Take Five: A Wistful Appeal From Nnenna Freelon, and an Unearthed Gem by Roy Hargrove and Mulgrew Miller
Nnenna Freelon, "Time In a Bottle"
On Time Traveler, her first album in more than a decade, Nnenna Freelon considers the passage of time through the prism of personal loss. The album is a tribute to the memory of her husband of 40 years, noted architect Phil Freelon, who died in 2019.
Among the more emotional expressions on the album is this cover of "Time in a Bottle," a posthumous No. 1 hit for singer-songwriter Jim Croce. With a sharp band arrangement by her pianist, Miki Hayama, Freelon brings depth and drama to her interpretation of the song — especially on the yearning chorus: "But there never seems to be enough time / To do the things you want to do, once you find them."
Time Traveler is available now on Origin Records.
Roy Hargrove and Mulgrew Miller, "Blues For Mr. Hill"
Pianist Mulgrew Miller died in 2013, at 57. Trumpeter Roy Hargrove died in 2018, at 49. Both musicians were taken before their time, and both left a jazz community in shock, with many rueful thoughts about what might have been. But Hargrove and Miller also left behind a considerable legacy on record — including a small body of duo work together, which will see release next month as a bittersweet new album, In Harmony.
Drawing from two concerts, at Merkin Hall in New York City in 2006 and Lafayette College in Easton, Penn. in 2007, In Harmony finds Hargrove and Miller in an endlessly soulful dialogue. A lead single from the album, Hargrove's "Blues For Mr. Hill," perfectly captures the spirit: a sharp, sustaining bonhomie that feels in tune with the ancestors, while vibrating in the present moment. It's a beautiful way to remember them both.
In Harmony will be released on Resonance Records on July 23; preorder here.
Kevin Hays, Ben Street, Billy Hart, "Elegia"
Last December, pianist Kevin Hays played one of his first club dates in the pandemic era, at Smoke Jazz Club. It was a livestream with an all-virtual audience, of course, and he decided to call on bassist Ben Street and drummer Billy Hart for the occasion. Establishing an instantaneous rapport as a trio, they performed a set that, on further reflection, was too good not to release as an album. Titled All Things Are, that album is due out Friday on Smoke Sessions Records. (Disclosure: I wrote the liner notes.)
The album largely consists of Hays' clever reconfigurations of jazz standards, including "All the Things You Are" (the album's title track). But "Elegia" is an original piece: a drifting, melancholy composition that he previously recorded for North, an album by his New Day Trio. (It also appears on the album Modern Music, as a somber piano duet with Brad Mehldau.) In the hands of Hart and Street, the tune feels grounded and grooving; Hays, responding to their energy, plays with quiet fire, flowing clarity and even some sly humor. (Don't miss the briefest nod to a Jimmy McHugh / Dorothy Fields standard, "Exactly Like You," at 5:22.)
Snaarj, "Still City"
What is Snaarj? First off, it's not a what, it's a them: a quartet of old college pals who have gone on to separate and successful musical careers. In the front line are alto saxophonist Josh Johnson, who can be heard on recent albums by Jeff Parker, and on tour with Leon Bridges; and tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi, a co-leader of Twin Talk and regular sideman to Bon Iver. The rhythm team consists of bassist Bobby Wooten, a member of David Byrne's American Utopia cohort; and Ben Lumsdaine, an indie producer whose credits include Mike Adams at His Honest Weight.
Not long after releasing its debut, Levels, in 2012, the members of Snaarj spun off into their different directions. Snaarj II represents not just only a reunion, but a renewal — and a step forward, incorporating all the new insights gleaned over this last decade. "Still City" offers just a sliver of that promise, but it's an enticing sliver, with Wooten's bass arpeggios as the lattice over which Laurenzi and Johnson spin their lyrical yarns.
Dahveed Behroozi, "Imagery"
A pianist based in the San Francisco Bay area, Dahveed Behroozi brings a meditative hush to his work as an improviser, along with the precision gleam of a lifelong immersion in classical music. Echos is his second album as a leader, featuring him in a trio with impeccable partners, bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Billy Mintz.
As its title suggests, "Imagery" is a sparse, impressionistic piece that invites a visual analog; for me, it evokes the ripples on a lakefront after a summer storm. In piano trio terms, I hear some Marilyn Crispell in Behroozi's execution, along with a whispery trace of Paul Bley. What's undeniable is the intrigue this trio can conjure; when the piece ends, you can't help but feel that something has been left shrewdly unresolved.