Four releases feature jazz artists on the move
Playing catch-up – again. It seems somewhere along the line the musicians said “Enough!” regarding the pandemic.
While respecting the safety instructions, more and more of them are entering the studio to record discs. It’s a nice feeling to open up a stack of varied titles – some with familiar faces, some less so. Here, but a quartet of what has recently happened.
Steve Slagle, “Nascentia” (Panorama) Veteran Steve Slagle is first and foremost an alto saxophonist, and a good one at that. He plays flute to the mid tempo of the late Harold Mabern’s ‘I Remember Britt’, one of 10 cuts here – but it’s his alto work that you can’t help but notice. He assembled an A+ team on “Nascentia,” subtitled “Birth.”
This is the kind of set you wish you could come out and hear tonight. There is an ever-present, incredibly welcoming, direct yet modern soul to this whole session. It’s a cohesive, free-flowing vibe that gives every participant plenty of room to stretch out. The title track and centerpiece is a five-part, 25-minute frolic whose opener, “All Up In It,” uses a staccato riff over and over, somewhat reminiscent of John Coltrane’s anthem “Giant Steps.”
There are a pair of short unaccompanied “interludes” sandwiched between other sections; one features drummer Jason Tiemann and the other bassist Ugonna Okegwo. The core quartet also includes friend and Jazz Series pianist Bruce Barth, who simply shines.
Slagle augments the band with a common frontline consisting of trumpeter Jeremy Pelt and trombonist Clark Gayton, both of whom contribute some, but not all, of the tracks. When they do, they elevate the music much higher – which is saying something. The arrangements of the sextet are beautifully crafted; when everyone else steps in, Slagle & Co. delivers what feels like an almost grand ensemble sensibility.
Ray Gallon, “Make Your Move” (Cave) It’s hard to believe that “Make Your Move” marks longtime pianist Ray Gallon’s debut as a frontman. We’re talking about someone who has worked with a measurable number of fixtures, a list too long to fit into this space. Gallon has been a mainstay of the New York jazz scene for decades; if you’re visiting the city, you often hear it at Arturo’s, an informal but classic Italian restaurant on Houston Street in Greenwich Village.
Gallon is a complex and thoughtful player. They’re mostly original tunes, and countless passages contain surprisingly complex and nuanced phrases – which work perfectly, as he’s joined by a pair of equally talented and like-minded buddies: bassist David Wong and drummer Kenny Washington.
“Make Your Move” is filled with subtlety, offering monk-isms and Latin jazz-isms to go with bebop-infused styles; he also performs some classics: “I Don’t Stand A Ghost of a Chance” by Victor Young and “Yesterdays” by Jerome Kern.
Benito González, “Sing To The World” (Rainy Days) “Muscular” comes to mind when delving into pianist Benito Gonzalez’s latest release. Born in Venezuela, the winner of the 2005 Great American Piano Competition, now in his mid-forties, is a force, someone who often draws inspiration from the School of Percussive Pianists.
He also has a range, allowing him to tread lightly in the middle of tracks such as “Father,” a kind of soft, swingin’ blues where trumpeter Nicholas Payton contributes a heartwarming solo and “Offering.” “Sing To The World” is anchored by bassist Christian McBride and powerhouse drummers Jeff ‘Tain Watts and Sashin Mashin, who split time on all 10 cuts on the record.
Greg Skaff, “Polaris” (SMK) Guitarist Greg Skaff, despite his extensive resume spanning over three decades, is not what you would call a household name. He has had a varied career, most recently working in setups that include the Hammond B-3 organ. According to Nate Chinen, liner notes contributor here and well-known author, “Polaris” represents Skaff’s first playing with a “standard trio of guitar, bass and drums”.
The other two parties involved are a pair of National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters: bassist Ron Carter (Class of ’98) and drummer Albert “Tootie” Heath, who will be celebrated next month. So we are talking about high quality here.
Of the 11 selections in this entry, Skaff offers a few standards, including “Old Devil Moon” and “Ill Wind” and a pair of slightly lesser-known – at least in my mind – Ellingtonias “Angelica” and “Lady of the Lavender. Misty”. .”
There’s both a duet and trio reading of Carter’s “Little Waltz,” “Caminando,” another Carter-composed piece, and some originals, “Mr. RC” — which one would assume is a reference to said bassist – and the title track.
What is most striking about “Polaris” is the sense of openness it presents. Skaff, Carter and Heath use a sort of continuous space, lots of silence and varied dynamics as the backdrop for the session; together, these qualities contribute to an overall yet tasteful softness and warmth.
Jon W. Poses is executive director of the “We Always Swing” jazz series. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.