03 Astrud ProjectThe Astrud Project
Anne Walsh
A to Zinc Music (annewalsh.com)

Now that the dog days of summer have passed and the transition into chillier fall weather has occurred, a warm little pick-me-up may be much appreciated. What better way to do that than with a fresh bossa nova album, a time-travelling musical journey back into warmer, joyful times. Massachusetts-native, jazz vocalist Anne Walsh’s latest release transports the listener right to sunny Brazil through blazing interpretations of bossa nova tunes popularized by Astrud Gilberto. The classic mellowness and rhythmic complexity attributed to songs from the aforementioned genre come through incredibly well, brought even more to the forefront through superb audio quality and a certain spaciousness heard throughout the album. A sizeable group of talented musicians boost this record to new heights, featuring well-known names like Mitchell Long, Tom Zink and Kevin Winard. 

Walsh’s excursion into bossa nova began when she penned lyrics to Gilberto’s scatted Não Bate O Coração. This led to her further fascination with Gilberto’s catalogue of songs and so this record, including compositions by the renowned Antonio Carlos Jobim, was born. The talented vocalist’s airy and sweet timbre contribute to her unique interpretation and take on these classic tunes; less rhythmically centred vocals than typically heard in the genre bring to the forefront the more melodious and dulcet facets within the pieces. Fans of bossa nova and jazz will be thoroughly pleased with this album as a whole, a worthy record for any collection.

Listen to 'The Astrud Project' Now in the Listening Room

04 Jeremy WongHey There
Jeremy Wong; Ardeshir Pourkeramati; Chris Gestrin; John Lee; Jesse Cahill; Alvin Brendan
Cellar Music CM100321 (cellarlive.com)

With the release of his debut CD, compelling jazz vocalist Jeremy Wong has arrived on the scene with a rather marvelous recording, loaded with content, talent and of course, Wong’s evocative, mellifluous and finely honed vocal instrument. The Vancouver native also wears the producer’s hat here, and his talented ensemble includes Chris Gestrin on piano, John Lee on bass, Jesse Cahill on drums, Alvin Brendan on guitar and gifted arranger/co-writer and tenor saxophonist, Ardeshir Pourkeramati. 

There are ten compelling tracks, all drawn from the Great American Songbook, American cinema, the Broadway stage and the pens of some of the hippest jazz composer/lyricists who have graced our planet. Wong also contributes two original compositions with both melodic appeal and clever lyrics. The opener is Rodgers and Hart’s classic Where or When. A lovely guitar/vocal intro swings into a sumptuous quartet arrangement, and Wong’s sibilant, sensual and perfectly intoned tenor/baritone vocal sound is reminiscent (but not derivative of) Chet Baker, Kurt Elling and Mark Murphy. On Invitation, the band is tight and filled with gravitas, as they move like a single-celled being through this challenging jazz standard, with the vocal line punctuated perfectly by Pourkeramati’s dynamic sax work.

Only a Dream, a charming original waltz that deftly dances us through the sadness of a lost love, features a fine bass solo from Lee. Other delights include a fine arrangement of Frank Loesser’s Never Will I Marry, which clearly displays Wong’s ability to swing and scat. A total standout is the rarely performed gem from Fran Landesman and Tommy Wolf, Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most.  Wong’s maturity as a vocalist is clear here, as he imbues meaning into every word, and effortlessly sails through the rather gymnastic melodic line. A fine debut from a highly talented emerging jazz vocalist!

05 Ethan PhilionMeditations on Mingus
Ethan Philion
Sunnyside Records SSC 1666 (ethanphilion.com)

Just in time for iconic bassist/composer Charles Mingus’ centennial celebrations, noted Chicago-based bassist and arranger Ethan Philion has released Meditations on Mingus, a stunning collection of Mingus’ most seminal compositions, arranged by Philion and featuring a talented all-star tentet of which the core trio is Philion on bass, Alexis Lombre on piano and Dana Hall on drums.

Mingus was a complex and contradictory individual – an eccentric genius, a poet, a powerful, muscular bassist, a social activist and also someone who coped with severe mental health issues – and it was all part of his unique, creative mojo. Philion, has said: “My goal was to put together a program of pieces that speak to current events; racism, prejudice, identity, economic inequality are all still relevant in the world today.”

The opening salvo, Once Upon a Time There Was a Holding Corporation Called Old America, begins with trumpeters Russ Johnson and Victor Garcia’s legato intro, which morphs into a paroxysm of angst followed by bold, chordal configurations and ultimately a swinging and joyous romp that then descends into chaos.  Lombre’s exceptional piano work here is both skillful and breathtaking. Other highlights include Self Portrait in 3 Colors – a reflection of Mingus’ feelings about mental health, replete with a gorgeous solo from Johnson; Meditations for a Pair of Wirecutters – a flag waver for Mingus’ noted mid-1960s sextet (the band that propelled Philion into this project), and the final track, Better Git It In Your Soul, which is a superb interpretation of Mingus’ funky, soulful anthem, rendered here with all of the swing and heart possible.  Mingus would be proud.

06 Joe CoughlinDedicated to You
Joe Coughlin; Bernie Senensky; Neil Swainson; Terry Clarke; Ryan Oliver
Cellar Music CM120121 (cellarlive.com)

Before you even play this recording – Dedicated to You by Joe Coughlin – you will find that the repertoire is wonderfully chosen, and just the right length so as not to be “too much of a good thing.” When you do play the recording you will discover the best thing about it: the voice of Joe Coughlin, sounding like the rustle of raw silk. 

