FRED HERSCH & ESPERANZA SPALDING: Alive At The Village Vanguard (Palmetto)
American pianist Fred Hersch is a perennial favourite of this column, an out-gay man whose work is aways a delight. Back here in his choice, New York club, he is joined with vocalist esperanza spalding (who is also a bassist and composer) in a selection of Gershwin, Monk and other jazz classics. Hersch is as erudite and expressive as ever, while spalding proves herself to be an outstanding improvisational storyteller, singing with great wit and charm.
On Neal Heft and Bobby Troup’s chauvinistic ditty Girl Talk, for example, she examines the lyrics with barbed scrutiny and a strong feminist perspective, while on the Gershwins’ But Not For Me, she examines the changes in language since the original’s somewhat archaic terminology. Clever stuff. Given that Hersch was facing a painful hip operation the next day, and spalding was going through a difficult time and was miserable every day, it is a wonder this album is as good as it is. Enjoy it as if you were in the club itself.
SEBASTIAN ROCHFORD/KIT DOWNES: A Short Diary (ECM)
British drummer Seb Rochford is much in demand by jazzers here and abroad, equally capable of the quietest nuance and a louder attack. But he is also a fine composer, and on this remarkable album he is joined by the ever-sensitive pianist Kit Downes in what Seb calls “a sonic memory, created with love, out of need for comfort.” The album is dedicated to Seb’s father Gerard Rochford, who died in 2019, aged 87.
Gerard was a poet from Aberdeen, and also a pianist: it is his song, Even Now I Think Of Her, that concludes this set, a song he had sung into his phone and sent on to Seb to listen to. The album was recorded in his father’s house soon after his death, and is suitably poignant and full of feeling, a fine way to remember someone who was so obviously an inspirational parent and an outstanding man.
JASON REBELLO & TIM GARLAND: Life To Life (Whirlwind Recordings)
Pianist Jason Rebello and multi-reedsman Tim Garland were students together at London’s Guildhall School of Music some 30 years ago, and have been friends ever since, yet this is their first collaboration. They might only be a duo, but the tonal variety of Garland’s reeds, and Rebello’s musical range makes them sound like a larger outfit. The opener, Two To Go, benefits from Rebello’s infectious vamp, Garland in an r’n’b groove throughout, while Soul Resonance is a wistful, tenor-led reverie with a beautiful piano response, the two pieces embodying the individual strengths of the two musicians.
Elsewhere, Garland’s One Morning stands out for its arresting melody, brought out best in Rebello’s full solo, while Rebello’s own No Hope No Tears benefits from Garland’s agile bass clarinet outing. Like I said, they might only form a duo, but this is an album packed with enjoyable incident and winning detail.
THE BANGER FACTORY: Warriors (Banger Factory Records)
What is a warrior? That was the question that trumpeter Mark Kavuma and musicians set out to consider when they met in the studio soon after lockdown. Although holding many different interpretations, their starting point was to explore the word ‘warrior’ in the context of the struggles and challenges faced by musicians during the pandemic.
What resulted were six euphonious tunes that evoke notions of chamber jazz whilst maintaining a sense of adventure and intensity throughout. As ever with this band – now a six piece – the compositions are strong, the musical voicings complex, and the delivery just perfect. If you like your jazz to be both adventurous and exciting, this is the album for you.
DAVE LIEBMAN: Live At Smalls Jazz Club (Cellar Music Group)
American saxophonist Dave Liebman has been at the forefront of jazz for more than 50 years now, famously playing with Miles Davis in the early 1970s. Now a sprightly 76, he is still hard at work, appearing here on a live set recorded in New York in 2022. For this set, he scooped up four fine musicians he had played with before – Peter Evans on trumpet, Leo Genovese on piano, John Hébert on bass, Tyshawn Sorey on drums – and then set them free. What resulted was 72 continuous minutes of music – its three divisions entirely arbitrary – that push the boundaries in every direction.
It might be deemed as demanding for the casual listener, but as he explains: “There were no rules, which also means the listener’s experience can be extremely liberating.” So set your ears free, and listen to the tumult and excitement of a first-class band at the height of its powers. This ferocious live set cements Liebman’s standing as one of the most creative, and challenging, voices in modern jazz
GABRIEL LATCHIN TRIO: Viewpoint (Alys Jazz)
In complete contrast to the cacophonous freedoms explored by Dave Liebman comes this ever-so-polite set from British pianist Gabriel Latchin. Latchin is well-mannered in the extreme, never raising his musical voice too loud, and never playing too fast or in too showy a manner.
With bassist Jeremy Brown and drummer Joe Farnsworth in support, he effortlessly glides through the eleven original compositions on this set, making them all sound so easy and so natural. But there is real skill at play here, and real personal depth too. Albums like this do not shout about themselves, which make them all the more special.
SUMMER JAZZ LIVE!
Summer is coming, and the jazz festivals are back. The ever-excellent Love Supreme runs at Glynde Place outside Lewes – with new headliners regularly announced – from Friday, June 30 – Sunday, July 2. More info HERE
And don’t forget to check out both the Brighton Festival – Saturday, May 6 – Sunday, May 28 – and Brighton Fringe – Friday, May 5 – Sunday, June 4.
The Fringe is always full of surprises – the Chet Baker – Let’s Get Lost tribute at the Rotunda Theatre from May 16 – 21 looks interesting – so do check it out.
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