Hear Ecstatic New Music by Dafnis Prieto, Brad Mehldau and Meshell Ndegeocello in Take Five

Mar 26, 2018

Dafnis Prieto Big Band, “Una Vez Más”

The Cuban drummer and composer Dafnis Prieto set a high bar for himself with his first big band statement, Back to the Sunset. His intention with the album, which he’ll release on his own Dafnison Music on April 6, was to pay tribute to mentors and masters, while extending their contributions in his own voice. The success of his experiment is clear on the album’s opening track, which has its premiere here.

The track, “Una Vez Más,” is an homage to the eminent pianist and NEA Jazz Master Eddie Palmieri, and features his longtime trumpet collaborator Brian Lynch. You can hear the Palmieri influence in the punchy accretion of parts, the whirring intensity of the rhythm section, and an assertive piano solo by Manuel Valera. But listen, too, for the personal touches that Prieto brings to his orchestration – and the balance of wildness and precision in his own solo, which brings everything home. 

Brad Mehldau Trio, “Spiral”

The new album from the Brad Mehldau Trio, arriving on Nonesuch on May 18, bears the title Seymour Reads the Constitution! — an intriguing phrase whose full valence has yet to be explained. (Should we infer a reference to one-time Democratic presidential nominee Horatio Seymour? Muckraking journalist Seymour Hersh? Are we overthinking this?) A more self-explanatory title can be found on the album’s lead track and first single, “Spiral,” which assumes a gently swirling cadence and a bittersweet air. Mehldau’s relaxed yet focused pianism is instantly identifiable, as is his rapport with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard. There’s a perfect balance of effortless drift and skittering unease in the track — a sense that something is quietly stirring, and that it might yet slip away from you.

Meshell Ndegeocello, “Sometimes It Snows In April”

I spent this past weekend at the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, Tenn., an experience I’ll chronicle soon. I heard an incredible profusion of music, but sadly had to miss Meshell Ndegeocello, who drew from her spellbinding new album, Ventriloquism. 

An unsurprising highlight of the album, which includes gluey covers of throwback R&B hits by Janet Jackson and Al B. Sure, is “Sometimes It Snows In April,” the heartrending Prince ballad. Ndegeocello is some kind of shaman when it comes to Prince’s music, and her version of this song is devastating precisely for its coolness to the touch. It also felt only fitting to include this song on the heels of a Nor’easter in the first days of spring. (It’ll be April soon. Keep your fingers crossed.) 

Imani Uzuri, “Hush Arbor”

The free-thinking vocalist and composer Imani Uzuri has been working on a contemporary chamber opera called Hush Arbor, inspired by the hidden, forested places where slaves would gather in the Antebellum south, for the purposes of worship and communion. (In some accounts, “hush harbor” is the prevalent term.) 

Uzuri will perform this work-in-progress on Tuesday at HarlemStage, backed by additional voices, strings, flute, piano, guitars and tambourine. She has posted a sample of the piece, and it’s haunting; in one section, she repeats the loaded phrase “I’m livin’ on / Stolen breath.” There’ll be a chance to hear Uzuri’s thinking behind the work in an onstage Q&A with Matthew D. Morrison, a native North Carolinian who teaches in the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at New York University.

Oscar Peterson, “Blue Skies”

Because after all that heaviness, you deserve a tonic. Because “Blue Skies” is as hopeful a note as one can strike at such a time. Because Oscar Peterson Plays, a 5-CD boxed set spanning 10 songbook albums, has just been released on Verve. Because — that intro! That right hand! Those exuberant runs! That foot-tapping beat! Because Barney Kessel. Because Ray Brown.