Carla Bley/Andy Sheppard/Steve Swallow Andando el Tiempo (ECM, May 6): As pianist, composer and arranger, Bley, who turns 80 in May, has always exuded a stern authority tempered with obvious tenderness and grace. And offstage, she’s usually disarmingly humble, even childlike in the best sense. Such was the case last year when she accepted her NEA Jazz Masters Award. As I noted here, Bley told this anecdote from the podium:
“I asked my father, ‘Where does the music come from?’ He told me, ‘A composer wrote it.’ And I said, ‘I would like to do that.’ So I wrote hundreds of notes and he told me, ‘No, no, this is much too hard for me to play. Get rid of most of these notes.’ And so that was my first lesson.”
Her new CD has, in spots, riveting emotional impact. It’s in one sense a beautiful musical study in contrary motion of instrumental voices. But what strikes me most is how well Bley has incorporated that early lesson about economy into her music through the decades, and especially here.
Melissa Aldana Back Home (Word of Mouth Music): It was no surprise to me when tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana won the 2013 Thelonious Monk International Saxophone Competition. Aldana first captured my attention a decade ago, when she was a precocious 17-year-old whose tone, confidence and knowledge belied her age during late-night jam sessions at the Panama Jazz Festival. Pianist Danilo Pérez, the festival’s founder, predicted big things from her, and she has delivered.
Aldana, who is from Santiago, Chile and now lives in New York City, released two hard-swinging and supple-sounding quartet albums for saxophonist Greg Osby’s Inner Circle label. The title of her new CD, “Back Home,” refers not to her native country, but to the piano-less trio format she fell in love with while listening to Sonny Rollins albums, and which she employs here.
David Murray, Geri Allen & Terri Lynne Carrington Perfection (Motéma, April 15): Call it a “supergroup.” Or a “power trio.” The sound is bold, ignited principally by Murray’s bristling and active tenor saxophone (it’s easy to take Murray for granted; but name another living saxophonist other than Sonny Rollins whose sound erupts and ripples with such visceral power). Part of the fascination here is how complete this trio (sax-piano-drums) sounds without the presence of a bassist. Yet this CD is about cohesion in difficult musical terrain more than sheer force. That cohesion stems from the fact that here are three established leaders (stars, really) and owes most of all to deep connections. These include the bond between Allen (who, for my money, is among he generation’s most important musicians) and Carrington (as confident and versatile as any drummer in jazz; and who maintains an inventive trio with Allen and bassist Esperanza Spalding.
The emotional core of the album is the title track, a previously unrecorded Ornette Coleman composition (here the group expands to sextet, including longtime Coleman associate Charnett Moffett on bass and Wallace Roney, Jr (son of Allen and trumpeter Wallace Roney) on trumpet. This group shook things up at January’s Winter Jazzfest in New York City. On first listen, they seem to have settled into something no less provocative and yet more refined.