September 2022 Jazz Record Reviews

Steve Cardenas/Ben Allison/Ted Nash: Healing Power: The Music of Carla Bley
Cardenas, guitar; Allison, bass; Nash, tenor & soprano saxophones, clarinet
Sunnyside SSC 1664 (CD, available as download). 2022. Allison, Cardenas, Nash, prods.; Matt Balitsaris, eng.
Performance ****
Sonics ****½

Carla Bley, now 86, is among the very greatest living jazz composers. But her position is somewhat unusual. None of her songs has quite become a universal jazz standard. There have been fewer Bley tribute albums than you might expect. For decades, Gary Burton's Dreams So Real and Paul Bley's Barrage have stood as the best. Now Healing Power joins them.

The trio here chose Bley compositions that reflect the breadth of her art. Her fondness for quick, convoluted tunes with startling irregular phrase placements is represented by "Ictus." Her bare, elemental lyricism is beautifully exhibited by "Lawns," based on only two interrogatory notes. Her wry wit is contained in "And Now the Queen," a tune like an ironic curtsy. Bley's best format is the large ensemble, so it is notable that Healing Power achieves complete, rich renderings of Bley songs with only three instruments. On the title track, Steve Cardenas plays orchestral guitar. On "Olhos de Gato," Ben Allison fills the whole soundstage with his resonant, dark bass. Throughout, Ted Nash's three reed instruments vary the color palette.

All great jazz composers write pieces that set the stage for improvisers. This trio offers thoughtful, respectful interpretations of Bley forms, but then they do as this most imaginative of composers would wish: They break free and reimagine them and solo their butts off, individually and collectively. "Ida Lupino" may be Bley's best-known tune. Cardenas first portrays the simple, repetitive, addictive theme. Nash shadows him. A spell is cast, and sustained even as each player is given his own moment to wander around in the unique mind of Carla Bley, as embodied in her most cryptic, haunting melody.—Thomas Conrad


Matthew Shipp Trio: World Construct
Shipp, piano; Michael Bisio, bass; Newman Taylor Baker, drums
ESP-Disk (CD). 2022. Steve Holtje, prod.; Jim Clouse, eng.
Performance ****
Sonics ****½

Matthew Shipp may be the most original jazz pianist on the scene, bearing the influence of Cecil Taylor and Paul Bley but taking them in thoroughly distinctive directions. He is rooted in the avant-garde, notably via his early quartet sessions with David S. Ware, but during the past decade, as he neared (and recently passed) 60, he has explored more lyrical passages without losing his knife-sharp edge. World Construct, recorded with the same glove-fitting trio as his 2020 album The Unidentifiable (which may be his best), marks a riveting stage in his incessant evolution.

World Construct begins with a toe-tapping bass-and-drums groove, which Shipp then twists into a chromatic spiral with brashly dissonant intervals that somehow deepen, rather than detract from, its snappy appeal. He follows up with a soft meditation, and then, over the album's next nine tracks, rotates from hard-core pounder to soothing ballad then to tense misterioso (called, fittingly, "A Mysterious State") and back around—all infused with melody, blues, and sometimes beauty.

The few pounders are a little bit monotonous. I prefer Shipp when he flirts with genres, taking them on hair-raising spins or pleasurably adventurous rides.

I hope someday he makes an album of ballads and standards. (It's not out of the question. His 2013 Piano Sutras, one of his best solo albums, featured gently probing covers of Coltrane's "Giant Steps" and Wayne Shorter's "Nefertiti.") But who am I to tell Shipp what to do? He's been recording for almost 35 years, nearly every step surefooted.

World Construct was recorded by Jim Crouse at his Park West Studios in Brooklyn, with a few good mikes and no artifice, straight to 24/48 digital, and it sounds superb: dynamic, detailed, colorful, and warm, but realistically so.—Fred Kaplan


Tyshawn Sorey Trio: Mesmerism
Sorey, drums; Aaron Diehl, piano; Matt Brewer, bass
Yeros7 95269 15980 (CD, available as download, LP). 2022. Michael Carvin, prod.; Aaron Nevezie, eng.
Performance ****½
Sonics ****½

Tyshawn Shorey is the proverbial "different drummer," a unique composer and bandleader. He makes abstract, hermetic albums that often move so slowly that they have been called "durational music." He is a jazz improviser who sometimes writes in rigorously notated long forms. He is embraced by the contemporary classical and experimental music communities. He is also the most critically acclaimed avantgarde jazz musician of his generation. He even won a MacArthur "genius" grant.

This unpredictable artist has now done the one thing he was least expected to do: He has made an album of standards. "For a long time, I felt an intense desire to record some of my favorite songs from the Great American Songbook," Sorey says, in press notes. He recruited two high-level collaborators who are more mainstream than himself, pianist Aaron Diehl (best known as one of Cécile McLorin Salvant's regular accompanists) and bassist Matt Brewer.

Sorey's reverence for "Detour Ahead" sounds genuine. Yet, for 14 minutes, the pensive melody moves in and out of focus as it passes through continuous key modulations. Diehl is a seductively lush, romantically inclined pianist. Here, in the presence of Sorey, he thinks more asymmetrically about his lyricism. Brewer takes an eloquent solo (one of his many). As for Sorey, the complexity of his accentual patterns is vast. (Because he is first an ensemble conceptualist, his creativity as a drummer is often overlooked.)

Sorey's "Autumn Leaves" is true to the spirit of this iconic song, even though its theme is present only in fragments and glimpses. Both of these free versions of standards directly proclaim their melodies at the end, like affirmations that can no longer be deferred. In the tracks described above plus four more, Mesmerism fulfills the promise of its title.—Thomas Conrad

Long-time listener's picture

It just occurred to me: Each month we get new reviews of classical, jazz, and rock/pop recordings. All of which I appreciate -- it's always good to find out about new music. But aren't there other categories? Ambient/minimalist/electronic, for example? I recently discovered a 2020 Alva Noto recording, Xerrox Vol. 4, which has impressed me greatly over three successive listenings. But I never (sorry, rarely -- you did recommend the soundtrack to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) hear about these things from Stereophile. More new stuff, more new categories would be good. Otherwise, keep up the good work and the good fight.

John Atkinson's picture
Must listen to this album. Steve Cardenas and Ted Nash are featured players on Molto Molto, a soon-to-be released CD/double LP/hi-rez download on the Stereophile label. The works on this album are a piano concerto, a symphony, and a tribute to Jerry Garcia, all composed by Sasha Matson and scored for a jazz big band.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile