JAZZ IN THE AGE OF COVID: 5 More Releases to Improve Your Self-Quarantine

As much as I shake my head in wonder at people protesting in several states to stop stay-at-home orders, I do understand the python-like grip of Cabin Fever. After almost 7 weeks of House Arrest, the walls do seem to be a little closer than they were before, and my current feline monarch Prez has made it very clear that he thinks we need to see other people.

Mind you, I have found two distinct advantages to working from home: First, the coffee is a LOT better here than it is at my office; second, I’m able to listen to tunes at my “desk”, something I haven’t been able to experience since 2004. So, if you’re taking advantage of that freedom yourself (or just want to), here are five great suggestions to add to your jazz portfolio:

Reality Check (Positone)

Keyboardist Theo Hill’s creative growth curve remains exponential on his third disc for Positone, but something new has been added – a proper foil, in the form of vibes master / fellow young lion Joel Ross. The combination adds a marvelous harmonic to everything Hill touches, from works by Stevie Wonder and Mulgrew Miller to a sneaky-good rework of Hill’s own composition “Mantra”, which first appeared on the Albany native’s 2014 debut as a leader Live at Smalls (smallsLIVE). Other Hill originals like the swirling “Afrofuturism”, the titanic “Aquanaut”, and the sweetly funky “Swell” show that it is only a matter of time before Hill is mentioned in the same breath as Stefon Harris and Nick Brignola, who brought the jazz world’s eyes on the Capital Region in years past.

Three (Sounderscore Records)

Steve Martin once said it was impossible to be depressed while listening to a banjo. I think he’d agree that it’s impossible to be depressed while listening to Gilfema, guitarist Lionel Loueke’s best – and most elegant – musical platform. Literally every piece on Three will have you dancing around the room, whether it’s the pulsing opener “Têkê”, drummer Ferenc Nemeth’s appropriately-titled original “Happiness”, or the funked-up Second Line “Algorythm and Blues.” Loueke, Nemeth and bassist Massimo Biolcati even put a smile on the face of Jimi Hendrix’ “Little Wing”, which is invariably wrapped in billowing clouds of suffocating sadness. (Lookin’ at YOU, Derek & the Dominos!) At a time where trying to stay positive is both a necessity and a chore, Gilfema and Three comes along to make life a little brighter.

Incontre(Sounderscore Records)

Before we got Three (which should really be titled Three and a Half, since Loueke put the band back together for his 2015 Blue Note date Gaïa), Sounderscore graced us with Biolcati’s first solo release since 2008. Like Three, Incontreis all about keeping it elegant, even on Charles Mingus’ “Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love”, which lets Sam Yahel get back to his roots on Hammond B3. But where Three is firmly based in Loueke’s home country of Benin, Incontre is straight-up modern Western jazz, fueled by the knockout front line of Yahel and reed wizard Dayna Stephens. Biolcati and drummer Jongkuk Kim keeps the foundation both resilient and effervescent as Biolcati puts his interpretive touch on material that veers from Monk’s “Boo Boo’s Birthday” and Dave Holland’s “Hello I Lied” to Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile” and Tears For Fears’ “Everybody Wants To Rule The World.” After experiencing the delight that is Incontre, Biolcati better not make us wait eleven years for his next solo outing!

Persistence (AmFi Records)

Persistence is probably as close to Amina Figarova’s “punk album” as we’re ever going to get. Normally, the Azerbaijan native’s work comes with marvelously intricate horn charts, buoyed even higher by the flute of Figarova’s flutist / executive producer / husband Bart Platteau. On Persistence, the front line is just Platteau and voracious guitarist Rez Abbasi, while bassist Yasushi Nakamura teams up with drummer Rudy Royston to give the foundation strapping, power-lifter muscle. Combine that with Figarova keeping her piano work electric and Platteau adding EWI to his musical arsenal, and the resulting sound is harder, tighter and tougher than anything Figarova’s given us up to this point. More expansion comes with guest shots by vocalists Paul Jost & Skye’s World and MC JSWISS, but otherwise, the focus is on a riveting set of electrifying originals that make Amina Figarova fanboys like me smile like utterly besotted fools.

Shark NATO On A Plane (Zoho)

Let’s get back to the idea of staying positive, which we stipulated earlier was a bit of a challenge “in these troubling times.” In cases like this, the best thing you can do is crank up tunes which are bright, alive, and full of joy. Enter Funk Shui NYC, a soaring big band who have been souping up the club scene in the five boroughs for the last few years, specializing in music that is “current, relevant, intricate, and a blast.” Shark NATO On A Plane may sound like the title for the ultimate Samuel L. Jackson parody film, but it’s actually a bulging package filled with monster dance tunes, mixing band member originals with outstanding covers ranging from Cream’s “I Feel Free” and George Harrison’s “Blue Jay Way” to a wild workout of the theme from the iconic TV cop comedy Barney Miller. When the telecommute gets too long and the kids get too loud, Shark NATO On A Plane is the biting antidote to all that brings you down.

See you next time, campers – same Bat Time, same Bat Site. Peace!

1 Comment
  1. Derique says

    Shark NATO On A Plane is one of my favorite new listening experiences. The sheer audacity of the brass, especially the trombone mastery of Rob Susman, stands out above all. I never got to see them live, but once they start performing again, I’m there!

    Disclaimer: I’m a friend of one of the band members, so perhaps I’m a little biased. To dislike this CD, however, means your brain is fossilized and incapable of joy.

    Be well! Stay safe!

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