Take Five: Miguel Zenón and Luis Perdomo, Jane Ira Bloom and Mark Helias, Francisco Mela
Along with a standards album by Becca Stevens and a trio session led by saxophonist Ivo Perelman.
Miguel Zenón and Luis Perdomo, “La Vida Es Un Sueño”
Alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón and pianist Luis Perdomo share a deep history of collaboration — going back to the inception of Zenón’s quartet nearly 20 years ago. So they didn’t need to do much in the way of preparation when they performed a livestream from The Jazz Gallery in late-September, which has just been released as a gorgeous digital album, El Arte del Bolero.
In his liner notes, Zenón explains the common repertory that gives the album its title and direction: “We chose compositions from the Bolero era that we could just play right away, without giving it a second thought: songs from the times of our parents and grandparents that somehow stuck around long enough for us to get to know them and truly love them. They are all as essential to our development as the music of Charlie Parker, John Coltrane or Thelonious Monk, but perhaps even more familiar.”
“La Vida Es Un Sueño,” a lament by the great Cuban bandleader Arsenio Rodríguez, is among the album’s highlights. This video, a WBGO premiere, captures Zenón and Perdomo recording the song. Their performance conveys the pathos of Rodríguez’s lyrics — especially his final despairing couplet, which translates to “Everything is nothing more than eternal suffering / The world is made up of unhappiness.”
El Arte del Bolero is available on Miel Music; listen here.
Francisco Mela, “Suite for Leo Brouwer”
The expressive Cuban drummer Francisco Mela has distinguished himself behind the likes of McCoy Tyner and Joe Lovano, working in a swinging mode. With his MPT Trio, featuring saxophonist Hery Paz (a fellow Cuban) and guitarist Juanma Trujillo (from Venezuela), Mela explores a more abstract creative ideal.
On “Suite for Leo Brouwer,” which premieres here, listen for the way each member of the band pulls the action forward, often in a kind of bristling accord. The track’s exploratory yet rooted character is in keeping with the spirit of its dedicatee: a Cuban composer and former classical guitarist whose work has spanned everything from popular film scores to high-modernist fare. (After the seven-minute mark, you’ll even notice some chant-like vocalizing.) This is music that recognizes no difference between the folkloric and the forward-minded.
MPT Trio Volume 1 releases on Friday on 577 Records; preorder here.
Becca Stevens and Elan Mehler, “Our Love Is Here to Stay”
As any Newvelle Records completist will tell you, Becca Stevens appears in the label catalogue on Midnight Sun, an album by bassist Chris Tordini. Now, in a departure from her more pop-oriented work as a singer-songwriter, Stevens is featured on Newvelle’s first-ever digital album, Pallet on Your Floor. Her musical partner is Newvelle cofounder Elan Mehler, who does an exemplary job on piano.
Stevens has a rich, emotive style as a vocalist, and she avoids some of the usual markers that would code her as a “jazz singer.” That’s all for the best on a performance like the one on George and Ira Gershwin’s “Love Is Here to Stay,” which she sings as if in confidence, on the most intimate of terms. Listen, too, for the key transposition she gestures toward after the piano interlude, as she sings “They’re only made of clay / But our love is here to stay.” Is that undercutting the vow, or deepening the picture? Some queries are best left unresolved.
Pallet on Your Floor is available on Newvelle Records; order here.
Ivo Perelman Trio, “Tourmaline”
The Brazilian saxophonist Ivo Perelman, who turns 60 this week (on Tuesday), has always been an expeditionary improviser, drawn to real-time revelation in the company of receptive peers. On his spirited new album, Garden of Jewels, he teams up with pianist Matthew Shipp and drummer Whit Dickey, who have a distinguished track record as a rhythm team, notably in Shipp’s own trio.
The album was recorded in June, during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, and you can hear the release that each player felt in performance. “Tourmaline,” which like the rest of the album was a spontaneous invention, unfurls as a close-listening exercise for the trio, with Shipp often instigating the spark. “There was a dark energy surrounding all of us, counterbalanced by the sheer power of creation,” Perelman suggests in a statement for the album. “We had to become an antenna to capture the angst and anxiety of the times and transform it into art and catharsis.”
Garden of Jewels will be released on Jan. 22 on Tao Forms; preorder here.
Jane Ira Bloom and Mark Helias, “Willing”
Some artists found a way to record in a studio during the pandemic, but for many others, connection had to be established through less direct means. Soprano saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom and bassist Mark Helias were among those who found a way to play music together over an internet connection, discovering that the distance was no match for their musical bond. Listen to “Willing,” a track from their new album, Some Kind of Tomorrow, and you’ll hear evidence of their success.
“The sound is filled with everything that we felt and couldn’t say in words,” Bloom says in the album notes. “There is a vibration between us that’s uncanny given the circumstances, and a deep need to play what was real to us just then. It’s as real as it gets for two musicians who needed to create music together to try to find some way to mend the world.”
Some Kind of Tomorrow is out now; order here.