Branford Marsalis Quartet/Special Guest Kurt Elling
By Christopher Loudon at JazzTimes
How did one of the best and most important jazz bands around—saxophonist Branford Marsalis, pianist Joey Calderazzo, bassist Eric Revis and drummer Justin Faulkner—come to unite with one of the best and most important jazz vocalists? The idea ignited when Marsalis and Kurt Elling met during the 2014 Monk competition. Two years on, immediately prior to a New Orleans recording session, Elling and the quartet shared a weekend engagement at Snug Harbor, finding their collective groove and testing various songs. That Elling becomes fully one with the group—this is truly a quintet album—is evident from the opening moments of “There’s a Boat Dat’s Leavin’ Soon for New York,” its feverish pace finally slowing as he adlibs 90 seconds of wolfish patter oozing with carnal desire.
The span of Upward Spiral’s richly diverse playlist proves as compelling as its sterling musicianship. Standards—a “Blue Gardenia” as fragile as that flower’s petals, a punchy, playful “Doxy,” a gorgeously simmered “Só Tinha de Ser Com Você,” a bruised “Blue Velvet” that, per Elling’s intent, feels haunted—commingle with Sting’s “Practical Arrangement,” Chris Whitley’s “From One Island to Another” and the twilit Fred Hersch heartbreaker “West Virginia Rose.” Additionally, Marsalis brings poet Calvin Forbes’ “Momma Said” to cacophonously angular life, and Elling teams with Marsalis to craft the sage, aching “Cassandra Song,” then with Calderazzo for the closing “The Return (Upward Spiral).” If so brilliantly cohesive an album can have an apex it’s “I’m a Fool to Want You”—Elling alone with Marsalis as they plumb its inky depths, rivaling the emotional wallop of Sinatra’s nadir-defining version.
Space Time Continuum
By Allen Morrison at JazzTimes
On pianist-composer Aaron Diehl’s fourth album as a leader, his choices of both material and sidemen illuminate his recording’s title: The 29-year-old from Columbus, Ohio, creates an environment in which historic and contemporary styles of jazz, as well as the Western classical tradition, are welcome and integrated. While the album is not especially piano-centric, fans of Diehl’s exquisite touch, precise articulation and meticulous arrangements will be richly rewarded.
The six originals on Space Time Continuum reveal the influence of jazz forebears like Ellington, Bud Powell and John Lewis, an early role model to whom Diehl has been compared. Like Lewis, he draws on classical tradition; one is as likely to hear an echo of Rachmaninoff as of Ellington. As a pianist he’s equally eclectic, reminiscent of Ahmad Jamal, Monk—and, occasionally, classical virtuosi.
The stellar sidemen include Diehl trio-mates David Wong on bass and Quincy Davis on drums, occasionally augmented by two legendary players, Benny Golson on tenor saxophone and Joe Temperley on baritone. The brilliant, breathy-toned tenorman Stephen Riley performs on two tracks, as does the exciting young trumpeter Bruce Harris.
Despite the emphasis on originals, one of the album’s high points is the opener, “Uranus,” a spit-and-polish arrangement of the underperformed hard-bop standard by Walter Davis Jr. (recorded by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers in 1976); it sparkles in a crisp arrangement, with turn-on-a-dime phrasing. The noir-ish “Organic Consequence” features an eloquent, world-weary Golson solo. “Kat’s Dance,” written by pianist Adam Birnbaum, is a duo with Riley that begins like a jazz version of a Chopin nocturne, and it becomes a lilting setting for Riley to lean into the harmony in a quietly spectacular tenor solo. The frenetic “Broadway Boogie Woogie,” commissioned by New York’s Museum of Modern Art, is an interpretation of the famously busy Mondrian painting.
Overall, a remarkably assured performance.
By Christopher Loudon at JazzTimes
Though Stacey Kent was born in the States and has been based in England for almost her entire career, she’s developed deep musical passions for France and Brazil, often singing in perfect French and flawless Portuguese. (It’s worth noting here that Kent received France’s Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 2009.) Tenderly, Kent’s 11th studio album, harkens back to her salad days before all the multilingual finery, focusing almost exclusively on American standards. Still, she can’t help adding some exquisite Latin flair, having legendary Brazilian guitarist Roberto Menescal as her principal accompanist and including Menescal’s lilting “Agarradinhos” among the dozen tracks.
While Kent’s sessions have always tended to be gentle and pensive, Tenderly’s soft elegance is particularly understated. On “Agarradinhos” and the closing “If I Had You,” Menescal provides sole support. Bassist Jeremy Brown joins him for the balance of the album, with tenor saxophonist Jim Tomlinson (Kent’s husband and longtime producer) tiptoeing in on six tracks. Throughout, Kent’s voice remains one of the most appealing in jazz—so pliant, so enticingly smoke-tinged, so warmly expressive. As the name suggests, tenderness prevails: “The Very Thought of You,” “Embraceable You,” “That’s All,” “There Will Never Be Another You,” “If I’m Lucky” and the title cut are crafted of gossamer and silk. Even “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning” emerges more ruminative than forlorn. If there’s a standout, it’s “No Moon at All,” with Kent’s reading, alternatively noirish and kittenish, cunningly trimmed by Tomlinson as he switches to alto flute.