Take Five: María Grand, Veronica Swift, Satoko Fujii, Jenny Scheinman and Ledisi
María Grand, "Whabri"
Reciprocity, the impressive new album by tenor saxophonist María Grand, embraces a notion of generative potential in more ways than one. Informed by her personal experience of pregnancy and childbirth, and partly inspired by mythic archetypes of the Tree of Life, Grand set out to create music that folded its ample intricacies into a human narrative. A good portion of the album consists of the suite she calls "Creation."
The piece titled "Whabri," which has its premiere at WBGO, carries a less direct thematic purpose. With its serpentine groove and tonal mystique, it provides a perfect platform for Grand's intuitive connect with bassist Kanoa Mendenhall and drummer Savannah Harris. As she explains in her album liner notes, her son, Ayní, is the silent partner in many of these compositions.
"On tour while I was pregnant," she writes. "he would dance when we played with Savannah and Kanoa. He would kick and jump around and we became a quartet for a while. It makes me smile to think of the many times he was on stage inside my womb while we were both transforming and growing."
Reciprocity will be released on May 19; preorder here.
Veronica Swift, "The Sports Page"
Veronica Swift touches on a range of important issues, like domestic abuse and racism, with the songs on her new album This Bitter Earth. Her take on "The Sports Page" turns to the manipulations of our media, real and imagined — a conundrum that seems to have grown only more urgent since Dave Frishberg wrote his satirical tune in 1971. "The sports page / The only page that takes a firm position," she sings. "Kind of like an honest politician / The kind you don't find anymore." You can almost see the sly twinkle in her eye as she sings, backed by bassist Yasushi Nakamura, drummer Bryan Carter and pianist Emmet Cohen, who tips his hat to McCoy Tyner in a spirited solo.
This Bitter Earth is available now on Mack Avenue.
Satoko Fujii, "Invisible"
A listener seeking some point of entry to the music of Satoko Fujii faces an overwhelming abundance of options. An improvising pianist from Japan, she has been wildly prolific as a recording artist, especially in recent years, and even throughout the pandemic. But in a sense, there is no wrong place to start with her output; it all flows out of the same conviction to be open and restless and curious.
Hazuki, her breathtaking new solo piano album, would in fact be a great place to start. She made it last summer in her Kobe apartment, on the piano she has owned for more than 40 years. “I never expected that I would record on it, but the COVID-19 situation forced me into doing it," she says in a press statement. On the album's opening track, "Invisible," you get the sense that she's seeking new corners and crevices of the instrument she knows so well — reaching inside the piano, rumbling around its depths.
Hazuki is available now on Libra Records.
Jenny Scheinman with House of Faern, "The Shutdown Stomp"
The story of violinist Jenny Scheinman's career is, in many ways, a story of collaboration. There's a good chance you've heard her in the company of drummer Allison Miller, or guitarists Bill Frisell or Nels Cline. One association you may not be aware of is House of Faern, a chamber quartet whose other members are alto saxophonist Beth Schenck, guitarist Matt Wrobel and pianist John Wood.
Here is a piece Scheinman wrote for the group called "The Shutdown Stomp," with a harmonic progression full of stepwise tensions. The footage was filmed at the Arcata Playhouse, in Humboldt County, Calif., last October. (Note that Wrobel and Wood are masked.) "It's a blues in the tradition of American songs of liberation written in confinement," Scheinman wrote about the song in a recent email, "a disaster zone filled with endless work arounds and alternate solutions."
Ledisi, "Same Love"
Ledisi, who won a Grammy for Best Traditional R&B Performance last week, has long inhabited that musical sphere as if exercising a birthright. But her 2020 album The Wild Card marked a new chapter in at least one important respect, as Ledisi's first independent release after a long period with Verve. The salutary effect of this change can be heard clearly on "Same Love," a throwback soul ballad about two ex-lovers who can't help but keep picking up where they left off. "We're better apart but we just can't find closure," she sings in the bridge, raising the eternal question: Can't, or Won't?