Chris Potter, “Circuits”
He has plugged in before, to excellent effect. But Chris Potter is chasing after a different goal with Circuits, his invigorating new album on Edition Records.
Potter’s previous effort in this mode was Underground, which extended the legacy of gnarly, guitar-heavy jazz-rock, on several albums and hundreds of gigs. Circuits features Potter on saxophones, flutes, clarinets, guitars, sampler and percussion; James Francies on keyboards; and Eric Harland on drums.
As before, there’s a strong emphasis on groove. But the synth-forward dimensions of this band suggest an upgrade to the operating system. For a perfect illustration, look to the title track, which has its premiere here.
On “Circuits” and a few other tracks, the trio is smartly augmented by electric bassist Linley Marthe, an alumnus of Joe Zawinul’s bands. Listen for the corkscrew syncopation in the melody, and the muscularity of Potter’s tenor saxophone solo, which fleetingly evokes the late Michael Brecker. But above all, pay attention to what Francies does — both in his chiming accompaniment and in a solo (on Minimoog?) that hurtles into the exosphere.
Miho Hazama and m_unit, “Il Paradiso del Blues”
Miho Hazama last caught our ear with The Monk: Live at Bimhuis, an album of Thelonious Monk compositions she had arranged for the Metropole Orkest Big Band. Her new release, Dancer in Nowhere, ups the ante considerably. Featuring her precision-honed large ensemble m_unit, it’s a vibrant showcase for Hazama’s imagination as a composer and orchestrator — and confirmation of her stature as one of the important newer arrivals in the field.
“Il Paradiso del Blues” opens with a breathless prelude, as alto saxophonist Steve Wilson sprints through a solo backed only by briskly swinging drums. The band enters like a machine rolling into gear, with canny shifts in tempo and time feel. Hazama knows how to create a sensation of inexorable forward pull through layering and counterpoint; when Wilson returns for another solo interlude, this time backed by the band, it feels like a joyous release. Hazama has two fine previous albums with m_unit, but this should be her breakthrough.
Dancer in Nowhere is available now on Sunnyside Records.
Larry Grenadier, “Pettiford”
Because bassist Larry Grenadier has been such a graceful complement and anchor — in two editions of the Brad Mehldau Trio, in the collective trio Fly, and with many others — it might seem at first that his unaccompanied solo album, The Gleaners, is a study in subtraction. That misperception is quickly dispelled by the music, which feels complete in itself, and aglow with an integrity of purpose.
Grenadier has obviously been thinking about this gesture for quite some time, and he brings a thoughtful range of approaches to the solo-bass format — a subspecialty of ECM Records, going back to albums by Barre Phillips and Dave Holland. The Gleaners relies on chamber-esque arco arrangements as well as sculptured pizzicato statements, always with a smart and self-contained air. “Pettiford,” featured above, is Grenadier’s tribute to Oscar Pettiford, who helped define the role of the bass in the early bebop era; it’s a piece full of locomotive energy despite a rubato cadence.
Matthew Shipp Trio, “Flying Saucer”
Pianist and composer Matthew Shipp has always kept a diverse portfolio as a recording artist: last year alone, he released albums in solo, duo and quartet configurations. But there’s a special brand of intensity that Shipp achieves with his working trio, which has Michael Bisio on bass and Newman Taylor Baker on drums. This group last released a studio album, Piano Song, on Thirsty Ear in 2017. It now has a worthy follow-up in Signature, on ESP-Disk.
The interaction among these three improvisers is alert and unflagging, the precise embodiment of active listening. On “Flying Saucer,” it begins as a low rumble and gradually moves into a prickly midrange, with tempo and tonality both subject to endless debate. Shipp’s exploration at the piano is abstract but grounded, always, in the moment at hand.
Nubiyan Twist Featuring Mulatu Astatke, “Addis to London”
The 12-piece collective Nubiyan Twist formed several years ago at the Leeds College of Music, and has since taken its place among a groove-minded cohort on the current UK scene. On a stylish new album, Jungle Run, the band sharpens its proprietary blend of Afrobeat, dub, acid jazz and R&B — with a couple of very special guests, including the African jazz luminary Mulatu Astatke.
Astatke — the vibraphonist, keyboardist and percussionist widely credited as the father of Ethio-jazz — is now 75, an elder statesman by any measure. In the context of Nubiyan Twist, which looks to the hybrid sound of the 1970s as a beacon, his presence is nothing less than a talisman. His vibraphone resonates throughout the track, behind a crisp Afrobeat groove and an annunciatory melody for horns.
Jungle Run is available now on streaming services, and via Strut Records.