Freedom and Swinging Fortitude Prevail, as Take Five Celebrates Independence Day

Jul 1, 2019

Righteous new music by the J.D. Allen Trio, William Parker’s In Order to Survive, Matthew Whitaker and more.

J.D. Allen Trio, “G Sus”

Twenty years ago, an assertive young tenor saxophonist released his debut album, giving it the cryptic title In Search of J.D. Allen. Today that search continues, though Allen, at 46, has a firm sense of who he is and what he’s after. Last week, in a glowing profile in The New York Times, Giovanni Russonello observed: “He still feels the need, as a black American, to assert his right not only to exist, but to be known.”

Allen has devoted more than a dozen years to the refinement of a sax-bass-drums trio. With his longtime partners Gregg August (bass) and Rudy Royston (drums), he made a heap of compelling albums, along with a live broadcast from The Village Vanguard, where Sonny Rollins first brought the pianoless trio into mainstream circulation.

Now Allen has formed a new edition of his trio with two younger associates, bassist Ian Kenselaar and drummer Nic Cacioppo. Their first document together, just out on the Savant label, is Barracoon — a potent and purposeful album inspired in part by the Zora Neale Hurston book Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo,” which is based on a series of interviews from 1927 but only saw publication last year.

“G sus,” whose title evokes connotations both harmonic and messianic, captures the rugged, go-anywhere ethos of the trio. Listen for the bounce and brawn in Allen’s tenor, and the way Kenselaar, playing an electric bass, and Cacioppo, thrashing at his cymbals, rise to the challenge as one.

William Parker’s In Order to Survive, “Newark (for Grachan Moncur III)”

William Parker first recorded the expressive ensemble known as In Order to Survive back in 1993, for an album that saw release a couple of years later. Parker, a bassist of roving but grounded temperament, formed the group out of a coalition of likeminded souls, including the Newark-based trombonist Grachan Moncur III. Hence the title of this soulful, loosely swinging new composition, featuring Parker and the current members of the band: Rob Brown on alto saxophone, Cooper-Moore on piano and Hamid Drake on drums.


The track, premiering here, comes from a live double album called Live/Shapeshifter, which releases Friday on AUM Fidelity. As the title suggests, it was recorded at ShapeShifter Lab in Brooklyn, on a July evening in 2017. It’s a powerful dose of spirit music, deep-rooted but searching — in other words, a fitting tribute to Moncur, who just turned 82.

Matthew Whitaker, “Underground”

A few months ago, during a WBGO 40th anniversary concert at the Gateway Center, Matthew Whitaker had a large lunchtime crowd practically eating out of his hands. Whitaker is that kind of musician, and at 18 he’s already a seasoned pro with a substantial following, at least in the New York / New Jersey area. He’s about to expand that reach with a new album, Now Hear This, due out on the Resilience Music Alliance on Aug. 9.

The album features Whitaker in fine company, leading a quartet with guitarist Dave Stryker, bassist Yunior Terry and drummer Ulysses Owens Jr. Their material ranges from jazz standards (Charlie Parker’s “Yardbird Suite”) to spiritual fare (Andrae Crouch’s “The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power”). On an appealing original called “Underground,” Whitaker marshals his gospel instincts on a tune with the hallmarks of contemporary jazz — calling on flutist Gabrielle Garo, who enlivens the melody. Marc Cary is featured on keyboards elsewhere on the album, but the Moog solo on this track is by Whitaker himself.

For more information on Matthew Whitaker, visit matthewwhitaker.net.

Bria Skonberg’s Sisterhood of Swing, “Oh, Lady Be Good”

Trumpeter and singer Bria Skonberg first convened her Sisterhood of Swing, an all-female big band, for last year’s Midsummer Night Swing series at Lincoln Center. It was such a resounding success that a scaled-back version of the band, the Sisterhood of Swing Seven, is featured again this year; they’ll perform a concert of classic swing fare at Damrosch Park on Wednesday, at 7:30 p.m. Catherine Russell will be featured on vocals, alongside versatile players like saxophonist Camille Thurman, pianist Champian Fulton and bassist Mimi Jones.

This footage, captured by Lincoln Center, comes from the Sisterhood of Swing debut last summer. The tune is “Oh, Lady Be Good,” which Lester Young famously recorded in 1936 with most of Count Basie’s All-American rhythm section: Basie on piano, Walter Page on bass, Jo Jones on drums.

Brittany Howard, “History Repeats”

The elemental strength and soul of Brittany Howard’s voice has been a raison d’être for Alabama Shakes, one of the defining roots-rock bands of the past decade. Now Howard is stepping out with a solo album, Jaime, named after a sister who died when they were teenagers. The lead single appeared last week, its title and refrain suggesting both a despairing personal admission and a societal call to action.

If you’re wondering why this track, which probably owes some of its mojo to Prince, belongs in Take Five, listen for the blues behind the bop. And consider that drummer Nate Smith appears on the album, and will be Howard’s musical director on a forthcoming tour. Jaime, which also features contributions from keyboardist Robert Glasper, will be released on ATO Records on Sept. 20.