03 Doxas BrothersThe Circle
Doxas Brothers
Justin Time JTR 8624-2 (justin-time.com/en/album/631)

Tenor saxophonist Chet and drummer Jim Doxas are quite the power duo. Besides the obvious lifelong bond that comes with being brothers, they have the added privilege of considering each other lifelong musical counterparts. Their deeply rooted chemistry really shines through on their debut album as the Doxas Brothers. The welcome additions of pianist Marc Copland and bassist Adrian Vedady also contribute to the family vibe, as they have been associated with the brothers Doxas for years in a variety of contexts. The synergistic result is some of the most intoxicating post-bop you’re likely to find this year. 

Recorded in its entirety by Jim and Chet’s father George Doxas in their family’s Montreal studio, the album has an endearing homemade sound quality to it that really adds to the experience. Every aspect is built with TLC, and the level of comfort with which the musicians interact is extremely apparent. Chet carries a majority of the load compositionally, contributing six tunes out of a total of eight. His style is distinctive, while still remaining faithful to his influences, sometimes evoking greats such as pianist Andrew Hill. One of the most admirable characteristics of the music is Chet’s acute attention to detail. Each melody manages to leave an impression while still having his own brand of intricacy and nuance. This album is a restrained affair with a rather hushed approach, and the polished interplay within the tight-knit ensemble will leave the listener mesmerized.

Listen to 'The Circle' Now in the Listening Room

04 genius loci eastGenius Loci East
Jeannette Lambert; Reg Schwager; Michel Lambert
Independent (jeannettelambert.bandcamp.com)

A wonderfully eclectic and enlightening musical journey is what we embark on in velvet-voiced Jeannette Lambert’s newest release. Recorded during her travels with brother and guitarist Reg Schwager along with husband and drummer Michel Lambert, the album documents how local cultures affected Lambert’s music and fuelled her creativity which blossoms within each track. Perhaps the most unique part of the album, besides lyrical poems penned by Lambert, is that the entirety of the record is improvisational; the vocalist herself mentioning that she’d bring in the poem she had written only moments before recording. The result is a musical harmony between musicians, an inspirational freshness that can only be brought about by living in the moment. 

The influence of time the group spent in Java and Kyoto is evident within each song; it’s as if we are able to catch a glimpse into what Lambert experienced day to day; a travel journal that’s brought to life through her highly evocative text, Schwager’s flowing and meandering guitar melodies in combination with percussionist Lambert’s constantly driving and originative rhythmic grooves. Use of the thumb piano (kalimba) as well as the vocalist’s integration of local vocal techniques such as Japanese kobushi, a specific type of warble or vibrato, are applied within several pieces to add that authentic, cultural flavour. In times where we can’t physically travel, this record is a brilliant and melodious escape that any jazz fan would thoroughly enjoy.

05 Mark Hynes TributeTribute
Mark Hynes Trio; Dennis Irwin
Cellar Music CM050120 (cellarlive.com/collections)

New York City bassist Dennis Irwin, was not only one of the most gifted jazz musicians to ever breathe air, but he was a prince among men. Talented saxophonist (and friend and colleague of Irwin) Mark Hynes has just released a never-before-heard collection of tracks recorded in 2007 that feature Irwin. They were intended to be part of a much larger project, which sadly never materialized, due to Irwin’s untimely death in 2008 – the tragic result of no health insurance. The fundamental trio here features facile and soulful Hynes on tenor, Darrell Green on drums, and of course the late Irwin on bass.

Things kick off with B’s Monk, a Hynes original, channelling the quirky artistry of the late Thelonious Monk. This track (and the entire CD) is recorded exquisitely, with a perfect acoustic balance between instruments, propelled by the big, fat, commanding sound of Irwin’s bass. Hynes’ soloing is both compelling and skilled, with ideas flowing out of his horn like lava. Comes Love is a standout – a jazz standard strongly associated with Lady Day. Hynes’ beautiful tone is delightfully reminiscent of Cannonball Adderly, but his contemporary slant and New York City energy is all his own. Irwin’s lyrical solo on this track is a thing of rare beauty, and a fine example of his dedication to excellence.   

Included on the recording is a luminous version of the rarely performed Ellington/Strayhorn composition, Isfahan, and the trio renders this sumptuous ballad with layer upon layer of deep emotional content. Other delights include Monk’s Let’s Cool One and the touchingly appropriate closer, Gordon Jenkins’ Goodbye. A wonderful tribute to an amazing artist.

06 Mary HalvorsonArtlessly Falling
Mary Halvorson’s Code Girl
Firehouse 12 Records FH12-04-01-034 (firehouse12records.com)

In recent years, guitarist Mary Halvorson has transitioned from brilliant avant-gardist to a central figure in contemporary jazz. Her first Code Girl CD from 2018 – introducing Amirtha Kidambi singing Halvorson’s artful, newly minted songs – contributed to that recognition. The project extends to language the edgy intensity – ”Atrophied crucibles, charred Russian dolls” – previously signalled by the funhouse-mirror electronics that light up her guitar playing.  

