The eight tracks on Jeff Dingler’s new jazz album In Transit are as fascinating as they are beautiful. In ways both abstract and concrete, the songs reflect the cross-cultural inspirations that fueled the New York-and-Ethiopia-based bassist-composer, who teaches music at Mekene Yesus University in Addis Ababa.
Dingler’s melodic, high-register bass solos adorn several of the more reflective tracks, while Brad Shepik’s transcendent guitar work gives the album much of its melodic grace. Backing them up are the sensitive and rhythmically assertive pianist Lou Rainone and atmospheric drummer Gusten Rudolph, with percussionist Josh Bailey contributing extra flair on some tracks.
Dingler roots his most interesting pieces in the Ethiopian pentatonic scale and other traditional elements, interlocking them with jazz with remarkable naturalness. He and the band dive into the 7/8 rhythm of “Sebat” with the same ease; it feels so organic it took me a minute to notice that we were in a non-standard time signature.
The band hews to classic jazz in the yearning “Tiptoe,” while extrapolations of that pentatonic scale bookend the album in “Bati Celebration” and “Way Home.” In all modes, Dingler the composer sticks to relatively simple chord progressions; the magic comes not from bebop complexity (though the musicians are clearly bebop adepts as well) but from the soft melding of musical traditions from two continents, adding up to one of the more subtly remarkable accomplishments in jazz this year.
Even on a casual listen, Dingler’s In Transit is an enchanting journey. Another such trip is Jazz Flute Traditions, a charming new live set from flutist Nestor Torres. It’s presented as an homage to jazz flute masters such as Moe Koffman, Herbie Mann, and Yusef Lateef. But there’s no need to know those specific “traditions” to appreciate the joyful spirit in Torres’s playing and the easygoing virtuosity of the musicians who back him up on these 11 tracks recorded at WDNA 88.9 Studios in Miami, including guest alto saxophonist Ian Muñoz, who contributes a fluid solo on one of my own sentimental-favorite tunes, “Serenade to a Cuckoo.”
Whether in the incantatory plunge of “Jungle Fantasy,” the soft lyricism of Lateef’s “The Golden Flute,” the good-natured blues of “Swingin’ Shepherds Blues,” or the slow, muted flow of “So in Love,” each track features Torres’s painterly tones and techniques. An especially sensitive reading of Corea’s “Windows” is another of the album’s highlights. Always playing with heart, Torres is a jazz musician for the common man.
He and the combo do go further afield, though, with a medley of Luciano Berio’s experimental “Sequenza” with Eric Dolphy’s nervy “Gazzelloni,” and with an 11-minute suite that takes off from Xavier Cugat’s “Miami Beach Rhumba.” An integration of the Adagio from Joaquin Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez” with Chick Corea’s “Spain” is especially effective.
Wide-ranging and consistently good-natured and entertaining, Jazz Flute Traditions is a feast for both heart and mind. :