Jazz: Summer 2021

Monarch Jazz Recommendations

Wadada Leo Smith With Bill Laswell and Milford Graves
Sacred Ceremonies

The inimitable trumpeter and composer Wadada Leo Smith recently turned 80 and he celebrates that milestone with numerous box sets on TUM Records, world premieres, a performance of his music by members of the Chicago Symphony, a residency at Harvard and a birthday concert in December. “Sacred Ceremonies” is the first of a series of box sets featuring Smith’s music to be released this year by TUM Records. The three-CD set highlights Smith’s extraordinary collaborative abilities as he meets with two fellow titans of creative music, electric bassist Bill Laswell and drummer Milford Graves, interacting in duo and trio configurations. Graves, to whose memory the album is dedicated, displays mystic percussive wizardry, while Laswell adds phenomenal effects with his psychedelic bass playing. Smith’s always incomparable trumpet is in top form here as well, soaring, probing, gliding, always seeking new, unheard realms of sound and spirit. On “Sacred Ceremonies,” three masters go deeply, fearlessly and transcendently into this mysterious, magnificent thing we call music, and come up with an offering that feels like a gift from the universe.

Sarah Wilson

Gratitude is the inspiration behind trumpeter, vocalist and bandleader Sarah Wilson’s “Kaleidoscope.” On this brilliant recording, the triple threat San Francisco Bay artist tips her hat to mentors who’ve helped and inspired her, delivering a powerful, diverse set of originals performed by a stellar sextet (Wilson, pianist Myra Melford, violinist Charles Burnham, bassist Jerome Harris, guitarist John Schott and drummer Matt Wilson).

Though rooted in jazz, Wilson’s wide open artistic sensibilities result in tunes with a range of influences, from Afro-Latin grooves to indie rock to her experiences writing scores for the theater. Bolstered by her smooth horn playing, airy vocals and crackerjack band, Wilson’s from-the-heart compositions are just the elixir we need in these times. Dramatic and compelling, “Kaleidoscope” is an album to fall in love with.

Roy Hargrove and Mulgrew Miller
In Harmony

Gratitude to Resonance Records for unearthing and releasing yet another gem, this time featuring trumpeter Roy Hargrove and pianist Mulgrew Miller in outstanding live duo performances. The tracks come from 2006 and 2007 shows in New York City and Pennsylvania, and mark the first posthumous release for Hargrove since his death in 2018. The deep influences of Black music traditions like gospel, blues and, of course, jazz, are apparent in the repertoire choice, arranging and improvisational touches, as Hargrove and Miller play with elan and authority, displaying their musical mastery in upbeat standards like “What Is This Thing Called Love,” sublime ballads like “Never Let Me Go” and the grooving funk of “Fungii Mama.” The gorgeous booklet — a hallmark of Resonance releases — has rare photos, an essay by Ted Panken and statements by Sonny Rollins, Christian McBride, Common, Jon Batiste, Chris Botti, Ambrose Akinmusire, Robert Glasper and others. “In Harmony” is that rarest of recordings, documenting two peerless artists making incomparable music in the moment.

Noah Haidu

Pianist/composer Noah Haidu is on a roll. Last year he released “Doctone,” a stellar multimedia tribute to the late great pianist Kenny Kirkland. Now, he celebrates another of his idols, pianist Keith Jarrett, who recently turned 76 and retired after suffering debilitating strokes. Featuring no less than the legendary Buster Williams and Billy Hart as rhythm section, the band pays homage to Jarrett and his unparalleled piano trio with Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette in the best way, by respecting Jarrett’s focus on the melody and channeling his trio’s inspirational connection and openness of expression into their own distinctive sound. The mix of Jarrett’s pieces and Haidu, Williams, and Hart originals works well, with Haidu’s elegant, vivid piano buoyed by Williams’ and Hart’s masterful bass and drums. The fact that almost every track is an unedited first take is testament to the remarkable kinship in Haidu’s trio. True to its title, “Slowly” is an album to relish, infused with clarity, depth of feeling and commanding performances.

Ches Smith and We All Break
Path of Seven Colors

Some of the most innovative and powerful albums of the last few years have come out of Kris Davis’ label, Pyroclastic Records. “Path of Seven Colors” may be the most extraordinary one yet. With elemental rhythms, swirling polytonalities, powerful Haitian vocals and visionary improvisations, its melding of modern jazz with Haitian Vodou makes a truly new sound. Drummer/composer Ches Smith’s band We All Break is a first-rate octet with Smith, pianist Matt Mitchell, saxophonist Miguel Zenón, bassist Nick Dunston, vocalist Sirene Dantor Rene and master drummers Daniel Brevil, Markus Schwartz and Fanfan Jean-Guy Rene. The music resonates with possibility and breathtaking imagination and artistry. Like the best art, it touches the essence of human life, the work, play, joy and sorrow of living in community, the spontaneity and thrill of creating and connecting, but “Path of Seven Colors” reaches farther, into a shimmering beyond that feels at once unknown and familiar. We All Break is a band that forges a genuinely fresh path, and “Path of Seven Colors” is the kind of album that only comes along once in a blue moon, one that births a sound entirely different and eminently satisfying.