New York Music Daily

Love's the Only Engine of Survival

Category: jazz

Jazz on a Spring Afternoon in the Financial District

It may have been lunchtime, but Winard Harper and Jeli Posse conjured up a hot, crowded Jersey City jazz joint atmosphere at St. Paul’s Chapel downtown earlier today. One of the most evocative, erudite, extrovert drummers around for more than a quarter century thought aloud about how to bottle that energy into a single hour, then said the hell with that and went well over time. The crowd was a lot more sizeable than usual and everybody seemed grateful to stick around.

He kicked off the show with a long, mighty press roll, a big regal cymbal splash, and the band suddenly found themselves in a languid, expressive take of Ellington’s In a Sentimental Mood, fueled by Nick Masters’ expansive piano and Anthony Perez’s tersely percolating bass. Harper immediately felt the room and kept a delicate swing going with his brushes. He had extra rhythm this time out: tapdancer AC Lincoln, plus Gabriel Roxbury on djembe, alongside guitarist Charlie Sigler, who built to a tantalizing flurry in tandem with the bandleader.

Next up was a Harper original, possibly titled Sajda, the drummer getting it rolling with a lively, intricate solo on his balafon, dueling with the tap and djembe rhythms that bounced off the walls. Piano and guitar joined in emphatically and then backed away before the horns – Ted Chubb on trumpet and Anthony Ware on tenor sax -ran a steady, stabbing Afrobeat riff. There was restrained joy in Harper’s solo over a majestically rippling piano backdrop and a devious false ending, winding down to a misterious brook at the end.

The band shifted between cloudbursting High Romantic piano and bluesy swing from the horns in the third number, Cedar Walton’s Holy Land, with a gruff, no-nonsense sax solo while Harper shifted the landing zone around. A bubbling trumpet solo, a tap solo with some artful allusions to what a full drumkit would do, and a determinedly clustering guitar solo fueled a big coda. From there the band swung through a similarly purist, blues-infused piano solo, a brisk, incisive bass solo punctuated by some judiciously juicy chords and then Harper doing his own tap imitation up to a big vortex of beats.

He introduced his old boss Dr. Billy Taylor’s Capricious with a misty clave before the horns supplied a balmy cha-cha, and eventually a carefree conversation as the cymbals steamed up the windows – metaphorically speaking, anyway. Abdullah Ibrahim’s Water From an Ancient Well was next, Harper reminiscing about playing a two-week stand with the pianist at the old Sweet Basil. Masters set a glistening mood, Harper introducing a sotto-voce clave for the horns’ fond harmonies and a soulful, low-key, Sonny Rollins-ish solo from Ware.

They stuck with a latin rhythm but picked up the pace significantly with a racewalking take of a Harper original to wind up the show with blazing sax and trumpet solos, and a lustrously chordal solo from Masters, the bandleader spinning but resisting the urge to knock down the walls. They wound up the afternoon out with a swaying, somewhat muted gospel-infused triumph,

The next jazz concert at St. Paul’s Chapel is April 24 at 1 PM with drummer Jerome Jennings and jazz poet Naomi Extra‘s Get Free Collective; admission is free. And Harper has resumed his weekly Friday and Sunday jazz jams at Moore’s Lounge at 189 Monticello Ave in Jersey City.

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Ageless Jazz Vocal Icon Sheila Jordan Makes an Auspicious, Intimate Brooklyn Appearance

That singer Sheila Jordan is still active, and undiminished at 93 years old, is impressive enough. That she has the guts to release a live album is even more so. And she doesn’t restrict herself to Manhattan gigs. She’s playing the album release show for her new one Live at Mezzrow – streaming at Bandcamp – at Bar Bayeux in Crown Heights on April 12, with sets at 8 and 9:30 PM. Not only is she fronting a first- class, similarly lyrical band – Jacob Sacks on piano, David Ambrosio on bass and Vinnie Sperrazza on drums – but this is also a chance for you to see a legend for the price of, say, ten bucks in the tip bucket. Get there early if you’re going.

