Tomas Fujiwara’s Triple Double – March (Firehouse 12)
A drummer and composer who has been at the center of the New Jazz for a decade-plus, Fujiwara puts out his second outing for a double-trio: a pair of drummers (the other is Gerald Cleaver), guitarists (Mary Halvorson and Brandon Seabrook), and trumpet/cornet players (Ralph Alessi and Taylor Ho Bynum). The fun here is in hearing the pairings, which are each genuine contrasts in personal tone and style, and in hearing the unusual full power of a group like this. The sounds can be stormy and ethereal, both. When the whole band is cooking, as on the march-like groove of “Wave Shake and Angle Bounce”, they are irresistible. Noisy, yes, but also exuberant in a way that does, indeed, suggest a parade. The concluding 17-minute drum duet for Fujiwara’s mentor, Alan Dawson, is wonderfully creative and significantly hip-shaking, but it’s a big ask of many listeners.
Walter Smith III and Matthew Stevens – In Common III (Whirlwind)
This tenor saxophonist and guitarist have uncommon unity of purpose and connection, and this third in a series may be the best. The band, this time out, also includes the heavy but light rhythm section of Terri Lyn Carrington on drums, pianist Kris Davis, and Jack DeJohnette’s drums. The recording is wonderfully balanced between full quintet tracks and six duets or trios that exclude bass and drums. Some of the latter are delicate themes and improvisations, but some are more wide open. On “Oliver” the trio of Davis, Smith, and Stevens loop-dee-loop each other, with Stevens using electronic effects to make it into sonic psychedelia. When the entire band is cooking (“Prince”), they sound a bit like the great John Scofield/Joe Lovano band of the 1990s, but with Davis’s added intrigue.
Joel Ross – The Parable of the Poet (Blue Note)
News that Joel Ross and Immanuel Wilkins would have two new Blue Note albums out in early 2022 was news to help you get through the Omicron variant. Wilkins’ offering, The 7th Hand, is everything wonderful, particularly in his partnership in a quartet setting with Micah Thomas, a pianist who is a force of nature. Ross’s new one features a four-horn front line that includes Wilkins, as well as Marquis Hill (trumpet), Maria Grand (tenor saxophone), and Kalia Vandever (trombone). If that sounds like it might be a Jazz Messengers kind of outing, you could be let down. But you shouldn’t be. That is one of this recording’s modes, in patches, but it is a varied program of intricate composition/improvisation that uses its colors as pastels as well as primaries. “Wail” lets Wilkins cry spiritually, while “Doxology (Hope)” sets up a gallop and a muscular horn line around Grand’s busy tenor. “Prayer”, “Guilt”, and “Benediction” are considerably more impressionistic. Altogether, it sounds like the best Ross album yet, and he is still so young you wonder how much higher he will climb.
Somi – Zenzile: The Reimagination of Miriam Makeba (Salon Africana)
Somi is an African-American singer in the most literal sense. Her grounding in US creative music and training in jazz defines the tools that she brings to her craft. But her mature artistry is an encounter with Africa, where both her parents were born and where she lived, worked, and recorded at times. Her latest is a refraction of the music of Miriam Makeba, the iconic South African singer, actor, and activist.
Somi’s parents are from Uganda and Rwanda, and her time in Africa was spent in Lagos, Nigeria, but her relationship with Hugh Masekela connects her to Makeba’s home as well, and she delivers a brilliant collection that draws from pan-African styles, mixing them with US soul, blues, jazz, you name it. She gets marvelous guest spots from Angelique Kidjo, Gregory Porter, Lady Smith Black Mambazo, Seun Kuti, Thandsiwa Mazwai, Msaki, and Nduduzo Makhathini, as well as saxophonists Lakecia Benjamin and Myron Waldren and trumpeter Jeremy Pelt.
The rhythm section of drummer Nate Smith and bassists Michael Olatuja or Keith Witty works fluidly across every feel. And her long-time pianist, Taru Dodo, is almost deserving of co-billing. Their duet ballad on “Ring Bell, Ring Bell” will take your breath away. But the groove-based tracks like “Milele” or “A Piece of Ground” also mix easily with more experimental arrangements such as the electronics-with-strings reimagination of “Pata Pata”. This album is dramatic, and so it makes sense that it accompanies a theatrical piece that Somi is developing about Makeba.
Somi is an artist easily on par with Cecile McLorin Salvant. How brilliant to have a single month that brings us new music from both!