© 2022 WBGO
WBGO New Record Spine Header
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Take Five: Miles Okazaki, Becca Stevens, Doug Webb, Tigran Hamasyan, Kind Folk

Miles Okazaki's Trickster, "In Some Far Off Place"

"In some far off place / Many light years in space / I'll wait for you." Sun Ra made that promise in verse form, within the liner notes to his late-1960s solo piano album Monorails & Satellites. Decades later, the poem's first line provided a perfect title for the piece that opens a transporting, farsighted new album by Miles Okazaki's Trickster.

The album, Thisness, is due out on Friday on Pi Recordings, and it confirms the extraordinary level of intuition that Okazaki has cultivated with his partners in the group: keyboardist Matt Mitchell, electric bassist Anthony Tidd, and drummer Sean Rickman. A guitarist and composer usually drawn to intricate designs, Okazaki built this album on a more open-ended foundation; he likens the process to the Surrealist parlor game known as the "exquisite corpse." Listen carefully, and you'll notice a few pivot points — moments where one or more members of the ensemble shifts the music in a new direction. The result is a piece that sprawls from chamber quietude to fractured funk, unpredictable from one moment to the next — but bound at all times by shared logic.

Tigran Hamasyan, "All the Things You Are (feat. Mark Turner)"

Up to this point, the virtuoso pianist and composer Tigran Hamasyan has oriented his output around original material, often drawing inspiration from the folk melodies of his native Armenia. So it might seem, at first blush, that StandArt — his first album of jazz standards, due out Friday on Nonesuch — marks some kind of nod to jazz convention. Of course it isn't, because Hamasyan brings so much of himself to the art of interpretation. Consider this softly shimmering duet with tenor saxophonist Mark Turner on "All the Things You Are," which clears away any bebop trappings to access the tender heart of Jerome Kern's composition. "Mark approached this piece with such delicacy and fragility that I felt like the angels had begun singing along with me," Hamasyan marvels in a press statement. And in his delicate, arpeggiated framework, he captures some of what lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II meant when he went on about "the breathless hush of evening / That trembles on the brink of a lovely song."

Becca Stevens & Attacca Quartet, "2 + 2 = 5"

As its title suggests, Becca Stevans | Attacca Quartet, just out on GroundUP Music, chronicles a meeting of two distinct artistic entities: the first, an unclassifiable singer-songwriter, and the second, a similarly free-range string quartet. But there's more going on in this musical convergence — and not just because Becca Stevens is married to a member of Attacca, the violist and composer Nathan Schram. The album, recorded several years ago, speaks to the genuine genre agnosticism that these artists share as a common language. Case in point: this version of "2 + 2 = 5," a Radiohead tune that first appeared on the band's 2003 album Hail to the Thief. Schram's arrangement preserves the off-kilter thrum of its 7/8 meter, while giving Stevens room to maneuver. The chorus is set up like a timed detonation, and she totally delivers.

Kind Folk, "Around, Forever"

The post-bop collective known as Kind Folk consists of trumpeter John Raymond, alto saxophonist Alex LoRe, bassist Noam Wiesenberg and drummer Colin Stranahan. Since the release of its 2018 debut, the quartet has only strengthened its cohesion, as it proves decisively on Head Towards the Center, due out Friday on Fresh Sound New Talent. The close harmonies traced by Raymond and LoRe in the latter's "Around, Forever" — and the gluey, elasticized rhythmic undercurrent, shepherded by their band mates — balance a sensation of tension with a spirit of communion. (Don't miss the tandem flourish that begins at 1:45.) These are four improvisers averse to dramatic overstatement, but well aware of how to maximize suspense.

Doug Webb, "The Message"

And we close this week with a modern take on the Hammond B-3 blowing sessions of yore, courtesy of tenor saxophonist Doug Webb. For his new Posi-Tone album, The Message, Webb drafted organist Brian Charette along with his fellow tenor Bob Reynolds, altoist Greg Osby, and drummer Charles Ruggiero. The temperature of the album runs both hot and cool, with a toe-tapping rhythmic foundation that supports all manner of solo digression. On the title track, composed by Steve Huffsteter, that yields assertive work from all three men in the front line, exuding a high-test intensity that's not so much combative as it is conspiratorial.

A veteran jazz critic and award-winning author, Nate Chinen is editorial director at WBGO and a regular contributor to NPR Music.