The Month Past


As you can see from the picture, January new releases surpass two days listening time, and that’s only the digital collection (itself subject to some choices as to what, and what not, to add). The CDs keep coming in, amounting to four good handfuls for the month.

Then there’s the music that I buy/download for myself, because I want to listen to it for pleasure, research, any personal or professional (compositional-musicological) reason. Currently, I’m researching ideas on old recordings from the acoustic and early electric era of audio recordings, and I’m also deep in a Bruckner mood, which means several box sets, each amounting to about a dozen hours, to involve my time and soul.

Time, that’s what it means to listen to, think and write about recordings. And so, on the jazz tip, these are releases from January that I think you’ll enjoy spending your own time with:

**Quiet Moods**

* [Cava Menzies & Nick Phillips,]( [*Moment to Moment*]( Fine jazz with a classic, mellow sound and substantial depth and intensity just below the surface. Trumpeter Phillips and pianist Menzies lead a quartet (Jeff Chambers on bass and Jaz Sawyer at the kit) in a collection of great ballads, old (“You Don’t Know What Love Is”) and new (“Almost Blue”), and a couple solid originals. That they open with the criminally underplayed “The Peacocks” by Jimmy Rowles and Fran Landesman shows the intelligent and expressive breadth of their taste and musicianship. If you’re in the Bay Area, you can catch the album release show at [Yoshi’s](, February 17.

* Jane Ira Bloom, [*Sixteen Sunsets*]( An extended set of warm ballads from the great soprano saxophonist. Listening to it, I realize I’ve been hearing her tone develop for almost thirty years, and while she’s been working with signal processing for most of that time, here it’s just Bloom and her horn. Her tone is full, limpid, expressive, and her intonation and timbre is true in all registers. This is also a set of originals and classics—”For All We Know,” “The Way You Look Tonight,” My Ship”—and she glides through each tune with incisive lyricism. Quiet support from Dominic Fallacaro at the piano, Cameron Brown on bass and Matt Wilson on drums.

**In The Tradition**

* Pete Robbins, [*Pyramid*]( There’s nothing surprising about jazz musicians playing pop music they love, what might surprise is exactly what those songs are. Brooklyn saxoponist and musician’s musician Robbins put together a set of songs from his days of youth, and also assembled the incridble band: Vijay Iyer, Tyshawn Sorey and Eivind Opsvik. The play Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child of Mine,” Nirvana’s “Lithium,” Stevie Wonder’s “Too High,” Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” Jimmy Webb’s “Wichita Lineman,” along with four originals. Not as teeth-rattling as might be expected, the arrangements of the pop music don’t move past re-harmonizing and adding rhythmic complexity, and Robbins and the band are perhaps a shade too relaxed to get much meaning out of the selections. The leader’s own music is something different, excellent contemporary jazz.

* Daan Kleijn,[*Trio*]( The simplicity of the title from this Dutch guitarist symbolizes the modest scope and clear thinking of this set. Not to underplay it in any way, those are virtues and the playing of this group, with bassist Tobias Nijboer and drummer Joost van Schaik, is excellent. The sound falls somewhere between West Montgomery and Pat Metheny’s *Question and Answer* trio. Smart, swinging, wonderfully musical jazz with sympathetic, imaginative group interplay and improvised statements that are full or ideas. As fine a small ensemble jazz record as I’ve heard in many years.

* Raoul Björkenheim, [*eCsTaSy*](örkenheim/dp/B00GTSVLFU/ref=sr_1_1?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1391544130&sr=1-1&keywords=raoul+bjorkenheim): A fascinating disc that manages to reconcile two very different modern guitar styles as represented by [*Power Tools*]( and [*Question and Answer*](, while adding a personal dimension. The playing moves from fluid small group interplay to more aggressive rock statements and free music and has a noticeable lineage with Keith Jarrett’s European Quartet and Sonny Sharrock. Björkenheim is an accomplished rock-inflected improviser, and here, along with saxophonist Pauli Lyytinen, he extends himself and the music into lyrical territory. The disc is strong and succinct and leaves the impression that this band is ideally experienced live.