Jordan’s supporting cast on the live album is also simpatico: Alan Broadbent, with his signature low-key High Romantic style, proves to be an ideal choice of pianist, while her longtime collaborator, bassist Harvie S takes charge of the swing. And Jordan’s banter with the crowd and her bandmates is priceless. They open with a wintry take of Bird Alone: Jordan’s interpretation of the line about “flying over troubled ground” has depth beyond words. Just listen for enlightenment.

She has expert fun with her steady horn voicings as she scats her way through a couple of verses of The Touch of Your Lips Broadbent goes walking through the stygian lows to hold down the fort during a mutedly dancing bass solo.

The two instrumentalists scamper through a precise take of What Is This Thing Called Love until the bass takes the song unexpectedly into the shadows. Jordan then returns to stage for The Bird and Confirmation. The bass-and-vocal duet midway through the Charlie Parker tune, and the way the bandleader holds fast, just a hair behind the beat, gives new meaning to the world “timeless.”

She slows down with Look For the Silver Lining, working a vibrato wide enough to drive a truck through – and those overtones when she goes up the scale will give you chills. There’s another bass-and-vocal duet to open Falling in Love With Love, along with some classic Jordan messing with the beat and a spiraling, lyrical Broadbent solo.

The trio give Baltimore Oriole a shadowy Brecht/Weill swing, then hit a slinky bossa groove for I Concentrate on You: Jordan can still stretch out those melismas like few others. Then the band take Blue and Green by themselves, from a languid, summery atmosphere to an unexpectedly Twin Peaks crescendo to set up Autumn in New York. Which is the high point of the show, Jordan’s shivery, bittersweet delivery and Broadbent’s occasional noir bolero accent giving way to a genuine hope-against-hope and an ending that’s the most unexpected moment of many.

They close the show with an understatedly triumphant take of Lucky to Be Me – the moment where Jordan calls out the guy who’s on his phone is worth the price of the whole record. And if you want to watch the show, there’s a video of the whole thing up at youtube.

Elsa Nilsson Comes Out of the Woods With a Vivid, Tuneful Album and a Brooklyn Show

Flutist Elsa Nilsson‘s work spans from poignant, intimate ballads to fearless, impassioned protest jazz. She is the consummate high reedwoman: her resonant, expressive melodicism very rarely involves shrieks or screeches. Her latest album Atlas Of Sound – Coast Redwoods (streaming at Bandcamp) was inspired by her first trip to Redwood National Forest. Which makes sense: one would think a woodwind player would take inspiration from wind through the trees. Obviously, the woods struck a chord: her allusively chromatic, translucent, frequently rapt compositions have never been stronger. Nilsson’s next New York gig is April 9 at 8:30 PM at the Owl with her Band of Pulses – pianist Santiago Leibson, bassist Marty Kenney and drummer Rodrigo Recabarren – playing her new Maya Angelou-themed suite.

The Redwoods album opens with Sunshift Haze, its spare, resonant exchanges of phrases bringing to mind Nilsson’s previous duo album, After Us with pianist Jon Cowherd. Here the trio slowly build a resolutely anthemic midtempo sway: this may be a Pacific Northwest tableau, but there’s a latin buoyancy to it. Nilsson’s full, woody tone, rising to a tantalizing harmonic convergence with Cowherd, adds extra depth.

The second number, Catching Droplets is a picturesque, bouncy, allusively bluesy tune, Nilsson literally wafting through the raindrops. Old Growth is absolutely gorgeous, Cowherd playing steady chords on the beat as Nilsson intones a plaintive, elegaic melody, up to bassist Chris Morrissey’s broodingly reflective, terse solo. Jazz laments have seldom been more memorable.

Cowherd deviously works his way from a winkingly bluesy theme, to puckishly incisive phrases and some jaunty jousting with Nilsson in The Ground Is Its Own. There’s a subtle triangulation between the instruments and a mutedly dancing bass solo over Cowherd’s lingering, glistening chords in Proof of the Unseen.

Nilsson wrote the forest fire tableau Epicormic during the soul-crushing early days of the 2020 lockdown. The trio run simple, distantly wary phrases around each other in the intro, leading up to Nilsson’s birdcall-like phrasing. From there, they work a pulsing, upbeat, vampy guaguanco groove. Morrissey takes it out with a hypnotic, subtly circling solo: the underbrush growing back, slowly and surely.

