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No Foolin' in Take Five: Sharp New Music By Joel Ross, Jon Batiste and Quiana Lynell

Along with saxophonist Michaël Attias and trombonist Joe Fiedler.

Joel Ross and Good Vibes, “Ill Relations”

Ask any clubgoing New Yorker to name the most exciting young jazz musician on the scene, and chances are good that he or she will mention Joel Ross. A smart, self-possessed vibraphonist who practically sends high voltage through his mallets, Ross has been turning heads at late-night sessions for the last several years; in 2018 he made contributions to lauded albums by drummer Makaya McCraven, pianist James Francies and trumpeter Marquis Hill, to name but a few.

Ross is now a Blue Note recording artist, with an album due out on May 3. That debut, KingMaker, consolidates a lot of what he has been up to as a composer-bandleader in the postmillennial jazz mainstream. Featuring a dozen sleek originals, all but one of them composed by Ross, it’s a vibrant statement of intent that also showcases a powerful working band: Good Vibes, which features Ross alongside Immanuel Wilkins on alto saxophone, Jeremy Corren on piano, Benjamin Tiberio on bass and Jeremy Dutton on drums.

Last Friday, Blue Note released the first single from the album, a coolly percolating tune called “Ill Relations.” Opening with a brief solo prelude from Ross, it glides so easily that you might not notice the 11/8 meter, nor the deft harmonic turns in the form. Every member of the ensemble pulls his weight, but listen especially for the Ross-and-Wilkins hookup as they trade choruses. (At 3:05, you can hear Wilkins shout through his horn as he strains to stick a landing — a passing detail that captures the intensity of their exchange.)  

Joel Ross and Good Vibes begin their tour this week; they’ll be at the Blue Whale in Los Angeles on Wednesday and Thursday, and at Jazz Standard in New York on June 4 and 5. For more dates and information, visit iplayvibes.com.

Joe Fiedler, “Rubber Duckie”

Trombonist Joe Fiedler wasn’t kidding around when he set out to record songs associated with Sesame Street. While he has a rep for pushing the envelope, Fiedler also maintains an affiliation with that iconic children’s television show: he’s been an associate music director there for over a decade. So you could say his cheerfully rambunctious new album, Open Sesame (Multiphonics Music), merges his worlds.

In truth, though, the music on the album suggests a process far more natural and intuitive than that. Fiedler brings an unforced affection for the material, and a knockabout rapport with his band mates: saxophonist Jeff Lederer, bassist Sean Conly and drummer and Michael Sarin. Trumpeter Steven Bernstein is a featured guest on roughly a third of the album; each of his cameos, including the one on this funky “Rubber Duckie,” has the feeling of jocular routine, like Big Bird kibitzing at Oscar’s garbage can. Check out his first eight bars (with a two-bar pickup) in the solo section, beginning at 1:25; that go-for-broke mentality perfectly sets the tone for Lederer and Fiedler, who match his energy.

Joe Fiedler’s Open Sesame appears on Friday at The Jazz Gallery in New York; on April 19 at Firehouse 12 in New Haven, Conn.; and on April 20 at the Lilypad in Cambridge, Mass.

Quiana Lynell, “Move Me No Mountain”

Two years ago, when Quiana Lynell took first prize at the Sarah Vaughan International Vocal Competition, she secured a contract with Concord Jazz. The resulting album, landing this Friday, is A Little Love — a suave, surefooted outing at the intersection of contemporary jazz, smooth gospel, and quiet-storm R&B. Consider this version of “Move Me No Mountain,” which opened Love Unlimited’s 1974 album In Heat, and turned up six years later on Chaka Khan’s Naughty.

Lynell isn’t inclined to get naughty on “Move Me No Mountain,” despite its association with Barry White; on the album, it leads into a noble medley of Duke Ellington’s “Come Sunday” and the Billy Taylor-Dick Dallas anthem “I Wish I Knew (How It Would Feel to Be Free).” But she knows how to bring sensuous contour to a melodic line, and she has the right musicians for striking that balance — including pianist Cyrus Chestnut, guitarist Ed Cherry, vibraphonist Monte Croft and drummer Jamison Ross (who also sings on a track).

Quiana Lynell will perform on the French Quarter Festival in New Orleans, her adopted hometown, on April 12.

Michaël Attias, “Echoes 1: Mauve”

Alto saxophonist Michaël Attias has earned respect at the helm of several first-rate bands. But on his new release — échos la nuit, releasing Friday on the independent label Out Of Your Head — he pares down to a solo format, for the first time on record. In this respect, he’s joining a lineage of spartan saxophone monologuists like Steve Lacy, Anthony Braxton and Evan Parker. The salient distinction is that Attias is alone but not unaccompanied: while he plays alto, he often has one hand on the piano. He also uses sympathetic vibration, often pointing the bell of his saxophone into the piano chassis, while holding down the sustain pedal.

The opening track is “Echoes 1: Mauve,” which effectively sets the mood. This is music of deep inquiry and patient exposition. It has the air of a soul-baring even as Attias keeps his cards close to his vest.

Michaël Attias will perform an album-release concert on Saturday at Greenwich House, as part of the Sound It Out series.

Jon Batiste, “Higher”

Late last week, after it was announced that Jon Batiste would be the Friday-night headliner at this year’s Newport Jazz Festival, Batiste released two new live tracks on Spotify. He also posted two new videos to Vevo, each performed live in the studio with regular compadre Joe Saylor on snare drum and ride cymbal. “Higher,” the livelier of the two Vevo performances, has a bit of Bobby Timmons in its bloodstream: it’s a soulful hard-bopper that seizes on both musicians’ strengths.

Batiste’s recent Verve album, Hollywood Africans, is a grab bag of ballads, boogie and blues that has garnered plenty of attention, though to my ear it could use more focus. Here, for a few stripped-down minutes, we get that quality in abundance. And as always, Batiste makes it look easy. 

Jon Batiste performs on Friday at The Shed, as part of the Soundtrack of America series.

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