Halvorson has a keen sense of some special traditions. Her lyrics carry on the art song, whether it’s adapting the sestina form employed by 12th-century troubadours in the title track or matching avant-jazz to surrealism in Bigger Flames, recalling composer Carla Bley and poet Paul Haines’ Escalator over the Hill; she’s also convinced a longstanding influence, singer-songwriter Robert Wyatt, to bring his wanly artful voice to three of her songs. There’s also an insistent contemporaneity, however unpleasant: the words to Last Minute Smears are phrases from Brett Kavanaugh’s 2018 testimony before the U.S. Senate.  

Including Halvorson’s almost decade-long partnership with bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Tomas Fujiwara, collectively Thumbscrew, Code Girl has all the musical intimacy of a genuine band. It’s evident everywhere here but especially in the close tracking and exchanges that Halvorson shares with new band members – trumpeter Adam O’Farrill and saxophonist/vocalist Maria Grand – on A Nearing. When Halvorson unleashes her virtuosity and electronics on Mexican War Streets (Pittsburgh), there are few contemporary performers who can match the urgent complexity and authority of her work.

07 Edward Simon25 Years
Edward Simon
Ridgeway Records RRCD016 (edwardsimon.com/store#!/25-Years)

Edward Simon is one of the most unique and gifted pianists of his generation. Since landing in New York during the late 1980s, he’s been extremely prolific and has worked with some of the biggest names in jazz. The singular path he’s paved for himself and fellow musicians, mixing traditional jazz and Latin-American music, has garnered him kudos and respect from peers and aficionados. However, due to the lack of publicity under which he tends to operate, a significant portion of his 17-album-strong catalogue remains largely unheralded. 

It is the fact that many people will enter this new career retrospective unfamiliar with his body of work that gives the concept so much power. Sure, they’ll come for Simon’s high-profile collaborators such as Mark Turner, Avishai Cohen and the incomparable Brian Blade, but they’ll undoubtedly stay for the bandleader himself. Edward Simon is the complete package. As a composer and arranger, he is not only a soulful melodist and an adept polylinguist, but he also knows how to maximize the potential of the jazz ensemble. The reassuring tranquility he gets out of his trio on the appropriately titled Simplicity works in magnificent contrast to the SFJAZZ Collective’s torrential sonic hurricane on the track Venezuela unida. As a player, he manages to be equal parts precise and expressive. His solo on Pere is a particularly devastating display. If, for whatever reason, you aren’t aware of Edward Simon’s stunning work, now’s as good a time as any to familiarize yourself.

09 Ultimate SoulThe Ultimate Soul & Jazz Revue
Benjamin Koppel; Randy Brecker; Jacob Christoffersen; Scott Colley; Bernard Purdie
Cowbell/Unit UTR 4959 (unitrecords.com/releases)

Renowned Danish saxophonist and composer Benjamin Koppel’s latest release is a toe-tapping, upbeat trip into the soul and funk side of jazz, guaranteed to breathe life into any of the greyest days. Koppel has called together a stellar group of musicians to enliven each track, including greats such as Randy Brecker on trumpet, Jacob Christoffersen on the keys, Scott Colley on bass and Bernard Purdie on drums. The album features both songs composed by Koppel himself and new versions of classics by artists such as Dizzy Gillespie, Curtis Mayfield and Stevie Wonder. The saxophonist has done a wonderful job of bringing a modern touch and his own unique flavour to well-known tunes, shining a new light on them. 

Them Changes starts off the record with a captivating groove set up by Colley’s pizzicato bass line mingling with Purdie’s driving groove, overlaid by Koppel’s soaring riffs and Brecker’s sonorous horn melodies. A spruced-up and funkier rendering of one of Gillespie’s best known songs, Manteca is positively addictive with Christoffersen’s use of the Fender Rhodes bringing just the right amount of the past into the present. Stevie Wonder’s famed tune Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing adopts a more jazz-influenced flavour than the original, bringing in a great play on the tune throughout, with Koppel’s improvised solo being the cherry on top. A fantastic record as a whole, this would be a worthy addition to any aficionado’s collection.

11 CecilTaylorBirdland, Neuburg 2011
Cecil Taylor and Tony Oxley
Fundacja Sluchaj FSR 13/2020 (fsrecords.net)

A remastered radio broadcast of a two-part improvisation by American pianist Cecil Taylor (1929-2018) and British percussionist Tony Oxley (b.1938) at an intimate German club performance, Birdland offers irrefutable evidence of the mastery of men who had at that point been collaborating for more than two decades.

Free music avatar and one of the 20th century’s most influential musicians, Taylor’s sound world is only off-putting if one is frightened by modern music. Demonstrably dramatic, shaded and fluid, while being spontaneous, every key stroke follows cerebral logic, with each piece possessing as categorical an introduction, elaboration and conclusion as any notated score. Shaking and vibrating the keyboard and pedals in both smooth and rugged fashion, Taylor’s instantly identifiable style evolves at various pitches and speeds. Often he adds pressurized extensions to intricately elaborated sequences, detouring along unexpected sonic alleyways, then cannily changing course to avoid meandering into musical dead ends. Meanwhile Oxley’s paradigm includes wooden slaps, clanging cymbal and drum plops, each precisely timed so that the pianist’s sudden staccato runs or leaps from one register to another never catch him off guard, but are shadowed or amplified and appropriately balanced.

Taylor was 82 at this gig, yet displayed no loss of interpretative power. Paradoxically in fact, his playing is more adventurous and masterful than on his first LP in 1956. Like a late-career interpretation by Rubinstein or Horowitz, this CD is both defining and definitive.

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