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Take Five: Joey DeFrancesco, GoGo Penguin, Akua Dixon, Petros Klampanis, Billy Mintz

Jay Gilbert

There are many paths to a killer groove, and few fixed parameters. The most important criterion is an intangible: just how good, how essentially right, does it feel? Every new track featured in this installment of Take Five is a winner in that respect, whether we’re talking about a hard-swinging churn or a minimalist swirl. As a bonus, you’ll see a first-rate drummer do a goofy dance.

Joey DeFrancesco + The People, “Project Freedom”

The word “freedom” clearly resonates for Joey DeFrancesco, the Hammond B-3 organ kingpin and veteran hard-bop messenger. As a proud product of Philadelphia, the cradle of liberty, he grew up considering individual and collective freedoms; as a jazz musician, he developed a nuanced relationship to the idea. On Project Freedom, due out on Friday on Mack Avenue, his overarching theme is the historic and ongoing struggle for equality: the album includes stirring treatments of Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” and the spiritual “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” DeFrancesco also introduces new tunes with meaningful titles, like “Peace Bridge” and “Stand Up.” The title track opens in a prayerful rubato, with Jason Brown rumbling in earnest on his toms. Then DeFrancesco, tenor saxophonist Troy Roberts and guitarist Dan Wilson lock in with a boppish melody, followed by a thrilling round-robin of solos: trading choruses, then fours, and finally converging in a heated exchange. (DeFrancesco is currently on tour; for dates and information, visit his website.)

— Nate Chinen

GoGo Penguin, “Ocean in a Drop”

Post-rock, not post-pocket. The mood of UK-based instrumental trio GoGo Penguin’s new digital EP, Live at Abbey Road, is one of contemplation and urgency. Tracked live (but without an audience) in Studio 2 at Abbey Road Studios in London, it features new versions of three songs from the band’s 2016 Blue Note debut, Man Made Object. But it’s the fourth and final cut, , “Ocean in a Drop,” that may offer the best glimpse into GoGo Penguin’s mixed-media endgame. Containing elements from the band’s latest multimedia project — a live scoring of  the 1982 scenic-collage cult-film Koyaanisqatsi, originally scored by minimalist composer Philip Glass — it has a hypnotic, cyclical upper-register piano part against a low-end dramatic bass line. It’s no wonder we’re bringing Glass, the grandfather of hypnotic repetitive piano figures, into the jazz fold here. Without Glass, we may not have had Aphex Twin, and then never would have had The Bad Plus’s take on Aphex Twin’s “Flim.” GoGo Penguin seems to pick up the baton where that piano/bass/drum trio left off, putting drums in the foreground, orchestrating cinematic drama and in turn, expanding the opportunities for electro-acoustic jazz.

— Alex Ariff

Akua Dixon, “Akua’s Dance”

Akua Dixon’s earthy and virtuosic cello thrusts the often-sidelined instrument front and center on Akua’s Dance. Dixon has led her own ground-breaking string quartets and worked with such eclectic artists as Archie Shepp, Carmen McRae, Max Roach, Lauryn Hill, David Byrne and Aretha Franklin. Here she celebrates the richness of African-American music and the African Diaspora, joined by two all-star trios anchored on drums by the polyrhythmic dynamo Victor Lewis. Three tracks highlight bassist Ron Carter and guitarist Russell Malone, while the remaining seven feature a pair of steady collaborators, guitarist Freddie Bryant and bassist Kenny Davis. Highlights include a reinvention of Sade’s “The Sweetest Taboo,” and Dixon’s lone vocal: a version of Abbey Lincoln’s “Throw It Away.” Dixon also showcases her baritone violin and takes us to church with the spiritual “I’m Gonna Tell God All of My Troubles,” and foreshadows her forthcoming opera about famed creole voodoo queen Marie Laveau with the compositions “I Dream” and “Akua’s Dance.” (Dixon will perform this music on March 11 at Sistas’ Place in Brooklyn.)

— Monifa Brown

Petros Klampanis, “Little Blue Sun”

Petros Klampanis is a bassist and composer with global perspective: born in Zakynthos, Greece, he studied music first in Amsterdam and then in New York City, and composes music that melds modern jazz with elements of folkloric music. That’s no less true on his new large-ensemble album, Chroma, even with the addition of a chamber string section. (The album, whose title is the Greek word for “color,” was recorded live at the Onassis Cultural Center in New York.) At the heart of the album is a small group of close associates, including guitarist Gilad Hekselman and pianist Shai Maestro, both Israelis, and percussionist Keita Ogawa, originally from Japan. Hear how their interplay blooms on “Little Blue Sun,” a piece that could be parsed into two sections, with the lilting, delicate part up front, followed by a rubato interlude. The syncopated vamp that kicks in just after 4:30 is worth the wait — not least for a coolly thrilling guitar solo by Hekselman. (Chroma will be released on Motéma this Friday.)

— N.C.

Billy Mintz, “Cannonball”


Billy Mintz has some serious moves as a drummer. As for his dance moves… draw your own conclusions from the clip above. The tune is “Cannonball,” an original blues with a 24-bar form, dedicated (as you might expect) to Cannonball Adderley. Mintz recorded it on his new double album, Ugly Beautiful, whose title might give you an inkling of the sensibility behind this endearingly goofy music video. There’s some in-studio and on-the-street footage of his band, which has two tenor saxophonists, John Gross and Tony Malaby, along with Hilliard Greene on bass and Roberta Piket, Mintz’s wife, on piano and organ. But the dance party extends to a succession of friends. The production values are low-budget, but the enthusiasm rings true. (Ugly Beautiful is due out on Tuesday on Thirteenth Note Records.)

— N.C.

A veteran jazz critic and award-winning author, and a regular contributor to NPR Music.
Born of Ukrainian Jewish and African-American descent in Brooklyn, NY, Monifa Brown's (formerly Carson, happily married and the proud mother of a wonderful son – who can be heard in some of Brown’s WBGO show promos) affinity for music began at an early age. "I am blessed that my parents were determined to expose me to the arts and jazz in particular. They would take me with them everywhere. The first time an irrepressible mark was made was when they took me to hear Miles Davis. His presence and sound were mesmerizing. Miles was magical and I was instantly hooked."
Alex Ariff has big ears. A musician first, he straddles the worlds between performance/songwriting, media production and storytelling. Alex earned his B.A in Music from Florida State University where he fell for all facets of jazz music, history, and culture. He went onto earn his M.A. in Jazz History and Research from Rutgers University-Newark. It was during this time that Alex began working at WBGO, where he currently works as a producer on Jazz Night in America. Outside of WBGO, Alex enjoys lapsang souchong, bike rides, and playing with his band The Wali Sanga.