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Keepin' It Real in Take Five: Bobby Watson, Jorja Smith, Ingrid Laubrock + Kris Davis

Also: a made-in-quarantine album by Miles Okazaki, and the marital duo of Jana Herzen and Charnett Moffett.

Bobby Watson, “Keepin’ It Real”

Hard bop has always been a living language for alto saxophonist Bobby Watson, who made his name with a band that helped define the style, Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. When he went out on his own, Watson stretched those parameters without abandoning them, forming a group called Bobby Watson & Horizon with musical partners like bassist Curtis Lundy.

At 66, Watson now commands the stature of a jazz elder — and he has formed a new version of his flagship band, which he’s naturally christened New Horizon. Anchored by Lundy, it further includes Victor Jones on drums, Victor Gould on piano, and a pair of incisive young trumpeters, Josh Evans and Giveton Gelin. The band just released its first album, which Watson has titled Keepin’ It Real.

The title track, a backbeat tune with an uplifting melody, reflects Watson’s foundation in the church. “My grandfather’s church was the first place I played in public,” he reflects in a press statement. “I played ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic’ on the clarinet and the whole church said, ‘Amen.’ That’s a shared experience for this whole band.”

Bobby Watson’s Keepin’ It Real is available now on Smoke Sessions Records.

Jorja Smith, “Rose Rouge”

Several weeks ago, when we first encountered the latest single from Blue Note Re:imagined, you could have been forgiven for considering it a neutral declaration of style. The album is a contemporary gloss on the classic Blue Note catalogue, and “Rose Rouge” finds the British R&B singer Jorja Smith covering a 20-year-old track by St Germain. Late last week there appeared a video for the song, directed by Samona Olanipekun, and it acquired a resonance that feels anything but neutral.

Smith’s version of “Rose Rouge” features Ezra Collective, whose sleek, trip-hoppy https://youtu.be/I1O6Fg2-Stg" target="_blank">version of “Footprints,” the Wayne Shorter composition, was the first single from Blue Note Re:imagined. The video is made entirely of footage from recent #BlackLivesMatter protests around the world, interspersed with pointed quotations from Nina Simone, Malcolm X, James Baldwin and others. (It concludes with this message: “Dedicated to those who fell and those who carry on.”)

“We have to continue the conversation around injustices that are and have been inflicted upon Black people all over the world,” Smith says in a press statement. “This video is a tribute to all the people who have paved the way for Black empowerment and freedom.”

Blue Note Re:imagined will be released on Sept. 25; preorder here.

Miles Okazaki’s Trickster, “Rise and Shine”

Guitarist and composer Miles Okazaki released the second album by his band Trickster, The Sky Below, last fall. (At the time, we featured a track in Take Five.) Okazaki and the band were set to embark on a tour this spring, until the coronavirus derailed those plans. Rather than call it a wash, Okazaki decided to gather his partners for a virtual live concert, filmed and recorded from their respective homes; the whole project was released on Friday via Bandcamp.

“Rise and Shine” is the opening track, an invocation that begins in stormy free tempo and then lunges into gear. Okazaki, playing with and without distortion, leans on the muscular cohesion of his rhythm team: pianist Matt Mitchell, bassist Anthony Tidd and drummer Sean Rickman. (All four members of this band have had formative experience with alto saxophonist and composer Steve Coleman, and the influence shows here.) This album, Trickster’s Dream, is part of the Pi Recordings series “This is Now: Love in the Time of COVID,” which WBGO announced in April — and it’s worth repeating that 100% of the proceeds will go to the artists.

Miles Okazaki’s Trickster’s Dream is available on his Bandcamp page.

Ingrid Laubrock + Kris Davis, “Snakes and Lattice”

The musical rapport between saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and pianist Kris Davis can be traced back to a first encounter at the late, lamented Cornelia Street Café, more than 10 years ago. Their kindred sensibilities have hardly been a secret; back in 2013, I covered albums by each of them in a joint review for The New York Times. They now have a scintillating duo album on the Intakt label, titled Blood Moon.


The album opens with a Davis composition called “Snakes and Lattice,” which incorporates an peekaboo melody, marked by pecking accents and insistent trills. As it opens up, the song allows each improviser to stretch out, always in tune with the other. “Over the years we’ve just developed a certain language that’s our language,” Laubrock says in the liner notes. “We wrote most of the music specifically for the record, but didn’t have an overarching concept.”

Ingrid Laubrock and Kris Davis’ Blood Moon is available at Intakt’s Bandcamp page.

Jana Herzen and Charnett Moffett, “Far Away”

For many in jazz’s orbit, Jana Herzen is best known as a founder of Motéma Records, while Charnett Moffett will always be the bassist who managed to gel with both Wynton Marsalis and Ornette Coleman. But there’s more to the story, of course, and a good place to start is their new album, ‘Round the World.

Essentially a singer-songwriter album informed by jazz protocols, ‘Round the World includes homespun versions of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” and the Muppet classic “Rainbow Connection.” On a song called “Far Away,” composed by Shakara Mutela with lyrics by Herzen, the electric bass playing feels both foundational and annotative, while the singing and guitar playing hold down the center. And if you’re noticing a particular simpatico between Herzen and Moffett, that only makes sense: they got married this past spring.

Jana Herzen and Charnett Moffett’s ‘Round the World is out now; order here.

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