October 2022 Jazz Record Reviews

Enrico Rava, Fred Hersch: The Song Is You
ECM (WAV file; also CD). 2022. Manfred Eicher, prod.; Stefano Amerio, eng.
Performance *****
Sonics *****

Many inspired jazz recordings come out of combinations of instrumentalists—usually the more unexpected, the better. What's most fascinating are the ways players adapt to each other's emotions and inventiveness.

This pairing, which is exactly the kind of fusion that has made ECM such a distinct entity lo these many years, was likely inspired by ECM founder and inspirational presence Manfred Eicher. American pianist Hersch, who can do wistful as well as he does sprightly and is as strong melodically as rhythmically, is easily one of the finest pianists in jazz today. Italy's Rava, who debuted on ECM with 1975's The Pilgrim and the Stars and who began as a bopper before falling under the sway of free jazz, has mellowed into a trumpet master with astonishing range, able to command nearly every permutation in jazz, from avantgarde to soul jazz. Both men are sentimentalists in the best sense, and both are lyrical players, which is what makes their pairing in The Song Is You so captivating. That and their collective wisdom allow Hersch to turn a well-worn chestnut like Thelonious Monk's "'Round Midnight" into a short, delicate solo tribute. The duo's lively, upbeat rendition of "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You" is a hall of mirrors that bounces between choppy exclamations as each musician reacts to the other's ideas.

With its impressionistic ending, the title track is sweeping and passionate in all the right ways. Its stylistic opposite is "Improvisation," the only new track the pair composed together, a moody wandering with Rava tooting and Hersch tittering as both answer and add to the other's directions. The sound here is breathtaking: spacious, natural, impeccably balanced, with glorious resonance and just enough of the sound of the room to add presence. It is—as is the standard with ECM—an audible tutorial on recording done right. Thoroughly enjoyable and instantly essential.—Robert Baird


Reinier Baas/Jonas Burgwinkel/Kit Downes: Deadeye
Baas, guitar; Burgwinkel, drums; Downes, Hammond B3 organ
Dox DOX633 (CD, also available as hi-rez download). 2022. Baas, Burgwinkel, Downes, prods.; Stephan Vester, eng.
Performance ****
Sonics ***½

The debut of this international organ trio features three bright, emerging lights of European jazz.

It is impossible to put on a Hammond B3 trio record without reflecting on the rich history of the format and fondly remembering organists like Jimmy Smith, Brother Jack McDuff, and Richard Holmes, whose nickname was "Groove." Groove is of course the point of the organ trio. It is party music.

But the three postmodernists who call themselves Deadeye have their own take on the format. To be sure, tunes like "Wild Bill" (for Wild Bill Davis?) and "Familiar" recall the earthy, greasy, good-time vibe of the organ trio tradition. But the beats of drummer Jonas Burgwinkel, while undeniably funky, are too broken up to dance to. Guitarist Reinier Baas and organist Kit Downes develop edgy sonorities and progressive forms that have never been explored with this instrumentation.

In contrast to most B3 trios, Deadeye is not led by the organist. This is a true collective. On "Song for the Sea," Baas opens with the kind of guitar lines he is becoming known for: intricate strands of clean, fresh lyricism. When Downes enters, he provides oceanic undercurrents then creates keening unisons with Baas as the sea begins to surge. There are other atypical organ trio pieces, like "Sonatina," a formal, elegant, gradually intensifying miniature sonata, and two covers. Morricone's "Ninna Nanna per Adulteri" is so mysteriously, orchestrally lush that it begs Deadeye to do an album of Morricone film music. "The Wayfaring Stranger," full of Baas's dramatic, suspenseful, twanging pauses, makes you wish for a Deadeye album of Americana.

This trio can stop you cold just playing the melody.—Thomas Conrad


Kirk Knuffke Trio: Gravity Without Airs
Knuffke, cornet; Michael Bisio, bass; Matthew Shipp, piano
TAO Forms TAO 10 (2 CDs, available as download, 2 LPs). 2022. Knuffke, Whit Dickey, prods.; Jim Clouse, eng.
Performance ****
Sonics ****

Quietly, Kirk Knuffke has become one of the most interesting trumpet players of his generation. Actually, his horn is the cornet (a trumpet variant with a slightly deeper, warmer sound). He is an outcat but approachable.

