The albums in this month’s column could, on their own, take up a third of the slots in a Year-End Top 10 List. That’s an amazing occurrence, and it proves yet again just how strong jazz and improvised music has been in 2019—because, really, I could’ve led with that statement in any of this year’s columns, and it would have been just as true.
Some albums radiate joy with every note. With Blume, the septet of tenor saxophonist Nubya Garcia, trumpeter Sheila Maurice-Grey, alto saxophonist Cassie Kinoshi, trombonist Rosie Turton, guitarist Shirley Tetteh, drummer Lizy Exell, and bassist Rio Kai inspire hope. It’s an exquisite reminder of the human potential to create something of beauty and happiness, a work of art that makes the horizon line of the impossible seem not so far away as it did the day before.
Good Day For Cloud Fishing
There is a different kind of poetry at work on Good Day for Cloud Fishing. Ben Goldberg’s excellent 2015 release Orphic Machine was an ode to the poetry of Allen Grossman, utilizing his words as both foundation and frame. On Goldberg’s latest foray into spoken word, the clarinetist and his trio recorded a new piece based on a poem by Dean Young. The poet was then asked to write an entirely new poem from what he heard in the recording studio, which led to a new piece from the musicians, which then led to a new poem to a new song, creating a closed loop of creative spontaneity and inspiration. Viewed on the basis of its music, it’s a phenomenal piece of work, but as a treatise on the limitless potential for each of us to spark beauty in one another, it’s a symbol of our hope and redemption as a species. Joining Goldberg on this project are two musicians who were there the previous time around: trumpeter Ron Miles and guitarist Nels Cline.
Juan Pastor Chinchano
Though the roots of this music extend deep into two different continents, Juan Pastor Chinchano reminds us that it’s all music from the soul. Expressing both the music of his Lima, Peru birthplace and his adopted home of Chicago, IL, the drummer gives his diverse influences a communal feeling. With dancing rhythms, intense soloing, and a melodic development akin to storytelling, Chinchano instills some of his own journey into the flow of the album, while still providing space for his collaborators’ own journeys to influence the course of the music’s path. Alto saxophonists Miguel Zenón and Rich Moore, pianist Stu Mindeman, trumpeters Tito Carrillo and Marquis Hill, and bassist Patrick Mulcahy are just a few of the voices contributing to this recording.
Alcorn / McPhee / Vandermark
Invitation to a Dream
The ocean storm brings dizzy spells and makes the world seem a little less solid. Rain pours down from the sky to embrace the waves, erasing the divisions between sky and earth, air and sea. The trio of pedal steel guitarist Susan Alcorn, multi-reedist Ken Vandermark, and soprano saxophonist Joe McPhee (also on pocket trumpet) embody every bit of that “ocean storm” feeling on their Invitation to a Dream. It’s one of the most compelling albums to hit the shelves in 2019.
The Hotel of 13 Losses
These new works from Aaron Novik capture the mystical and the monstrous, offering melodies for springtime afternoons and moonlit nights, along with striking dissonance to mark their loss and decay. The clarinetist is releasing five EPs of new material in the upcoming months, and a compilation album to boot. The first in the series is The Hotel of 13 Losses, a solo clarinet recording featuring field recordings Novik made while traveling in France and Italy. It is as haunting as it is beautiful. Upcoming releases feature different ensembles and inspirations from Novik’s travels in France, Italy, Rotterdam, Berlin, and New York City. And by way of a preview, Novik has also released The Fallow Curves of the Planospheres, which includes a couple tracks from each of the five EP releases—and viewed as a standalone recording, one of the best things released all year. Do not let these recordings fall off your radar.
