Take Five: Abdullah Ibrahim, Fred Hersch, MoonChild, and Steven Bernstein's MTO
Abdullah Ibrahim, "Once Upon a Midnight"
For South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim, solo performance is a rite of rippling calm and slow revelation; if you've experienced him deep in this mode, you know it isn't a stretch to call it a sacrament. A few years ago, WBGO welcomed him in our studio for a solo session — but at the time, his latest album was a full band effort, The Balance. Ibrahim now has a studio album, Solotude: My Journey, My Vision, that captures the feeling and flow of unaccompanied reverie. Released digitally late last year, it's out on CD and LP on Friday. And while the album unfolds as a continuous fabric, there are discrete themes within — like this piece, "Once Upon a Midnight," which begins with a four-note intervallic series, ringing like a bell chime, and gradually opens up to elaboration (and a reminder of Duke Ellington, perhaps Ibrahim's fondest touchstone).
Fred Hersch, "Worldly Winds"
About a thousand years ago, when we were still adjusting to the idea of a global pandemic, I checked in with Fred Hersch about how he'd been holding up. We talked then about his livestream routine, which he described as therapeutic. I don't recall him touching on an actual meditation practice, but that has been another salve in this crazy time — and the inspiration for Hersch's exquisite new album, Breath By Breath. It features a piece in eight movements he calls the Sati Suite, performed by Hersch at the piano with Drew Gress on bass, Jochen Rueckert on drums, Rogério Boccato on percussion, and The Crosby Street String Quartet. Most of the themes are brand new (you may recognize opener "Begin Again" as the title track of another recent album), and they beautifully suit the setting, with a chamber-esque dynamism. Consider "Worldly Winds," in which the Crosby quartet sets the theme in a tensile accord, before Hersch's all-star rhythm section enters the frame.
Steven Bernstein's MTO feat. Catherine Russell, "Yes We Can"
Last fall, trumpeter, bandleader and arranger Steven Bernstein initiated an album series he calls "Community Music," celebrating a circle of friends and collaborators, in bands like his Millennial Territory Orchestra. The second album in the series, Good Time Music, just dropped on Friday, and it features the MTO with special guest vocalist Catherine Russell, revivifying material by Professor Longhair, Earl King, Percy Mayfield and Allen Toussaint. The mood and style will ring especially familiar for anyone who had the good fortune to hear Russell and Bernstein together at Levon Helm's Midnight Ramble (as I did, back in 2008). Listen to their springy yet in-the-pocket treatment of "Yes We Can," which Toussaint wrote and co-produced for Lee Dorsey, and later reclaimed for himself; Russell is absolutely on fire here, and so is the band.
MoonChild, "Tell Him (feat. Lalah Hathaway)"
The Los Angeles outfit known as MoonChild — Amber Navran on vocals, tenor saxophone and flute; Andris Mattson and Max Bryk on alto sax and synths; and all three on Fender Rhodes and drum programming, among other things — first coalesced in the jazz studies program at USC's Thornton School of Music. There's still a whisper of jazz erudition in the group's stylish gloss on alternative R&B, which has never sounded surer than it does on a forthcoming album, Starfruit. Consider the welcoming place set for guest vocalist Lalah Hathaway on "Tell Him," a song that Navran wrote in the first phase of lockdown, back in April 2020. As a song of confiding exhortation between friends, in the interest of mending a shaky love affair, it suits the two singers almost perfectly.
Sam Sadigursky, "Neversink"
The Solomon Diaries, a new musical triptych by clarinetist and composer Sam Sadigursky, explores a storied cultural touchstone in a melancholy key. Inspired by the Borscht Belt — the cluster of Catskills resorts that served as a summer haven for New York's Jewish population — Sadigursky has created a meditation in the form of a tribute. His compositions on these three albums, almost all of which feature master accordionist Nathan Koci, combine klezmer music with chamber elements and jazz; "Neversink" is a perfect distillation of the ethos. (There are also guest vocals by Katrina Lenk, who worked alongside Sadigursky in The Band’s Visit on Broadway.) In the composer's words, this project is "a musical documentation of a pivotal era in American Jewish history, one that tells a much bigger story than just a bunch of hotels and resorts in the mountains." Sadigursky adds: "I don't have a direct personal connection with those places, but a story of refugees facing exclusion and rebelling by creating their own oasis and then eventually assimilating is a story that is so relevant today."