The best new jazz albums: Editor's Choice, April 2020

A hand-picked selection of some of the best new releases and reissues reviewed in the April 2020 issue of Jazzwise

LAKECIA BENJAMIN 

Pursuance: The Coltranes

(Ropeadope) 

Lakecia Benjamin (as), Gary Bartz (as), Chris Rob (p, org, ky), Lonnie Plaxico (b), Darrell Green (d), Gamiel Lyons (f), Surya Botofasina (p), Reggie Workman (b), Juliette Jones (vl), Jarvis Benson (vla), Malcolm Parson (clo), Brandee Younger (hp), Jazzmeia Horn (v), Sharp Radway (p) Joe Blaxx (d), Regina Carter (vl), Marcus Strickland (bcl), Keyon Harrold (t), David Bryant (ky), Ron Carter (b), Steve Wilson (as), John Benitez (b), Marcus Gilmore (d), Georgia Anne Muldrow (v), Meshell Ndegecello (b, syn), Ricardo Ramos (g), Bertha Hope (p), Dee Dee Bridgewater (v), Abiodun Oyewole (v), Jon Michel (b), Marc Cary (p), Bendji Allonce (perc), Greg Osby (as) and Bruce Williams (as). Rec. August 2019

New York City altoist Lakecia Benjamin has assembled an intergenerational all-star cast for this tribute to Alice and John Coltrane, featuring arrangements of many of their best-known compositions. Some of Benjamin’s interpretations are fairly classic in approach. ‘Liberia’ opens with a billowing introduction (a feature of North Indian music called an alap that John Coltrane made his own) and swings hard into a feature for Gary Bartz, while ‘Prema’ is mellow and trance-like with waves of piano and delicate harp tracery. Benjamin's alto sound is one of the first things that grabs you about the album. It’s rich, soulful and drenched in the blues. She plays with such passion and such commitment you know she means every note, and it’s hard to think of a more fitting tribute to the Coltranes than that. Thomas Rees

Read the full review in the April issue of Jazzwise 

 

AARON DIEHL 

The Vagabond

(Mack Avenue)

Aaron Diehl (p), Paul Sikivie (b) and Gregory Hutchinson (d). Rec. February 2019

Aaron Diehl, the award-engulfed pianist and composer from Ohio, is the kind of jazz artist who coaxes grateful smiles from those fans who fear the music's great traditions are under siege from fads and fashions. Unsurprisingly, the 34 year-old virtuoso is a Wynton Marsalis favourite, and he was also a key member of the debut band of another gifted young defender of old faiths, the vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant. But as he proved with his last album for Mack Avenue – 2015's Space Time Continuum, on which Benny Golson and the late Joe Temperley memorably guested – Diehl is no fogeyish diehard, but an impartially sophisticated contemporary musician with a flawless touch and a respect for the past that doesn't banish deviations. On this fine and idiomatically-intriguing trio album with bassist Paul Sikivia and drummer Gregory Hutchinson, he subtly salutes two pieces by jazz piano legends John Lewis (the MJQ's 1955 ballad-to-stride release, 'Milano') and Sir Roland Hanna ('A Story Often Told, Seldom Heard'), plays a staccato, swerving account of a Prokofiev march and a chiming Philip Glass minimalist etude, alongside seven originals taking in the restrained, delicately soft-struck and rather MJQ-like 'Polaris', the springy, casually arpeggio-strewn 'Magnanimous Disguise', and the distantly-baroque piano-bass counterpoint of the title track. John Fordham

Read the full review in the April issue of Jazzwise 

BILL LAURANCE TRIO 

Live At Ronnie Scott’s

(Flint Music)

Bill Laurance (p), Jonathan Harvey (b, el b) and Marijus Aleksa (d). Rec. 3 August 2018 