Desert Encrypts Vol.1
Wherever he’s lived, Rob Mazurek has made his immediate environment part of his music. The rattle of Chicago’s El trains, the city streets of Sao Paulo alive with dance, the creatures of Brazil’s rain forest—they all find a way into his compositions. The multi-instrumentalist has since moved to Marfa, Texas, and in August, he released three albums that serve as the initial reflections on his time in his new home. With different ensembles and different sounds, they include not just the imagery and recordings of the desert and big skies, but also reveries drawn from his time in Chicago, New York, France, and Brazil—older music that has been reworked through the vision of his present, Marfa-rooted life. The solo piece Psychotropic Electric Eel Dreams IV dates back to his time in Brazil and was configured for a recent performance in Chicago. Love Waves Ecstatic Charge came to life in Marfa, but was truly borne during his residency nearly 15 years ago in France. Meanwhile, Desert Encrypts Volume 1 is pure Marfa, an exploration of the ways old music relationships come to life in his new hometown. On this session, performed and produced in Marfa, he’s joined by pianist Kris Davis, drummer Chad Taylor, and bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten. On all three recordings, Mazurek bring together organic and electronic sounds to express his typically uncategorizable sonic vision.
Steve Lehman Trio + Craig Taborn
The People I Love
There is an immediacy to Steve Lehman’s music. Sometimes, it’s aggressive and in your face; other times, it just draws you in with its personal magnetism. You can’t look away; it’s as if the music is revealing something hidden about you, or is so alien that you stare in fascination. On his latest, the alto saxophonist celebrates 10 years of his trio with bassist Matt Brewer and drummer Damion Reid, and while there’s no less immediacy to the music, it’s accompanied by a tenderness that’s apparent in every note. The trio are joined by pianist Craig Taborn, which in and of itself is a pretty solid selling point. It’s generally a good idea to scoop up any recording that includes the phrase “joined by pianist Craig Taborn.”
Mask of the Muse
On his debut, Battle Mountain, Ben Flocks turned loose his own vision of the Americana jazz so closely associated with the legendary Bill Frisell. For his sophomore release, the saxophonist shifts from Americana to the American Songbook, and shows that this change, depending on the context, is one that’s as nuanced as it is dramatic. Songs from Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, Sam Cooke, Roy Orbison, and Patti Page are interspersed among Flocks’s originals, and speak to the melodic warmth that made those musicians so special. Speaking of special: Don’t forget to also check out Flocks’s debut. It’s solid top to bottom, with an opening track that is the gold standard for introductions.
Silvia Bolognesi Young Shouts
aLive Shouts: An Homage to Bessie Jones
Every note and every breath is thick with the blues on this tribute to the music and soul of gospel-folk singer Bessie Jones. The quartet of double bassist Silvia Bolognesi, alto saxophonist Attilio Sepe, trumpeter Emanuele Marsico, and drummer Sergio Bolognesi put their whole hearts into this May 2019 live performance in Firenze, Italy, and the genuineness of their spirit makes this recording so powerful—and so much fun. And if you want to check out more of Silvia Bolognesi’s music, be sure to check out the Hear in Now trio recording with cellist Tomeka Reid and violinist Mazz Swift.
Though a jazz musician at heart, in practice, Tim Ries has never anchored himself to one particular school of music. His saxophone is tied as much to the Rolling Stones as Red Garland, to Donald Fagen as much as Donald Byrd, to Stevie Wonder and Phil Woods. It’s no surprise, then, that his music incorporates the best qualities of those musicians when realizing his own sonic vision. This 2005 studio session with Jack DeJohnette, Bill Frisell, Larry Goldings, Grégoire Maret, James Genus, and Scott Colley is just now seeing the light of day, but its tunefulness and effortless flow gives it a quality that transcends time.
Simple Pieces and Paper Cut-Outs
Guitarist Stein Urheim’s kaleidoscopic display of harmonics is about as riveting a work of art as anything else you may encounter. On his solo projects, like his excellent 2014 self-titled release and the equally lovely 2016 release Strandebarm, he employs an electric array of instruments, including the slide tamboura, fretless bouzouki, Turkish tanbur, mandolin, and others. His newest recording is held in stark contrast in its complexity, and that speaks to the heart of the commission that drove it. A solo acoustic guitar with no overdubs is an open window into the soul of a Stein Urheim melody. It is meant to reflect an element of communal living, represented by both the intimacy of the music. In that same spirit: music charts accompany the limited-edition LP version of the recording, so that others might play along.