Cecile McLorin Salvant – Ghost Song (Nonesuch)
Singing in this tradition, particularly as a woman, is a squeeze. What’s the point in being a modern Ella or Billie or Sarah or Anita? But it’s also tricky to fall into a tradition, rich as it is, defined by Joni or Aretha. Icons, all. However, Salvant is among those staunch and successful in being her own artist. Ghost Song is her most idiosyncratic recording yet. This collection combines Irish a cappella singing and quirky show tunes with soul music, pan-stylistic originals, and even some Kurt Weill.
The idea to blend an Irish song with a Kate Bush cover is undeniable. Still, you might find the mash-up of “Optimistic Voices” (a munchkin song from The Wizard of Oz) with the ravishing Gregory Porter song “No Love Dying” harder to fathom. But nit-picking an artist this bold and utterly in command of her craft is silly. Ghost Song rewards deep listening and will make you appreciate Salvant and pianist Sullivan Fortner even more if that is possible.
Melissa Aldana – 12 Stars (Blue Note)
Speaking of Fortner, he features to a significant effect on the newest one from tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana, who sounds brilliant throughout. The compositions were co-written and co-produced by Aldana and guitarist Lage Lund, and the rhythm section is rounded out by bassist Pablo Menares and drummer Kush Abadey. The music is beautiful and searching, like modern refraction of the kind of writing that Wayne Shorter pioneered. Shorter is one model for Aldana, but hardly the only one. And Lund is also quirky and formidable as a soloist and accompanist, and the electro-acoustic arrangements made the argument, yet again, that the old arguments about what instruments can be used in this kind of art music were silly from the very beginning. Side note: the gorgeous cover art is by Cecile McLorin Salvant.
Ryan Keberle’s Collectiv do Brasil – Sonhos da Esquina (Bandcamp)
There is so much incredible trombone music right now, and no one makes the horn sing and croon like Ryan Keberle. He has been interested in music from Latin America for the length of his career. With this recording – made in 2018 Sao Paolo, Brasil with pianist Felipe Silveira, bassist Tiago Alves, and drummer Paulinho Vicente – he pays tribute to Milton Nascimento and Toninho Horta. There are Keberle originals as well as tunes by these Brasilian greats. In this setting, we hear another example of a sympathetic American musician working with a rhythm section that is steeped in a US tradition but is never faking the South Americana polyrhythms and nuances. The combination worked for Stan Getz, and this music is just as potent.
Orrin Evans and Kevin Eubanks – EEE: The Eubanks-Evans Experience (Imani)
Listening to guitarist Kevin Eubanks return to making more thrilling music is thrilling. He has a liquid tone that is also choked up a bit with funky distortion, and he plays with melodic explosiveness. On last year’s Dave Holland recording, Another Land, he was joyous and fresh, and here he is paired with pianist Orrin Evans in a pure duo format. Evans can do anything he pleases (and does: play with his big band, with The Bad Plus, in a group he created dong Brazilian vocal music), and in this pairing, he is impressionistic at times, funky if that works, beyond standard harmony (on “Free”, a delicious short track), and plenty boppish. This is not a project that will blow you away, but that is plainly and happily not the point.
Michael Bisio Quartet – MBefore (TAO Forms)
There is still a thriving free improvisation scene worldwide, not the least in what I still think of as New York’s “downtown” scene. This band is undoubtedly associated with that kind of music, but it is conceptually more interesting and sonically unique, featuring the leader’s bass, Whit Dickey on drums, Mat Maneri’s viola, and Karl Berger, playing vibraphone here – and they aren’t just improvising. For example, they take on the standard “I Fall in Love Too Easily”, using the melody (instead of the usual chord changes) as fodder for free play. Similarly, the group uses themes written by the leader and by Berger similarly. Karl Berger is heard as much as he is felt on the scene, having founded an essential school for creative musicians, and it is refreshing to listen to him with other strong improvisers, allowing for plenty of space as their lines weave and rub. Maneri sounds bristling and edgy but always melodic, and he and Berger have a great rapport, but each voice has room to be heard here.