Now Playing (New & Forthcoming CDs)…

So many things—the holidays, deadlines, a nasty flu that I beat back—have led to a terrifingly tall stack of music to catch up with, yet also alluring once I see what it contains. I’ve begun to dig in; more soon…
Rufus Reid Quiet Pride: The Elizabeth Catlett Project (Motema Music, Feb. 11): Now 70, bassist Reid has a half-century of important music-making to his credit, alongside the likes of saxophonists Stan Getz and Dexter Gordon, trombonist J.J. Johnson, drummer Jack DeJohnette and singer Nancy Wilson. For a quarter-century, he mentored countless musicians as director of the jazz studies and performance program at New Jersey’s William Patterson University. He’s spent the past decade or so developing as a composer, and creating music that’s mostly intended for large ensembles and orchestras. For this ambitious new work, Reid was inspired by the sculpture of Elizabeth Catlett, who died in 2012 at 96. Her iconic works, which often carry powerful African American themes, include the statue of Louis Armstrong near Congo Square in New Orleans and can also be found in collections at the White House and the Museum of Modern Art. Here, Reid’s music is realized by 20 musicians, most of them, such as drummer Herlin Riley, standard-bearing players. Yet it’s his own voice and composer—as distinctive as the one he projected as a bassist—that makes grand statements out of mostly subtle gestures.
Various Artists Looking Into You: A Tribute to Jackson Browne (Music Roads Records, April 1): I’ve always had a soft spot for Jackson Browne’s charming voice, chiming melodies and searching lyrics. Here are 2 CDs full of his songs, as covered by a wide range of musicians. Scanning its contents and knowing of Browne’s fascination and connection to Cuban musicians—he wrote this 2004 piece in The New York Times imploring the U.S. to permit Carlos Varela and others to perform here—I was a bit disappointed not to find a Cuban among the interpreters. However, I can’t complain: There’s plenty to dig into here with relish—I’ve just begun—not least Browne’s anthem, “The Pretender,” as sung by Lucinda Williams, whose warbling drawl flattens out the song’s melody interestingly and intensifies its sense of ennui, and Karla Bonoff’s hauntingly lovely take on a more obscure tune, “Something Fine.” Scroll down at this link for Lyle Lovett’s version of Browne’s “Rosie.”
Miles Davis Miles at the Fillmore —Miles Davis 1970: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 3 (Columbia/Legacy, four CDs, March 25): At a certain point—maybe already—Davis’ posthumous output will outnumber the recordings released during his lifetime. Yet who among us that played the 1970 LP “Miles at the Fillmore” over and over wouldn’t want to hear Davis at the height of his powers, with a band including Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett, Dave Holland, Airto Moreira and Steve Grossman, giving us another version of “Footprints” and “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down”? If you weren’t among the collectors who’ve tracked down the full versions of these concert recordings already, here’s your chance. And context never hurts: Here, you get 2,200 words of it from Carlos Santana, as told to author Ashley Kahn, and another 2,500 from Michael Cuscuna, who is about as erudite and well-informed a producer as is alive today, and who, back when Miles opened for Laura Nyro at the Fillmore East and for the Grateful Dead at the Fillmore West, was a disk jockey at New York’s influential WPLJ-FM.
Jeff Ballard Time’s Tales (OKeh): Ballard, who just turned 50, is among the most sensitive, authoritative and versatile drummers of his generation. His range and rhythmic authority should be clear by now from his work in many contexts, including the collective group FLY (with saxophonist Mark Turner and bassist Larry Grenadier) and pianist Brad Mehldau’s trio. Ballard fronts his own bands often in performance, but this is his debut recording as a leader. His trio here is a powerhouse, with guitarist Lionel Loueke, who also performs in Ballard’s ambitious Fairgrounds quintet, and saxophonist Miguel Zenón. The repertoire spans both obvious choices, such as Loueke’s “Virgin Forest,” to the less expected, like an adapted Béla Bártok piece and a cover of a Queens of the Stone Age tune, “Hangin’ Tree.” Some might call this an overdue statement; yet the music’s grace and commitment sounds right on time, and its range of influences, timely. (You can hear some of the music, and hear Ballard discussing things like why there’s no bassist here.)

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