Exclusive Premieres From Luciana Souza, Gilad Hekselman and Makaya McCraven, in Take Five

Jun 25, 2018

Luciana Souza, “Night Song”

Poetry has always been more than a casual interest for Luciana Souza. You could even call it a birthright: she grew up in São Paulo, the daughter of poet Tereza Souza and guitarist Walter Santos, who each contributed songs to the bossa nova canon. And it was with an album titled The Poems of Elizabeth Bishop and Other Songs that Souza made her first big impression.

Her new album, The Book of Longing, due out on Sunnyside on Aug. 24, finds her returning to the premise, in a certain sense. It’s an album of poetry set to music, from the likes of Emily Dickinson, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Christina Rossetti — and Leonard Cohen, whose words form the basis of four tracks.

One of these is “Night Song,” based on a Cohen poem called “Nightingale.” (He once recorded it himself, in an arrangement by Anjani Thomas, on the 2004 album Dear Heather.)

Souza’s version sounds felicitous but hardly flippant, with a melody that moves in elegant drifts. As on the rest of the album, she sings against buoyant backing from Chico Pinheiro on acoustic guitar and Scott Colley on bass, with overdubbed percussion. Cohen’s poem opens in halcyon romantic recollection and then pivots toward darkness and loss — “Now all your songs of beauty fail / The forest closes ‘round you.” Souza, who comes naturally to the expression of saudade, conveys this air of mournful valediction even as the rhythm percolates. 

Gilad Hekselman, “VBlues”

Lyricism and expedition have always cohabited in the music of Gilad Hekselman, an Israeli guitarist with an engagingly fluent style. “VBlues,” which premieres here, is the first track from Ask For Chaos, which Hekselman will release on Motéma, via his own Hexaphonic Music imprint, on Sept. 7. The track features his fusionesque band ZuperOctave, which has Aaron Parks on keyboards and Kush Abadey on drums.

The track opens with chiming chords over electronic texture, before Hekselman and Parks trace a casually intricate melodic line. ZuperOctave shares space on Ask For Chaos with the gHex Trio, a more conventional unit with bassist Rick Rosato and drummer Jonathan Pinson. But it’s not as if the two bands are wildly divergent in sound and style. The synth processing on Hekselman’s guitar, and the snap of Abadey’s beat, merely put a hard sheen over music that, at its core, still breathes.

(The gHex Trio begins its summer tour on July 2 at the Montreal Jazz Festival.)

Makaya McCraven, “Ox Tales”

The Chicago drummer Makaya McCraven has made a trademark out of organic beat science, and it was inevitable that he would find his way to the thriving new scene in London. One night last fall, he played a show at Total Refreshment Centre there with ascendant UK figures like saxophonist Nubya Garcia and keyboardists Kamaal Williams and Joe Armon-Jones. Then he took the recordings from the gig and invited a handful of producers, including Ben LaMar Gay and Quiet Dawn, to create live remixes. Yet another layer of intervention came when McCraven chopped up the remixes, yielding the music on Where We Come From (CHICAGOxLONDON Mixtape), which will be available exclusively on Apple Music this Friday. You don’t need to know this whole convoluted path to appreciate the groove on a track like “Ox Tales,” in which Theon Cross huffs a tuba foundation for a groove that changes dimension several times.

Satoko Fujii, “1538”

The intrepid Japanese pianist Satoko Fujii will turn 60 this fall, and no one could accuse her of trying to downplay the occasion. She has endeavored to release a new album every month this year, and has reached the halfway mark with 1538, just out on Libra Records. This album introduces a fiery trio called This Is It! — Fujii on piano and compositions, Natsuki Tamura on trumpet and Takashi Itani on drums.

The album’s title track is a good representation of the band, with its storm-surge rhythms and powerful expressions of pure sound. (Tamura, who happens to be Fujii’s husband, is an acknowledged master of extended technique.) The track begins and ends in a sort of troubled quietude; what happens in between evokes something like the creation of the world.

Alan Braufman, “Ark of Salvation”

Alan Braufman’s Valley of Search, released on the India Navigation label in 1975, is a sterling document from the period in New York often remembered as the “loft scene.” Recorded the previous year at Braufman’s loft on Canal Street, it features a band with Cecil McBee on bass, Cooper-Moore on piano, Ralph Williams on percussion and David Lee on drums. The music is audacious and rangy, with a spirit of discovery that feels both uniquely of its moment and unbound by era. (The album is being reissued for the first time, on vinyl and in digital formats, this Friday.)

“Ark of Salvation,” which appears on Side B of the LP, captures this spirit clearly: McBee is a driving force, and Cooper-Moore, making his recorded debut (as Gene Ashton), ventures some fluttery glissandi at the piano. And Braufman’s keening alto, which would later be heard to great effect in the Carla Bley Big Band, is a riveting presence at the center of the picture. He now lives in Salt Lake City, UT, but will reconvene the band from Valley of Search for some dates in New York this summer, including a concert at National Sawdust on Aug. 3.