Dedications and devotions: Evocative new music for Valentine's Day in Take Five
Love assumes many forms, as we see in this roundup of new music by SOMI with Gregory Porter, Ethan Iverson, Chris Dingman, Steve Slagle, and Rebecca Martin.
SOMI, "Love Tastes Like Strawberries (feat. Gregory Porter)"
What does devotion sound like? One vivid answer to that question can be found in a forthcoming album by singer-songwriter and playwright SOMI, titled Zenzile: The Reimagination of Miriam Makeba. As the title implies, it's a loving tribute to Makeba, the iconic South African singer, who died in 2008; the album's first two singles, "Pata Pata" and "Milele," establish a tone both reverential and firmly contemporary. Now, just in time for Valentine's Day, SOMI has released another single, "Love Tastes Like Strawberries," featuring a gracious guest turn by Gregory Porter. The song, which Makeba recorded in a folk-cabaret mode, assumes a smoother contour in this version, with acoustic bass and light percussion providing most of the backing accompaniment. (A piano turns up after the first verse, but almost apologetically, as if afraid to disrupt a tenuous balance.)
Zenzile will be released on March 4, which would have been Makeba's 90th birthday. An album-release celebration — Somi and Friends: The Reimagination of Miriam Makeba — will take place March 19 at the Apollo Theater; buy tickets here.
Ethan Iverson, "She Won't Forget Me"
Every Note Is True, the new Blue Note debut by Ethan Iverson, rings with a sense of at-homeness — not home itself, per se, but a mix of fondness, familiarity and assurance. For Iverson, whose piano has recently been heard to fine effect in straight-ahead settings, this marks a return to the sonic and emotional territory he mapped out over 17 years with The Bad Plus. Not that this is in any way a retread. Iverson's trio on the album features drummer and NEA Jazz Master Jack DeJohnette, whom he met for the first time in the studio, along with bassist Larry Grenadier, his occasional partner in other special alignments (with, among others, Lee Konitz, Al Foster and Paul Motian). The material ranges from flowing abstraction ("Blue") to bittersweet waltzes ("For Ellen Raskin"). For Valentine's Day, it feels appropriate to share a grand yet intimate piece titled "She Won't Forget Me," a vehicle for DeJohnette's trademark slippery rock groove.
Ethan Iverson performs music from Every Note is True in a streaming event this Thursday at 7 p.m. ET from Yamaha Studio, as part of WBGO's Winter Fund Drive.
Chris Dingman, "hope-rebirth"
The luminous, searching solitude of journeys vol. 1, a forthcoming album by Chris Dingman, is more than a matter of instrumentation. Yes, it's a solo vibraphone recital — by an artist who has always made a deep study of chiming overtone and shimmery sustain. But it's also an intensely personal statement that comes out of Dingman's recent experiences: the death of his father, the disruption of the pandemic, and a pull toward the trancelike mbira music of Zimbabwe. Settle in for "hope-rebirth," and you're sure to feel the reassurance built into the song, both in its gorgeous tonal character and its contour. Dingman partly attributes the latter to some instruction he received from Terence Blanchard, while at the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz: "Once he asked us to write something that starts one place and goes somewhere else. He kept saying, 'Tell me a story' or 'Take me on a journey.' That really stuck with me, and all the music I've made since has done that in one way or another."
Steve Slagle, "Into the Heart of It"
If you've ever encountered saxophonist Steve Slagle on a bandstand, you've probably witnessed him in firecracker mode. Soulful ignition has been a calling card since his early days in bands led by Lionel Hampton or Carla Bley, and up through the long-running group he leads with guitarist Dave Stryker. But through all that time, Slagle has also had the capacity to serenade — a skill he nudges into the foreground on his new album, Ballads: Into the Heart of It. Due out this Friday on Panorama Records, it features a rhythm team of Bruce Barth on piano, Ugonna Okegwo on bass and Jason Tiemann on drums. (Richard Sussman creates drum programming and synth orchestration on a few tracks.) On the title tune, Slagle basks in an easy rapport with trumpeter Randy Brecker, who excels both in ballad mode and at a cruising swing.
Orquestra Jazz de Matosinhos, Rebecca Martin & Larry Grenadier, "In the Nick of Time (State of the Union)"
Finally, Valentine's Day is a perfect moment to celebrate the marital bond. And I can think of no better song for such a gesture than "In the Nick of Time (State of the Union)," from a new collaboration between singer-songwriter Rebecca Martin, bassist Larry Grenadier, and the Orquestra Jazz de Matosinhos, of Portugal. The song originated as a Grenadier composition, "State of the Union," featured on the self-titled debut by the trio FLY in 2004. Recently, Martin — who is in fact married to Grenadier — set lyrics to the song, with a new title, "In the Nick of Time." (That version can be heard on The Upstate Project, made with composer-arranger Guillermo Klein.) The gentle grandeur of the Matosinhos arrangement complements the spare elegance of the lyrics, about a spouse's return after a season's absence. "They’ll see it through," Martin sings. "For he is her muse / She is his, too / Just in the nick of time."