Wednesday 30 December 2020

2020:::blue-in-green-sessions loves jazz

Continuing our week-long celebration of the fantastic music 2020 gifted us with, the bumper 3+ hour episode of the Blue-in-Green Sessions that aired Wednesday 23rd December featured Imran Mirza's picks from the wonderful world of jazz.

'Can You See What I'm Trying to Say' by Vibration Black Finger [Jazzman Records]

Bold, ethereal and, at times, trippy - the sheer scope and ambition of 'Can You See What I'm Trying to Say' succeeds as a revelation by itself with perhaps the best examples of its sonic bliss represented by the ten plus minutes of 'Acting For Liberation, pt.1' and the album closer 'Only In A Dream' featuring a wonderful vocal by Maggie Nicols.  Frequent VBF vocalist, Ebony Rose, also excels on 'Empty Streets' and 'The Glory' along with an extensive array of featured musicians revolving around a core of Diana Gutkind on piano, Ben Cowen on keyboards and bassists Ken Kambayashi and Colin Somervell.  The album serves as a thrilling introduction to the world of drummer, percussionist and producer Lascelle Gordon's Vibration Black Finger and an effective springboard to go back and explore their aforementioned projects as well.

'Peace' by Spirit Fingers [Ropeadope Records]

Headed up by pianist Greg Spero, 'Peace' marks the second album from Spirit Fingers with their debut, self-titled project, released in 2018 through Shanachie, proving a strong success for the collective. And what a collective! Joining Spero on this glorious rollercoaster-esque, high energy style of jazz is drummer Mike Mitchell, bassist Max Gerl and guitarist Dario Chiazzolino.  From the explosiveness of the album’s opening number, 'Nails', to the ethereal tone of its closer, 'Saltwater', it’s very clear to decipher, very quickly, that you’re in the midst of something incredibly special. Yes, it’s undeniably joyful – a real pleasure to listen to creatively.

'Ascension' by Sanja Markovic [A.MA Records]

The debut album from the incredibly talented Sanja Markovic sees her adopt the role of vocalist, producer, writer and saxophonist for the album offering up a full display of her talents.  The album title itself - 'Ascension' - fits like a glove for Markovic and all of her efforts leading up to this.  Through her years of travel, tireless musical contributions as an educator and collaborator amidst various groups, this album is Markovic's literal ascension to her rightful place as a respected and revered musical luminary in her own right.  And it's a position that is perhaps overdue, if not perfectly timed - if all those years were building up to the magic of this release then it was absolutely worth it.

'Transcend' by Smokin' Rope

Comprised of Gabriel Nacu on guitar, Tim Higgins on bass, Dave Kendall on keys and Luke Simmons on drums, the collective known as Smokin' Rope can now boast two excellent EP releases to their name.  And while this project's predecessor, 'Live at Club 85', demonstrated the quartet's chemistry within a live setting, 'Transcend' presents their music through a trio of studio recordings of entirely new tracks that have seen all members of the band create together.  Although 'Transcend' is still heavily jazz-inspired, Nacu's bold guitar work throughout presents the compositions as more versatile all-round pieces.  His playing on 'East and West' injects real life into the track but then masterfully makes way to Kendall's piano solo before all elements are reintroduced helping to build the track back up again in unison - a real joy!

'Somethin Comes Along' by Bright Dog Red [Ropeadope Records]

‘Somethin’ Comes Along’ is the new double-disc album from the improv jazz outfit, Bright Dog Red, who can now boast their third album as part of Ropeadope Records.  The album runs a joyous gamut of music now synonymous with the BDR brand. While songs like the title track 'Somethin’ Comes Along' and 'Colors' capture the band’s fervent energy, numbers like 'Soft Hand' showcase their ability within a more traditional New York, noir jazz aesthetic which, paired with Coonan’s freestyled verses, places you on those late night New York streets.  To outline the details and intricacies of Bright Dog Red’s music is a little like spoiling the ending of a great book.  It’s best appreciated by listeners who like to have their conceptions of contemporary jazz challenged and who are willing to put those headphones on and bravely head off on that unrivalled adventure.

'Y-OTIS 2' by Otis Sandsjö [We Jazz]

Saxophonist Otis Sandsjö releases his new album 'Y-OTIS 2' through Helsinki’s revered We Jazz record label. And the fact that 'Y-OTIS 2' marks only the second solo album for the Swedish, but now Berlin-based, musician seems somewhat surprising when you consider how many bands and projects that Sandsjö has been a part of as an indispensable contributor.  Sandsjö has become so adept at knowing when to let his saxophone take the lead and when to let it play its part within the wonderful musicians he’s surrounded himself with.  While Sandsjö is very much the star of the album, 'Y-OTIS 2' still serves as another triumph to the tag team of Sandsjö and bassist and producer Petter Eldh.

