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Albums with High Heat and Slow Curves
By Mel Minter
With the baseball season reaching its climax and the tomato plants demanding attention, it gets harder to find time for music. Nonetheless, a few albums in a variety of jazz genres have snuck past late-inning heroics and the tomato hornworms, and into the rotation this summer.
With a clear, supple voice that you’d like to curl up with on the sofa, singer Sara Gazarek offers up a collection of standards and originals that circle around the mostly happy theme of love. Many of the songs were taken from the repertoire of vocalist Blossom Dearie or inspired by her, and Gazarek’s ability to hit a lyric’s sentiment dead center with a disarming simplicity recalls that late lady’s skills. She’s backed by an able and equally supple trio (pianist Josh Nelson, bassist Hamilton Price and drummer Zach Harmon), with guests John Pizzarelli and producer Larry Goldings here and there. Gazarek moves gracefully through love’s intoxication, with occasional and welcome naughtiness (“Tea for Two” as a proposition), a steamy warning (“Some of These Days”) and a reflective admission of self-delusion (“The Lies of Handsome Men”).
Though intellectually rigorous, the music of Biosphere never gets too brainy because the rhythmic elements are almost always front and center. What’s more, the musicians―Weber (piano and Rhodes), Lionel Loueke (guitar), Thomas Morgan (bass) and Dan Weiss (drums, tablas)―are clearly having fun. On most tracks, the rhythms are rooted in Africa, so no matter how mathematical the music might get, there’s a dancing, light-on-its-feet quality to it. Six original tracks from Weber (one co-penned with Lee Konitz) range from “Filaments,” the opener on which the group sounds like a happy percussive ensemble, to the lyrically spare and delicate (and guitarless) “Getragen.” A Loueke original and covers of Coldplay, Jamiroquai and Eric Clapton tunes round out the album.
A sunny, optimistic outlook shines throughout XXI Century, the latest from accomplished pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba. Featuring compositions that stretch across multiple cultures and 50 years of music history, the album ranges from the percussive incantations of Rubalcaba’s “Oshun” to a delicately impressionistic take on Bill Evans’ “Time Remembered” and an impressive pianism on Lennie Tristano’s “Lennies Pennies.” Bassist Matt Brewer contributes the beautiful shimmer of “Anthem,” and guest guitarist Lionel Loueke (who’s on everybody’s recordings these days) adds his funky “Alafia” to the mix. Rubalcaba’s dance-worthy “Nueva Cubana,” which features a memorable guest appearance from guitarist Gary Galimidi, mixes Cuban roots with modern jazz harmonies. But it’s Enrique Ubieta’s “Son XXI” that most effectively summons Rubalcaba’s Afro-Cuban heritage. Marcus Gilmore provides the percussive ground on which the album dances, with assistance from guests Ignacio Berroa and Pedro “Pedrito” Martinez on a couple of tracks. It’s a satisfying journey from beginning to end, and the two-disc package contains extras that only your computer’s optical drive will reveal.
On his debut album for the esteemed Blue Note label, Coltrane hooks up with two groups: his usual quartet and the quintet from his second album. The quartet―Luis Perdomo (piano), Drew Gress (bass) and E.J. Strickland (drums)―are featured on original compositions that include both the most abstract and most openly emotional pieces on the album, all written by the quartet or Coltrane. The quintet―Geri Allen (piano), Ralph Alessi (trumpet), James Genus (bass) and Eric Harland (drums)―works out on three Alessi compositions and, joined by coproducer Joe Lovano on tenor, Ornette Coleman’s deconstructed blues “Check Out Time.” Lovano and Coltrane also have an extended sax conversation mediated by Allen on Paul Motian’s “Fantasm.” Given more playful material, the quintet brings a looser, more let-things-fall-where-they-may energy to the proceedings, with an especially rollicking good time had by all on the Coleman composition. The quartet, however, brings an intensity to the material that takes the listener deeper into Coltrane’s universe, where music offers a spiritual component and a key to life’s deeper mysteries.
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