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Christian Sands Faces and Slays Dragons

Dragons appear in mythologies in Asia and Europe, from Judaism to Buddhism to Hinduism. They are bringers of wisdom, tyrannical harbingers of the apocalypse, and fearsome foes to be vanquished. Christian Sands, the 29-year-old rising star of jazz piano, has chosen to name his most recent release Facing Dragons, due in part to gaining wisdom as a leader – this is his third recording under his own name – and also his going in a new direction “musically and spiritually,” as he wrote in his acknowledgements on the disc, and facing dragons that may be fearsome. In taking risks, and collaborating with new musicians, Sands does not merely face his dragons.

All the way through the recording, Sands’ compositions are powerful, thoughtful, and elegant. eight of the nine cuts are originals, and range from straight-ahead jazz to improvisational introspection. The only piece Sands didn’t compose is an arrangement of the McCartney/Lennon number “Yesterday.” With the way Sands and the trio interpret …
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McClenty Hunter, Jr's The Groove Hunter: A well-rounded first record

Even though The Groove Hunter is the first recording under McClenty Hunter Jr.’s name, don’t be fooled: Hunter is no newcomer to the scene. Having spent the last 13 years as a session musician, side man, and educator, Hunter is a seasoned professional. On The Groove Hunter, Hunter draws on this wide array of experiences, and calls on many of the musicians he’s played in support of, to present a masterful album full of great arrangements and beautiful original compositions.

Surprisingly, it is not the drums that stand out on the recording. While Hunter’s drum work is noteworthy, it is the performances Hunter coaxes from his bandmates that are truly spectacular. Stacy Dillard’s tenor saxophone on “My Love” and “Give Thanks” -- two of McClenty’s original compositions -- is absolutely magnificent. Veteran players Eric Reed, Donald Harrison, Eddie Henderson, and Dave Stryker each bring their characteristic sound to the cuts they feature on; Stryker’s guitar work on the two pieces he sits i…

Beauty and Joy in Mehldau's Seymour Reads the Constitution

To say pianist Brad Mehldau is prolific would be an understatement. In his 27 years recording, he has amassed a catalogue of over 90 recordings with his name in the credits. His newest release on Nonesuch Records, Seymour Reads the Constitution, is his 35th as a leader, and ninth with the current iteration of his trio, and is one that best exemplifies the improvisational mastery of Mehldau, bassist Larry Grenadier, and drummer Jeff Ballard. 
In true Mehldau fashion, Seymour Reads the Constitution is a wonderful mix of original compositions and reinterpretations of pop and jazz recordings. In the past, Mehldau’s choices of pop tunes have been the stand-out; however, it is the three original compositions on Seymour… that really emphasize the mastery of Mehldau’s writing, as well as the cohesion of the trio with which he has played for the last 13 years.
The recording opens with the two original pieces: “Spiral” and the title track, “Seymour Reads the Constitution.” The first is an eleg…

Still Dreaming: Joshua Redman Walks the Tightrope of Free Jazz and Straight-Ahead

2018 marks the 25th year tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman has been recording. In that time, the son of avant-garde jazz musician Dewey Redman has made a solid name for himself and has presented a voice uniquely his own, through a vast body of recorded work—Still Dreaming is the 21st album released under Joshua’s name. Through beautiful collaborative pairings and some bold choices, Joshua Redman’s Still Dreaming continues to make his one-of-a-kind voice heard, while invoking spirits of John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, his father, and other tenormen of yore.

The choices Redman made with his quartet are brilliant; there is no piano player in this session, so all the rhythm work falls to bassist Scott Colley and drummer Brian Blade, while still allowing each of them to pursue melodic through lines. Redman’s pairings with trumpeter Ron Miles on “Unanimity” and “Haze and Aspirations” are reminiscent of the John Coltrane/Don Cherry pairings on Atlantic Records. Blade brings his impeccable bran…

R+R=NOW Collagically Speaking music for a new era of activism

The genre of jazz is no stranger to super-groups, and there is a new gang making the scene this summer. Led by new vanguard heavyweights Robert Glasper, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, and Terrace Martin; R+R=Now brings a neo-soul feel, poignant spoken-word performances, and A-1 improvisation to their debut recording Collagically Speaking. Those approaching the album expecting “bangers” might leave disappointed, but listeners are sure to be treated to solid grooves rooted in the jazz tradition, designed to respond to the polarized state of today’s society.

It must be said from the start that, like all of Glasper’s and Scott’s most-recent projects, there is no dearth of talent. From Glasper’s delicate touch on the piano, to the masterful use of the vocoder and samples by Martin, the entire group functions on a level of synchronicity exhibited by musicians twice their ages. The trumpet work of Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah is evocative of Miles Davis, circa Big Fun or Bitches Brew -- whi…

JD Allen's Love Stone is a truly delightful experience

It isn’t often that an artist presents a piece of work that has a quiet introspection, combined with fantastic improvisation. It’s even rarer when that artist puts out an entire album of ballads. With his newest offering, Love Stone, saxophonist JD Allen does exactly this. Balancing intricate improvisation and contemplative melancholy, Allen’s Love Stone is truly a delightful experience.

There are many stand-out cuts on the recording, but for my money “You’re My Thrill,” “Someday (You’ll Want Me to Want You),” and “Put on a Happy Face” are truly remarkable. There is a beauty that carries through “You’re My Thrill,” from the first note all the way through to the end; “Put On a Happy Face” has, on a cursory level, a melancholic thread weaving throughout, but upon multiple listens, there is an elegiac joy underscoring the piece giving a strange sense of comfort. However, it is Allen’s interpretation of the Johnny Hodges number “Someday (You’ll Want Me to Want You)” that make this cut the…

Marcus Miller balances beauty and the beat.

For some of us, summer music releases are as exciting, if not more so, than summer blockbusters. One such blockbuster is Marcus Miller's second Blue Note date, Laid Black, which was released by the label on June 1. With only two out of nine tracks falling short, and combined with names from the worlds of both jazz and gospel, Miller seamlessly blends heartfelt beauty with crowd-energizing funk.


The most striking observation one makes with this release is that Miller has been busy composing, not just performing, in the last 3 years since his previous Blue Note release, Afrodeezia. Miller wrote, or co-wrote, 8 of the cuts on this album, flawlessly evoking quiet contemplation while still exciting the listener into wanting more.


Surprisingly, it is the ballads on the album that compel the listener to return to the album. Millers original pieces “Sublimity ‘Bunny’s Dream’,” “Someone to Love,” and “Preacher’s Kid” are earnest, evocative piece that take the listener through a series of emo…