Generously, Snarky Puppy keyboardist Bill Laurance dedicates this beautifully-recorded nine-track live set to his first piano teacher, the late Mel Robinson. The teacher so affectionately commemorated obviously taught his pupil well. Laurance – backed by drummer Marijus Aleksa and Jonathan Harvey (equally at home on double and electric bass) – draws on material from his Swift, Flint and Aftersun studio albums and extends the pieces out, often expansively. In every case, the live version is superior to the studio rendering; it’s as if the stripped-back discipline of the trio format has forced each musician to find new voicings for the material. Repeated listens reveal a delightful, almost telepathic interplay between the three musicians (especially on ‘Golden Hour’, ‘Red Sand’ and the aforementioned ‘Madeleine’) and tracks like ‘Swag Times’ and ‘The Real One’ (Harvey’s electric bass playing on these two is just magnificent) reveal plenty of grit and drive that’ll have even the most hardened cynic tapping their foot and grinning from ear to ear. Yet despite the power, melody and harmony is never sacrificed – look no further than ‘The Good Times’ with its surging bass guitar, rock-influenced drumming and Peterson-esque piano runs. Kevin Whitlock

Read the full review in the April issue of Jazzwise 

CHRISTIAN MCBRIDE

The Movement Revisited: A Musical Portrait Of Four Icons

(Mack Avenue)

Christian McBride (b), Terreon Gully (d), Warren Wolf (vib), Geoffrey Keezer (p), Steve Wilson, Todd Bashore (as), Ron Blake, Loren Schoenberg (ts) Carl Maraghi (bs), Michael Bease, Steve Davis, James Burton (tb), Doug Purviance (btb), Lew Soloff, Ron Toole, Frank Greene, Freddie Hendrix, Daryl Shaw (t) and Voices Of The Flame (v). Rec. 2013

A great contemporary bassist, McBride has also become an important educator and advocate for both the artform and African-American culture in recent years. This is his most explicit socially-conscious statement to date, celebrating the lives of Civil Rights icons, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali and Dr. Martin Luther King jnr in an orchestral setting which lends grace and grandeur to the subject. However, the decision to bring a strong element of spoken word to the arrangements is inspired, first and foremost because Sonia Sanchez, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Dion Graham and Wendell Pierce have such commanding voices, and their narrations of statements made by the aforementioned do not want for conviction. McBride’s composing is soulful and parallels Max Roach’s 1971 gospel-infused classic Lift Every Voice And Sing. As was the case with Roach’s work, McBride deploys a choir, Voices Of The Flame, to soul-stirring effect, and the way they weave in and out of the songs, above all the greasy, down-home funk of the Ali tribute ‘Rumble In The Jungle’ is a marvel. Kevin Le Gendre 

Read the full review in the April issue of Jazzwise

NOEMI NUTI 

Venus Eye

(Ubuntu) 

Noemi Nuti (v, hp), Gareth Lockrane (f), Chris Eldred (p), Tom Herbert (b) and Emiliano Caroselli (d, perc). Rec. 31 May-1 June 2019

This follow-up to her acclaimed 2015 debut on Ubuntu, Nice to Meet You, sees vocalist, instrumentalist and composer Nuti effortlessly blending the influences of classic singer-songwriters, contemporary jazz and the omnipresent lodestone of Brazilian music. The album contains what must be considered one of the most supernal originals of the year in the shape of ‘For What I See’, in which Nuti’s harmonic imagination and jaw-dropping vocal arrangement combine to stunning effect. If ever asked to cite an example of languorousness in music, ‘Italian Lullaby’, one of two songs co-written with pianist Andrew McCormack, would have to feature on the playlist – beguilingly sung In Italian, and with Gareth Lockrane’s layered flute lines adding a Debussy-esque luxuriance, small group chamber jazz has never sounded so mellifluous. Peter Quinn

Read the full review in the April issue of Jazzwise

ODED TZUR 

Here Be Dragons 

(ECM) 

Oded Tzur (ts), Nitai Hershkovits (p), Petros Klampanis (b) and Johnathan Blake (d). Rec. June 2019

Producer Manfred Eicher has produced many albums for his ECM label that are now regarded as jazz classics over the last 50 years. Some have taken time to be recognised as such, others have emerged with ‘classic’ written all over them. Oded Tzur’s Here Be Dragons is in the latter category. Masterfully conceived, impeccably executed, Tzur has studied Indian classical music and has brought pitch sliding, microtonal shading and the use of ragas and Indian scales into the forum of jazz. Of course, many musicians have done this in the past but it is the highly personal way in which Tzur makes use of these resources, allied to a tonal approach to the tenor saxophone that is both unique and distinctive that marks this album out as special. Stuart Nicholson

Read the full review in the April issue of Jazzwise 

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