Roger Thomas casts his ears over this month’s important new jazz releases
The piano trio is something of a theme in this month’s selection of discs. Phronesis (see Jazz Choice) is certainly a distinctive and unique example, but there are many other instances of this traditional workhorse being repurposed as something other than a showcase. The Tord Gustavson Trio comes to mind. Tord Gustavson’s subtle piano grooves continue to demonstrate his gently provocative approach, artfully juxtaposing elasticated treatments of Bach and a few traditional tunes with a selection of the pianist’s originals on The Other Side. The group makes all the music their own, but another notable attraction of this disc is actually the programming sequence; this feels unusually central to the overall package, so prod the shuffle button at your peril. (ECM 2608 ★★★★)
Piano trios are also a go-to resource for accompanying singers, but that’s not to say that this is exclusively the territory of journeymen/women. Diana Krall is, of course, a pianist and leader in her own right, but on Love is
Here to Stay she confines her contribution to sharing vocal duties with none other than Tony Bennett, handing their accompaniment over to Bill Charlap and his fine trio. A high-end team all round, then, for this selection of Gershwin classics, but much of the joy is in the detail. Bennett, astonishingly, is now 92 but he knows exactly which aspects of his voice still work, such as his imaginative yet impeccable phrasing, and which may not, such as his projection, so both singers opt for an affectionate intimacy.
The hint of gravel that comes with age adds a bluesy edge to Bennett’s delivery, so with Krall’s smoky contralto nudging against his vocal range it sometimes seems as if they share a single voice, which is delightful.
(Verve 6778129 ★★★★)
On her debut album Changes, singer Arianna Neikrug similarly works with Laurence Hobgood’s trio to good effect. Hers is a distinctive voice which can occasionally lapse from an incisive, animated presence into an odd adenoidal honk, but much seems to depend on her choice of material. She sounds like a balladeer at heart; in particular, her take on ‘Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most’ is wickedly memorable. (Concord CJA 00103 ★★★)
The reverse of the above applies to Wayne Shorter ’s Emanon,a sprawling three-disc set (which apparently has a graphic novel tie-in) in which Shorter’s commanding, full-toned saxophone transcends the actual material, much of which comprises lumpen, clunky orchestration reminiscent of Ornette Coleman’s Skies of America. Worth hearing for the former when the saxophonist gets a note in edgeways, but perhaps a tad overambitious overall.
(Blue Note 6714396 ★★★)
Wayne Shorter’s epic does at least remind us of the breadth of the jazz church, in that any music that can accommodate both the above and the work of trumpeter Arve Henriksen must have something going for it. The Height of the Reeds features various collaborators on guitar, electronics and field recordings, and was originally commissioned by the city of
Full, the UK’S 2017 cultural capital. Essentially a piece of sonic art designed to be heard on headphones while traversing the Number Bridge, it sold a remarkable 15,000 tickets. An atmospheric soundtrack to the city’s particular history and geography, it translates surprisingly well onto CD. (Rune Grammofon RCD 2201 ★★★★)