Start off Asian Pacific American Heritage Month with Take Five
Joey Alexander, "Winter Blues"
One drawback to growing up in public is the snapshot effect: people tend to remember you however you were at last exposure. This has surely been an issue on some level for pianist and composer Joey Alexander, who is 18, and has been in the global spotlight for the better part of a decade — since his precocious childhood in Bali, Indonesia.
We've kept up with him since, but it's still striking to encounter a progress report as untroubled and thoughtfully assured as Origin, his first album for Mack Avenue. Consider "Winter Blues," whose polyrhythmic lope and near-gospel harmonic palette may remind you of a compositional style of the late Michael Brecker. There's a different tenor saxophone hero on the track: Chris Potter, alongside guitarist Gilad Hekselman. They sound perfectly in tune with Alexander, who plays both acoustic and Fender Rhodes pianos here, alongside bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Kendrick Scott.
Origin will be released on CD and digital services on May 20; preorder here.
Anthony Fung, "Roots (feat. David Binney, Luca Mendoza & Orquesta La Kshamba)"
Drummer and composer Anthony Fung is best known as a vital presence in Los Angeles, where he made his mark in the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance under the mentorship of Herbie Hancock. But he hails originally from Toronto, which is where he wrote most of the music for What Does it Mean to Be Free? Due out on Friday, it's in part a meditation on lockdown, which created the space for reflection (by way of restriction). On "Roots," Fung attacks an Afro-Cuban groove in step with conguero Oscar Cruz and his ensemble Orquesta La Kshamaba. The alto saxophonist is David Binney, who bobs and weaves through the mix, trading barbs with pianist Luca Mendoza while bassist Luca Allemano holds it down.
Satoko Fujii, "Tadayou"
If you haven't kept apace with the output of pianist Satoko Fujii recently, cut yourself some slack: it's an all-but-impossible task. Recall that a few years back, she released an album every month for an entire year, in celebration of her 60th birthday. And she has been no less prolific since, unfurling new tendrils of music on her Bandcamp page. The most recent release there is Bokyaku, which finds her improvising along to ambient street sounds: helicopters, construction equipment, washing machines. For our purposes, I selected "Tadayou," a contemplative solo track from when you turn off the light vol. 3, a series of releases recorded in the piano room of her Tokyo apartment.
Kalia Vandever, "Soft"
Trombonist and composer Kalia Vandever has been featured in this space before; she led a recent installment of Take Five, with the lead single from her album Regrowth. We've since seen the release of another track from Vandever, who has Filipino heritage, and now lives in Brooklyn. "Soft" is the composition that opens the new album, with a melody whose offbeat syncopation, arranged for Vandever's trombone and Immanuel Wilkins' alto saxophone, combines poplike concision with a whisper of classical minimalism. The rest of the ensemble comprises pianist Paul Cornish, bassist Nick Dunston, drummer Connor Parks, and guitarist Lee Meadvin, who produced the album. Regrowth will be released on New Amsterdam on Friday, and Vandever will perform an album-release show at The Jazz Gallery on Saturday.
Jake Shimabukuro, "Stardust (feat. Willie Nelson)"
Finally, we'd be remiss in celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage Month without a nod to the mid-Pacific — and, in this instance, 'ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro, who was born and raised in Honolulu. His recent album Jake & Friends marshals a true all-star assembly, with guests ranging from Bette Midler to Ziggy Marley. Among the more graceful flourishes on the album is a version of the Hoagy Carmichael standard "Stardust," featuring one of its most celebrated interpreters, country icon Willie Nelson. The arrangement is unhurried and lilting, and while Willie doesn't bring Trigger along for a guitar solo, that creates the space for Shimabukuro to luxuriate in sophisticated chord voicings — a trademark of his, and no mean feat for an instrument with just four strings. Jake Shimabukuro will embark on a UK tour in June; visit his website for more info.