Some Pretty Good Jazz Records
Speaking of Vijay Iyer, his Historicity trio set from last year remains a worthwhile listen. He covers M.I.A.'s "Galang," demonstrating how natural it is for young jazzcats to flaunt hip-hop influences -- remember Jason Moran's take on "Planet Rock" from 2002's Modernistic? -- alongside Andrew Hill's "Smoke Stack" and Julius Hemphill's "Dogon A.D." (which is heading for standard territory, what with Marty Ehrlich's recent cover), and plays "Somewhere" from West Side Story against a walking bass and nervous drums that serve to mute the song's overwhelming romanticism.
Probably less inclined than Shipp to dismiss ancestral elders, 23-year-old German Pablo Held just released his sophomore CD, Music, on the German Pirouet label. His style is as saturated with European romanticism as it is with echoes of Keith and Herbie (he covers material by 20th century French composer Olivier Messiaen as well as Hancock), and he displays an admirable maturity, although his record still makes for less compelling listening than Shipp and Iyer's latest outings. An interesting new voice, nonetheless.
Adegoke Steve Colson's a boppish AACM pianist who's worked with David Murray's Octet and poet Amiri Baraka's Blue Ark; his new CD The Untarnished Dream bears liner notes from Blues People author Baraka, and while they're nowhere near as cosmic as the ones the poet penned for Coltrane's Ascension, they serve notice that Colson's an artist of some heft. The Untarnished Dream features his long lived trio with ex-Coltrane bassist Reggie Workman and Andrew Cyrille, who drummed on Cecil Taylor's crucial late '60s Blue Note sides, joined on four of the nine tracks by Colson's vocalist-wife Iqua, who's sung in the pianist's Martin Luther King opera "...as in a Cultural Reminiscence...." She's a forceful vocalist whose vibratoless delivery recalls Nina Simone's. The sprightly waltz "Triumph of the Outcasts" (which opens with a crisp Cyrille solo) first appeared on Colson's 1980 debut Triumph!, which had become quite a collectable before he recently reissued it. On "Parallel Universe," Workman and Cyrille play cat-and-mouse while Colson's exploratory solo unfolds. On "And It Was Set In Ivory," topical lyrics give way to ritualistic percussion a la the Art Ensemble of Chicago.
Finland might not be the first country you associate with adventurous jazz, but TUM Records is a recently-reactivated, Helsinki-based label with a 2010 release schedule that includes U.S. heavyweights Billy Bang, Andrew Cyrille, Wadada Leo Smith, W.A.R.M. (a free jazz supergroup that includes Reggie Workman, Pheeroan Aklaff, Sam Rivers, and Roscoe Mitchell), and Archie Shepp as well as a stable of forward-looking Finns. On Some Kubricks of Blood, avant-guitarist Kalle Kalima leads a drumless ensemble (himself, bass, accordion, and sax) through a program of dark, moody pieces inspired by the late director's films (the group's name, "K-18," is the Finnish equivalent of an "X" rating). John Zorn would approve. Tenorman/flautist Juhani Aaltonen has a sound that's achingly romantic, but not cloyingly so. On Conclusions, he and a quartet including pianist/harpist Iro Haarla (wife and collaborator of the late Finnish avant-garde pioneer Edward Vesala) play a music that's as spacious as it is reflective -- almost like a '70s ECM session.
I'll admit to being less than an enthusiastic partisan of "Latin jazz," possibly because it's what the organizers of the local jazzfest here in Fort Worth like to book "to bring the crowds" instead of ponying up the money to pay, say, Ornette. But I'm quite taken with the Colombian-born percussionist and ex-Arturo Sandoval sideman Samuel Torres' Yaounde', which is more of a showcase for the leader's compositions -- which display tremendous sensitivity and depth -- than it is for the virtuosic fireworks (and blaring brass) we've come to expect from artists so labeled. A good example of what Torres is up to is "Bambuco (To Santa Fe de Bogota)," where Joel Frahm's soprano sax carries the lovely melody and bassist John Benitez takes a somber solo before ceding the stage to Torres' maracas. Suprising, subtly engaging stuff.