; Invitation; For Whom I Imagined; The Night of Change; The Second Time; Her Smile; The Wait; Ruby, My Dear.

Personnel: Brian Landrus: baritone saxophone, bass clarinet, alto flute, flute; Fred Hersch: piano; Drew Gress: bass; Billy Hart: drums; Michael Rodriguez: trumpet; Sara Caswell: violin; Joyce Hamman: violin; Lois Martin: viola; Jody Redhage-Ferber; cello.

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