Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis – Handful of Keys

Handful of Keys
Title: Handful of Keys

Artist: Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis

Label: Blue Engine

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 15, 2017

 

The latest release from the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, Handful of Keys, features pianists Joey Alexander, Dick Hyman, Myra Melford, Dan Nimmer, Helen Sung, and Isaiah J. Thompson. According to the liner notes by Myra Melford, “this concert was an ‘encapsulated history’ exploring the many rich traditions and styles that define jazz piano today.” By showcasing a multi-generational group (ranging from ages 13 to 89), this album does an outstanding job at presenting 100 years of jazz piano.

The words phenomenal and exhilarating come to mind when describing this project, with each featured pianist offering a different layer of excitement. Beginning with Dick Hyman’s arrangement of “Jingles” by James P. Johnson, the listener is shown a glimpse into the past while given a taste of Hyman’s personality. His flawless execution of intricate passages during this performance demonstrates his dexterity on the piano, and his brilliance in jazz. “Four By Five” captures the spirit of McCoy Tyner, while demonstrating Helen Sung’s creativity as a pianist and arranger. Fragments of Tyner’s vocabulary (pentatonic and quartal harmony) are heard in Sung’s solo, but what’s even more interesting is the way Tyner’s vocabulary is incorporated in the melodic phrases of the horn section.

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Joey Alexander’s heartfelt performance on Bill Evans’ “Very Early” provides excitement through his use of melodic and rhythmic motivic development (in the style of Evans), while Myra Melford’s use of Afro-Cuban montuno patterns and rhythm blended with free improvisational concepts on “The Strawberry” inspires us to dance. Isaiah J. Thompson’s magnificent tribute to pianist Oscar Peterson, “Hymn To Freedom,” takes us on a musical journey displaying virtuosic melodic lines and block chords reminiscent of Peterson. Lastly, but certainly not least, pianist Dan Nimmer of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra performs a fabulous rendition of Wynton Kelly’s “Temperance,” displaying his technical abilities and finesse for jazz piano while capturing the light and expressive style of Kelly.

While this album features jazz pianists, we cannot neglect the role of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. The ensemble does not miss a beat moving from one style to another. The precision of notes, the time-feel, and the overall sound of the collective ensemble displays a high level of musicianship and professionalism, while providing support for the featured pianists.

Handful of Keys is an album that honors the jazz tradition and legacy of past pianists, while contributing new interpretations and arrangements to ensure the continuing longevity of the genre.

Reviewed by Jamaal Baptiste

Wyclef Jean – Carnival III: The Fall and Rise of a Refugee

The Rise and Fall of Carnival III
Title: Carnival III: The Fall and Rise of a Refugee

Artist: Wyclef Jean

Label: Legacy

Formats: CD, Vinyl, MP3

Release date: September 15, 2017

 

Wyclef Jean released his Carnival III: The Fall and Rise of a Refugee, highlighting the 20th anniversary of his album The Carnival, and the 10th anniversary of Carnival II: Memoirs of an Immigrant. Like the other albums in the Carnival series, the third installment incorporates music from different parts of the world, offering an outstanding conglomerate of music for the listener. According to Jean, this multi-cultural “genre-bending album is outside the box . . . It’s a celebration of what I love about music: discovery, diversity and artistry for art’s sake.

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The first thing that stands out is Jean’s inspirational words, reminding us that “we shall overcome our struggles someday.” His motivational lyrics and usage of biblical references (e.g. Zion, Golden Gates, and Psalm 23) resonate with the listener as symbols of hope, while inspiring them to pursue their goals. Another aspect of this album is Jean’s blending of polyrhythms (“Fela Kuti”), reggae (“Turn Me Good”), Afro-Cuban (“Trapicabana”), hip hop and popular music, creating a multi-cultural experience. Finally, the skillfulness and musicality displayed by each guest artist (including Jazzy Amra, T-Baby, STIX, and Emeli Sandé) adds another layer to the brilliance of this album.

Carnival III: The Fall and Rise of a Refugee sustains the legacy of Wyclef Jean’s first Carnival album, spreading the message of community, hope, and love while showing the diversity of the world stage through the art within a music compilation.

Reviewed by Jamaal Baptiste

Arturo O’Farrill & Chucho Valdés – Familia Tribute To Bebo and Chico

La Familie
Title: Familia Tribute To Bebo and Chico

Artist: Arturo O’Farrill & Chucho Valdés

Label: Motéma Music

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 15, 2017

 

 

Familia Tribute To Bebo and Chico is an awe-inspiring collaborative album between Arturo O’Farrill and Chucho Valdez. Spanning three generations of musicians, the project is a tribute to the musical legacy of their fathers: Dionisio Ramón Emilion “Bebo” Valdés Amaro and Arturo “Chico” O’Farrill. The first half presents a blending of Afro-Cuban music genres, jazz idioms, and Haitian meringue, and overall is reminiscent of Latin jazz compositions of the 1950s-90s. The large ensemble instrumentation is a reminder of the Cuban dance bands and the jazz big band traditions, setting brass against saxes on a bed of Afro-Cuban rhythms. The second half of the album introduces the voices of the third generation (ensemble) with compositions influenced by current trends in jazz—odd meter, hip hop, funk, etc.—mixed with Afro-Cuban genres—danzón, songo, and other rhythmic patterns.