Coughlin’s admiration for Johnny Hartman – who created benchmark interpretations of these charts – is sometimes palpable. But these charts also speak in a very personal way of Coughlin. Surprises come by way of his applying raspy glissandos to words in a phrase here and there, and poignant dallying with the word “love” in a beautifully sculpted line. Listen, with the heart, to On Green Dolphin Street, It Could Happen to You and My One and Only Love

When lyrics speak to a vocalist in the secret of the heart the song that emerges can come with an evanescent magic. Coughlin pulls off quite a few of these moments on this album. The first is Lush Life, Billy Strayhorn’s most intimate presciently autobiographical composition. Coughlin makes every utterance a poetic one, shaping the character of the song with so much pathos that it is almost too painfully beautiful. And then there’s My Ship and Nature Boy..

All of this music is made immeasurably better by Coughlin’s accompanists, pianist Bernie Senensky, bassist Neil Swainson, drummer Terry Clarke and saxophonist Ryan Oliver.   

07 Trevor DunnSéances
Trevor Dunn’s Trio-Convulsant avec Folie à Quatre
Pyroclastic Records (store.pyroclasticrecords.com)

Trevor Dunn has an eclectic profile, ranging from playing electric bass in the experimental rock band Mr. Bungle to composing and recording a set of chamber music pieces, Nocturnes, in 2019. He first formed Trio-Convulsant in the mid-1990s, then reformed it briefly in 2004 with then unknown, now celebrated, guitarist Mary Halvorson and drummer Ches Smith, both present for this 2022 reunion. Folie à Quatre fleshes out Dunn’s complex compositions and adds additional improvising heft, with violinist Carla Kihlstedt, clarinetist Oscar Noriega, cellist Mariel Roberts and flutist Anna Webber.

The compositions are challenging in both their subject matter and musical complexity. Dunn draws inspiration from a bizarre and banned 18th-century French religious cult called Les Convulsionnaires de Saint-Médard, matching the chaos of their sado-erotic hysterical practices with compound time signatures (15/4, 9/4) and overlays of different tempos and keys. In the CD’s opening moments, Webber’s piping, elusive flute is joined by abstracted strings; others gradually enter and then Dunn and Smith suddenly introduce a pounding rhythmic pattern, shifting from Debussy to Megadeth in a minute. The later Eschatology, in contrast, is a subtle string-weave of Halvorson, Kihlstedt and Roberts in which disparate rhythms and tonalities achieve a continuous flow.

What makes it successful is Dunn’s intense musicality. His sudden contrasts arise organically from his subject matter, and his musicians, masters of both execution and improvisation, celebrate the challenge and the interaction.

Émigré Canadian pianist Kris Davis’ Pyroclastic label is developing a remarkable record for releasing music that’s both conceptually imaginative and brilliantly realized. This one is no exception.

08 Wiiliam ParkerUniversal Tonality
William Parker
Centering Records CENT 1030 (williamparker.bandcamp.com)

Bassist and composer William Parker has long been a major figure in New York City, leading ensembles from small to large and making free jazz an activist instrument of community. Universal Tonality, heard here in a 2002 performance from New York’s Roulette, is a major composition: its six movements run to 110 minutes and merge orchestra, soloists and song. Singer Leena Conquest, a frequent collaborator, brings warmth and immediacy to Parker’s words and melodies, reminiscent of the rich contribution of Abbey Lincoln to Max Roach’s music or June Tyson’s to Sun Ra’s, while a 16-member band articulates the shifting sonic materials and developing layers of Parker’s conception, often merging composed and improvised elements in seamless ways in a graphic score. 

Parker has an expansive vision of a global sound palette that can be glimpsed in just the instruments involved. Here he includes strings (komungo, koto, dilruba, donso’ngoni), percussion (balafon) and winds (shakuhachi and chiramía) from multiple Asian, African and South American sources as well as violins, various brass and reeds and percussion. It’s also a band of distinct instrumental voices, including trombonists Grachan Moncur III and Steve Swell, violinists Billy Bang and Jason Kao Hwang, saxophonists Rob Brown and Daniel Carter, and guitarist Joe Morris, all fitting their individual strengths into Parker’s larger schematic patterns and poetry.

Universal Tonality is constructed on a grand scale, but there’s nothing particularly daunting about it; its constantly shifting and evolving textures, voices and moods are generally fresh, inviting and accessible.  

09 Gentiane MgWalls Made of Glass
Gentiane MG
Three Pines Records TPR-009 (gentianemg.com)

Gentiane Michaud-Gagnon (known as Gentiane MG) is a pianist and composer who has released her third album, Walls Made of Glass, with Levi Dover on bass and Louis-Vincent Hamel on drums. Walls Made of Glass is also this group›s third album together and their intimate communication adds subtlety and nuance to every track. 

MG’s influences are classical composers such as Debussy and Chopin and jazz masters like Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea. The Moon, the Sun, the Truth opens with a minor repeating pattern on piano which moves into a more strident chordal section supported by drums and bass. In this, and other compositions, MG moves between written and improvised sections and it is sometimes difficult to separate the two. This strategy gives her jazz pieces a more classical structure where freer sections alternate with repeated themes. Flowers Laugh Without Uttering a Sound has a swirling solo piano intro, then the bass and drums enter to nail down a solid backbeat, the solo piano repeats, then the jazz beat and angular piano chords give way to a more traditional piano solo. Eventually the piece builds into an intense drum solo before the swirling chords come back to fade into the distance. 

Walls Made of Glass is highly original music and deserves our thoughtful listening.

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