Horizon-Stretching Sounds From Miguel Zenon, Terri Lyne Carrington, Ben Goldberg, Bill Frisell

Aug 25, 2019

And a smooth new groove from David Benoit and Friends.

Miguel Zenón, “El Negro Bembón”

Last year, Miguel Zenón released an album of atypical texture, placing his alto saxophone in front of a string quartet. His new release — Sonero: The Music of Ismael Rivera, out this Friday on Miel Music — returns to form, with band mates Luis Perdomo on piano, Hans Glawischnig on bass and Henry Cole on drums.

As the title suggests, it’s also a tribute to Ismael Rivera, a Hall of Fame sonero revered for the formal daring of his vocal improvisations. More than 30 years after his untimely death, Rivera looms as a folk hero in Puerto Rico — the homeland that serves as a beating heart in Zenón’s aesethetic practice.

The concept is straightforward, but the same can hardly be said for Zenón’s arrangements, which find new ways of framing the songs for which Rivera is known. Consider “El Negro Bembón,” as filmed in the recording studio:

In the original recording of the song, from 1958, there’s a moment when Rivera repeats a phrase — “Huye huye que huye Juancón” — in a superimposed quintuple meter. As ethnomusicologist César Colón-Montijo points out in his insightful liner notes, this five-against-four polyrhythm provides Zenón with the framework for his arrangement. (The quartet performs at Jazz Standard from Sept. 12-15.)

Terri Lyne Carrington + Social Science, “Dreams and Desperate Measures (Pt. 2)”

A lot has happened in the life of Terri Lyne Carrington since 2013, when she became the first woman to win a Grammy for Best Jazz Instrumental Album. Her next release is Waiting Game, which features the band she calls Social Science addressing a welter of pressing issues, including gender inequality and mass incarceration.

Last week Motéma released two singles from the project. “Bells (Ring Loudly)” features vocals by Malcolm Jamal Warner (spoken) and Debo Ray (sung), confronting the issues that are central to the #BlackLivesMatter movement. The second single is an excerpt from a roughly 40-minute group improvisation, which Carrington has titled “Dreams and Desperate Measures.”

This piece, which coalesces like a smoke ring, features Aaron Parks on acoustic and Fender Rhodes piano, Esperanza Spalding on bass and Matthew Stevens on acoustic guitar. As subtle and diaphanous as “Bells” is plaintive and direct, it’s yet another reminder of what Carrington is pushing for: not just a social consciousness, but a functional embodiment of community.

Waiting Game will be released on Nov. 8; preorder here.

Ben Goldberg, “A Rhythmia”

We’ve seen no shortage of smart attempts to bring jazz and poetry into dialogue, but Good Day For Cloud Fishing, the fine new album by clarinetist Ben Goldberg, ups the ante. It was inspired by the poems of Dean Young, whose works builds on the bold illogic of Surrealism and the hip jocularity of the New York School.  

But Goldberg went beyond writing a series of pieces inspired by Young poems. When he went into the studio with two regular compatriots, Ron Miles on cornet and Nels Cline on guitar, he also invited Young to join them. The poet sat with a typewriter, dashing off new poems in response to the music he heard. So the album comes with inserts featuring “Entry” and “Exit” poems for each track, prompting reflection on the magic of inspiration, and the mystery of translation.


The “Entry” for Track 4 is a poem titled “A Rhythmia,” which led Goldberg to compose a minor-key ditty with a Monkish bridge, in shades of blue.

A Rhythmia

A mallet stops a horserace.

There is a dwarf in my face.

I rewind emptiness.

It rains in my raincoat.

A glance of glitter dislodges

Every cornea.

And here is the “Exit” poem, “Ornithology,” which highlights Young’s wit — along with his taste for bebop.

Ornithology

See that smoke? It’s a person.

See that funny stick thing?

That’d be me lucky to be wherever

here is. Me and my spine.

Me and my billion neurons.

The sky helps. How it’s invented

in a basement and that struggling

arm in my arm hair? Just acting lost

to make me feel better about myself.

Poems printed with permission. Good Day For Cloud Fishing is out now on Pyroclastic Records.

Bill Frisell, “Everywhere”

One of the most inspiring moments at this year’s Big Ears Festival came during a Bill Frisell set, featuring Petra Haden on lead vocals, Hank Roberts on cello and Luke Bergman on bass and guitars. Performing “We Shall Overcome,” Haden urged the standing-room audience to join in song, just as someone like Pete Seeger would have done. The room filled with those voices — in harmony, as if to carry truth to the first word in the anthem’s determined refrain.

Harmony, Frisell’s forthcoming Blue Note debut as a leader, proceeds in that spirit, with the same musicians. It’s an album that pursues beauty unabashedly, with Haden often joined on vocals by Bergman and Roberts, and a track list that draws from the American folksong tradition as well as the standard songbook. It also features some new Frisell originals — like the an ethereal overture titled “Everywhere,” which has Haden singing lead, without lyrics.

Bill Frisell’s Harmony will be released on Oct. 4; preorder here.

David Benoit and Friends, “Sienna Step”

David Benoit and Friends, the new album by a well-traveled veteran of contemporary jazz, fulfills its promise of an all-star affair: among its special guests are trumpeter Rick Braun, guitarist Peter White and saxophonist Dave Koz. But the core attraction is Benoit’s adroit pianism, and the bond he has with his rhythm section.

“Sienna Step” is a good illustration of those core principles. It’s a lite samba with just a hint of funk, putting Benoit in the driver’s seat of a band with bassist Ken Wild, drummer JR Robinson and percussionist Luis Conte. During the piano solo, you might even notice an intriguing nod toward McCoy Tyner-esque modality, before Benoit locks back into the express lane.