Take Five: Ahmad Jamal, Fabian Almazan, Bobby Carcassés, Binker and Moses, New Orleans Swamp Donkeys

Jun 5, 2017

Two brilliant pianists. Two ebullient Cubans. Two intrepid young Englishmen. Two lovable standards, in new colors. The math may not seem to add up in this edition of Take Five, but the music — five winning tracks from as many different acts — most certainly does. (But who's counting, anyway?)

Ahmad Jamal, “Autumn Leaves”

The all-but-peerless pianist Ahmad Jamal is closing in on 87, and he hasn’t lost the spring in his step. You hear that bounding cadence — a cousin to the immortal groove on his calling card, “Poinciana” — in this track, featuring a coltish working band with James Cammack on bass, Manolo Badrena on percussion and Herlin Riley on drums.

“Autumn Leaves” is of course a songbook standard; you may know a previous version recorded by Jamal in the 1950s. This one comes from Marseille, which will be available in digital form on Friday. (Jazz Village will release the album on CD and vinyl in North America on July 7.) Jamal is in bright, sparkling form throughout Marseille, which includes three versions of the title track, featuring the band alone and with two French vocalists, singer Mina Agossi and rapper Abd Al Malik. On this track, Jamal strikes a wistful tone in light-handed terms. (Hear his passing nod to “Stolen Moments,” just after the five-minute mark.)

Fabian Almazan & Rhizome

Fabian Almazan, “Tribu T9”

Alcanza, which is Spanish for “reach,” is the latest bolt of horizon-scanning ambition from Fabian Almazan, a pianist originally from Cuba. The album takes the shape of a nine-movement suite with the occasional interlude, and in both design and execution, it’s a powerfully impressive statement. Almazan composed this music for what amounts to a double quartet, though he probably wouldn’t describe it that way; in any case, an accomplished string quartet works alongside his piano, Camila Meza’s guitar and vocals, Linda Oh’s bass and Henry Cole’s drums.

“Tribu T9,” the suite’s fifth movement, gives a good indication of the push-pull dynamics in the ensemble — all the ways in which chamberlike texture meets a strong undercurrent of groove. If this piques your interest in any way, take note: Almazan performs the full suite at National Sawdust in Brooklyn on Wednesday night.

Bobby Carcassés, “La Noche De Ayer”

The trumpeter, singer and all-around entertainer Bobby Carcassés has been a vital force on the Cuban scene since the Tropicana era — but he apparently had never made a music video until this one, for “La Noche de Ayer.” Directed by Mildrey Ruiz, it’s a charming document, landing somewhere on the spectrum between rough and polished, which is to say it captures Carcassés well. You see him dancing, smooth and spry. You hear him scatting with boppish élan, backed by members of Interactivo, his son Roberto’s band. You see him playing a flugelhorn on the backseat of a vintage convertible, cruising down the streets of Havana. What more could you want?

Binker and Moses, “Valley of the Ultra Blacks”

Binker Golding, a tenor saxophonist, and Moses Boyd, a drummer, both hail from London, where they have become leading figures in a new bloom of youthful jazz cosmopolitanism. As Binker and Moses, they have released one previous album, Dem Ones, in 2015; it earned them a slew of British awards. Their new release, Journey To the Mountain of Forever, ups the ante with a fantastical premise that sprawls across two discs, the first of which is a pure duo performance. This Afrobeat-inflected track, “Valley of the Ultra Blacks,” leads off the second disc, with additional playing by Sarathy Korwar on tabla, Yussef Dayes on drums and the free-improv lodestar Evan Parker on soprano saxophone. If it sounds more like a preamble than a fully articulated piece, that’s probably for the best; this is an album you should really experience as a whole, in all of its unruly splendor.

New Orleans Swamp Donkeys, “Hello Dolly”

The New Orleans Swamp Donkeys Traditional Jass Band
Credit Elise Bennett

The current hot jazz revival has coughed up its share of charismatic antiquarians, and James Williams — a trumpeter, tubaist and singer who resides in the Treme neighborhood of New Orleans — handily fits the bill. Though he’s a member of the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, and plays around town, Williams has a primary outlet in the New Orleans Swamp Donkeys Traditional Jass Band. 

Slightly Concussed is the group’s new double album, recorded live in the Netherlands. (That title might be an allusion to a horrific car accident that sidelined Williams last year.) Here is the opening track, a version of “Hello Dolly” that gleefully acknowledges any and all comparisons you might want to make with Louis Armstrong. (Williams and the Swamp Donkeys will perform at the Louis Armstrong House Museum, in Corona, Queens, on the afternoon of July 4. That evening the band appears at the Blue Note Jazz Club.)