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Look Sharp with New Music by Christian Sands, Mark Turner, Bill Frisell and More, in Take Five

Anna Webber
Christian Sands

Mikkel Ploug and Mark Turner, “Warmth”

Mark Turner is a tenor saxophonist who needs no introduction. Mikkel Ploug may be a little less familiar to American audiences, though he’s been a force on the scene in Europe for years, and a regular musical compatriot of Turner’s for the last decade. Their new album, Faroe, due out on Sunnyside this Friday, pares down to a duo format, putting their rapport front and center with no embellishment or distraction. It’s a gem, at once intimate and expansive, glowing with quiet possibility.

Ploug took the lead in composing music for the project, performing roughly half the album on acoustic guitar. (He wrote some of the tunes while playing and singing what would become Turner’s parts.) “Warmth,” which has its premiere here, is an invention that Ploug intentionally kept under wraps — springing it on Turner the day of the recording session. The tenor playing, set against a drift of arpeggios, conveys the feeling of calm expedition, like someone rowing out along a steady sea.

Christian Sands, “Sangueo Soul”

Articulacy has never been a problem for Christian Sands, whose style suggests a polished distillation of the modern-jazz piano language. But there’s a restless side to his personality, too, as he began to show last year with Reach, his aptly titled Mack Avenue debut. Now Sands is about to release his second full-length album for the label: Facing Dragons, due out on Sept. 21. 

Built around the burnished core of his trio, with Yasushi Nakamura on bass and Jerome Jennings on drums, it diversifies his offerings even further, without straying too far afield. At times, trumpeter Keyon Harrold and saxophonist Marcus Strickland join the fray, notably on an original called “Fight For Freedom.” On the first single from the album, “Sangueo Soul,” the trio has reinforcements of a more rhyrhmic sort — Brazilian guitarist Caio Afiune, along with the Latin percussionists Cristian Rivera and Roberto Quintero.

Skúli Sverrisson and Bill Frisell, “Afternoon Variant”


Newvelle Records, the audiophile subscription vinyl label, is now into its third season. For those who have the proper resources — a working turntable, and some discretionary funds — it’s a fabulous fount of new music that can’t be heard any other way. The latest Newvelle release, shipping this week, is Strata, a poetic duo collaboration between the Icelandic bassist Skúli Sverrisson and the all-American guitarist Bill Frisell. It consists entirely of music by Sverrisson, much of it composed specifically for this pairing. But the video above features “Afternoon Variant,” a piece https://youtu.be/JfJyCl19QVU">previously heard on Sverrisson’s 2013 album The Box Tree (with saxophonist Óskar Guðjónsson). No surprise that it so beautifully suits the lyrical side of Frisell, whose interplay with Sverrisson feels effortlessly deep.

Lauren Sevian, “Triple Water”

A baritone saxophonist of spruce agility and sharp attack, Lauren Sevian has been an anchoring presence in the Mingus Big Band, among other settings. But she’s still making her way as a headliner, and Bliss, recently released on Posi-Tone Records, should do a lot to establish her in that regard. Featuring Sevian at the helm of something resembling an all-star rhythm section — Robert Rodriguez on piano, Christian McBride on bass, E.J. Strickland on drums — it pulls no punches from the outset, with a burning overture titled “Triple Water.”

It’s hard to miss the intensity in this track, which comes from the ground up. But pay particular attention to Sevian’s solo, toggling between brisk, boppish lines and deep, braying cries. She’s working with the heavy tread that gives the baritone saxophone its character, but also showing that she’s in no way encumbered. (The LSQ — Sevian, Strickland, pianist Helen Sung and bassist Marcos Varela — will perform on Wednesday at Smalls.)

Count Basie Orchestra, “Hello”

Perhaps you’re well aware that the Count Basie Orchestra continues to chug along, under the direction of trumpeter and arranger Scotty Barnhart. Whether you knew that or not, the band is about to make its presence felt with a splashy new release, All About That Basie, arriving on Sept. 14 from Concord Jazz. Produced by former Basie band drummer Greg Field, it’s an all-star affair with contributions from Stevie Wonder, Kurt Elling, Carmen Bradford and Take Six. (Despite the pun in the title, you’ll find nary a trace of Meghan Trainor.)

“Hello,” which was just released as a single, is a slow-sauntering instrumental track featuring arranger Kris Johnson on trumpet. It’s a satisfying throwback as well as a timely reminder: the Count Basie Orchestra will be in residence at Birdland next week, Aug. 21 through 25.

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