Take Five: Ledisi Sings Nina, Pat Metheny Gives Some Side-Eye, and Theo Croker Prevails
Ledisi, "Feeling Good"
Last year Ledisi won her first Grammy award, for Best Traditional R&B Performance, after a dozen previous nominations. That result only ratified what has long been readily apparent: not just the strength of Ledisi's vocal talent, but the depth of her connection to a lineage. She'll soon make that point more explicit with Ledisi Sings Nina, her tribute to a formative influence, the incomparable singer-songwriter and pianist Nina Simone. The album's opening track, "Feeling Good" premieres today at WBGO.
Simone recorded her iconic version of "Feeling Good" for the 1965 album I Put a Spell on You. (Last month, UMe partnered with Dove and director Sarah Lacombe on a new music video for the song.)
Ledisi, who has previously paid tribute to Simone in an hourlong PBS special, hews close to the feeling of the original here, enlisting the Metropole Orkest for a sweeping arrangement. Her vocal performance is the picture of bravura self-assurance, bounding across her range with a declaratory power. After the release of Ledisi Sings Nina this Friday, she'll perform it in concert at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles (July 24), and then at the Newport Jazz Festival (July 31). Preorder the album here.
Pat Metheny, "It Starts When We Disappear"
If you've been keeping close tabs on Pat Metheny — and for a good portion of his fan base, is there any other way? — you know he released a gorgeous classical guitar album this year, titled Road to the Sun. Last week, BMG announced yet another 2021 Metheny release, featuring the dynamic band he calls Side-Eye, with James Francies on keyboards and a revolving cast of drummers. The first track from this album is a grooving, suitelike overture called "It Starts When We Disappear," which steadily builds, shifts gears and crests again: all trademark Metheny, complete with system upgrades.
The album, SIDE-EYE V1.IV, was recorded during a three-night run at Sony Hall in New York in mid-September 2019. I caught the second of those shows, and can vividly recall the wizardly intensity Francies brought to his role. (His fine solo begins at the five-minute mark here, but pay attention to his playing throughout.) Marcus Gilmore melds beautifully into the Metheny tradition of stellar drummers— a line, of course, that includes his grandfather, Roy Haynes. And the maestro's own playing on the track, especially in the solo that follows Francies' (starting around 7:40), is radiant as ever.
Theo Croker, "Hero Stomp || A Future Past"
The last full-length release from trumpeter Theo Croker was a boundary-defying statement, Star People Nation, in 2019. His latest single shows that he has only kept pushing. "Hero Stomp || A Future Past" dropped last week like a glowing meteor, evoking both an extraterrestrial arc and an ancient understanding. The track has sampled African drums and chants, thrumming electronics, and a place for Croker's assertive horn (occasionally overdubbed into a kind of chorus). Joining him for this pocket epic are Michael King, on Fender Rhodes and other keyboards, Eric Wheeler on acoustic bass, Anthony Ware on woodwinds and Shekwoaga Ode on drums.
"Our Hero is put forth by his tribe in a rite of passage to become the chosen one," Croker says in a statement accompanying the track. "In the ceremony he must prove his worthiness and earn the tribe's blessings. He must raise his vibrations through an intense call and response, facing all fears and demons and transmuting/rebirthing into the Hero of our story."
"Hero Stomp || A Future Past" is available now on streaming services.
Hank Roberts Sextet, "The Sharp Peak of The Science of Love"
Cellist and composer Hank Roberts has been a vital force in creative music for several decades, but his profile has ratcheted up over the last six years, since he returned to New York City after about a quarter-century upstate. Perhaps you heard Roberts playing (and singing) on Harmony, the 2019 album by his longtime confrere Bill Frisell; maybe you caught him on Cause and Reflect, a gemlike duo recital that Tim Berne unearthed and released last year. Now Roberts is poised to release his own bold statement, Science of Love, featuring the sextet he has led since 2016. It features Brian Drye on trombone, Mike McGinnis on reeds, Dana Lyn on violin, Vinnie Sperrazza on drums — and Jacob Sacks on piano, soloing to incisive effect on "The Sharp Peak of The Science of Love," whose chromatic tensions cohabit with a heartfelt lyricism.
Dave Douglas, Joe Lovano, Craig Taborn, John Hébert, Clarence Penn, "727"
Last Friday, Newvelle Records released an ambitious and touching tribute to pianist Frank Kimbrough, who died at the close of 2020. Featuring a total of 67 musicians on 61 tracks, it's a glowing testament to the legacy of an artist and educator who didn't always get his due. I had the privilege of attending one day of the recording session, reporting this story for the New York Times, and the first song I heard in progress was "727," a piece that Kimbrough committed to record in a few different settings. In the control room, I followed along with a lead sheet, marveling at Kimbrough's skeletal road map: just 32 bars of sus chords, followed by a scant two lines of melody. But listen to what pianist Craig Taborn, tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano, trumpeter Dave Douglas, bassist John Hébert and drummer Clarence Penn do with it — sublime invention.
KIMBROUGH is available now on Newvelle Records.