Fabian Almazan Looks to His Homeland and Several Elite Duos Get Serious, in Take Five

Jun 10, 2019

Plus: Wynton Marsalis airs symphonic ambitions and Andrew Cyrille receives his due.

Fabian Almazan Trio, “The Poets”

Fabian Almazan was 9 years old when he left Havana, Cuba in the early 1990s. Growing up in Miami, he quickly became a young jazz pianist of note: a protégé of Terence Blanchard; one of the New York Times’ New Pilots at the Keyboard; a No. 1 Rising Star in the DownBeat Critics Poll.

Cuba has always been a key to Almazan’s music — he began his training there, on classical piano — but in a subtle register, rarely at the center of the frame. That changes with his engrossing new double album, This Land Abounds with Life, which arrives on Biophilia Records on June 14. (Preorder here.) Inspired by a trip Almazan took to Cuba a few years ago, for the first time since his childhood, it’s an exploration of cultural heritage and a reflection on our place in the natural world.

Almazan’s trio, with Linda May Han Oh on bass and Henry Cole on drums, has been a working unit for over a decade — appearing on his first album, Personalities, and in a related NPR/WBGO broadcast from The Village Vanguard in 2011. Each member of the ensemble has evolved, and the same is true of the group.


“The Poets,” which has its premiere here, opens with audio of a conversation with an old-town musician and poet known as El Macagüero de Pinar, in a rural part of western Cuba. The piece settles into trancelike bembé rhythm, until a startling upshift at around 3:30; it ends with a symphony of birdsong, recorded in the forest by Almazan himself.

The Fabian Almazan Trio appears on Thursday at SFJAZZ in San Francisco; on Friday at Dazzle in Denver; on Saturday the Blue Whale in Los Angeles; and on Sunday at The Athenaeum in San Diego. For more dates, visit his website.

Sylvie Courvoisier & Mark Feldman, “Éclats for Ornette”

Sylvie Courvoisier and Mark Feldman released their first duo album, Music for Violin and Piano, 20 years ago.

Partners in life as in music, they have kept expanding their inquiry on record, without losing a spark of unpredictability. Their latest effort is Time Gone Out, on the Intakt label, and it captures that essential quality along with the sheer simpatico of Courvoisier’s probing piano and Feldman’s darting violin. “Éclats for Ornette” is a sterling example — a Courvoisier composition that pays homage to Ornette Coleman with an intervallic language that also nods toward a classical composer like Elliott Carter.

As previously noted in Take Five, Courvoisier has recorded this song before, on an album with guitarist Mary Halvorson. So it’s fitting that when Courvoisier performs this weekend at Happy Lucky No. 1, as part of The Stone series, she’ll engage in duologue with both Halvorson (Friday) and Feldman (Saturday).

Gregory Tardy and Bill Frisell, “More Than Enough”

Saxophonist and clarinetist Gregory Tardy has stood at the center of many a maelstrom, as a member of bands led by drummer Elvin Jones and pianist Andrew Hill. His new album, More Than Enough, adopts a more contemplative mode. A series of duos with guitarist Bill Frisell, it evokes the soft glow of a summer evening, and a feeling of spiritual succor. The album’s title track is their delicate reading of a song by the Detroit gospel hero Thomas Whitfield.

This footage from the studio reveals the intensity of focus behind the calm, with Frisell phrasing the song on acoustic guitar as Tardy provides an obbligato on tenor saxophone. More Than Enough is available now on vinyl, as part of a Season 4 subscription from Newvelle Records.

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra & St. Louis Symphony Conducted by David Robertson, “Movement I: St. Louis to New Orleans”

Wynton Marsalis’ Swing Symphony (Symphony No. 3) had its world premiere in 2010, in Berlin. Later that year it opened the New York Philharmonic’s 2010-11 season, and it has been performed, under different circumstances in a range of cities, a handful of times since. Now its first official recording — featuring the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, conducted by David Robertson — is set for a digital release by Blue Engine Records, on July 1. And the first movement was just made available as a teaser. (Preorder here.)

In his New York Times review of the Philharmonic premiere, classical critic Anthony Tommasini remarked that “St. Louis to New Orleans,” this movement, “builds quickly into a growling, organic blast from the joint forces. Then the music segues smoothly into a perky, syncopated march.” (He goes on to opine that “the textures were sometimes so dense that the chords were indistinct and lost their punch.” It was a mixed review.) There has been time for the piece to ripen in performance, and on Marsalis’ editing table; soon we’ll have the option of considering it at our leisure.

Andrew Cyrille and Peter Brötzmann, “Wolf whistle”

As we announced here last fall, the eminent drummer and composer Andrew Cyrille is the lifetime achievement honoree at the 2019 Vision Festival. That event is now upon us: the festival runs through June 16 at Roulette in Brooklyn, opening on Tuesday with Cyrille’s big night. He’ll perform with several ensembles, including Haitian Fascination, featuring poet Quincy Troupe; Dialogue of the Drums, with his fellow legend Milford Graves; and two dynamic trios, one of which includes Wadada Leo Smith on trumpet and Brandon Ross on guitar. Cyrille will also engage in energetic duologue with two fire-breathing saxophonists: Kidd Jordan, from New Orleans, and Peter Brötzmann, from Germany.


That last pairing has yielded some notable documentation, probably the finest of which is Andrew Cyrille Meets Brötzmann in Berlin, an album recorded in 1982 and originally released the following year on the FMP label. Thanks to Destination Out!, we now have the album in digital form — and its overture, “Wolf whistle,” is a blast of revelatory intention, lasting roughly the true length of an old network television sitcom. It has its share of surprises; be sure not to miss the airhorn that crops up at 13:30, briefly providing Brötzmann with a melodic foil. There can be no firm predictions in this business, but it stands to reason the duo will set a similar tone of mischief this week — just one of several reasons to turn out in Cyrille’s honor.