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Take Five: New Music From Aaron Parks, Amir ElSaffar, Adam Rogers, Barbara Morrison and Raul Midón

Bart Babinski
ECM Records
Aaron Parks Trio, left to right: Billy Hart, Aaron Parks, Ben Street

What’s on your agenda toward the end of this week? If you live within reach of New York City, Take Five has some fantastic options for you — three competing shows on Friday night, and another one at lunchtime on Thursday. But even if you’re already booked (or situated out of range), you can hear some of the music we’re talking about, right this second.

Aaron Parks, Ben Street, Billy Hart, “The Storyteller”

Aaron Parks made his ECM Records debut in 2013 with Arborescence, a solo piano album of exquisite subtlety, sensitivity and poise. His new album, Find the Way, hardly scales back on any of those qualities. But it’s a recording in the mainstream piano trio tradition, with distinguished partners: bassist Ben Street and drummer Billy Hart.

The album is a feast of drifting pulse and deep sonority, with Parks applying his usual mastery of touch. “The Storyteller” sits on a cloud, with a harmony and melody that manage to resolve while still imparting a sense of longing. Hart and Street, regular partners in the Billy Hart Quartet, work quietly but with grounded purpose. The trio resurfaces, playing this music, on Friday at Smalls in Greenwich Village.

Amir ElSaffar’s Rivers of Sound Orchestra, “Shards of Memory/B Half Flat Fantasy”

Credit Michael Crommett
Amir ElSaffar

Maqam, the system of melodic modes and pitch hierarchies in traditional Arabic music, has been a pliable tool for the Iraqi-American trumpeter, vocalist and santur player Amir ElSaffar. With his Rivers of Sound Orchestra — a 17-piece ensemble that includes jazz musicians like vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz, guitarist Miles Okazaki and drummer Nasheet Waits — ElSaffar puts maqam in dialogue with cutting-edge improvisational practice.

“Shards of Memory/B Half Flat Fantasy,” by Amir ElSaffar’s Rivers of Sound Orchestra

“Shards of Memory/B Half Flat Fantasy” begins as a glimmering microtonal fanfare. Then a folk ostinato emerges in triplet time, before dissolving and reformulating in a more sinuous tempo. (Later, the pulse quickens and eventually overheats.) The track, which premieres here, comes from Not Two, an album due out on New Amsterdam Records on Friday — the same day that the River of Sound Orchestra performs a free concert in Lower Manhattan as part of the 2017 River to River Festival.

Adam Rogers’ DICE, “Elephant”

DICE, left to right: Adam Rogers, Nate Smith, Fima Ephron
"Elephant," by Adam Rogers' DICE

You might know guitarist Adam Rogers as an ace sideman — notably in bands led by saxophonists Chris Potter and David Binney, or trumpeters Randy Brecker and Alex Sipiagin. If you’ve been tracking Rogers’ movements as a leader, you probably also know DICE, a smart, muscular power trio with electric bassist Fima Ephron and drummer Nate Smith. The band has been kicking around for a while — long enough to have taped an episode of The Checkout: Live back in 2012. Now DICE finally has a studio album, with just the right mix of elements: a high melting point, a low center of gravity, a knockabout brand of cohesion. “Elephant,” which has its premiere here, places the band on a decisive post-Hendrix continuum — bluesy and raw, spoiling for a fight. See for yourself on Friday, the album’s release date, at Le Poisson Rouge.  

Raul Midón, “Wings of Mind”


Throwback soul, smooth R&B and contemporary jazz have long found convergence in the music of Raul Midón. On Bad Ass and Blind, his wryly titled new album, Midón serves a new batch of songs in his personalized hybrid style, pushing musicianship to the foreground. Some tracks lean a bit far into the crossover zone, but “Wings of Mind” features a coolly swinging band, with Gerald Clayton on piano, Joe Sanders on bass and Gregory Hutchinson on drums. Midón ventures some brisk acoustic guitar work, followed by a sharp trumpet solo by Nicholas Payton. Midón performs a free lunchtime concert on Thursday at MetroTech Commons in Brooklyn, as part of the BAM Rhythm and Blues Festival.

Barbara Morrison Featuring Houston Person, “September in the Rain”

The collaborative history between Los Angeles jazz-vocal institution Barbara Morrison and veteran tenor saxophonist Houston Person goes back a ways, and has become a thing to rely on. Their new album together, I Wanna Be Loved, is the third in a recent series on the Savant label, following I Love You, Yes I Do (2014) and A Sunday Kind of Love (2013). This brightly swinging take on “September in the Rain” finds them in robust form — hear Morrison’s reentry after the tenor solo — and in good spirits, backed by a rock-solid rhythm section.

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