File Under: Reasons To Be Cheerful
The packages flooding in lately from music labels and musicians really do seem like holiday presents (though none of them contain the leather coat I want): The music so far is just that good. Already, I’ve begun listening to a few CDs that will in all likelihood end up on my best-of list for a year that hasn’t even begun. And 2013 ends with a late-breaking release that deserves repeated listens.
Here’s what’s been on in my office:
Volcán Volcán (5Passion): This self-titled CD introduces an all-star Afro-Latin collective—pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba, drummer Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez, bassist Armando Gola, and percussionist Giovanni Hidalgo (Maridalia Hernández, from the Dominican Republic sings on one track). But Rubalcaba, a Cuban now living near Miami, is the mastermind and primary composer for this project, and it is released on his label. Rubalcaba is one of the great musicians of my generation, with an astonishing touch on piano. Yet he coaxes just as much humanity and nuance from the synthesizers he often favors here. Some of my colleagues may reject or downplay the complex rhythmic achievements of this recording as well as its neat balance of tongue-in-cheek fun with dead-serious playing by labeling it “fusion”; they’d be as wrong as when they did the same with Joe Zawinul’s music.
Brandon Ross/ Stomu Takeishi Revealing Essence (Sunnyside, Jan. 21): Guitarist Brandon Ross has fascinated me for a long time, for many reasons including the humility he manages to exude in both meditative and frenzied musical moments. He’s been a key player in bands led by Henry Threadgill and Cassandra Wilson and the singularly wonderful collaborative trio, Harriet Tubman. His solo work highlighted a heightened sense of intimacy, both as a player and singer. Ross introduced electric bassist Stomu Takeishi to Threadgill, in whose Make a Move band they worked together. I’ve enjoyed Takeishi’s work also with drummer Paul Motian and pianist Satoko Fujii. Here, it’s all texture, warmth and sonic possibility, with rhythm more a through-line than a frame.
Ambrose Akinmusire “the imagined savior is far easier to paint” (Blue Note, March 11): In my 2011 Wall Street Journal profile of trumpeter Akinmusire, then 28, I opened like this:
In a living-room corner at Ambrose Akinmusire’s unassuming apartment in Inwood, near Manhattan’s northern tip, a round wooden table, painted white, is littered with hand-scrawled quotations. “I’d rather jump right in and make mistakes than be timid,” reads one. Another: “This is my one chance to be me.” The former is from Bud Herseth, who was principal trumpet of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for more than a half-century, the latter from writer Maya Angelou.
Now comes a new—and for me, hotly anticipated—release, with its cryptic title drawn, I’m guessing, from something he read or heard (readers: should I know the source?) In that Journal profile, I also wrote this:
Mr. Akinmusire considers his band an ensemble cast inhabiting the storylines of his tunes.
Now Akinmusire augments his brilliant quintet with a guitarist and, on some tracks, violin, viola, cello, and more, as well as singers (among them, Al Spx—a/k/a Cold Specks, who arrived as a revelation to me), to create what sounds like it aspires to be an opera of sorts. I haven’t figured out the storyline yet, just admiring its score so far; more to come, when I do.
Danilo Pérez Panama 500 (Mack Avenue, Feb. 4): Most jazz fans now know pianist Danilo Pérez as anchor and chief instigator within tenor saxophonist Wayne Shorter’s quartet, the best small ensemble in jazz and more than a decade running. Perez has gained much depth and perspective from Shorter’s expansive and liberating aesthetic. Yet Perez’s own work as a composer and bandleader during the past 20 years is remarkably and highly influential, especially for its incorporation of rhythms and forms from his native Panama; 1996’s “PanaMonk” and 2000’s “Motherland” should be required listening for those interested in jazz’s broad story. (Off the bandstand and not unrelated, Perez founded a festival in his native country bent on cross-cultural exchange and became founding artistic director of the Global Jazz Institute at Berklee College of Music.) Here, he continues the narrative thread of his discography with an ambitious project, featuring his closest associates among U.S. jazz players, Panamanian percussionists, strings and more. He’s straddling two anniversaries— 500 years since Panama’s founding (2013) and a century since the opening of its signature canal (2014)—but really he’s reflecting on his own growth to date as a musician and a man.
Photo: Larry Blumenfeld