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Take Five: Unmissable New Music From Edward Simon, Erik Friedlander, Rafiq Bhatia and More

Christopher Drukker
Pianist Edward Simon, whose new album is 'Sorrows and Triumphs'

Edward Simon and Afinidad, “Triangle”

There are multiple fluencies, along many frequencies, in the music of Edward Simon. A pianist originally from Venezuela, he has traveled widely since relocating to the United States more than 35 years ago. His luxurious new album, Sorrows and Triumphs, showcases the Afinidad quartet, with alto saxophonist David Binney, bassist Scott Colley and drummer Brian Blade. But the album is also a sleek expression of modernist chamber-jazz writing, involving Imani Winds, singer Gretchen Parlato and others.

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“Triangle,” premiering here, offers a characteristic taste, with peekaboo woodwinds, thrumming percussion and a sleek rhythmic pulse that oscillates between 10/8 and 7/8 meter. It’s an almost picture-perfect soundtrack to the long-awaited manifestation of springtime, right down to Simon’s deft, exploratory piano solo, which begins not quite three minutes in. Sorrows and Triumphs will be released on Sunnyside Records this Friday. (Preorder here.)

Peter Brötzmann and Fred Lonberg-Holm, “The Circle”

The redoubtable German multireedist Peter Brötzmann and the wily, Chicago-based cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm have some history as a free-improvising duo: a decade ago, they released an unruly live album called The Brain of the Dog in Section. Their new album, Ouroboros, was recorded during a European tour in support of that album, back in 2011. But it sounds as urgent as if it were made yesterday.

The opening track on the album is “The Circle,” which has its premiere here. It begins with a searching, scraping rustle by Lonberg-Holm, and blows open like a firecracker when Brötzmann makes his entrance, just over two minutes in. The abstraction moves into electro-acoustic territory, but always with a sense of tactile engagement. If such moments strike a chord with you, take note: Ouroboros releases on Astral Spirits this Friday, in digital form and in a limited vinyl pressing.

Erik Friedlander and Throw a Glass, “As They Are”

Another brilliant improvising cellist, Erik Friedlander, had the idea for his new album after discovering “Glass of Absinthe,” a series of sculptures from 1914, at a Pablo Picasso exhibition. Friedlander’s album, Artemisia, draws inspiration not only from the sculptures but also from the dark literary allure of absinthe, the greenish, anise-flavored spirit distilled from wormwood, or Artemisia absinthium.

For the album, Friedlander assembled a group he calls Throw A Glass, with Uri Caine on piano, Mark Helias on bass and Ches Smith on drums. “As They Are” captures the alert dynamism among these musicians, all of whom are just as capable with a slithery ostinato as they are with soloing over changes. The track features especially fine work by Friedlander and Caine, who deftly strikes a balance between impressionistic shading and soulful rhythmic punch. Artemisia is now available digitally and as a limited deluxe vinyl box.

Rafiq Bhatia, “Breaking English”

Indie-rockish types know Rafiq Bhatia as the guitarist in Son Lux. Experimental jazz fans may be more familiar with his collaborative work, in projects led by David Virelles or Vijay Iyer. Earlier this month Bhatia took a significant step forward as a solo artist with Breaking English, on ANTI- Records. An album proudly unplaceable on the style spectrum but clear in its relationship to multiple traditions — progressive jazz, post-rock and electronic music among them — it inhabits its own porous atmosphere, emitting a strange, soft glow. The clip above is a live performance of the album’s spare, haunted title track, with Jackson Hill on bass and electronics and Ian Chang on acoustic and electronic percussion.

Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, “Necessary Evil”


Our closer this week is a throwback in more than one sense — a tune composed by Redd Evans, and recorded by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong in 1951. The song is “Necessary Evil,” one of the lesser-known tracks on Cheek To Cheek: The Complete Duet Recordings, an exhaustive 4-CD boxed set just out on Verve/Ume. A song about indulging guilty pleasures — a sip of wine, a wandering eye — it’s an early example of the chemistry that Ella and Louis had in the studio. (“Louis, you’re trouble!” she ad-libs, or so it would seem, at the top of the track.) The sexism that once rang playful in these lyrics now carries a certain discomfort. Maybe it’s worth noting that “Necessary Evil” was released as the A side of a 45-r.p.m. for Decca — and that the B-side was titled “Oops!”

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