The way Nilsson weaves sagacious blues and more uneasy, chromatically-tinged phrasing over the introductory danse macabre in The Fairy Rings is a typically artful move. Cowherd opens the next number, Coralie, with an expansive, lyrical solo before Nilsson firmly edges the trio into an increasingly verdant jazz waltz.

The trio hit a loose-limbed, altered clave groove in Molted Steps: it could be a Dave Valentin tune. They close on a hopeful note with Hold on to Each Other, shifting quickly from a bit of an opening fanfare to a quasi-baroque stroll. Melodic jazz doesn’t get any better than this in 2023.

Ty Citerman, Sara Serpa and Judith Berkson Breathe New Life Into Old Jewish Protest Songs

Guitarist Ty Citerman has been using haunting old Jewish themes as a springboard for many different styles, from jagged art-rock to more improvisational situations, for the better part of a quarter century. The latest installment in his Bop Kabbalah+Voices project is The Yiddish Song Cycle Live with singers Sara Serpa and Judith Berkson, recorded live in the studio for a June 2021 webcast and streaming at Bandcamp. As challenging as much of this is, it’s yet another reminder why more arists should make live records. Gordon Grdina‘s harder-edged, most Balkan-tinged electric guitar work is a good point of comparison.

The two women set the stage with the first number, trading lines of an English translation of a prayer by 19th century Russian protest songwriter Avrom Reyzen. From there they work back and forth, building otherworldly, Eastern European close harmonies over Citerman’s spare, lingering phrases.

“Demand bread!” Berkson orders before Citerman enters gingerly and the two singers blend voices in the second song, Geyt Brider Geyt! (Go Brothers, Go!), coalescing into a stern, somber march before expanding with bubbly, staccato vocalese over Citerman’s similarly incisive, sparse, clean-toned riffage. The simmering crescendo afterward is a rewarding payoff.

“Down with you, you executioner, get off the throne, no one believes in you anymore,” Berkson insists in Mit Eyn Hant Hostu Undz Gegebn Di Konstitutsieh (With One Hand You Gave Us the Constitution). Words as appropriate now as they were against the Russian Tsar in 1905! Citerman slowly shifts from troubled ambience to enigmatic, looping phrases behind his bandmates’ creepy chants, to a similarly smoldering coda.

“Stop clinking your chains and let it be a little quiet,” Serpa suggests to introduce Ver Tut Stroyen Movern, Palatsn? (Who Builds Walls, Palaces?) This time the vocals are more tightly interwoven and the guitar is as minimalist as it gets here, underscoring the contrast between Berkson’s assertive delivery and Serpa’s more silken restraint.

“Freedom is moving forward,” Serpa intones with a precise mystery in the fragmented intro to the final number, Es Rirt Zikh, a setting of a 1886 poem by Morris Winchevsky, Citerman scrambling around behind the singers. Berkson takes a stately, sober approach to the original Yiddish lyrics as Serpa sings austere, uneasy harmonies overhead and Citerman loops a skeletal, catchy riff. The vocalists diverge with an increasing wariness as Citerman clusters and sheds a few starry sparks. The little joke at the end is too good to give away.

Neither Citerman nor Berkson have New York shows coming up, but Serpa is leading an intriguing quartet with Ingrid Laubrock on sax, Angelica Sanchez on piano and Erik Friedlander on cello at Seeds at the southern edge of Ft. Greene on April 6 at 8 PM. The space is actually the intimate front porch of a private home; cover is $10.

An Incisive New Album and a Deep Brooklyn Show by Jazz Violinist Sara Caswell

As one of the elite violinists in jazz, Sara Caswell had no shortage of gigs until the 2020 lockdown. The good news is that she’s reemerged with a bracingly kinetic new album of her own, The Way to You, streaming at Spotify. Her next gig, on April 6 at 8 PM at the Owl, is an auspicious duo performance with similarly lyrical pianist Julian Shore.

