Photo by Jimmy Fontaine
“For more than two decades, protean saxist and composer Donny McCaslin has relentlessly expanded his musical purview in a variety of ensemble settings: as a sideman, as the pilot of his own diverse groups and, more recently, as a collaborator on the late Bowie's final album, Blackstar. That investment in genres outside of jazz is visible on the tenorist’s recent work.
Photo by John Rogers
“One of the leading drummers of his generation, Billy Hart continues to make jazz history with his quartet. Working with the phenomenally creative and talented pianist Ethan Iverson, saxophonist Mark Turner, and bassist Ben Street, Hart constantly seeks new territory, pushing the boundaries of post-bop and straight-ahead, of free jazz and composition, all the while embracing beauty and soulful communication. Turner’s rich, gorgeous tenor and Iverson’s exquisite technique combine to create a nearly infinite variety of textures and colors. Street and Hart have an uncanny connection that enables them to move effortlessly between swinging, tight grooves and sonic landscapes.
Hart made an indelible mark on the jazz world in the ’60s and ’70s with his work with such jazz legends as Jimmy Smith, Wes Montgomery, McCoy Tyner, Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul, Eddie Harris, Marian McPartland, Stan Getz, Herbie Hancock, and Miles Davis. Less known is his earlier work with soul artists Otis Redding and Sam and Dave.
“Composer and saxophonist John Zorn is the creator and curator of a specific yet far-reaching strain of the musical avant-garde...He transcended comparisons to other improvising musicians long ago: Far better to draw lines from the quintessential Downtowner to, say, filmmakers Robert Altman and John Cassavetes, in his repeated use of a trusted, versatile troupe of his design. Or to Baroque composer Georg Philipp Telemann, for his laughably prolific output. Or to any number of artists who’ve expanded the parameters and function of ethnic tradition.
“In the quest to describe the music of Fred Hersch in a word — a preposterous task, but not a pointless one — you could do a lot worse than “refinement.” Mr. Hersch is a pianist of cultivated taste and erudition; he’s also the sort of jazz musician who brings a lissome elegance to his playing, disinclined to accentuate the effort behind it all. But there’s another definition of refinement that has to do with painstaking progress, the incremental stretch toward an elusive ideal.
“Saxophonist Dayna Stephens is refreshing in his resistance to flash and fanciness. He often plays slowly, preferring to tread a reflective and soberly considered path rather than shoot helter-skelter through the chord changes and more oblique scale choices in order to impress...Stephens’ tone on tenor is a thing of beauty, relatively free of vibrato, and with lovely moulding of notes.
“Tenor saxophonist Javon Jackson has roots stretching back to the hard-bop forebearers, having served stints with Art Blakey, Freddie Hubbard, Cedar Walton, and other luminaries of the lineage. . . Jackson's playing is direct but rarely declamatory—he attacks his lines with a slight obliqueness, the envelope around each note just a bit impressionistic.
“Jason Moran is a specialist in the field of jazz abstraction. The pianist and leader of the trio Bandwagon has a rich knowledge of the music’s history and context...But Moran rarely reads it straight: He prefers to dissect, fragment, distill and subvert it.
“Blake's versatile recording background with jazz greats trumpeter Tom Harrell and pianist Kenny Barron, to name just two, has made an exciting drummer out of him always surprising and somewhat unconventional.
“The deep, dark-maple tone that Christian McBride elicits from an upright bass is one of jazz’s forthright pleasures, and so is the pleasure he seems to extract from it himself...He calls this band Inside Straight, applying the phrase as a badge of intent and maybe a deflective maneuver: He’ll brand this music as conventional before you ever have the chance. What that says about Mr. McBride is that he has his principles but sees the bigger picture.
“The style is modern mainstream jazz, a combination of post-bop, modal and Latin elements, of which Kenny Barron is among today’s reigning masters. In fact, he helped invent it, 40-odd years ago, by simply absorbing the sounds in the air at the time. Now, a pianist, composer and bandleader of apparently infinite resource and ingenuity, he records albums as close to perfection as anyone could wish.
Photo by Philippe Levy-Stab
Photo by Dave Stapleton
“For more than two decades, Chris Potter’s limitless creativity, effortless virtuosity and vibrant sense of swing has wowed critics, musicians and fans alike, who cite him as one of the most influential saxophonists and inventive improvisors of the modern day. His new album, Circuitsis immediate and uplifting, rooted in a strong sense of groove and intense improvisation. Featuring an all-star band of 23rd year keyboard and Blue Note Artist James Frances and drum virtuoso Eric Harland. Blending a vibrant sound world of electronics, memorable hooky melodies and surprising turns of phrase, Circuits is sure to delight both the dedicated Potter fans and new listeners alike.