On his latest album Polygon, pianist/composer Mike Bardash leads an exciting ensemble through a session of progressive, straight-ahead hard bop, with a tuneful exploratory vibe that manages to avoid avant garde cacophony, with only a hint or two. Ten of the album’s 11 tracks are Bardash originals, and seven of those are sections of a work with a larger concept, “The Polygon Suite.” The outlier is what the liner notes call a “hard boppish blues” by the ensemble’s dynamic saxophonist Deji Coker, “D’s Blues.”
Bardash’s “Brass Tacks,” which opens the album with its somewhat changeable rhythms reflecting what the composer describes as his natural inclination in composition, is a good indication of what is to come. “In almost every tune that I write,” he is quoted in Scott Yanow’s notes, there are places where the time signature changes. I don’t do it on purpose; it just seems natural to me.”
“The Polygon Suite” is a wide-ranging musical excursion with plenty of changes, moving from a Latin dialogue to 12-bar blues to a haunting ballad, always looking to something new and unpredictable. Whether a vibrant trumpet solo from Kenyatta Beasley on “10 to 12,” some subtly dramatic tenor work from Coker on “And Then What,” or Bardash’s own solo statement on “Leading Edge,” the ensemble manages not only to find something new, but something musically interesting as well.
The bass is handled by Gene Torres and Tony Lewis is on drums. Bongo Bruno joins in on percussion for the suite’s first section.
You take a fine Italian jazz singer and combine her with a talented American bass guitarist and composer, you set them up with a program featuring some classic jazz instrumentals gussied up with newly written lyrics mixed with both some less known and better known pieces, and you may well have the makings of a winning album. This is what you get, with mixed results, when Lara Iacovini meets up with Steve Swallow on Right Together, their joint endeavor released earlier this month.
The album features three songs composed by Swallow, with lyrics written by Iacovini and Ferruccio Fusetti, as well as one, “Ladies in Mercedes” with lyrics by Norma Winstone. These work rather well. Less impressive was Iacovini’s lyrics for a classic like Billy Strayhorn’s “Isfahan” and Carla Bley’s gorgeous “Lawns.” It’s hard to compete with Bley on the piano, not to mention the Duke. Besides, Iacovini is a classically trained pianist; she might well have taken the opportunity to show her stuff. On the other hand, she does a nice job with “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans,” and her lyrics work well with Tom Harrel’s “Sail Away.”
The liner notes consist of all the Iacovini and Fusetti lyrics.
If as trumpeter, composer, and arranger Eddie Allen has said that his objective on his latest album Push (due for release in early April) is to create some “good ‘fun to listen to’ music, he has come up with an album that does the job. Push is a solidly straightforward set of eight powerful Allen originals spiced with one cover. It is a tip of the hat to some of the best in the jazz tradition, a big sound played by a septet of stellar musical masters.
Allen himself has that iconic trumpet tone that rears up over every track, whether in the elegance of his “Caress” or swinging out in the opener, “Nakia.” And when you throw in the trombone work from Dion Tucker and Keith Loftis on tenor sax, you’ve got what you need for “fun to listen to” music. Add the keyboards of Misha Tsiganov, Mark Soskin’s piano, Kenny Davis on acoustic bass and E.J. Strickland on drums and now you’ve got what you need for it to not only be fun but top-notch jazz music.
Allen’s arrangement of the Anthony Newly classic “Who Can I Turn To?” is the only cover on the album, and it serves as an eloquent vehicle for the leader to paint the colors of his instrument. His own “Hillside Strut” is jumping jive with a modern note, and the title tune which closes the album pushes that note up a notch or two. Push is an album filled with the best kind of jazz, the kind you want to hear over and over again.