Caswell opens the record with Nadje Noordhuis’ South Shore, a wistful, soaring violin melody over a tightly dancing rhythm, bassist Ike Sturm bubbling over drummer Jared Schonig’s flickers, guitarist Jesse Lewis supplying a lingering backdrop with his volume knob in tandem with vibraphonist Chris Dingman. The guitar/violin duel midway through is especially tasty, setting up a pointillistic Dingman solo and a resolute cirrus-sky solo from the bandleader on the way out.

Caswell redeems a cliched indie guitar riff that’s been recycled a million times in track two, Stillness,  choosing her spots to pierce the opacity with her silken trills and stark melodic phrasing. Sturm holds the center as a loopy, uneasy sonic pool develops, then Schonig leads the group back to clarity.

Caswell and Lewis reinvent Egberto Gismonti’s 7 Anéis with a stunningly successful acoustic Romany jazz flair, then she pulls the group further out with a triumphant, incisive solo. The album’s title track is a steady, guarded theme, Caswell’s floating lines over Lewis’ spare resonance. Schonig’s cymbal mist and then Lewis’ graceful variations on a sparkly downward riff. Caswell reaches to her most crystalline and then misty textures to wind it out.

The group remake Kenny Barron’s Voyage as a light-footed, bracing, syncopated swing tune, Lewis and Dingman sparring their way up to a smoldering guitar solo. Warren’s Way, built around Caswell’s stark, bittersweet lines is up next, Sturm and Lewis dipping to a muted pulse before Caswell bursts through the clouds.

She and Lewis build increasingly smoldering, altered blues over a loose-limbed stride in Last Call, the album’s edgiest number. Violin and vibes match precise riffage over a long drive to exit velocity in Spinning. Caswell switches to the Norwegian hardanger d’amore fiddle – with a woodier, viola-like tone – to reinvent Jobim’s O Que Tinha de Ser and close the album on an achingly searching note.

Epic, Vivid Spanish-Tinged Big Band Jazz and a Joe’s Pub Show From Emilio Solla

Pianist Emilio Solla writes picturesque, symphonic, state-of-the-art big band jazz that draws on both tango and Spanish Caribbean traditions but transcends both. For those who might be interested in how this chorizo is made, Solla and flamenco-jazz saxophonist/singer Antonio Lizana are launching their upcoming tour with their new quartet at Joe’s Pub on March 25 at 9. Cover is on the steep side, $30 for a bill which four years ago might have been better staged at the late and badly missed Jazz Standard. Good luck dodging the waitstaff, who may or may not be enforcing a minimum at tables.

Solla’s most recent album with his Tango Jazz Orchestra is Puertas: Music from International Waters, streaming at Bandcamp. He dedicates each track to a different city around the world; the result is as cosmopolitan and majestic as you could possibly want. The loose connecting thread is patterns of global immigration and its challenges. Beyond inspired solos, Solla’s compositions have a dynamism and element of surprise beyond most of the other composers in his demimonde.

The opening number, Sol La, Al Sol has subtle tango allusions in the big splashes of color from the orchestra, setting up a bright, assertive Tim Armacost tenor sax solo. The bustle grows to a blaze before trombonist Mike Fahie takes a judicious, spacious solo of his own. The band have fun with Solla’s punchy countermelodies on the way out. Lots going on here.

Guest Arturo O’Farrill takes over on piano as the epic second track, Llegara, Llegara, Llegara begins. The orchestra answers him and then rises with an early-morning suspense as he cascades. Julien Labro’s accordion weaves in and out, over a determined charge down the runway fueled by bassist Pablo Aslan and drummer Ferenc Nemeth. Tenor saxophonist John Ellis takes charge of the lull that follows, choosing his spots over a long, increasingly lush crescendo. The twin piano coda with O’Farrill and Solla trading off is decadently delicious.

In Chacafrik, dedicated to the Angolan city of Benguela, the orchestra shift from a cheery, retro brassiness to a rumble and then sleekness before hitting a circling qawalli groove, Todd Bashore’s alto sax at the center.

