The recent spate of remastered recordings from the MPS back catalog includes the 1980 release Mirror, Mirror, a six-track set from an all-star quartet led by Joe Henderson on tenor sax, with Chick Corea on piano, Ron Carter on bass, and Billy Higgins on drums. With a lineup of this caliber, much is expected, and while the music is good, it doesn’t pass the muster of great expectations.
There is some excellent solo work, but the ensemble doesn’t always seem to mesh as tightly as you would want from this kind of group. Some of the most interesting work is on the Henderson composition, “Joe’s Bolero,” and Carter’s “Keystone.”
The Jiggs Whigham International Trio playing Not So Standards live at Nighttown in Cleveland, on the other hand, is a less fabled group with much less by way of expectation. Their album, released in March, offers something of a unique sound as they work their way through an extended exploration of a half dozen tunes.
The set includes jazz standards like Milt Jackson’s “Bag’s Groove” and Sonny Rollins’ “Saint Thomas,” pages from the Great American Songbook like the perennial “Autumn Leaves” and “Some Day My Prince Will Come,” and a Whigham original, “Steve.” It aims at reinvigorating the music with a shot of spontaneous improvisational magic, and while they don’t always succeed, they get the job done often enough to make for some fine listening. Whigham is joined in the journey by pianist Florian Weber and bassist Decebal Badila.
Some older releases just in case you’ve missed them:
Afro Bop Alliance’s September 2014 release Angel Eyes is filled with music that dances with electricity. The Washington, D.C.-based octet, founded by drummer Joe McCarthy, has added steel pan dynamo Victor Provost to the band, and his work ignites the ensemble. The album’s 11-song program offers a variety of original material from different members and a few classic pieces including, of all things, Henderson’s “Inner Urge,” “Nature Boy” with guest strings and a vocal by Sara Jones, and Horace Silver’s “Barbara.”
Provost’s “Homenaje” features a guest shot from Paquito D’Rivera on clarinet. Latin jazz played the way Latin jazz should be played: Afro Bop Alliance will have you jumping.
In Brazilian People, released last November, pianist Phil DeGreg leads Brasilia, an Ohio-based quintet, in a 10-tune set offering some tasty samples of the range of Brazilian rhythms—samba, bossa nova, and choro. Song after song features melodic solo work from DeGreg on piano, Kim Pensyl on trumpet and flugelhorn, and Rusty Burge on vibraphone.
While the menu includes a couple of original pieces, Burge’s “Fresh Biscuit” and DeGreg’s “A Yankee in Brazil,” the main course is three tracks by Antonio Carlos Jobim (a brilliant “A Felicidade,” “Double Rainbow,” and “Triste”). Although perhaps the best known of Brazilian ambassadors, Jobim’s works are spiced by Hermeto Pascoal’s “Valley of the River” and Edu Lobo’s “On Lia’s Island, In Rosa’s Boat.”
Laura Dreyer (alto and soprano sax, flute, and alto flute), perhaps assuming that if you wanted to record Brazilian music, the logical place to do it would be Brazil working with an ensemble of Brazilian musicians, took off for Rio de Janeiro for her August release, Vida. Arte. Amor. Most of the 14-track album features Dreyer originals – tunes like “O Outro Lado do Seu Amor” and “Beijo Do Sol (Rio Version),” which lovingly capture the signature Brazilian rhythms in a jazz framework.
Grammy Award-winning tenor sax player Ernie Watts leads his quartet through what he sees as a jazz journey through the day on his album, A Simple Truth, released last fall on his own label, Flying Dolphin Records. It’s billed as a concept album with each of the eight tracks moving from early morning meditation to rising tempos as the day progress and eventually leading back to evening reflection. It would make for a tidy musical journey, were the various states of mind more readily identifiable. The trouble is that without some outside help identifying each track’s significance, I would doubt the listener would identify it on his or her own.
It isn’t necessary. What you get on this album is some excellent tenor work from a man who knows what to do with his horn, and still has the chops to do it. Watts hits a tune like Dizzy Gillespie’s “Bebop” out of the park, and his improvisations over Ron Feuer’s orchestral arrangements in the opening number “The Sound: Morning” and the closer, “The Sound: Evening” are a joy to hear.