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Looking Ahead in Take Five: Jazzmeia Horn, Patricia Brennan, Russ Lossing, Stephen Gauci

As we embark on a new year, open up to some new music.

Jazzmeia Horn, “Where We Are”

The title of Jazzmeia Horn’s new single, “Where We Are,” refers to more than a physical location. Conceived during the painful uncertainty of the last year, it’s a song of reassurance and resolve, set in a stately cadence that underscores Horn’s foundation in the gospel church. Singing at first against spare accompaniment from pianist Keith Brown, she gradually moves the message forward, interpolating a spoken-word poem called “Threshold.” Rounding out her rhythm section are bassist Eric Wheeler and drummer Anwar Marshall; their playing is supportive and sure.

Horn released “Where We Are” in conjunction with another original song, “Strive (To Be),” and book, titled Strive From Within: The Jazzmeia Horn Approach. She plans to release a full album, her third, later this year. Meanwhile, it’s worth reflecting on her lyrics here, notably in the second verse:  

It may be hard to see the light You may get weary through the night But there is one thing I know for sure That love carried me from where I’m from And brought me into where we are

Purchase “Where We Are” and “Strive (To Be)” on Amazon Music.

Patricia Brennan, “Solar”

Vibraphonist and marimbaist Patricia Brennan has earned a sterling reputation on the leading edge of jazz and new music, in groups like the John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble and the Webber/Morris Big Band, and with collaborators like pianist Matt Mitchell. Her solo debut, Maquishti — a word adapted from the Nahuatl language of her native Mexico, with a meaning implying liberation or freedom — will be released on the Valley of Search label on Jan. 15.

A portion of the album consists of freely improvised pieces — including the intoxicating “Solar,” which premieres here. “My goal was to use the effects as an extension of my sonic and textural palette as well as an extension of the range of the instrument,” Brennan explains. “This allowed me to reach notes way below the range of the vibraphone as well as to play around and improvise with the response or delays caused by the effects and incorporating them in a compositional manner.”

Maquishti will be released on Jan. 15 on Valley of Search; preorder here.

Russ Lossing, “Three Treasures”

Pianist and composer Russ Lossing has long been an expert catalyst; he knows how to spark life from somewhere deep inside a band. On Metamorphism, due out on Sunnyside on Friday, he performs this feat with a band well accustomed to his provocations. Along with drummer Michael Sarin, an associate of more than 30 years, it features John Hébert on bass and Loren Stillman on alto saxophone.


“Three Treasures,” which opens the album, is a call-and-response exercise — of sorts. Its central motif is a chromatic scrap of a phrase that the members of the ensemble circulate, and occasionally distort. Lossing’s solo begins shortly before the two-minute mark, extending the intervallic language of the motif. And don’t miss the intrigue he creates behind Stillman, later on.

Metamorphism will be released on Sunnyside on Jan. 8; preorder here.

Matthew Shipp/Stephan Gauci, “Pandemic Duet #1”

More than once in recent months, we’ve taken note of valiant efforts to create music under pandemic conditions. A good one that we haven’t pointed out, before now, is the “Pandemic Duet” series undertaken by saxophonist Stephen Gauci. Recorded Live at Scholes Street Studio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, these are performances in real time, in the same room, with partners including pianist Mara Rosenbloom, drummer Gerald Cleaver and multi-instrumentalist Daniel Carter.

Among the best that I’ve heard is Gauci’s duet session with Matthew Shipp, who just turned 60, and who released a fine solo album, The Piano Equation, last year. “Pandemic Duet #1” is a tantalizing opening move for the album; watch the footage above, and you’ll feel compelled to hear what happens next.

Stephen Gauci’s Pandemic Duets are available on his Bandcamp page.

Herbie Nichols on The Scope of Jazz

Herbie Nichols, the midcentury pianist and composer, has long been a fascination for modern jazz artists of a certain disposition — including Frank Kimbrough, whom we lost last week, and who co-led the acclaimed Herbie Nichols Project. On Sunday, Jason Moran posted a rare and enlightening Nichols interview, recorded for a radio program called The Scope of Jazz.

The interview, with Mait Eady, covers everything from Nichols’ careful attunement to the tonality of drums (“The perfection of the sound of a good bass drum…”) to his aspirations as a “serious” composer. “I used to admire Prokofiev tremendously when I was a kid,” he says. “But when I found I couldn’t afford conservatory training, I decided I could become an Ellington, possibly.” Interspersed with music from Nichols’ all-too-brief recording career, this is an hour worth settling in for — and a reminder that in jazz, the past still has ways of pointing us forward.

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