April 2021 Jazz Report Evaluations

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Archie Shepp, Jason Moran: Let my people go
Archie Shepp, saxophone; Jason Moran, piano.
Archieball ARCH2101 (download 16 / 44.1). 2021. Clément Gerbault, Martin Sarrazac, Prods .; Raphaël Alain, Raphaël Jonin, eng.
Power *****
Sonics ***

Sometimes all you have to do is get your heart broken. Sometimes you have to be devastated in ways that only Billie Holiday or Rev. Gary Davis or a perfectly executed Schubert sonata can.

Saxophonist Archie Shepp, now 83, has made a name for himself for political anger shaped by the greats of the form (Ellington, Gershwin, Monk, Waller) who are generally passionate or exultant. The blues as a form is of course familiar to the master. With pianist Jason Moran, Shepp dives deeper than form to find somber resonance.

Moran, not much more than half of Shepp’s age, is a fantastically skilled player and the perfect partner for this album of heartbreaking outings. The seven tracks are from Ellington, Monk and Spirituals and begin with a devastating version of “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child”. Shepps breathless saxophone sways without stumbling, his singing is tired and knowing. Some may have problems with Shepp’s vocal performance of Billy Strayhorn’s demanding “Lush Life”, but the emotions are there when the pitch isn’t quite right.

In terms of sound, the first three tracks that were recorded at the Jazz à la Villette Festival 2017 are almost perfect. The others from the Enjoy Jazz Festival 2018 in Mannheim are less so.

Shepp dominates Cthebmix on these, Cand the low end of the piano steps back at times, giving the album an uneven bonus disc feel like it’s a jewel on the deep end of a box set. If it wasn’t the only record we have (so far) of this remarkably sensitive duo, it could be cause for complaint. As it is, we take it with hope as a promise for more.??Kurt Gottschalk

Jakob Bro: A helmet
Jakob Bro, guitar; Arve Henriksen, trumpet, piccolo trumpet; Jorge Rossy, drums.
ECM 2702 (CD, also available as a download, LP). 2021. Manfred Eicher, Prod .; Stefano Amerio, German
Power *****
Sonics **** ½

In its tonal texture and spiritual charisma, Uma Elmo is a continuation of the important work that the Danish guitarist Jakob Bro has put together since 2005. However, the ensemble here with trumpeter Arve Henriksen and drummer Jorge Rossy is new.

Bro is a shaman. He deals with hypnotic atmospheres and enveloping soundscapes. Its fresh melodies are elusive, as if they are dormant in your subconscious, waiting for Bro to revive them. Even with new employees, Bro makes records that just sound like himself. From the first track “Reconstructing a Dream”, Uma Elmo is unmistakably Bro in the purity of his forms and the depth of his moods. But this album has its own solemnity and melancholy. It was recorded in late summer 2020 in an acoustically excellent empty auditorium in Lugano, Switzerland. Bro says he was unsure until the last moment whether the meetings could take place amid the pandemic. Uma Elmo is a soundtrack to his unique, dark time, a defiant act of hope.

At first it is surprising that Henriksen takes the lead so often. But his lines flow straight out of Bro’s songs and then move on to revelations that once found feel inevitable. Bro offers the ideal setting. The glow of his softly intense guitar is like a morning sky.

Other pieces that maintain the unbroken reverie on this album and at the same time expand his emotional awareness are “Morning Song” and “To Stanko”, an ecstatic, moving eulogy for the great Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko.

Five stars shouldn’t be given lightly, but Uma Elmo is an unalloyed beauty. ”Thomas Conrad

Ethan Iverson: Bud Powell in the 21st Century
Ethan Iverson, piano, arrangements, compositions; 16 others.
Sunnyside SSC 1619 (CD, download). 2021. Umbria Jazz, Prod .; Marco Melchior, German
Power ****
Sonics *** ½

In 2018, Carlo Pagnotta and Enzo Capua, directors of the Umbria Jazz Winter Festival in Orvieto, Italy, commissioned Ethan Iverson to arrange seven Bud Powell compositions, add new, relevant material and perform everything with an Italian big band with American guests.

The guests are tenor saxophonist Dayna Stephens, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, bassist Ben Street and drummer Lewis Nash. With Iverson at the piano they form a quintet within the big band. Powell made a famous quintet record in 1949 with Sonny Rollins and Fats Navarro. Iverson includes Powell’s 1949 repertoire as well as other classics such as “Celia”.

Iverson’s diagrams are tight and clean, and work closely with Powell’s originals. For example, Iverson keeps everything on “Bouncing with Bud”: the fanfare intro, the notated bridge, and the solo order. It’s not easy to follow Rollins and Navarro even 69 years later, but Stephens and Jensen stand out. Following Bud Powell is even more difficult. Iverson’s solo sings.

The big band versions enlarge Powell pieces like “Tempus Fugit” onto large canvases. Iverson weaves his own material into the Powell compositions. The new pieces refer to Powell’s melodic and harmonic ways of thinking and characteristic solo lines. It’s like a suite, a seven-decade collaboration between Iverson and Powell.

Powell’s music often expressed the exhilaration of spiritual liberation, but he suffered from mental illness. Iverson’s compositions recognize this duality. Powell is delighted with the title track. The short interludes, called “magic”, get the darkness. Thomas Conrad