**Off the Beaten Path**

* Don Cherry, [*Live in Stockholm*]( A major release. In the late 1960s Cherry began playing regularly in Sweden, and the two sets on this disc, from 1968 and 1971, are live recordings from that period. The Caprice label intended to release them at the time, but it seems Cherry felt the music was not representative of where he was going, and so the tapes sat in the vaults for forty-five years. The music is fantastic. Cherry plays with some talented musicians, including saxophonist Bernt Rosengren, trumpeter Maffy Falay and drummer Leif Wennerström, the results, to dispute the master, are echt-Cherry. He leads the groups through his unique stream-of-consciousness tour of global links in improvised music, traditional and created out of his imagination on the spot. The image of John Coltrane is never far, especially in the tenor players’ sound and the sustained, partial quote from “India,” but it’s a benevolent influence. Cherry himself sounds as open and bright as has ever been captured, the spirit is joyous and profoundly humane, and the sound of children in the audience digging the latter set, from the Stockholm Museum of Modern Art, is just beautiful. One of the jazz archival events of the year.

* David Krakauer, [*The Big Picture*]( Krakauer is an expert musician expert at making the mash of experiences in his head into coherent, accomplished and rich musical statements, encouragement to buy his [*Tweet-Tweet*]( which every thinking person should own. This is his treatment of, and homage to, film music. Everything is well-chosed and often surprising, like his haunting take on the love theme from *Sophie’s Choice.* He’s currently playing this material in a month-long engagement the [Musem of Jewish Heritage](, and of course, there’s a trailer:

* Doug Wieselman, [*From Water*]( This is an exceptional record in every sense, certain to be on my end of the year best-of lists. Wieselman is a professional reed player, accomplished in multiple genres and situations, which makes the intensely personal nature of the music here that much more satisfying. This is solo clarinet record with lots of looping and multitracking, and though his playing has touches of jazz, blues, klezmer, folk music and free improvisation, the results lie far outside any definable style. Wieselman says “This is music primarily made from melodies that I have heard from bodies of water – ocean beaches, streams, hot springs as well as wind,” and it makes sense in the ear: the music elides logically from plainchant, minimalist repetition, dances, introverted ballads (including an exquisitely rapturous arrangement of “Julia”), always saying something provocative and mysterious, seeming to be stream-of-consciousness but with a clear, organic sense of organization. Light-footed, beautiful, surprising (his record release show is tonight, [February 4, 10:30 p.m. at (le) poisson rouge](

* Douglas Detrick, [*Bright and Rushing World*]( Another remarkable record, set for release sometime in the spring of this year. This is a through-composed suite from Detrick, who plays trumpet, that reaches back sixty years to the noble failure that was Third Stream Music. But rather than trying to integrate post-romantic classical music without any grounding in counterpoint or structural harmony—as was the style—Detrick thinks lyrical and polyphonically. The voices, including sax, cello and bassoon, move along in homophony and hocket. The concept is compositional, the jazz is actually minimal and comes through in articulation and through some of Ryan Biesack’s drumming. The writing itself is impressively clear, inventive and compelling. Take or leave the extended poetic track titles as you wish, the music is a real accomplishment.

* Thumbscrew, [*Thumbscrew*]( Call it what it is, another Mary Halvorson record, and after last year’s fantastic [*Illusionary Sea*](, another great one. This is a trio of guitar, Michael Formanek on bass and Tomas Fujiwara on drums. Halvorson has spent the last few year reconciling her unique style, a deadpan mix of Derek Bailey and Buster Keaton, with contemporary jazz, and vice-versa. This group is the evolving end-point: quick-thinking, committed to exploring a single idea or traversing several in rapid succession. Superb musical communication throughout, and Halvorson is, if it can be believed, more inventive than ever. One of the best of 2014, if not **the** best.