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From Aaron Parks to Jonathan Finlayson to Cuong Vu, Five Forward-Thinking Fall Releases

Take Five this week is packed with must-hear albums, just released or just ahead.

Aaron Parks Little Big, “Siren”

The confluence between modern jazz and atmospheric indie-rock has long been intuitive for Aaron Parks, who made it a subtext of his Blue Note debut, Invisible Cinema, a decade ago. Parks, a pianist whose affiliations range from guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel to the collective James Farm, has now created an album with the band he calls Little Big. He sees it as a successor of sorts to that previous album, and it has the feeling of something fully ripened and developed.

Named after an epic fantasy novel by John Crowley, and due out on Ropeadope on Oct. 19, Little Big is a true band record — a showcase for the ensemble that Parks put together for this music. Along with Greg Tuohey on guitar, it features David “DJ” Ginyard, Jr., on bass and Tommy Crane on drums. These are musicians who see no particular division between high-level jazz improvisation, rock dynamics and electronic texture, as the album beautifully shows. (It was mixed by Daniel Schlett, who works with The War on Drugs, and Chris Taylor, a childhood acquaintance of Parks who’s best known as a member of Grizzly Bear.)


“Siren,” which arrives near the album’s midpoint, is a near-perfect distillation of the artfully blurred aesthetic at play here. Beginning with a classically inflected piano part, the piece opens up to a quietly beseeching melody on guitar, over a groove that’s more insinuated than stated. The crescendo in the song dawns subtly and gradually, before taking a turn toward catharsis, just before the five-minute mark.

Cuong Vu 4Tet, “Alive”

Change in the Air, just out on RareNoiseRecords, is the fine new album by trumpeter Cuong Vu, who has lately maintained a high bar for collaborations with guitar players. You may be familiar with https://youtu.be/dHhKo_gA_Ho">Cuong Vu Trio Meets Pat Metheny, from 2016; last year brought Ballet: The Music of Michael Gibbs, featuring Bill Frisell. The new release likewise has Frisell and Vu in the front line of a smartly elastic quartet with electric bassist Luke Bergman and drummer Ted Poor.


Each member of the group contributed compositions, and the resulting menu is a diverse but cohesive whole. “Alive,” an earthy, swinging tune with a melody shaded in blue, is one of Poor’s, originally written in 2012 for a different instrumentation (but never previously recorded). It brings out the assertive side of everyone here — including Vu, who starts into his slashing trumpet solo at around 2:35.

Jonathan Finlayson, “Tap-Tap”

It was only a month or so ago that trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson last turned up in Take Five, for his part in a bracing new live album by Steve Coleman and Five Elements. Finlayson is back now with his own album, 3 Times Round, releasing on Pi Recordings this Friday. As on his acclaimed 2016 album Moving Still, he enlists an alert and dauntless rhythm section, with pianist Matt Mitchell, bassist John Hébert and drummer Craig Weinrib. But whereas Finlayson was the only horn in that band, Sicilian Defense, this one also incorporates Steve Lehman on alto saxophone and Brian Settles on tenor saxophone and flute.


“Tap-Tap” is the album’s closing track, with a stutter-step melody that sets alto saxophone along one path and trumpet and tenor on another. The coiled intricacies in the composition are true to form, as is the intrepid assurance of the improvising, across the board. (The Jonathan Finlayson Sextet performs on Oct. 10 at The Jazz Gallery, and on Oct. 11 at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem.)

Cécile McLorin Salvant and Sullivan Fortner, “One Step Ahead”

The Window, a new album from singer Cécile McLorin Salvant and pianist Sullivan Fortner, is just out on Mack Avenue, and given its preponderance of songbook fare, a skeptic might ask what it’s doing in a playlist expressly labeled “forward-thinking.” To which I’d respond: did you even see their Tiny Desk Concert? And why can’t a standard repertory be reinventive? Then I might point to this track.

“One Step Ahead” is https://youtu.be/J2XiS6EFwPE">an Aretha Franklin single originally released by Columbia Records in 1965. (It only exists as a rare seven-inch; the label never included it on a Franklin album.) A song of helpless, heartbroken infatuation — “One step is all I'd have to take backwards / To be the same old fool for you I used to be” — it has a core dramatic tension that Salvant knows how to inhabit. But there’s another layer here. Hip-hop fans know “One Step Ahead” as the core sample of https://youtu.be/Ay5AzsS1fsg">a Mos Def track from 1999. Without openly acknowledging that connection, Salvant and Fortner make it a part of the backstory here.

Makaya McCraven, “Young Genius (feat. Joel Ross)”

The word is out about Makaya McCraven, the Chicago drummer and expert instigator at the heart of our new-groove renaissance. Since the 2015 release of his excellent album In the Moment, he has taken his collaborative model on the road, enlisting improvisers he admires from a variety of local scenes. He flies this flag high on Universal Beings, due out on International Anthem on Oct. 26. As before, he made it through multiple layers of intervention: convening a jam, and then editing and splicing the results into a coherent album-length whole.


As the title implies, “Young Genius (feat. Joel Ross)” is a feature for vibraphonist Joel Ross, who has been rising talent to watch in New York for the last few years. The track, recorded in Ridgewood, Queens last year with Ross, harpist Brandee Younger, bassist Dezron Douglas and cellist Tomeka Reid, opens with what sounds like a semi-abstraction by the hip-hop producer J Dilla. After about a couple of minutes, a beat kicks in, followed by an Elvin Jones-esque polyrhythmic swing, over which the Young Genius in question eventually fashions a solo. It begins at 3:10. Give it a listen and see if you agree with the assessment.

A veteran jazz critic and award-winning author, Nate Chinen is editorial director at WBGO and a regular contributor to NPR Music.