Terry Goss’ wistful baritone sax adds a wistful undercurrent as La Novena, a dedication to Solla’s hometown Buenos Aires, gets underway; it’s an otoño porteño, Labro’s bandoneon solo signaling a sober, steady rise at the end. The trumpets – Alex Norris, Jim Seeley, Brad Mason and Jonathan Powell – figure lyrically and sparely in Four for Miles, a pulsing tango-jazz mini-epic with a tantalizingly brief lattice by the first and last on that list at the end.

Edmar Castañeda’s harp introduces Allegron in tandem with Solla’s piano over tricky, punchy Venezuelan rhythms. Once again, Solla brings in towering grandeur in between the moments where Castañeda isn’t threatening to break several strings, Ellis adding a triumphantly balletesque solo on soprano.

Solla draws his inspiration for Andan Luces from Cadiz, a baroque-tinged counterpoint from the high reeds ceding to a pensively incisive solo from Aslan and cheerier flights from the bandleader’s piano. Stormy low brass anchors contrasting highs to kick off the final number, Buenos Aires Blues. Trombonist Noah Bless bobs and weaves over Solla’s kinetic syncopation, with Norris, Goss and Labro riding the waves in turn.

The album also benefits from the collective talents of soprano saxophonist Alejandro Aviles, trombonist Eric Miller and bass trombonist James Rodgers.

Subtle Poignancy and Sophistication on Jazz Chanteuse Simone Kopmajer’s Latest Album

Singer Simone Kopmajer‘s latest album With Love – streaming at Spotify – is often lush, and symphonic, and sweepingly beautiful. Imbued with equal parts jazz and classic torch song, it’s akin to a vintage June Christy record with less of a mentholated cool and more breaks in the clouds. Kopmajer’s a little bit Jenifer Jackson, a little bit Paula Carino, another brilliantly nuanced singer from a completely different idiom.

Kopmajer, her band and string section waste no time in setting a mood, going full steam on the mist in the opening number, The Look of Love, rising from stark to lush over the spare piano accents from pianist John Di Martino and the tiptoe groove from bassist Boris Kozlov and drummer Reinhardt Winkler. The orchestral sweep of violinists Sara Caswell and Tomoko Akaboshi, violist Benni von Gutzeit and cellist Mairi Dorman-Phaneuf elevate the song to new levels of expectant suspense, no disrespect to the Dionne Warwick original.

Kopmajer and tenor saxophonist Harry Allen float suavely over pianist John Di Martino’s spacious, sagacious chords in How Wonderful You Are. Next, they reinvent Buffy Sainte-Marie’s Until It´s Time For You to Go as a wistful nocturne for voice and restrained, gospel-tinged piano

I Can´t Make You Love Me is a subtle blend of trip-hop and jazz, with a low-key, soul-inspired sultriness. The first of the originals here, Opposites Attract, is a fond throwback to peak swing-era Ella Fitzgerald. The album’s piece de resistance is the alternately stark and lavish version of the BeeGees’ How Can You Mend a Broken Heart: Kopmajer’s restrained cadences unleash the song’s innermost angst.

Gottfried Gfrerer propels Hank Williams’ Cold, Cold Heart with low-key acoustic and National steel guitar behind Kopmajer’s purist countrypolitan interpretation. Then she reaches toward Blossom Dearie territory as Allen wafts in and out in a low-key, swinging take of I´m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter.

Stevie Wonder’s For Once in My Life gets reinvented as elegant chamber pop, with swelling, baroque-tinged violins. Kopmajer’s second original is Take It All In, with Di Martino on both organ and piano: it could be a more retro take on a Steely Dan ballad.

She duets with Sheila Jordan on a playful swing through Everything Happens to Me: the nonagenarian jazz legend is indomitable and has updated the song for the digital age! The take of the Aaron Neville hit Tell It Like It Is turns out to be an unexpectedly undulating jazz waltz with a dynamically shifting Allen solo at the center.

Kopmajer and Di Martino then turn in an intimate jazz ballad version of Nashville pop pioneer Cindy Walker’s You Don´t Know Me. There’s another song here, but its expiration date was up a long time ago. Kopmajer’s next gig is on March 10 at 8:30 PM at the Oval in Salzburg in her native Austria; cover is €32. And Allen is leading a trio with Andy Brown on guitar and Mike Karn on bass at Mezzrow on March 10-11, with sets at 7:30 and 9 PM; cover is $25 cash at the door.

