Jon Garelick’s best jazz albums of 2018
Charles Lloyd & the Marvels
+ Lucinda Williams
“Vanished Gardens” Memphis-born saxophonist and composer Lloyd, now 80, says he “sensed a Southern crossroads connection” with Louisiana native singer-songwriter Williams. The meeting ground is the particularized Americana of Lloyd’s band the Marvels (guitarist Bill Frisell, pedal-steel and dobro player Greg Leisz, bassist Reuben Rogers, and drummer Eric Harland). Williams’s soulful cry is a centerpiece to sometimes sprawling, low-boil jams — elegiac, defiant (as in the title of one instrumental), self-lacerating (“Unsuffer Me”), with an undercurrent of social commentary, in which despair is ultimately dispelled by the faith of art.
“The Book of Longing” The São Paulo-born singer and songwriter here conveys her distinctive expression of the essential saudade (loosely translated, “longing”) of Brazilian music in her original settings of English-language poets Edna St. Vincent Millay, Emily Dickinson, Christina Rosetti, Leonard Cohen, and her own texts (previous projects included Pablo Neruda and Elizabeth Bishop). The spare accompaniment of guitar (Chico Pinheiro) and bass (Scott Colley) with Souza’s own light percussion and voice make for an unusually intimate recital, where saudade is another word for beauty.
Mark Turner and Ethan Iverson
“Temporary Kings” Turner, arguably the most influential tenor saxophonist of his generation, joins forces with pianist Iverson, a founding member of jazz renegades the Bad Plus as well as Turner’s bandmate in the Billy Hart Quartet. The material, alternately abstract and swinging, includes Turner hero Warne Marsh’s “Dixie’s Dilemma,” Turner’s own latter-day standard “Myron’s World,” and Iverson’s sly blues “Unclaimed Freight.” Turner’s gorgeous tone and silky runs, Iverson’s ear for sonic detail, and both artists’ evident joy in a mutual sense of discovery made this one a keeper
Myra Melford’s Snowy Egret
“The Other Side of Air” Veteran pianist and composer Melford’s second album with her band Snowy Egret (bassist Stomu Takeishi, guitarist Liberty Ellman, cornettist Ron Miles, and drummer Tyshawn Sorey) plays with the tension between form and freedom — compositions animated by lyric tunefulness, riffing rhythmic energy, and patterns of call and response. But the true binder, the compositional glue, comes in the players’ quicksilver responses to each other.
“Genuinity ” Preminger’s taste runs from knotty originals to deep-jam explorations of Delta blues, and this year also featured “Chopin Project” — that composer’s Nocturnes and Preludes adapted for jazz quartet. The pleasures of “Genuinity” come in its forthright boppish themes for Preminger’s robust tenor sax with Jason Palmer’s pliant trumpet, the precision and detail of the rhythmic interplay with bassist Kim Cass and drummer Dan Weiss, the release and drive of straight swing, and this listener’s compulsion to grunt “unh!” approvingly at regular intervals.
“Trio” How deep is Kevin Sun into Lester Young? Enough so that he found himself a version of the tenor sax that the jazz deity played with the Count Basie Orchestra (a gold-plated Conn New Wonder with a vintage Otto Link mouthpiece, if you’re keeping score at home), and he took up the oddball C-melody saxophone simply because that was the horn played by one of Young’s influences, Frankie Trumbauer. But this disc with his trio (bassist Walter Stinson and drummer Matt Honor) is anything but a vintage throwback — experiments with rhythm and form are inevitably swinging and lyrical.
“Music IS” Given the title, consider this a manifesto of sorts, but given that it’s Bill Frisell, it’s soft-spoken rather than declamatory. That doesn’t mean there aren’t a few big fuzzy power chords (“Think About It,” “Kentucky Derby”) on this multilayered solo guitar album by the 67-year-old master composer and improviser. As usual, Frisell alludes to various genres without fixing on any of them, taking varied approaches to varied traditions, with folky tunefulness (“Made To Shine”), humor (the loping countrified dissonance of “Winslow Homer”), and poignant grace (“Thankful”).
Adam O’Farrill’S STranger Days
“El Maquech ” The brash, youthful enthusiasm of this, the second solo album from 24-year-old trumpet virtuoso Adam O’Farrill — son of composer/bandleader Arturo O’Farrill and grandson of Afro-Cuban jazz pioneer Chico O’Farrill — displays an omnivorous appetite for all traditions, given permission, he says, by his multifarious personal heritage. So he and his band Stranger Days — brother, drummer Zack O’Farrill, bassist Walter Stinson, and tenor saxophonist Chad Lefkowitz-Brown — tear into the outer reaches of jazz as well as some driving Mexican-folk dance.
Lee Konitz and Dan Tepfer
“Decade” Konitz, 91, has been an incomparable presence on the jazz scene since he emerged in the late ‘40s as the only alto saxophonist who didn’t sound like Charlie Parker. One of his most fruitful partnerships of the past decade has been with pianist Dan Tepfer, and here they mostly eschew Konitz’s usual format of standards (and pieces based on standards) for original compositions and spontaneous improvisations (including the three-part “9/11 Suite”) — lyrical, delicate, probing, an act of mutual trust and daring.
Cécile McLorin Salvant
“The Window” McLorin Salvant has a way of opening your ears afresh to tunes you thought you knew (Stevie Wonder’s “Visions,” here sounding like a jazz standard), as well as to rarities and the occasional original. Here she’s in a duo format with her regular touring partner, pianist Sullivan Fortner, equally charismatic ( Melissa Aldana adds tenor sax on a couple of tracks). The singer’s formidable vocal prowess and interpretive insight offer revelations on 17 pieces, everything from Wonder to Rodgers and Hart, Cole Porter, Dori Caymmi, and Jimmy Rowles.
LOCAL ARTIST PICK
Ayn Inserto Jazz Orchestra
“Down a Rabbit Hole” The Singapore-born Inserto has been on the local scene first as student, then teacher and, for nearly 20 years, writer, arranger, and bandleader for this big band. The star guests are trumpeter Sean Jones, saxophonist George Garzone, and trombonist John Fedchock, but the band is chock full of ringers from the local scene. Aficionados will smile at Inserto’s paraphrase of her mentor Bob Brookmeyer’s classic “Venus de Milo” (“Ze Teach”). The Fringe’s Garzone rides the gravitational pull of the morphing vamps in the title cut. And everywhere there are varied grooves, sunburst harmonies, crafty layered voicings, all unfolding with a master storyteller’s narrative logic.
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