by: Hobart Taylor
Allison Au Quartet - Forest Grove - (Self Released)
Toronto based alto saxophonist Allison Au has a distinctive and conversational tone that sets her apart from the crowd. That's the first thing I hear, a distinctive timbre that seems authentic and personal and not at all derivative. Her tunes are gorgeously melodic and free flowing, often teetering on the knife edge between inspired improvisation and carefully crafted composition. She is joined by keyboardist (and producer) Todd Pentney, bassist Jon Maharaj, drummer Fabio Ragnelli, and vocalese harmonies on three tracks by Felicity Williams.
Some of the tunes fit neatly into trad jazz catagories, (the swinging "Aureole" and the soulful march "Deluge"), and others go their own way, thoughtful explorations into the world defying easy categorization, ("Through Light", "Bolero" and "Tumble"). All of the tunes are wonderous, and my personal fave is the atmospheric "You Ordinary Stranger" featuring various voicings from Pentney and an elusive through line that while difficult to follow seems inevitatble and satisfying.
Ibrahim Maalouf - Kalthoum - (Impulse)
French/Lebanese trumpeter Maalouf is classically trained, a childhood pupil of premier virtuoso Maurice Andre, but presents here a type of jazz based world music that is not the forced amalgamation of genres but rather the emergence of a personal understanding of the influences in the experiences of Maalouf the artist.
In this suite of tunes inspired by the music of Oum Kalthoum who died in 1976,(she was the Egyptian singer who many regard as one of the greatest performers of popular music in the Arabic world, or any world), Maalouf's seemingly traditional Middle Eastern melodies cascade and intertwine with jazz forms and instrumentation in a way that maintains the integrity and feel of the their sources while simultaneously appealing to listeners more accustomed to western popular music.
Stacey Kent - Tenderly - (Okeh)
Stacey Kent is a classic jazz singer. There are so many so-so jazz vocalists, folks who sing the standards adequately but Kent is not one of them. Confident yet casual, her phasing and tone contain all the hallmarks of the greats without being imitative. She makes the zombie tunes dance, "Tangerine", "The Very Thought of You", "Embracable You" and best of all "Tenderly" within the warm musical embrace of Brazilian guitarist Roberto Menescal and reed player Jim Tomlinson. Speaking of Menescal perhaps the strongest track is her rendition of this maestro's song, "Agarradinhos".
Brian Andres and the Afro-Cuban Jazz Cartel - This Could Be That - (Bacalao Records)
The sub-genere of Latin jazz cruises right along through the heart of jazz history. It is a format that keeps big band music vibrant and popular. An uninterrupted stream of Cuban, Puerto Rican, Domenican,and Colombian style releases and the Miami sound, (a hybrid of various Latin traditions),along with the continued success of clubs supporting this music allow for both a rich tradition and room for innovation deep in the arrangements of the tunes.
The Bay Area has long been a welcoming environment for bands that want to keep the music alive while exploring. There are so many musicians there who are not tied to one style of playing that these bands often harbor surprising diversity both in their composition and performance styles. Such is the case with The Afro-Cuban Cartel.
Check out "Esto Puede Ser Eso (This Could Be That)", "Limite" and especially "Relativity".
Daniela Mercury - Virtual Vinyl - (DRG Brazil)
Mercury is a singer-songwriter who embraces jazz, samba, Afro-Brazilian roots music, rap, rock and folk styles to propel her impassioned poetry. With 14 number one hit records in Brazil you might think she's a pop monster, but while these are slickly produced numbers, they haven't sacrificed spirit for shine. My Faves: the hard driving "Maria Casaria", the sunny beat "God, Allah, Gilberto Gil" and the masterfully produced "Frogs in the Sky" which is sung in English.