Fun fact: Kopmajer says she has sold thirty thousand cd’s in Thailand. If she did that here, she’d have a #1 album.

Starry, Cinematic Magic and Quasar Pulses on Vibraphonist Chris Dingman’s Latest Solo Album

Where so many artists were locked out and creatively dispossessed during the 2020 plandemic, vibraphonist Chris Dingman got busy. He put out one of the most epic and immersively beautiful albums of that year, Peace, his first-ever solo release, which he played and recorded for his dying father. His latest album Journeys Vol. 2 – streaming at Bandcamp – is also a solo record. As with the first volume, it’s all about transcendence. The loss of his dad – who, for the record, was not killed by the Covid shot – is a factor. The enduring horror of the 2020 lockdowns is also something he tackles with compassion and depth here. Dingman’s next gig is on March 9 at 9 PM at Bar Lunatico, where he’s leading a trio with Keith Witty on bass and the reliably brilliant Allan Mednard on drums.

The first track on the album is Ride, a gently cantering song without words that Dingman rescues from practically indie rock territory to a more warmly consonant framework. And that’s where Dingman finds the magic, a reflecting pool and then a smartly constructed series of variations that will leave you nodding, “yessssss” and validating his choice of starting point.

Track two is Dream, Ever Dream, a practically seventeen-minute odyssey where he builds uneasy, spare melody over circling lower-register riffage. As this soundscape unwinds, Dingman works minute rhythmic shifts, raising the hypnotic factor many times over: the steadiness and articulacy of his slowly expanding cell-like figures is impressive to say the least. Maybe to be fair to the listener, Dingman finds a way to resolve the tension and then works it up again from there. But he can’t resist the lure of setting up another delicate polyrhythmic ice sculpture, which he again warms into a long, triumphant coda.

He builds a slow, cinematic theme in Transit, distant rumbling curlicues of a train underneath the slowly passing frames: the soundscapes of noir Americana band Suss are a good comparison. There’s an even more hypnotic rhythmic triangulation in Enter, coalescing and then expanding outward, frames coming rewardingly into focus before being obscured again.

Dingman winds up the record with Return, building from the most mesmerizing loops here to a long, lush series of waves and then a more kinetic series of variations on the opening theme. Whether you call this ambient music or jazz, you can get lost in it. Dingman will probably pick up the pace a lot at the Bed-Stuy gig.

A word about the liner notes: without a doubt, it’s historically important to remember the Lenape people, a sophisticated civilization who were genocided by the Dutch invaders in the 1600s in what is now New York. But almost four centuries later, this isn’t Lenape land. It’s ours. The messaging about how the turf beneath our feet belongs to a dead civilization and not to us is a UN Agenda 2030 scam to eliminate private property, to get us to live in 10X10 cubicles in Trump cities and eating zee bugs. The Lenape did not eat zee bugs.

A Compelling, Translucent New Album and a Smalls Gig From Simon Moullier

Vibraphonist Simon Moullier burst on the New York jazz scene with an individualistic and sometimes breathtakingly articulate sound. He’s made a name for himself with his distinctive interpretations of standards but is now staking out fertile new terrain as a composer on his latest album Isla, streaming at Bandcamp. And he’s leading his quartet at Smalls on March 5, with sets at 7:30 and 9ish; cover is $25 at the door.

On the opening number, Empress of the Sea, bassist Alexander Claffy and drummer Jongkuk Kim lay down a lithe 12/8 groove beneath a distantly eerie modal vamp and similar harmonies between Moullier and pianist Lex Korten. The piano warms the atmosphere after the bandleader’s enigmatic solo, but the unease remains. It’s a strong opener.

The second cut is the title track, which could be vintage Bobby Hutcherson in an especially gritty but also slinky mood: the band really swing this hard as they move along. Kim’s hushed clave gives extra suppleness and mystery to You Go to My Head, Moullier’s tight clustering approach in contrast to Korten’s legato, with an electrifying vibraphone solo out.

