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Take Five: Kneebody, Dexter Gordon, Lage & Eldridge, Nicole Mitchell, JALC Orchestra

Old and new, invention and reinvention: this week, Take Five is a study in contrast and dualities. It's also a heads-up for several albums we're looking forward to this spring, and some gigs that you should have on your calendar. Listen up and dive in.

Kneebody, “Uprising” 




Everything about “Uprising,” the current single by Kneebody, is true to form. Start with the rugged yet even-keel rhythmic motor, courtesy of drummer Nate Wood and electric bassist Kaveh Rastegar. Then there’s Adam Benjamin, on Fender Rhodes piano and effects, generating cooled-out atmosphere and striated texture. Finally: Shane Endsley, on trumpet, and Ben Wendel, on tenor saxophone, blending in a tight, post-boppish coil. The cohesion among these broadminded musicians, honed over a dozen years as a band, is the chief takeaway from this exclusive video clip, filmed in a studio in Brooklyn. (“Uprising” appears on Anti-Hero, which the band will release on Motéma on March 3.) The next leg of Kneebody’s tour begins on March 23 at Constellation, in Chicago; it will play (Le) Poisson Rouge in New York on April 8. (For more dates, visit kneebody.com.)


Dexter Gordon, “Long Tall Dexter”


The irreplaceable tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon would have turned 92 on Feb. 27, and as usual, a group of elite musicians are fixing to convene in his name. There’s no shortage of killer Dex to whet the appetite for this tribute, ranging from his classic Blue Note albums of the 1950s to his victorious Homecoming in ’77. But the track we’ll single out here comes from his very first session as a leader, recently compiled in the essential Mosaic boxed set Classic Savoy Be-Bop Sessions 1945-49. It’s a textbook blowing session — but listen for the daring of Gordon’s intervallic work, especially after the first eight bars. The Dexter Gordon Legacy Ensemble is at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola Feb. 23-26, with Abraham Burton stepping into Gordon’s big shoes. Burton and Maxine Gordon, Dexter’s widow, will join Gary Walker to discuss Dexter’s legacy at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, on 88.3 FM (and streaming here). 

Julian Lage & Chris Eldridge, “Greener Grass”




Julian Lage is an irrepressibly sunny jazz guitarist, and Chris Eldridge is best known for carving up the same instrument in Punch Brothers, the next-wave bluegrass band. They have been regular duo partners for a number of years, and their second album together, Mount Royal, is due on Free Dirt Records this Friday. The album includes eight originals that underscore the empathic bond between them, and one such tune is “Greener Grass,” a pastoral stroll with a few surprising harmonic turns. You’ll find it difficult not to smile as you track the handoff from Lage’s solo, springy and bright, to Eldridge’s, which is no less virtuosic, and rolls right into a restatement of the melody in resonant bluegrass harmony. Lage and Eldridge are now on a tour that winds all over the country; they’ll be at the Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 in New York City on March 9 and 10. (Find tour dates and more at julianlage.com.)

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis and Jon Batiste, “Piazza Navona”


John Lewis, the soulful and discerning pianist best known for his long stewardship of the Modern Jazz Quartet, first recorded “Piazza Navona” in 1960: it appears on both his own album The Golden Striker and a classic MJQ release, The Comedy. It now reappears in large-ensemble splendor courtesy of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, from the forthcoming album The Music of John Lewis. The arrangement emphasizes the split personality of the tune, toggling between a blaring fanfare and some foot-tapping swing (and between waltz and common time). Marsalis drops a peppy, garrulous trumpet solo, and Jon Batiste brings some New Orleans swagger on piano. The performance adds up to an effective teaser for the album, due on the Blue Engine label on March 24.



Nicole Mitchell’s Black Earth Ensemble, “Egoes War”


The imagination is a charged and capacious place for the flutist Nicole Mitchell, who has been on a creative tear for more than a decade now. Her next album, Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds, which will land in the spring, is her response to racial divisions and societal dualities, framed in the terms of dystopian science fiction. Recorded live at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, it features her Black Earth Ensemble, with longtime collaborators like the cellist Tomeka Reid. Joining them for the occasion are the poet and performer Avery R. Young, who delivers Mitchell’s lyrics, and Kojiro Umezaki and Tatsu Aoki, on Japanese folk instruments. The first track to surface from the album is “Egoes War,” which begins with a determined rustle of gongs and hand drums before the first shot across the bow, by guitarist Alex Wing. What follows is a collective fever dream, with Mitchell’s flute and Umezaki’s shakuhachi both aflutter, like two sparrows caught in a wind storm.

A veteran jazz critic and award-winning author, and a regular contributor to NPR Music.