'I Think I'm Good' by Kassa Overall [Brownswood Recordings]

Following the success of Kassa Overall's independent album in 2019, 'Go Get Ice Cream and Listen to Jazz', it was wonderful news that the drummer, producer and rapper had subsequently been picked up by Brownswood.  A truly indelible artist whose talents certainly warranted the grander stage that Brownswood are more than qualified to provide.  There's a very distinctive melancholy to Overall's music - it's joyous in its own way as it's characterised by music you can't help but fall in love with: his sometimes dusty drum patterns, rich piano keys, sublime horns, all paint this picture that you can't help but get lost in.  The CD's inlay card features a note from Kassa himself that sees him poignantly confess to times where he's lacked confidence in his own abilities to create but, with this project, finds himself in tune with the best of his creativity, "This is the best I've got for now.  I hope you think it's good."  No, Kassa... it's great!

'Dimensional Stardust' by Rob Mazurek & the Exploding Star Orchestra [International Anthem]

Initially having started life as far back as 2005, the Exploding Star Orchestra was created by Rob Mazurek to demonstrate the diversity of Chicago’s emerging and innovative talent within contemporary jazz.  While Mazurek’s propensity for creating music within disparate realms from jazz to electronica is a renouned trait, the joy within 'Dimensional Stardust' is its just-the-right measures of each style which really come together to create something incredibly special. While songs like 'Sun Core Tet', 'Galaxy 1000' and 'The Careening Prism Within' celebrate these otherworldly excursions, strings by Tomeka Reid (cello) and Macie Stewart (violins) alongside Joel Ross’s vibraphone really add some beautiful depth and warm textures to songs like ‘Parable of Inclusion’ which almost ground the album at times, again, striking that perfect balance.

'Lagos Pepper Soup' by Michael Olatuja [Whirlwind Recordings]

Released through the fantastic Whirlwind Records, 'Lagos Pepper Soup' assembles a dream line-up of vocalists and musicians, many of which have served as past collaborators to bassist Michael Olatuja over the years: Brandee Younger, Dianne Reeves, Laura Mvula, Lionel Loueke, Regina Carter... just some of the masterfukl collaborators involved in the project.  The *cinematic* aspect to the whole album, thanks in large part to the exquisite orchestration throughout, is what really ascends 'Lagos Pepper Soup' to another plateau. The entire project comes off like an intricate sequence of events celebrating life, love, joy and hope – it’s the type of vision that forever emphasises the importance of a fully-realised album.

'America The Beautiful' by Kahil El'Zabar [Spiritmuse Records]

Kahil El’Zabar’s rich musical catalogue which is rooted in this ethos of collaboration potentially requires little introduction. The revered percussionist serves as one of the definitive names in spiritual jazz dating as far back as the 1970s.  The release of El'Zabar's latest album though finds the US in an extraordinary time - struggling back to its feet while in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, the death of George Floyd, Black Lives Matter, the rise of Far-Right voices and questionable leadership through it all… it really does conjure up completely new perspectives on what 'America the Beautiful' stands for in 2020. But even in spite of this war for America’s soul, the title of this album isn’t actually expressed with the disdain that it might appear. This is, of course, a Kahil El’Zabar album so the notion of positivity and unity will forever be associated as synonymous messages within his music – which are voices much needed now.

'Garden' by Uncivilized

Headed up by guitarist and founder Tom Csatari, Uncivilized have mined a series of live recordings from sessions taken place in August 2018 and subsequently re-mixed, re-edited and repackaged them to form what we now have as 'Garden'.  The music throughout is gloriously indicative of the variety of tags that tends to accompany any subsequent dissecting of Uncivilized's approach to music-making with descriptions ranging from "psych-jazz" to "folk-jazz" to "free-jazz".  Almost effortlessly, the collective create honest and sincere music with no regard to external perceptions of what boxes the end-result will fall into.

'Fly Moon Die Soon' by Takuya Kuroda [First Word Records]

While perhaps best cited as a jazz artist, trumpeter Takuya Kuroda’s sensibilities have always extended far further with afrobeat forming such a huge part of his musical makeup.  From having performed with Akoya Afrobeat and having secured the revered Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra for a track on his 'Zigzagger' album, Kuroda’s affection for the genre has always permeated into his own compositions so it’s particularly exciting that 'Fly Moon Die Soon' continues that tradition but still finds itself celebrating other styles throughout.  'Fly Moon Die Soon' marks a thrilling new direction for Takuya Kuroda who has created an album that brings to the table all the styles he has been celebrated for throughout his career but, through First Word Records, is able to find exciting new ways to build upon his already eclectic musical legacy.

