By Mel Minter
Matt Wilson's Arts and Crafts The Scenic Route (Palmetto Records)
Drummer Wilson’s nimble crew (Terrell Stafford, trumpet, flügelhorn; Gary Versace, piano, organ, accordion; Dennis Irwin, bass, clarinet), with assistance from a female vocal trio, take straight-ahead jazz on a winding and thoroughly refreshing tour. The “sonic spots of interest” include four originals from Wilson (including the Booker T–ish title track), Monk, O. Coleman, Metheny, Hutcherson, D. Ayler, Lennon and one standard. Stafford—a paradigm of precision, economy and edge—finds every emotional seam. Driven by the joyful, geometric and continuously variable propulsion of Wilson’s drum kit, Arts and Crafts swings exuberantly through the tightest corners and cruises with the top down.
Kendra Shank A Spirit Free: Abbey Lincoln Songbook (Challenge Records)
Abbey Lincoln’s music is a far cry from the usual songbook-material, familiar standards whose easy appeal has already captivated a generation or two. Lincoln’s music is thorny, almost inextricably associated with her voice, and its complete realization requires a kind of spiritual authority as much as musical intelligence and vocal ability. Enter Kendra Shank. Her forthright emotional clarity, intimate delivery and personal phrasing—not to mention a top-flight backing band she’s worked with for eight years, including the especially sympathetic Frank Kimbrough on piano—shine new light on Lincoln’s compositions, reilluminating these gems in compelling performances that deserve attention.
Justin Ray Justin Ray (J Ray Music)
Albuquerque trumpeter Justin Ray’s self-titled CD could be titled Kick-Ass Straight-Ahead Jazz Played with Passion. Backed by a sympathetic and inventive rhythm section—Randy Napoleon, laconic guitar; Jared Gold, steamy organ; Quincy Davis, crisp drums—Ray goes to town on six of his originals, another by Napoleon and the standard “Embraceable You,” done as a lovely duet with Napoleon. Everybody plays with concentrated boppish fire, yet they sink nicely into their sensitive selves on the ballads. Ray’s handsome compositions provide plenty of elbow room.
Maxwell • singer-