On his striking new album Cuban-born pianist/composer Aruán Ortiz calls forth the rhythms of his childhood – the “global symphony” of everyday life in his childhood hometown of Santiago de Cuba. Ortiz’s innovative compositional mind doesn’t imitate or integrate, but rather remakes and deciphers. His piano converses fluently with the percussion of Cyrille and Herrera in music both composed and improvised. Ortiz milks the percussive qualities of his instrument, even turning it into a drum of sorts by covering the strings with paper. Brainy yet passionate, and a storyteller at heart, Ortiz is a gifted artist who continues to create startlingly original jazz. Rhythmic Falls is an outstanding addition to his powerful body of work. Astounding, new and compelling, the sounds resonate with ancestral depth.
Trombonist and composer Nick Finzer has exemplary chops and a gorgeously rich, expressive sound. These qualities shine on his new sextet album, featuring original tunes exploring influential people and experiences. The record, released on Finzer’s artist-focused label, Outside in Music, showcases the unusual rapport of his longtime group, one that brings to mind some of the great small jazz ensembles of the past. The affinity between Finzer and multireedist Lucas Pino makes for a particularly potent frontline. Cast of Characters is full of well-crafted music and dynamite performances, but its biggest attraction is the strength of its musical storytelling. That ability makes Finzer one of the most notable trombonists in jazz today.
The unsolved 1990 art theft at Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum inspired trumpeter/composer Jason Palmer to write the breathtaking suite that comprises his new album. It’s a fantastic compositional feat expertly dispatched by Palmer’s quintet featuring Mark Turner, Joel Ross, Kendrick Scott and Edward Perez. Each of the 12 pieces responds to a particular stolen work. From the frenzy of Rembrandt’s painting of a rocky sea voyage to the ringing horn and Chinese folk-inspired melodies reflecting an ancient Chinese bronze vessel, Palmer demonstrates extraordinary sensitivity and genius. This is Palmer’s second release from the pioneering non-profit Giant Step Arts, one of today’s most valuable resources for jazz.
Thank the jazz gods that trumpeter John Vanore reorganized his basement last summer and found the old cassettes that constitute this gem of a release. He and keyboardist/composer Ron Thomas deliver seven tracks recorded in the mid-1980s, offering adventurous musical dialogue both brilliant and prophetic, thanks to Thomas’s ever compelling use of Yamaha DX7 synth (cutting-edge technology for the time) and Vanore’s transcendent horn playing. Their compositional approach and intrepid experimentation make these soundscapes rich and varied, with moods ranging from lyrical to funky. At once intimate and expansive, this is a fine album by two veteran jazz players.
Uptown Jazz Orchestra
The second major studio recording by New Orleans royalty – trombonist/composer and NEA Jazz Master Delfeayo Marsalis – captures all the joy, power and panache of the Uptown Jazz Orchestra’s live performances. With a powerhouse band and stellar guests including, “The Voice” alum Tonya Boyd-Cannon, this set of original compositions and new interpretations of classics swings and grooves with scintillating, celebratory mastery. The entire band is stellar, but the vivid horn section stands out as the backbone, which is fitting given the ensemble’s Crescent City home. A great album combining first-rate artistry with intelligence, humor, and fun, this is a festive, fabulous party you won’t want to miss.