The band reach for a more relaxed, syncopated shuffle rhythm in Enchantment, Korten’s loose-limbed solo at the center: Moullier’s incisive upper register riffs come across as guitar voicings, a cool touch. He builds the aptly titled Moon Mist around a spring-loaded, hypnotic vamp, Claffy stepping out for a stroll as Korten collects a dream nebula overhead which the bandleader then gives an extra jolt of voltage.

The band go back to early 60s Prestige Records terrain for This Dream, Kim loping along with a spring-loaded syncopation as Moullier riffs at high velocity over Korten’s steady insistence. Phoenix Eye is the album’s punchiest, most biting and allusively bluesy track, Korten scrambling, Moullier choosing his spots. They bring the record full circle with the simply titled Heart, a wary ballad: it’s the most allusively Lynchian and defiantly enigmatic track here. Moullier has really been on a creative roll lately: let’s hope that continues.

Another Gorgeously Cinematic New Mix of Accordion and Piano Jazz From Ben Rosenblum

Ben Rosenblum is one of the most electrifyingly eclectic voices in jazz. He’s as adrenalizing an accordionist as he is a pianist, but his strongest suit ultimately is his compositions. His earlier ones can be hard to find, but one place you can find him is at Smalls on March 2 where he’s playing the album release show for his new one A Thousand Pebbles – streaming at Spotify – with his brilliant Nebula Project septet. Sets are at 7:30 and around 9; cover is $25 cash at the door.

The opening tune, Catamaran, takes awhile to get going, but when it does, it’s breathtaking. Trumpeter Wayne Tucker hits a tantalizingly fleeting chromatic passage, with the bandleader, bassist Marty Jaffe and drummer Ben Zweig build a bustling high-seas tableau. Rosenblum switches to accordion for a spiritedly goofy Irish jig of an outro.

He sticks with that instrument over guitarist Rafael Rosa’s pulse in Bulgares while the band build an increasingly complex web of gorgeous Balkan tonalities, the wicked spirals of the accordion in contrast with the blistering conversation between Rosa and Tucker. It’s one of the best track released in 2023 so far.

The album’s title suite begins with a sentimental chorale between Tucker and saxophonists Jasper Dutz and Xavier Del Castillo. The second movement, Road to Recollection, is a genial, brassy swing tune where the ensemble sounds twice as large as they are behind Rosenblum’s piano rivulets, punches and pointillisms. Backward masked patches signal the segue to The Gathering, a spacious, increasingly acidic, moody accordion jazz tune that strongly evokes the Claudia Quintet, a calmly biting sax solo at the center and another electrifying Tucker solo on the way out.

Rosenblum opens the conclusion, Living Streams, with spare, wary gospel piano, Rosa and the horns enhancing the hymnal ambience as they bring the suite full circle.

Bookended with Jaffe’s somber, bowed bass, The Bell from Europe – a post WWII reflection on the legacy of violence – couldn’t be more relevant. Tucker’s solemn solo rises in tandem with the horns over a funereal pulse as the music brightens, Rosa channeling a sobering angst along with melancholy, chugging bass to remind that too little has changed since 1945.

The band pick up the pace with The Village Steps, Rosenblum’s pensive, pastoral accordion sailing over a churning, altered samba groove. The turn into shadowy noir with Lilian, a portrait of a femme fatale, is deliciously, understatedly lurid, with eerie reverb guitar, smoky horns, suspiciously genial bass clarinet from Dutz, a slithery bass solo, and enigmatically circling piano worthy of a classic Johnny Mandel theme from the 50s.

They reinvent Jobim’s Song of the Sabia as jaunty forro jazz with Rosenblum’s accordion at the center over the horns’ lustre: imagine Forro in the Dark at their most lithe and animated. Rosenblum closes with Implicit Attitude, a supple swing tune that looks back to Gil Evans-era Miles with simmering solos from Del Castillo’s tenor sax, Tucker’s muted trumpet and Dutz’s dynamically leaping bass clarinet. This rich and vastly diverse album deserves consideration for best jazz record of 2023.