Take Five: Jeremy Pelt, Theo Bleckmann, Daymé Arocena, Art Pepper and Ballister
One track in this week’s Take Five column is a call to make some noise; another is a contemplative ode to silence. There’s also an early Valentine, a long-lost face-off, and a freeform depth charge. We’re going to cover some serious ground here, so let’s dive in.
Jeremy Pelt, “Make Noise!”
Swagger has rarely been a commodity in short supply for trumpeter Jeremy Pelt. At 40, he’s in a phase of his career that feels coolly self-assured, and largely unconcerned with outside perceptions. But he still wants to be sure his listeners feel something. That’s the obvious subtext of “Make Noise!” — the title track of his fine new album, an acoustic sparring session featuring his working band. The tune’s melody is lean and tensile, like a coiled spring, and the rhythm section digs in hard: note the crashing modalities of Victor Gould’s piano solo, which sets up a flurry of punch combinations by Pelt. Note, too, the nimble but heavy tread of Jonathan Barber’s drumming; the roving fulcrum set by Vicente Archer’s bass; and the assertive clatter of Jacqueline Acevedo’s congas. “Make Noise!” is an exhortation to let loose, but Pelt’s audiences probably don’t often need reminding.
Theo Bleckmann, “Take My Life"
By now it’s no secret that Theo Bleckmann is one of the most restlessly intriguing vocalists in improvised music. He made Elegy, his ECM debut as a leader, with a handful of close collaborators: guitarist Ben Monder, pianist Shai Maestro, drummer John Hollenbeck and bassist Chris Tordini. The album contains a series of reflections on mortality, in one form or another: among its highlights is a version of Stephen Sondheim’s “Comedy Tonight,” recast as a rueful dirge. On “Take My Life,” roughly the inverse is true, as Bleckmann imagines a kind of system shutdown: “Dim the light inside my eyes,” he sings, “Then fill my lungs with quiet.” But the touch here is light, as is the tone. Monder plays a brilliant solo blurred with distant distortion, over a groove that suggests a pinwheel whirring in the breeze. This song will surely be a nightly highlight of Bleckmann’s cross-country Elegy tour, which kicks off on Tuesday at the Jazz Standard. (For more dates, visit theobleckmann.com.)
Daymé Arocena, “Valentine”
It’s no stretch to suggest that singer-songwriter DayméArocena is an Afro-Cuban superstar in the making: maybe you saw her Tiny Desk Concert last spring, or caught her at this year’s NYC Winter Jazzfest. Her new album, Cubafonía, due out on March 10, will only broaden her reach, with its savvy mix of modern rumbas and crossover pop, sung with brio in both Spanish and English. The album was recorded at historic Abdala Studios in Havana, with aces like the young drummer Ruly Herrera. “Valentine” is the album’s closing track, all the more charming for how loosely it seems to hold together. Backed mainly by the plucky chime of a trés (LinoLores) and the clattery whoosh of a güiro (Herrera), Arocena shifts easily between languages, even tossing in a bit of scat singing. Then she becomes one voice in a chorus — turning the song into something like a block party, euphoric and soulful.
Art Pepper and Sonny Stitt, “Lester Leaps In"
Art Pepper, the magnetic, famously tormented alto saxophonist, would occupy a very different place in jazz lore were it not for the efforts of his wife, Laurie Pepper. More than a much-needed source of stability, she helped give a shape to his story — both literally, in the form of their coauthored memoir Straight Life, and figuratively, through her close involvement with his career. Consider a new archival release, Art Pepper Presents: “West Coast Sessions!” Volume 1: Sonny Stitt. Made for a Japanese label in 1980, at a time when Pepper was under exclusive contract in the States, it was originally released under Stitt’s name even though Pepper had convened the band. (This sly workaround had been Laurie’s idea.) Among the highlights on this double album is a brisk “Lester Leaps In” that finds both frontmen on tenor, exchanging friendly provocations. The rhythm section, led by pianist Russ Freeman, is fleet and on point, while the rapport between the two saxophonists — arch competitors, as you may recall from Straight Life — is best described by Laurie. “Sonny ravishes and Art seduces,” she writes in her liner notes. “So in the language of the medium-is-the-message man, McLuhan, Sonny’s hot, and Art, no matter how he swings, is cool.”
Free improvisation, slashing and furious, sets the agenda for the collective trio Ballister. Comprising Dave Rempis on saxophones, Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello and electronics and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums, it’s a band with the sort of deep, alert cohesion that can only be hard-earned over a lot of miles. Slag, its new album, was recorded live at the Café Oto in London a couple of years ago. Out this week on Rempis’s label, Aerophonic, it consists of three long tracks. “Fauchard,” the opening salvo, is a spontaneous composition that unfolds like a slow-mo supernova. Don’t miss how the mood turns ghostly quiet during a cello solo, about 15 minutes in, lurking in that zone for a while before the temperature lunges back into the red.