Cool Jazz for Hot Nights

by Andrew Elias

ANOTHER HOT SUMMER has arrived and with it some outstanding jazz releases by exciting new musicians and dependably seasoned veterans alike. There are four releases by pianists, three by saxophonists and two by septets. Whether you are partial Monk or funk, meditative piano or explosive big band, classic standards or adventurous new music, there is a great new jazz CD tailored for your tastes.

Ahmad Jamal
Blue Moon
Jazz Village Records
Few jazz pianists enjoy the acclaim and respect that Ahmad Jamal has had for decades. An early influence of Miles Davis, known for his dramatic use of space and quiet, he has endured with a still vibrant career. His newest release is one of his finest, reminiscent of his gems on the old Chess and Impulse labels. The title track, one of the more popular songs of its era, is given a more expansive treatment, allowing Jamal and Veal to improvise over soft, Latin-tinged percussion. Four other tracks are taken from films (‘Invitation’ and ‘Laura’) and Broadway (“This Is The Life’ and ‘Gypsy’), reimagined in ways that give them new meaning without distancing them too far from their original versions. Jamal is joined here by old friends, drummer Herlin Riley on percussionist Manolo Badrena, and Reginald Veal, one of the finer young bassists on the scene. They provide a comfortable soundscape below his sleek melodic explorations and tonal shading. An album of classic quiet jazz, contemplative and fresh.

Eric Reed
The Baddest Monk
Savant Records
Reed began to play piano as a pre-schooler and grew up playing in his father’s church. When he began formal instruction as a pre-teen he discovered Art Blakey, Horace Silver and Ramsey Lewis, and soon was playing in some of Los Angeles’ top jazz groups. While still in college he was asked to join Wynton Marsalis’ touring band. He is also the Musical Director of the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater. Ahmad Jamal has called him one of his very favorite pianists. Last year Reed released Dancing Monk, an album more a rumination on the genius of Thelonious Monk than a tribute. His new release, The Baddest Monk, revisits Monk’s music and again displays Reed’s fearless and virtuosic playing as he dismantles and reconstructs some of Monk’s most famous compositions (‘Epistrophy’ and ‘Round Midnight’) and lesser-known, but no less incredible tunes. The title track, written by Reed, is a soulful and solo testimonial to Monk, the man and the music. Both Etienne Charles on trumpet and Seamus Blake on tenor saxophone, two of the finest young jazz stars, rise to the occasion, matching Reed’s inventiveness and abilities.

Greg Lewis
Organ Monk: Uwo In The Black
Greg Lewis Music
Another jazz pianist enamored by the music of Thelonious Monk, Lewis has also recently released his second album of music by and inspired by the jazz giant. His album, too, explores not only Monk’s daring compositions but also his creative abandon. Lewis’s Hammond C3 organ is again joined by guitarist Ron Jackson and drummer Nasheet Waits as well as, for the first time, tenor saxophonist Reginald Woods. Whether its on one of Monk’s tunes or one of Lewis’ original compositions, the interplay of Lewis’ explosive organ, Jackson’s flowing guitar, Wood’s hard-blowing sax, and Waits’ driving percussion is powerful and passionate.

Orrin Evans
Flip The Script
Posi-Tone Records
Orrin Evan’s Captain Black Big Band was one of the best jazz albums of 2011, a collection of bright, colorful and fun modern big band music. Flip the Script, his new release, is by a trio, with Evans’ piano augmented by bass and drums. It is, nonetheless, a swinging and emotional session of straight-ahead hard-bop and improvisational jazz. Evans’ take of the standard ‘Some Day My Prince Will Come,’ the Gamble/Huff tune ‘The Sound of Philadelphia’ and Luther Vandross’ ‘A Brand New Day’ are fresh and joyful. And his originals are all wonderfully entertaining, the title track perhaps tops among them all. Flip the Script is another excellent release from one of the best jazz artists you probably never heard of – a versatile pianist and witty composer. Listen to this. It is destined to be acclaimed as one of the best jazz albums of the year.

Wayne Escoffery
The Only Son of One
Sunnyside Records
The Only Son of One is an autobiographical musical journey by a young saxophonist worth hearing. Escoffery’s playing is marked by a soulful tone born of his troubled childhood and special abilities nurtured in prestigious music schools. Sounding a lot like Coltrane and Jackie Maclean, Escoffery explores the emotional minefield of his youth with a combination of haunting ballads and more uptempo mediations. Standouts are the spiritual ‘Banishment of the Lost Spirit,’ the swinging ‘If I Am, Who You Are’ and ‘Two Souls,’ an intimate duet with Orrin Evans.

Jesse Davis Quintet
Live At Smalls
Smalls Live
Davis’s playing harkens back to the be-bop styles of Charlie Parker and Cannonball Adderley and his newest release is a reminder of just how much fun his swinging sound can be. This date, recorded last year at the world-famous jazz club in New York City, captures a particularly inspired night. In a quartet that includes trumpeter Ryan Kisor, Davis soars on four extended original compositions, each longer than 12 minutes, as well as the standard ‘Body & Soul.’ Davis is loose and confident throughout, playing as well as ever. The music is bluesy, with hints of gospel and traditional New Orleans sounds. This is an incredible live performance by highly underrated artist.

Kenny Garrett
Seeds From The Underground
Mack Avenue Records
Long acclaimed as one of the finest saxophonists of his generation, Garrett’s new album showcases his songwriting talents. Each is a ‘thank you’ to someone who has been important in his life, from the title track (for anyone who has touched, taught or encouraged other people) and ‘Wiggins’ (for his high school band director) to jazz influences (‘Haynes Here’ Roy Haynes, ‘Ballad Jarrett’ for Keith Jarrett and ‘J. Mac’ for Jackie Maclean). While Garrett’s talents are well known, it is Benito Gonzalez’s Latin-tinged piano that often steals the show. A collection of alternately pensive and playful post-modern jazz, as continually interesting as it is easy to listen to.

The Cookers
Motema Music
The Cookers are a true jazz supergroup, a septet of legendary musicians who have played in groups with the likes of jazz colossuses Lee Morgan, Art Blakey, Herbie Hancock, Dexter Gordon, and Keith Jarrett. This is the groups third outstanding release in as many years. Led by trumpeter David Weiss, The Cookers also features Eddie Henderson (trumpet), Billy Harper (tenor sax), Craig Handy (alto sax), George Cables (piano), Cecil Mcbee (bass) and Billy Hart (drums). Their thrilling reading of Wayne Shorter’s Jazz Messengers classic ‘Free For All’ is the highlight of this strong album. Billy Hart’s bruising ‘Believe, For It Is True’ is another. And Cecil McBee’s atmospheric ballad ‘Temptation(s)’ is another.

Dirty Dozen Jazz Band
Twenty Dozen
Savoy Jazz
Few bands embody the spirit of New Orleans more than the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, possibly the funkiest septet on the planet. With Twenty Dozen, they continue to make uncompromising party music incorporating the best that reggae, calypso, Latin, Afro-pop, soul, funk, jazz, gospel and blues have to offer. Here they effortlessly change gears from one genre to the next from one tract to the next, always mindful of their New Orleans heritage. The album does have a split personality of sorts, with a majority originals allowing the band to stretch out and explore their many influences, and a smaller portion dedicated to more standard New Orleans fare and a novelty song from their live shows (‘I’m a) Dirty Old man (and I feel Like Spankin’ Somebody’). If you’re looking for a band to supply the soundtrack for a party, the Dirty Dozen Brass band is one of the very best.

from the July-August 2012 issue