Oscar Castro-Neves All One (Mack Avenue Records)
All One, the latest from Brazilian guitarist/arranger/composer Oscar Castro-Neves, includes a “grooming” credit, and OCN sure looks good. Nor is there a hair out of place in the 14 tracks that take us on a musical tour of OCN’s diverse influences—from the predictable Jobim to Chopin and Monk. His bossa-inflected guitar conjures a good-natured vibe and adds a pop sheen over a tight, jazzy ensemble, with stellar performances from violinist Charlie Bisharat and guest vocalist Luciana Souza. Overall, however, the music feels overcareful and lightweight, though the Chopin prelude and Jobim’s “Double Rainbow” are exceptionally rendered.
Gonzalo Rubalcaba Solo (Blue Note Records)
Tone, touch, taste, technique—jazz pianist Rubalcaba has it all, in Afro-Cuban spades, and Solo, his first solo recording in two decades, puts it all nakedly front and center at the service of a profound musical spirit. Fans may be surprised at the decidedly classical feel of this CD, which features several compositions from unfamiliar Cuban composers (most notably “Canción de Cuna del Niño Negro” by Amadeo Roldán), reinvented standards, Charlie Haden’s beautiful ballad “Nightfall,” and new and renewed originals. Rubalcaba brings a restrained approach and fullness of feeling to this lyrical, often abstract and repeatedly breathtaking release.
Ben Allison Cowboy Justice (Palmetto Records)
Jazz bassist Ben Allison debuts a new quartet designed for insistent compositions that manage—as usual—to be complex and hummable, emotionally engaging and intellectually challenging. Trumpeter Ron Horton, guitarist Steve Cardenas and drummer Jeff Ballard bring a rock ’n’ roll feel to eight Allison originals (five brand-new) and one cover (“Midnight Cowboy”), many freighted with the bassist’s frustration over current politics. “Tricky Dick,” a mordant meditation on VP Cheney, begs for stacked Marshall amps and an arena. On the spectrum’s other end, “Rudy’s Roundabout” soothes with lyrical balm. Allison demonstrates again that he’s a unique talent on the contemporary jazz scene.