There’s nothing quite like the resonant, earthy sound of Brian Landrus on low woodwinds. On his new recording the multi-reedist and composer turns his instruments into vehicles of introspection, mining his personal experience and coming up with a set of tracks that take on the bliss, heartbreak and emotional peaks and valleys of romantic love. Joining him for 10 originals and three standards are some of the best players in jazz: pianist Fred Hersch, bassist Drew Gress and drummer Billy Hart. Landrus adds a string quartet to the jazz quartet, taking full advantage of the amazing harmonic possibilities the combination presents. His solo bass clarinet rendition of “Round Midnight” is stunning, and his duet with Hersch on “Ruby, My Dear” is thrillingly fresh. With heartfelt originals, stellar performances and the unbeatable robustness of his menagerie of low woodwinds, Landrus has given us a gem of an album, not just for now, but for always.
Every so often a piece of work emerges that’s so artistically and culturally significant it takes your breath away.
Don Byron’s “Tuskegee Experiments” comes to mind, and now “The New Immigrant Experience” by Guggenheim Fellow Felipe Salles. The two CD/DVD set, inspired by experiences of young people in America currently protected by DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), has Salles’ 18-piece Interconnections Ensemble providing the soundtrack while documentary footage features interviews with nine Dreamers.
For his 10th album as a leader, Grammy-nominated trombonist John Fedchock scales down his acclaimed New York Big Band to a no less rewarding, smaller ensemble. The sextet boasts an impressive roster of players who more than do justice to Fedchock’s skillful composing and arranging. From the wistful, introspective a cappella lead-in on the title track, to the hard- swinging masterpiece of a solo in “Star Eyes,” Fedchock’s formidable range makes listening to him a supremely satisfying endeavor. He’s also a generous leader, sharing the spotlight with equally virtuosic bandmates like trumpeter Scott Wendholt and pianist Allen Farnham. Fedchock’s “Into the Shadows” shows off a sextet in fine form, helmed by one of the best trombonists and bandleaders in jazz.
The 16th release by alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa is a top-notch trio outing with bassist François Moutin and drummer Rudy Royston. The nine tracks mark a departure for Mahanthappa, from original music to interpretations of tunes by some of his musical heroes, among them Charlie Parker, Stevie Wonder, Keith Jarrett and John Coltrane.
In an intricate reworking of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” Mahanthappa’s saxophone unwinds the familiar melody in surprising ways, matching the singer’s dark charm while infusing the music with his own unmistakable sound and resonance.
Listen to her new multidisciplinary, multimedia release and you’ll know why Sara Serpa was recently crowned Rising Star Female Vocalist by DownBeat Magazine. Serpa applies her crystalline voice with consummate skill and beauty to wordless vocals and haunting spoken word on these original tracks. She is an accomplished composer unafraid of tackling weighty subject matter, in this case the historical legacy of Portuguese colonialism in Africa. Super 8 footage unearthed from her family’s archives are compiled into a documentary, with Serpa’s startling music supplying artistic commentary. Saxophonist Mark Turner, pianist David Virelles, and harpist Zeena Parkins are the first-rate instrumentalists and improvisers Serpa brings in to complete her vision.