Jazz: Summer 2024

Monarch Jazz Recommendations

Brian Landrus
Blue Note Plays Ellington &Amp; Strayhorn

On his remarkable new album, low reeds specialist Brian Landrus becomes something of a one-man orchestra, getting extraordinary results by layering the dizzying spectrum of wind instruments he plays (baritone and bass saxophone, bass and contra alto clarinets, piccolo, and an array of flutes) to create a lush and distinctive sound that harkens to the lush timbres of the classic Ellington Orchestra while displaying an evocative sonic hue all his own. Joining him are the stellar rhythm section of guitarist Dave Stryker, bassist Jay Anderson, and drummer Billy Hart. In Landrus’s hands, familiar and lesser-known Ellington and Strayhorn pieces are heard in captivating and alluring new ways. While their music has always been praised for its grace and refinement, it also contains depths of mystery and shadows that add a profound complexity lurking under the surface. With masterful performances and brilliant interpretations, Brian Landrus gives us Ellington and Strayhorn as no one has before.

Matt Wilson
Good Trouble

The new recording by drummer/composer Matt Wilson’s outstanding quintet honors late Civil Rights icon John Lewis and takes up his challenge to make good trouble in whatever way one can. That mission galvanized Wilson, who says, “We want to make statements; we want to open doors for people. Representative Lewis’s words inspire people to do what they can do from where they are. I’m not an elected official, but there are things we can do with just good deeds.” Joining Wilson on this recording are his new quintet, also dubbed Good Trouble, which brings together a vibrant blend of longtime collaborators and new acquaintances: alto saxophonist Tia Fuller, tenor saxophonist and clarinetist Jeff Lederer, pianist and vocalist Dawn Clement, and bassist Ben Allison. They perform both original works and some ingenious covers by Ornette Coleman, Gary Bartz, and even John Denver. Like the towering figures it holds up to the light, Good Trouble is full of inspiration, hope, and, ultimately, joyousness.

Jon Gordon
7Th Ave South

Another excellent saxophonist/composer revisiting jazz history is Jon Gordon, whose new recording time travels back to 1980s Greenwich Village and its thriving spaces for music and community, surveying the four decades since 16-year-old Gordon arrived on this life-changing scene. The indelibility of his experiences is seared into the dynamic music and full of scintillating performances bolstered by artists including tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III, trombonist Alan Ferber, trumpeter Jon Challenor, and vocalists Joanna Majoko and Erin Propp. There’s even a choir on two tracks, jubilant voices echoing the spirit of jazz past, present, and future. 7th Ave South is an essential record, a virtuosic homage to the resiliency, humanity, and sheer beauty of jazz.

Mike Holober
This Rock We’re On: Imaginary Letters

On this monumental double album, Mike Holober demonstrates once again why he’s among the best composers in jazz. The “imaginary letters,” art songs for chamber ensemble honoring environmental champions like Rachel Carson, Ansel Adams, and Terry Tempest Williams (who penned the album’s liner notes), are juxtaposed with impassioned orchestral movements reflecting the precarious grandeur of the natural landscapes that inspire Holober. The epic suite is breathtakingly performed by Holober’s Grammy-nominated Gotham Jazz Orchestra with able assists from tenor saxophonist Chris Potter, bassist John Patitucci, and rising Brazilian vocalist Jamile Staevie Ayres. This Rock We’re On is a grand-scale mosaic of sound, ever flowing with impassioned vocals, instrumental intensity, orchestral intricacy, and a clarion call for the planet.

Owen Broder
Hodges: Front And Center, Vol. 2

Saxophonist Owen Broder follows up the excellent first volume of his tribute to the late, great alto player Johnny Hodges with another heartfelt and joyous dive into the Johnny Hodges songbook. The album shines a light on Hodges’ work as a composer, his love of blues and ballads, and his way with a winning motif. Hodges has been a major influence on Broder’s playing, and it shows in Broder’s sweet, smooth sound and lyrical and melodic approaches. The entire quintet is facile enough to uphold tradition while animating the music with fresh vitality. Hodges: Front and Center, Vol. 2 creates a through line connecting jazz’s illustrious past with its invigorating present, demonstrating with gusto the timelessness of the music. It’s a must-listen for any jazz fan.