'Organic' by Majamisty TriO

From Novi Sad, Serbia, the piano-led trio make a welcome return with the affectionate and warm compositions that have endeared the Majamisty TriO to listeners the world over.  Their genuinely incomparable ability to create music that straddles the rarely-visited space between contemporary jazz and classical music has made past releases 'Mistyland' and 'LOVE' genuine treasures.  Headed up by pianist and composer, Maja Alvanović, everything about how Majamisty TriO compose their music comes from a place of distinctiveness and individuality - from their charming use of Aleksandra Drobac's wordless vocals as in the aforementioned 'LOVE' album to the way they can accentuate those moments of collaboration with featured performers but can redefine their own expectations with a project showcasing the talents of just the members themselves.  Boasting several standout moments throughout, the 8+ minute album centrepiece, 'Jungle', makes for essential listening as does the album's achingly beautiful highlight, 'Longing'.

'I AM A MAN' by Ben Williams [Rainbow Blonde Records]

While the incredible work of Ben Williams has typically focused on his abilities as one of his generation's leading bassists, 'I AM A MAN' gives Williams the opportunity to showcase his abilities as a vocalist which is a role he seems to fill effortlessly.  The introduction of Williams as a vocalist very much contributes to a more honest and sincere recording particularly with regards to subject matter of such sensitivity.  'I Am a Man!' has long served as a declaration of civil rights and a declaration of independence against oppression.  More specifically, Williams poignantly uses this project to bring attention to the Memphis sanitation strike in 1968 over poor pay and hazardous working conditions.  The strike would go on to highlight the larger problems regarding inequality within Memphis with "I Am a Man!" emerging as a civil rights theme during this period.  'I AM A MAN' is Ben Williams's line-in-the-sand album.  It's a touching, earnest and heartfelt record that deserves your attention.

'A Peaceful Place' by Pippo D'Ambrosio [A.MA Records]

The new album by drummer and producer, Pippo D'Ambrosio, is a project that finds its inspiration through the works of Sufi poetry and cherished works by Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani, Farid Ad-Din ‘Attar and Jalal al-Din Rumi.  The writings of Jalal al-Din Rumi resonate throughout the project in particular as his noted explorations into the meaning of "love" are still heralded works to this day - the all-consuming nature of the emotion and how it subsequently interweaves towards the notion of self-knowledge.  Spoken word interludes throughout the album, delivered by David Place, appear to dabble within these concepts most notably in 'My Path' through the enduring words, "The soul of man lies in the continuous dilemma of choice".  Pippo D'Ambrosio's name has become synonymous with outstanding quality within Italian jazz's thriving landscape and his aligning with A.MA Records marks an exciting new chapter within his own musical legacy. 

'Discipline of Sun Ra' by EABS [Astigmatic Records]

In paving their own way and establishing their own *discipline* of jazz, EABS have always walked that path by paying homage to the works of those that have served as great inspiration to the band.  And through the new album release 'Discipline of Sun Ra', the Polish jazz ensemble EABS now unveil their own ode to the masterful and ground-breaking work by one of the forefathers of today's jazz.  Sun Ra was once quoted as saying "The earth moves in a certain rhythm, a certain sound, a certain note.  When the music stops the earth will stop and everything upon it will die."  In EABS, the music is absolutely in fantastic hands and their continued and inspired efforts will ensure the earth will keep turning for some years more.

'Speak Your Truth' by Tensei [Def Pressé]

Hailing from Chicago, Illinois, and comprised of producers Chris Kramer and Midas Wells, the brand new five track EP from Tensei sees them deliver another fantastic offering, once again masterfully dipping into various musical styles and aided by another round of awesome collaborators.  Frequent Tensei collaborator, rapper ADaD, features on the EP's soulful lead single, 'Last Dance' with Crl Crrll with other names including J Nolan and Ozay Moore excelling on their contributions for 'Candy Lady' and 'Taste Like', respectively.  Emily Steinwall marks a particularly exciting inclusion for 'Speak Your Truth' as her indelible talents are wonderfully showcased over two tracks for the project, 'Daydream' and 'Bath Salts', boasting Steinwall's brilliance as a vocalist and flautist.  'Bath Salts' in particular at 6 minutes long could lay claim to being the quintessential Tensei track with its boundlessly infectious musical narrative that traverses a variety of musical realms.

No comments:

Post a Comment