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Keyon Harrold Drops a New Jam, Boney James Tackles a Standard, and Bird Lives! (Again!)

Deneka Peniston
Keyon Harrold

Keyon Harrold, “Wayfaring Traveler” (ft. Jermaine Holmes, Georgia Anne Muldrow and Robert Glasper)

If you saw the movie Miles Ahead, you may recall that Keyon Harrold was tasked with ghosting the trumpet playing — which meant not just persuasively invoking Miles Davis, but doing so in perfect sync with Don Cheadle’s embouchure and fingerings. This was an impressive feat, but no more so than The Mugician, Harrold’s forthcoming album, which finds him accountable to no one but himself.

The album, due out Sept. 29 on Legacy/Mass Appeal, is likely to thrust Harrold into a new sphere of prominence as a conceptualist and solo artist. (His stature as a trumpeter was already first-tier.) It’s a guest-laden, jazz-meets-groove affair that never loses its moral purpose or forward pull. In fact, “Wayfaring Traveler,” which has its premiere here, is one of the few tracks on the album to sidestep politics. Its subject instead is star-crossed romance, with singer-songwriter Georgia Anne Muldrow on one side of the argument and Jermaine Holmes (a member of The Vanguard, D’Angelo’s band) on the other. Joining them is another guest, Robert Glasper, whose piano brings the track to a harmonious close.  

Mike Reed’s Flesh and Bone, “I Want to Be Small – For Archibald Motley”

Speaking of music that furiously engages with our culture, Chicago drummer Mike Reed just released Flesh and Bone, an album whose long gestation began at a neo-Nazi rally in Eastern Europe almost a decade ago. The album features riveting spoken-word poetry by Marvin Tate and Kevin Coval, but it also shines a light on an expanded version of Reed’s tried-and-true band People, Places and Things. 

Consider “I Want to Be Small,” a sinuous, yearning ballad with a melody handled carefully by Greg Ward on alto saxophone. The impression may strike you as Mingus-esque, or even (stretching a bit) vaguely Ellingtonian, given the Johnny Hodges cry in Ward’s tone. The track bears a dedication to Archibald Motley, an African-American modernist painter who trained and lived in Chicago, and whose work is a vivid testament to the enduring richness of black lives.

Boney James, “Skylark”

….and now for something completely different. You probably know Boney James as a fedora-clad sax man who slinks around the overlap between contemporary jazz and smooth soul. His new album, Honestly, due out Sept. 1 on Concord, won’t do much to dislodge that solicitous impression.

Still, James has a few unexpected moves in his playbook here, including a version of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Skylark” delivered in a respectful hush. He isn’t going to make you forget about https://youtu.be/xlhoUGboL9g">Ben Webster playing the tune with Carmen McRae — but why would that be his intention, anyway? 

Tomoko Omura and the Post Bop Gypsies, “Relaxin’ at Camarillo”

Post Bop Gypsies is the sprightly new album by Tomoko Omura, a violinist originally from Shizuoka, Japan, but active on the New York scene for the better part of a decade. As the title suggests, it’s an album that straddles a couple of aesthetic coordinates, with Omura at the helm of a swinging trio. (Her partners are guitarist Alex Goodman and bassist George DeLancey.) Here is the group’s version of a Charlie Parker tune, in honor of his birthday this week.

Omura has a separate band called the Roots Quintet, which performs on Wednesday night at Club Bonafide. Like Post Bop Gypsies, their album Roots, from 2015, was released on Inner Circle Music, the label founded by Greg Osby.

Greg Osby Quartet, “Big Foot”

Wait, did somebody say Greg Osby? Did that same person say Charlie Parker? How convenient! Osby is among the musicians on board for a Parker birthday tribute at Birdland this week. Which seemed like a good excuse to dig up an incendiary version of Parker’s “Big Foot” recorded by Osby some 20 years ago.


The recording, done in makeshift fashion at Sweet Basil, is from a Blue Note album titled Banned in New York. It chronicles a whip-smart young Osby quartet with Jason Moran on piano, Atsushi Osada on bass and Rodney Green on drums.

As for the tribute lineup at Birdland: Osby will join his fellow alto saxophonist Vincent Herring as well as trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, pianist Helen Sung, bassist Lonnie Plaxico and drummer Billy Drummond. If you end up attending the gig, here is your request.

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