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Take Five: New Music by Kamasi Washington, Carla Bley, Tim Berne, Anna Webber & More

Including the latest from Reverso, co-led by Ryan Keberle and Frank Woeste.

Kamasi Washington, “Street Fighter Mas”

Almost exactly one year ago, saxophonist Kamasi Washington made his debut at The Apollo Theater, in a concert co-presented by AFROPUNK. This momentous performance, featuring his working band, The Next Step, has been released as an Amazon Music film — Kamasi Washington Live At The Apollo Theater, now streaming on Prime Video.

Along with the concert footage, director Michael Garber intersperses scenes of Washington making the rounds in Harlem. He stops by an open-air African market, drops into Minton’s, and has a moment of awestruck communion with Duke Ellington’s piano at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem.

That scene provides an opportunity for Washington to articulate his view on jazz’s relationship to the living past. “Their music and their artistry needs to be revered, but it also needs to be embraced,” he says, speaking of masters like Ellington and John Coltrane. “You’ve gotta let the kids touch it, play with it, hold it. You’ve gotta let it live with people.”

Washington and The Next Step put this approachable ideal to the test in performance, with no small amount of exertion. And this film captures — perhaps for the first time since a 2015 album-launch concert on Jazz Night in America — the full range of Washington’s live show.

One highlight is this version of “Street Fighter Mas,” from the 2018 album Heaven and Earth. Washington doesn’t play a tenor solo on the tune, ceding the spotlight first to trombonist Ryan Porter and then to keyboardist Cameron Graves.

Kamasi Washington & The Next Step are on tour; they perform at the Howard Theatre in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday and the Kings Theatre in Brooklyn on Thursday.

Webber/Morris Big Band, “Rebonds”

Anna Webber and Angela Morris are a pair of unclassifiable multi-instrumentalists – they each play tenor saxophone and flute, among other things — who recently joined forces to form a big band. It should come as no surprise that this ensemble does a few things differently; I expect that some heads will turn when their debut album, Both Are True, sees release on Greenleaf Music on April 3. Here’s an exclusive premiere of “Rebonds,” composed and arranged by Webber.

The piece amounts to an electric guitar concerto for Dustin Carlson — but its form is a transparent nod to “https://youtu.be/bXw_phbUI2g" target="_blank">Rebonds A,” a solo percussion piece by Iannis Xenakis. That new-music translation should be familiar to Webber’s growing legion of admirers; it was the premise of her acclaimed 2019 album Clockwise, on Pi Recordings.

Carla Bley, Andy Sheppard, Steve Swallow, “Life Goes On”

Carla Bley, the incorrigibly original composer­ and pianist, will turn 82 this spring, with nothing left to prove. If indeed she derives any freedom from that fact, it would explain the air of self-contained assurance in Life Goes On, the third album by her band with bassist Steve Swallow and saxophonist Andy Sheppard. Just out on ECM, it’s a study in threes: a trio album comprising a trilogy of tripartite suites.

The opener and title track is a 12-bar blues that Bley composed while recovering from a physical ailment. (In typically wry fashion, the other two movements are titled “On” and “And On.”) Set at a cowpoke saunter, it features a lyrically terse solo by Swallow, on his customary acoustic bass guitar, followed by a soulful statement on tenor by Sheppard. As for Bley, she seems content to hang in the background, doing just what’s necessary to keep things moving.

Carla Bley and Steve Swallow will appear with Arturo O’Farrill and the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra at the Town Hall on May 8; more info here.

Tim Berne’s Snakeoil, “The Fantastic Mrs. 10”

There isn’t a working band in the improvised-music realm with a hardier commitment to unity than Snakeoil, the brainchild of alto saxophonist and composer Tim Berne. And now, after a run of albums on ECM, it has a new album out on the Zurich-based independent Intakt.

Cryptically titled The Fantastic Mrs. 10, it supplements the ensemble’s core personnel — Berne, clarinetist Oscar Noriega, pianist Matt Mitchell, and drummer-percussionist Ches Smith — with an old compatriot, French guitarist Marc Ducret. Settle in for the nearly 13-minute title track, and you’ll understand just how ferocious the standard of cohesion is throughout this album. (You may also find yourself wondering why Ducret didn’t join this party sooner.)

Tim Berne’s Snakeoil performs an album-release show at Ibeam Brooklyn on March 6.

Ryan Keberle & Frank Woeste’s Reverso, “Exemplar”

Trombonist Ryan Keberle and pianist Frank Woeste formed Reverso several years ago as a means of exploring their mutual interest in classical chamber music; the group’s 2018 debut was titled Suite Ravel. A follow-up album — The Melodic Line, just released on Outhere Music — picks up the thread, drawing inspiration from the confab of French modernist composers known as Les Six.

“Exemplar,” one of four compositions by Keberle, capitalizes on the beautiful blend he has with cellist Vincent Courtois, who rounds out the album’s chamber trio. The piece is a waltz that occasionally stretches into rubato, and its harmonic shape suggests the shadow influence of Maria Schneider, one of Keberle’s longtime associations. To be clear, that’s not a complaint — especially given how much beauty and nobility these musicians coax out of the song.

Reverso performs an album-release concert at Saint Peter’s Church on March 2.

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