The near reaches of avantgarde jazz can be an especially fertile artistic environment. Knuffke has said, "I'm concerned with making beautiful music. Even when the music is free, ... I want it to reach into people's hearts."

Gravity Without Airs is a diverse, inquisitive, in-depth 90-minute recital on two CDs by a trio with highly unusual instrumentation. Michael Bisio is on bass and Matthew Shipp on piano. Knuffke's path to people's hearts is through their minds. (He may be the only jazz musician to prepare for a recording by reading Marcus Aurelius.) His work is intellectually rigorous. As his cornet darts and veers and shrieks, he carves abstract forms from the air. Often, his melodies are jagged and his harmonies are harsh. Shipp reinforces the cerebral context. Sometimes he reflects Knuffke's lines back to him, analytically and percussively. Sometimes he postulates furious counterproposals.

But a piece like "Birds of Passage" is proof that Knuffke's truest creative concerns are emotional. It is one of eight group improvisations on the album. (Six other tracks are Knuffke compositions. It says a lot about Knuffke's aesthetic that his compositions sound improvised and his group improvisations sound through-composed.) "Birds of Passage" opens with Shipp thundering in his bass clef and Knuffke ranting. But Shipp suddenly subsides and turns inward with halting, pensive piano markings, and Knuffke goes quiet in a long sequence of melodic variations, still irregular in shape but lovely enough to reach into people's hearts.—Thomas Conrad


Anteloper: Pink Dolphins
Jaime Branch, trumpet; Jason Nazary, drums and synths
International Anthem IARC0056 (LP—pink vinyl; also available on CD, download). 2022. Jeff Parker, prod.; Ian Hersey, eng.
Performance *****
Sonics ****

Music experimentalism is a fraught universe full of big ideas and less-than-listenable realizations. Being "free" from any rules or expectations while still making music others want to hear is harder than it sounds. For electronic experimentalism to work, there must be an inherent joy in the act of creation and ambitious searching—a groove, an exciting and listenable new hybrid of sounds, something that could grow into a subgenre if only for one album.

When all those elements are present, as they are on Pink Dolphins, the new duo set from trumpeter Jaime Branch and drummer/synth player Jason Nazary with guest producer/guitarist Jeff Parker from Tortoise, it can add up to some of the most exciting new music being made. Named for the rose-colored dolphins that live in the Amazon in both fresh and saltwater, this five-song exploration opens with "Inia," an example of this duo at their most focused. After synth yowls and bleeps, Nazary begins drumming slowly, building a deep synth groove. Branch eventually enters in a burst of rapid-fire notes before lengthening her lines. Psychedelia, a flavor du jour these days in popular music, is the ruling passion here. The long closer, "One Living Genus," meanders before adding and subtracting sounds then quietly trailing off.

The sonics on this album, which was recorded at Carefree Studios in Brooklyn, New York, vary from balanced and accurate to deliberately challenging. On "Earthlings," for example—a tune with unexpected though not unpleasant vocals from Branch—they move from intentionally buzzy and fuzzy to a clear, focused acoustic guitar sound near the end.

Does it all work? No, but then that's kind of the point. As Branch so eloquently puts it, "We're improviser first and we're bringing 'moment music.'"—Robert Baird

MBMax's picture

Sounds amazing from the description. And I'm a big Shipp fan. Thanks for the review TC, it's on my list!

boMD's picture

RIP Jaimie Branch!

Allen Fant's picture

Nicely done- RB and TC.
I am a big fan of Hersch and Shipp.

tenorman's picture

RIP Jaimie Branch . Your music has brought me great joy . You’ll be missed but never forgotten

PeterPani's picture

will come out on vinyl, too. End of November.

rschryer's picture

...hit me hard and I don't think I'll ever get over it completely. Thirty-freakin-nine! What a waste.

One of my favorite trumpeters of all time. I consider her up there with the best of them. I don't know anyone else who played like she did, that could pierce the sky with such lightning bolts of pure tone. Her sound was the epitome of power and grace.

Thank you, Jaimie, from the bottom of my heart.

Jim Austin's picture

... about trumpet players passing early? Not sure there's much of a musical connection, but imagine what Booker Little could have become. Which in no way softens the blow of Jaimie. A great, recent, so more impactful, loss.

Jim Austin, Editor

rschryer's picture

Great player. I'd never heard of Booker Little and no wonder. 23? Barely an adult and already so good on his instrument. So sad to imagine all that great music that could've been...