Quarantine Tunes: Grooving on 5 Excellent New Albums
Written by Tom Lucci on April 27, 2020
One thing I miss being away from WICN these last few weeks is finding new music that comes into the station. I do try to catch new spins from Michelle, Joe, and Tyler during the day. At home, I have been able to give a good listen to some new releases, and want to share with you a few that have really caught my ear. There’s a link below each to where you can buy it – important since the artists now can’t go out and gig!
Vocalist Lauren Henderson’s fifth album brings her to the Great American Songbook. “Not another standards album,” you say, but this collection really stands out. Henderson, who has roots in Panama and grew up in Marblehead MA, has honed her musical craft on several fine albums of largely original material. On The Songbook Session, she applies her rich and expressive voice to the likes of “Day by Day,” “Besame Mucho,” “Tenderly,” and “While We’re Young.” The thing is, the charts for these chestnuts, by Henderson and her trio, are exceptional!
Pianist Sullivan Fortner, who’s been with her for ten years, is a young giant in his own right – he partnered with Cecile McLorin Salvant on the 2020 Grammy winner The Window. Bassist Eric Wheeler is terrific, and Alan Mednard is a real dynamo on drums. Even though you’ve heard these tunes hundreds of times, these are fresh, exciting, and honest takes.
As America’s Repertory Jazz Ensemble, the JALC Orchestra under Wynton Marsalis can bring just about any musical style or artist of distinction into the House of Swing for a memorable evening. One such night happened in 2015 when 80-year-old Jazz Master Wayne Shorter was honored with a night of his exceptional music. The resulting recording is a treasure: superb arrangements that feature Wayne’s last performances on tenor and soprano saxophone of these tunes.
One thing that’s remarkable about the set is how distinctive this music is, even though it’s made up of lesser-known tunes. For a lifelong Wayne Shorter admirer like me, it was eye-opening how terrific they are. For example, the album kicks off with the cooking “Yes Or No.” Where’s that from? A track I’d never much noticed from his great album Juju. There are tunes from Jazz Messengers albums I’d played the grooves off of, but again mostly for other tracks: “Contemplation” is on Buhaina’s Delight and “Hammer Head” follows the epic title track of Free For All. And on it goes. For the casual follower, there’s no “Footprints,” no “Infant Eyes,” no Weather Report or Miles Davis-era tunes. The set’s quality is a testament both to the depth of Wayne Shorter’s genius, and the JALC’s perspicacity in putting this program together.
Wynton isn’t the only Marsalis with a terrific big band! Brother Delfeayo, trombonist supreme, holds down the home fort in New Orleans with his Uptown Jazz Orchestra. Their new release Jazz Party couldn’t come from anywhere but The Big Easy. All original material, all a blast to hear. At a time when it’s easy to mourn no Jazz Fest this year, this album is a great elixir. And while we’re at it, their 2016 album Make America Great Again! is also excellent – and prescient. It came out before the election.
Young talent abounds, especially in New York. Seth Weaver is a superior trombonist, appealing vocalist, and excellent arranger who arrived a few years ago out of Nashville via the U. of North Texas. He’s pulled together a big band of similarly strong young musicians and just released their debut album, Truth. It’s a collection of very listenable compositions, all tastily scored and played. Along with originals, he and the band do real justice to some standards – notably “Here’s That Rainy Day” that features Seth’s Kurt Elling-esque vocal and lovely solo work by Addison Frei, one of the very finest young pianists on the scene. We get a lot of albums from lesser-known big bands; this one stands out.
It’s been great to see and hear the recent Erroll Garner “renaissance.” The jazz piano world long took itself so seriously that it passed by Garner’s genius for bringing pleasure and flat-out joy to jazz virtuosity. Mack Avenue Records is bringing out a dozen Garner CDs from the hi-fi era with much-improved sound. Up in Erroll’s Room dates from 1968 and stands out in his discography; most notably, it adds brass arrangements (by The Brass Bed, no less) to the core trio. The charts seem to be grafted on to his already highly-orchestrated riffs – and they work. Along with the usual standards (with his “Name That Tune” intros, of course) and originals, this set includes the bebop classic “Groovin’ High”, and the Latin Jazz hit “Watermelon Man.” Strictly for your pleasure…