The album opens in a celebratory fashion with the tune “BeboChicoChuchoTuro,” which is a joyous Haitian meringue, beginning with an extremely rhythmic piano cadenza that sets up the carnivalesque feeling in the ensemble. The lush harmonies in the horn section create a festive feeling while the rhythm section invites listeners to dance and stomp their feet. On “Fathers, Mothers, Sons, Daughters” we encounter the meeting of the second generation, Chucho and Arturo, with the melodious and virtuosic playing of the third generation: pianist Leyanis Valdés, drummer Jessie Valdés (later on “Recuerdo”), trumpeter Adam O’Farrill, and drummer Zack O’Farrill. The improvised solos, between each soloist, display the versatility and musicality of both families.

The later “Recuerdo” adds a warm almost nostalgic sensation, with its medium tempo and surprising rhythmic superimpositions, creating an intimate space for listeners. On “Pura Emoción,” and “Para Chico,” Chucho Valdés and Arturo O’Farrill perform two heartfelt solo piano pieces filled with emotion as they pay homage to their fathers. The final song “Raja Ram” presents an unexpected twist with the addition of musician Anoushka Shankar, who plays an electrified sitar solo that doesn’t disappoint the listener.

Familia Tribute To Bebo and Chico serves as a historical marker of the legacy between the Valdés and O’Farrill families, paying tribute to both old and new influences in Afro-Cuban music and jazz.

Reviewed by Jamaal Baptiste

Aruán Ortiz – Cub(an)ism

Aruán Ortiz
Title: Cub(an)ism

Artist: Aruán Ortiz

Label: Intakt

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: June 18, 2017

 

 

Cuban-born pianist Aruán Ortiz blends Cuban traditional rhythms with Cubist concepts and elements of free jazz improvisation in his astounding new release Cub(an)ism. This solo piano album is filled with fragments taken from both sides of the Cuban-Cubist spectrum, using the fundamental Afro-Cuban rhythmic structures as vehicles for Ortiz’s Cubist expressions. On “L’ouverture” he uses the Afro-Haitian gagá rhythm as a motif, which is developed further as the piece progresses. “Cuban Cubism,” however, begins with free improvisation, later combining Afro-Cuban 6/8 rhythmic patterns in the left hand with jazz melodic phrases in the right hand.

Cub(an)ism is a model for any aspiring musician interested in blending folkloric musics and classical structures.

Editors note: This fall Ortiz will be touring the U.S. and performing at jazz festivals in Chicago, Seattle and San Francisco.

Reviewed by Jamaal Baptiste

Ahmad Jamal – Marseille

Ahmad Jamal
Title: Marseille

Artist: Ahmad Jamal

Label: Jazz Village [PIAS]

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: June 7, 2017

 

 

Ahmad Jamal does it again with the release of his newest album, Marseille. According to Jazz Village [PIAS], “Marseille is Jamal’s love letter to the iconic city in Southern France.” Throughout the album, we hear Jamal’s signature minimalist approaches, extended vamps, lush chordal harmonies, space and textures. This album presents a picture of the city through his expressive compositions and arrangements.

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Jazz has always been an evolving genre, drawing from popular and folkloric musics as inspirational tools for compositions.  As for Ahmad Jamal, at age 87, he continues to demonstrate his ability to perform and compose in the jazz tradition with the highest level of artistry.  Each track on this album (re)constructs musical forms and genres, offering new possibilities for jazz in the 21st century. Genres ranging from marches, New Orleans rhythms coupled with Southern Baptist influences (“Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child”), and Afro-Cuban 6/8 rhythm (“Pots En Verre”) are all heard as Jamal expresses his emotions towards the city of Marseille.

The title track is worth mentioning, as it is performed three times on this album, creating a sense of Jamal’s personal narrative. The album begins with the first iteration of “Marseille” featuring a steady march rhythm under lush chordal harmonies, supported by riffs in the piano and bass. The second iteration, placed halfway through the album, changes to a groove similar to Jamal’s arrangement of “Poinciana,” but includes a spoken word section (with lyrics by Jamal) performed by Abd Al Malik in French.

The final iteration of “Marseille,” and final track of the album, features Mina Agossi singing Jamal’s lyrics in both English and French. Similar to a story structure, each variation of “Marseille” further explores Jamal’s relationship with the city. Malik’s use of rhythm mixed with brief pauses and repetitions, and Agossi’s warm tone and melodic embellishment evoke the emotional sensation described in the lyrics. If you appreciate the compositional style of Ahmad Jamal and his use of space and textures, then this album will most certainly not disappoint.

Reviewed by Jamaal Baptiste