To Know Love ••••
Maria Schafer, vocalist
With her lush, sensuous, and enchanting voice, jazz vocalist Maria Schafer has given us a modern-day jazz album on a grand scale. Simply put, Ms. Schafer has the kind of classy voice that would not be out of place in the pantheon of great female jazz vocalists. Her stylistic awareness is evident in beautiful, elegant phrasing, selective use of vibrato and varied articulation, giving an expressive range that never conflicts with the music’s natural language. The music is so refreshingly evocative and so richly colorful that it immediately brings to life a kind of Gatsby-like Jazz Age in a place teeming with folks dining, dancing, and having fun. Trumpeter Brad Black’s playing is, at its best, a calming force with phrasing that is incisive without sounding aggressive, while his handling of rhythm is both supple and muscular. What a wonderful world, as Louis Armstrong once sang. All around, an immensely polished collection of classic jazz standards with infinite subtleties of tonal shading to heighten atmospheric evocation. My favorite is “Estrada Branca.” Other standouts: “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” “The More I See You,” “I Fall In Love Too Easily,” “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered,” “In Summer (Estate),” “You’d Be So Nice To Come To/Alone Together,” “Body and Soul,” “It Could Happen To You,” “Almost Like Being In Love,” “Lush Life,”and “S’Wonderful/They Can’t Take That Away From Me.” Performers include Maria Schafer (vocals), Shane Savala (guitar), Joe Butts (bass), Kyle Sharamitaro (drums), and Brad Black (trumpet).
Cross My Palm With Silver •••
Avishai Cohen Quartet, ECM
What makes this album a collector’s item starts with the remarkable collaborative efforts of Avishai Cohen (trumpet), Yonathan Avishai (piano), Barak Mori (double bass), and Nasheet Waits (drums). Say what you want about musicians working together, but this collection is a musician’s dream of performing with righteous humility and sacred love. The album creates an impressive impact on the listener with its natural, dramatic energy and waves of pastoral contemplation. It confirms the special strengths of the quartet’s distinctive personal synthesis in bringing the methods and language of the avant-garde for a beautifully spacious and resonant sound that gives the music a timeless quality.
The opening piece, “Will I Die, Miss?, Will I?,” with its softly, soaring opening melody, is perhaps the most immediate favorite of the entire album. It is poignant, exquisitely textured and full of instrumental phrases and harmonious contrapuntal virtuosity. As a signature performance, it is an absorbing, immensely sophisticated piece, exploring the astonishing ranges of the trumpeter. Mr. Cohen’s playing is crystalline, his coloration alive with myriad tints and hues. And, as with any brilliant trumpet or saxophone player, he can swerve from lush, late romanticism to strident modernism and back again as if caught up in a dreamscape; but as with any really revelatory dream, the more you probe it, the more lucid it seems.
On the more robust and exploratory “Shoot Me In The Leg,” a piece that reaches out far beyond pedagogical concerns, Mr. Cohen with his deliberate tempo and his highly seductive sound, draws attention to a host of hidden subtleties – harmonic and rhythmic, as well as inner voices – often with the synergistic brilliance of the quartet. Another highlight is “Theme For Jimmy Greene.” Subtle timbres, poised high notes inform all performances, an accomplishment well worth it for revelations of such beauty.
Time Being •••
Tim Armacost, Saxophones
Traditional jazz is alive and thriving with this really cool, scintillating, and romantically infectious music as a vital, and cultural life force. To celebrate this noble tradition, Tim Armacost, Robert Hurst (double bass), David Kikoski (piano), and Jeff “Tain” Watts (drums) have spawned an eclectic hybrid of intoxicating sounds and movements that titillate our senses. Is this music the joy of love or just the eucalyptus of fun? The pleasure is all yours with highlights like “Teo,” “The Next 20,” the agony and revelation of “Sculpture #1, #2, #3,” the sanguine passion and hungry loneliness of “Lonely Woman,”and the warm and memorable title track “Time Being.” Time Being is an exquisite, timeless gem. Bon vogage…
The Verve Jazz Ensemble
An excellent and flexible trumpeter with a beautiful depth in the lower registers of the trumpet, Tatum Greenblatt makes this album immediately identifiable in traditional jazz with first-rate musicians Josh Feldstein (drums), Steve Einerson (piano), and Elias Bailey (bass). This is consistently an exciting and most impressive album, where the music is idiomatic and technically immaculate and refreshingly free of the idiosyncrasies that so many of today’s jazz musicians bring to the music. In these often over-rated social media times, where emotional aridity is often applauded highly, the music of Swing-A-Nova is doubly rewarding with its themes and motifs, with musicians conversational passages spontaneously-sounding in their flexibility. First on the listening list is “From This Moment On,” (and, to my ear, deeply American jazz), followed by the serendipitous “You Stepped out Of A Dream,” and the notably perceptive “Tones for Joan’s Bones,” with its heartfelt projection of the work’s tender and arresting closing phrase. Other highlights include “Nica’s Dream” and “Speak No Evil.” The recording is beautifully engineered and balanced.