Eric Revis, “Baby Renfroe”
As you may recall, Eric Revis had a hand in one of last year’s standout jazz albums: The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul, by the Branford Marsalis Quartet. That band — which delivered what’s likely to be my top in-person jazz performance of 2020, just over a week before home quarantine went into effect — leans on Revis not only as a heavy-gauge bassist but also as an inventive composer.
In fact, Revis wrote two of the songs from Marsalis’ album during the same residency that produced pieces for his own expressive new album, Slipknots Through A Looking Glass. Releasing on Pyroclastic Records on Sept. 11, it largely features Darius Jones and Bill McHenry on saxophones, Kris Davis on piano and Chad Taylor on drums and mbira. “The band is kind of an amalgam of groups I’ve previously recorded with,” Revis explains in a press statement.
The opening track, “Baby Renfroe,” suggests James Brown funk as refracted through a dichroic prism. McHenry and Jones bark their parts in a pointillist staccato, with Revis serving up another strand of commentary on bass. The guest drummer on the track is Justin Faulkner, Revis’ colleague in the Marsalis rhythm team. It’s a good first taste of the album, in that it conveys a certain in-betweenness: the band sounds tight but open, calm but spring-coiled.
JD Allen, “You’re My Thrill”
Tenor saxophonist JD Allen formally introduced a new edition of his trio last year, on the album Barracoon. Composed of two younger players, bassist Ian Kenselaar and drummer, Nic Cacioppo, the band sounded hungry and ready. Now, never one to ease up on the throttle, Allen has another heavy trio album in the queue: titled Toys / Die Dreaming, it will be released on Savant/HighNote on Aug. 28.
The album features a mix of originals and standards — including “You’re My Thrill,” a ballad long associated with Billie Holiday. Allen’s version, which premieres here, features a deep bass drone and some rolling polyrhythm, in the spirit of John Coltrane’s classic rhythm section. That sort of evocation rarely feels like a throwback for Allen, because of the force of his concentration on the unfolding present. Listen for how he takes his time constructing a narrative with his solo, elaborating on the song’s melodic shape before he muscles into a more incantatory mode.
Michael Formanek Quartet, “Small Places”
A bassist and composer with a mind drawn to shifting designs, Michael Formanek keeps a varied profile: he’s a member of Thumbscrew, whose new album dropped last month, and he put out a collaborative effort with pianist Carmen Staaf and drummer Jeff Williams last year. He’s also the leader of an all-star quartet with Tim Berne on alto saxophone, Craig Taborn on piano and Gerald Cleaver on drums; its most recent album, Small Places, was a 2012 ECM Records release. That band has now released a live album, via the Bandcamp series OOYH Untamed.
Formanek titled it Pre-Apocalyptic, with some characteristic wryness. (It was recorded in 2014, at an undisclosed location.) Among the album highlights is a new version of “Small Places,” which the band quickly abstracts into a thundering roil. Listen especially to how much restless energy Taborn brings to the equation, making any distinction between “solo” and “accompaniment” feel pointless, in the best possible way.
Davy Mooney & The Hope of Home Band, “St. Paul’s”
Earlier this year, in late-January, guitarist Davy Mooney brought his Hope of Home Band to National Sawdust in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. His intention was to make a concert recording with the group — an all-star crew made up of pianist Jon Cowherd, saxophonist John Ellis, bassist Matt Clohesy and drummer Brian Blade. We’re now seeing the glowing results, in the form of an album on Sunnyside.
Mooney’s Live at National Sawdust captures the shared intuition and unforced sophistication among these musicians — along with a style that will ring familiar to admirers of Blade and Cowherd’s track record together. A piece called “St. Paul’s,” featured in the performance video above, was named for the city of São Paolo, from which Mooney’s wife hails; it begins with a cool Brazilian lilt before expanding into dynamic post-bop terrain. There isn’t a false step at any point here.
Lauren Henderson, “Day By Day”
Here’s an album that slipped under the radar, at least for me, when it released in the spring. The Songbook Session (Brontosaurus Records) is the sixth full-length release by Lauren Henderson, a jazz singer with a calmly confiding style. Her backing trio is first-rate, with Sullivan Fortner on piano, Eric Wheeler on bass and Allan Mednard on drums. And while the title might suggest a dip into the Great American Songbook, it also features standards from Mexico and Brazil.
“Day By Day” is a song by Axel Stordahl and Paul Weston, with lyrics by Sammy Cahn; it was recorded in the 1940s by Bing Crosby, Mel Tormé and Frank Sinatra, among others (then and since). Henderson’s treatment is untroubled, neatly swinging. She has a quavering vibrato that can become a small distraction on ballads, but that doesn’t pose a problem here —in no small part because her bond with the trio feels so easy and sure.