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Moor Mother toasts Woody Shaw, Bennie Maupin hails Yusef Lateef, & Grant Stewart recalls Art Tatum

Moor Mother, "Woody Shaw (feat. Melanie Charles)"

Jazz Codes, a forthcoming album by the poet, performer and composer Moor Mother, inhabits a pressurized air of tribute. A companion to a book of poems by the same name, it pays conspicuous homage to a handful of innovators, like pianist Amina Claudine Myers, saxophonist Joe McPhee and trumpeter Woody Shaw. In fact, "Woody Shaw" is the first single, featuring additional vocals by Melanie Charles. Its video, directed by Cyrus Moussavi, shows Moor Mother performing the poem at the Leimert Park headquarters of the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra, which Horace Tapscott founded in 1961. The video, featuring Maia on vibraphone, Michael Session on saxophone, Henry Franklin on bass and Mekala Session on drums, extends the piece in the spirit of a jam. (On the album, the track clocks in under two minutes.) "Woody Shaw, elevator out of town," Moor Mother intones as a refrain, circulating a few other phrases besides: "Life got us going," and "Where are we going?" and "Who's coming?" and "Up and down."

Bennie Maupin and Adam Rudolph, "First Movement"

Oct. 9, 2020 marked the centennial of Yusef Lateef, whose insatiable cultural curiosity, and broad instrumental versatility, made him a figure distinct in American music. To honor the occasion, the Angel City Jazz Festival commissioned a piece from percussionist Adam Rudolph, one of Lateef's chief collaborators in the last stretch of his career, and multi-reedist Bennie Maupin, a stylistic heir. They later recorded this piece, which is about to see release on Strut Records as Symphonic Tone Poem for Brother Yusef. Listen to the roughly nine-minute opening movement, and you'll understand the nature of its enlightened sprawl, full at every turn with personal detail.

Grant Stewart, "A Piece of Art"

Grant Stewart, "A Piece of Art"

Tenor saxophonist Grant Stewart is no stranger to musical tribute; perhaps you recall his album Plays the Music of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. There's a less programmatic homage on his new album, The Lighting Of The Lamps, which features trumpeter Bruce Harris, pianist Tardo Hammer, bassist David Wong and drummer Phil Stewart. On a tricky, uptempo new tune titled "A Piece of Art," Stewart salutes the incomparable piano genius Art Tatum — building his melody atop the chord progression for "All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm," which Tatum often played. It's a fond and fitting nod.

Anteloper, "One Living Genus"

Anteloper — the unpredictable electro-acoustic duo consisting of jaimie branch on trumpet and Jason Nazary on drums (and both on electronics) — drew from a particular source of inspiration on their third album, Pink Dolphins. Their reference point was the Miles Davis album Live-Evil, which was partly recorded at the Cellar Door in Washington, D.C. in 1970, but sculpted into album form through the editing savvy of Teo Macero. Anteloper has its own ace producer in Jeff Parker, who also plays some guitar, electric bass, percussion and synthesizer on the album. He has a partial composer credit on "One Living Genus," its first single, which moves from a dark, pulsating electronic soundscape into something more redolent of the Live-Evil vibe, in the best way.

Billy Mohler, "Speed Kills"

So far every tribute in this Take Five has been to a musician no longer with us. But there's a grand tradition of composers dapping their own band members — as bassist Billy Mohler does with "Speed Kills," on his new album Anatomy. The Speed in question is of course tenor saxophonist Chris Speed, who stands alongside trumpeter Shane Endsley and drummer Nate Wood in Mohler's quartet. The tune has a certain loose-limbed swagger, with the bass ringing out loud and clear in the absence of any chordal instrument. Endsley takes the first solo, expressing a nimble curiosity; Speed starts his solo about three minutes in. Something about the sonic dimensions and melodic contour recall the music Speed made with Dave Douglas in the mid-to-late '90s. But Mohler, who has a heavy pedigree in pop along with his impeccable jazz training, keeps it contemporary; any nod he seems inclined to make will be one across the bandstand.

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