June 2021 Jazz Record Reviews

Mario Rom's Interzone: Eternal Fiction
Mario Rom, trumpet; Lukas Kranzelbinder, bass; Herbert Pirker, drums
Traumton 4694 (CD; available as download, LP). 2020. Mario Rom, prod.; Werner Angerer, eng.
Performance ****
Sonics ****

Most European countries have one standout trumpet badass. Finland has Verneri Pohjola. Portugal has Susana Santos Silva. Until his death in 2018, Poland had Tomasz Stanko.

Austria has Mario Rom. Like most European jazz musicians who don't record for ECM, he is under the radar in the US. His fresh, bold voice is loud and clear on the European scene. Eternal Fiction is the fourth album in 10 years by the trio Rom calls Interzone.

In trumpet and saxophone trios, the minimal instrumentation allocates more responsibility, and usually more solo space, to the rhythm section. But in Interzone, bassist Lukas Kranzelbinder and drummer Herbert Pirker rarely solo. Instead, they provide an envelope of energy within which Rom pursues trumpet adventures.

Pieces like "Are We Real?" and "Chant for the Voiceless" would be at home on ECM. Rom's lines float free and grow longer, more enigmatic, and more hypnotic over time. On "You'll Find Me No More," Kranzelbinder generates suspense by insisting on a two-note ostinato for six minutes over which Rom veers and slides and smears. Rom is unusually disciplined for a fearless improviser. In the flow of his creative process, he continuously crystallizes complete, vivid ideas. He has an exhilarating brilliant, brassy trumpet tone, but, like Tomasz Stanko, he is willing to turn it into gravel and spit when the moment demands it.

The best thing about Interzone is that they always burn, sometimes with the indirect heat of an underground fire, sometimes in a raging conflagration, as on "Matala." How did Manfred Eicher miss this band?—Thomas Conrad


Joe Lovano & Dave Douglas' Soundprints: Other Worlds
Lovano, tenor; Douglas, trumpet; Lawrence Fields, piano; Linda May Han Oh, bass; Joey Baron, drums.
Greenleaf Music CDGRE 1084 (CD). 2021. Lovano, Douglas, prods.; Tyler McDiarmid, Geoff Countryman, engs.
Performance ****
Sonics ****

SoundPrints is a Wayne Shorter tribute band (a riff on his classic album, Footprints) formed by Joe Lovano and Dave Douglas in 2013 and one of the most exuberant quintets around. Their first album was marred by compressed sound. Their second, Scandal, on Douglas's Greenleaf label, was much more spirited and raucous. Now there's Other Worlds, a very different kettle, inspired by Shorter's philosophy of life and the universe but (this isn't said explicitly) less by his music. Some of Shorter's spirit is there—the melodic hooks, crisscrossing harmonies, highflying solos—especially in "Life on Earth" and "Pythagoras." But much of this is more meditative, sometimes fragmentary and disruptive—it really is a voyage into "other worlds."

It took me a few listens to dive in deep, but, once there, it was a satisfying soak. Lovano has long been a sinuous improviser with a husky, blues-rooted tone, taking ever-freer cues from Sonny Rollins. Douglas remains, after nearly 30 years as a leader, startlingly inventive and endlessly versatile as player and composer. Linda May Han Oh is a remarkably fresh bassist, agile and precise. Joey Baron keeps, twists, and spins around time with merry, controlled abandon. Lawrence Fields spreads out more than usual on piano, adding new layers of rhythm to a polyrhythmic unit.

The sound is good—Lovano and Douglas palpable up front, just off center—except for Baron's drums, which are buried in the mix. Too bad: In live concerts his shimmering cymbals galvanize the band. Still, this is heady stuff, worthy of immersion.—Fred Kaplan


Jack Brandfield: I'll Never Be the Same
Jack Brandfield, tenor saxophone; Randy Napoleon, guitar; Rodney Whitaker, bass
Gut String Records GSR052 (CD; available as download). 2021. Jack Brandfield, prod.; Corey DeRushia, eng.
Performance ***½
Sonics ****½

In the second year of the pandemic, jazz as an art form is vibrant and healthy. All over the world, jazz musicians are pushing the envelope.

Jack Brandfield is not one of them. He is a 23-year-old classicist. He speaks a tenor saxophone language invented before he was born, by figures of legend like Stan Getz and Zoot Sims.

Then why is he worth our attention? First, because the great tradition he operates in has not been exhausted. Artists like Brandfield can find new possibilities for creative expression in the clarion, generous, rounded melodicism that characterized jazz before it took on postmodern edges and ironies. Second, because due to the current emphasis on new composition, too few young players are at home in the Great American Songbook; it is a kick to hear Brandfield find fresh revelations in tunes like Ellington's "Do Nothing Till You Hear from Me" and Frank Loesser's "On a Slow Boat to China." Third, because the unusual, drummerless instrumentation provides an ideal, spacious setting for soloists. Brandfield, guitarist Randy Napoleon, and bassist Rodney Whitaker are locked in and inspired. Fourth, because the sound, captured by Corey DeRushia in a studio in Lansing, Michigan, rocks. Brandfield's horn leaps from your speakers.

Brandfield (who looks about 16 on the album cover) is wise beyond his years. Bathing in the glow of Napoleon's guitar, he smears "Over the Rainbow" around for three minutes, with sensual languid indulgence. His interpretation celebrates an innocence that feels far removed from this problematic moment.—Thomas Conrad


Charles Lloyd & The Marvels: Tone Poem
Lloyd, tenor sax, flute; Bill Frisell, guitar; Greg Leisz, pedal guitar; Reuben Rogers, bass; Eric Harland, drums
Blue Note B0033135-01 (2 LPs). 2021. Dorothy Darr, Lloyd, prods.; Michael C. Ross, Adam Camardella, Dom Camardella, Bernie Grundman, engs.
Performance ****
Sonics ****

This is the first new album in Blue Note's audiophile "Tone Poet" series. (The other albums have all been reissues.) It's the third Charles Lloyd album with the Marvels—a moniker to distinguish not the band, which is pretty much the same as his regular crew, but the type of music, which tends toward mellow. The two previous Marvels discs featured singer Lucinda Williams and a fair number of pop tunes. Tone Poem features no singer and just one pop tune—Leonard Cohen's "Anthem"—alongside two Ornette Colemans, one Monk, two originals, and one song each from Cuba and Hungary. Though I prefer Lloyd's more hard-driving sessions (for instance, his previous album, 8), this one is breeze-swaying, meditative, and, for the most part, extremely satisfying. I say "for the most part" because the last half-hour of this 70-minute album is a bit of a bore. (My wife, who passed through during this stretch, said "It sounds like you're about to get a deep-muscle massage.") But the first 40 minutes are better than fine. Pretend it's an album from the 1950s.

Unlike most Tone Poet albums, it was recorded in digital, but it sounds very good anyway. Lloyd's saxophone and flute are upfront and 3D, and his tones—at once muscular and sweet (he sounds much more youthful than his 83 years)—billow forth in bushels of air. The familiar twang of Frisell's guitar also seems right there. Rogers's bass is a bit loose, which may just be his style. Harland's drum kit is spread out too wide across the soundstage for my taste, though his propulsive subtleties are otherwise well captured.—Fred Kaplan