Take Five: Fresh Sounds From Roy Ayers, Brian Landrus, Kurt Rosenwinkel and Matthew Shipp

May 18, 2020

Plus a taste of Michael Olatuja’s new album, featuring Regina Carter.

Roy Ayers, “Gravity”

Pardon the pun, but right about now it would make perfect sense for a groove-minded jazz fan to start putting on Ayers. I’m referring of course to vibraphonist Roy Ayers, a jazz-funk veteran affectionately known as the Godfather of Neo-Soul.

Last Friday BBE Music released an unearthed gem from his back pages: “Reaching the Highest Pleasure,” a radiant, sinuous track recorded for Polydor in June 1977, and discovered during the research that went into Virgin Ubiquity: Unreleased Recordings 1976–1981.

As it happens, another Ayers track dropped on Friday: “Gravity,” from his new album with Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Roy Ayers JID 002.

Younge, a multi-instrumentalist and producer, and Shaheed Muhammad, a DJ best known for his role in A Tribe Called Quest, recently started a run of releases under the banner Jazz Is Dead; this is the second album in the series, following a compilation that featured Ayers along with saxophonist Gary Bartz and others.

The new album was recorded at Younge’s Linear Labs in Los Angeles, with the intention of evoking the feeling of Ayers’ 1970s vibe. Along with Younge and Shaheed Muhammad, the session featured Tribe Records heroes Phil Ranelin and Wendell Harrison, drummer Greg Paul, and a number of vocalists.

Roy Ayers JID 002 will be released on June 19; preorder here.

Kurt Rosenwinkel Trio, “Ugly Beauty”

Just over a decade ago, guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel earned extensive accolades for the first album by his Standards Trio. That album, Reflections, opened with its namesake Thelonious Monk tune. Rosenwinkel now has a new trio release, Angels Around, and once again he opens with Monk — in this case, “Ugly Beauty.”

Rosenwinkel, who is based in Berlin, has been working steadily in recent years with this trio, which has Dario Deidda on bass and Gregory Hutchinson on drums. Their rapport as a band would be hard to surpass, as they demonstrate throughout the album — and it’s more than apparent here.  

Angels Around is available now through Heartcore Records.

 

Brian Landrus, “J.J.”

The low reeds specialist Brian Landrus — a commanding voice on both baritone saxophone and bass clarinet — made a notable impression with his 2017 album Generations, which featured his orchestrations for a big band. On his new album, For Now, Landrus pulls back slightly, but only in terms of scale: he’s still pushing himself, as a bandleader and a player. Look no further than the heavyweight caliber of his rhythm section: pianist Fred Hersch, bassist Drew Gress, drummer Billy Hart.

On some tracks — like “J.J.,” an engaging highlight — he also welcomes trumpeter Mike Rodriguez, and an intuitive string quartet with violinists Sara Caswell and Joyce Hamman, violist Lois Martin and cellist Jody Redhage-Ferber.

For Now is available now from BlueLand Records; order here.

Matthew Shipp, “Vortex Factor”

For Matthew Shipp, a piano is a mystery box, not for what it contains but for what it can manifest in his hands. This is one reason his solo performances are every bit as dynamic, and often as involving, as his ensemble output. On his handful of solo piano albums — including Zero (2018), Piano Sutras (2013) and One (2005) — he has tended to combine roving formal abstraction with deep, grounded melody, calling on a tradition that stretches at least as far back as Duke Ellington.

Shipp’s new album, The Piano Equation, releases this Friday, and represents another milestone in his solo discography. “Vortex Factor,” which premieres here, offers a view onto the rumbly, rambunctious side of his playing, the part of him that will always evoke precursors like Cecil Taylor and Dave Burrell.

The song’s title, meanwhile, invites comparison with a 2007 album, Piano Vortex, made with Joe Morris on bass and Whit Dickey on drums. As it happens, The Piano Equation is the first release on Dickey’s new label, Tao Forms. It’s also the first of two albums that Shipp has in store this year, as a commemoration of his 60th birthday in December; his next release, The Unidentifiable, will feature his working trio with bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Newman Taylor Baker.

The Piano Equation will be released on Friday; preorder here.

Michael Olatuja, “The Hero’s Journey (feat. Regina Carter)”

Bassist Michael Olatuja is an adopted New Yorker who was born in London, but his heart — certainly the heart of his musical project — resides in Lagos, Nigeria, where he grew up. That sense of place is vital to his third album, Lagos Pepper Soup. It features an impressive roster of guest artists, like vocalists Dianne Reeves, Angelique Kidjo and Laura Mvula; saxophonist Joe Lovano; harpist Brandee Younger; and guitarist Lionel Loueke.

“The Hero’s Journey” is an anthemic piece that features violinist Regina Carter, against a full string orchestration by Dave Metzger. The video above captures footage from the studio session, with a catch: it cuts off just after Carter begins her solo, which is certainly worth hearing in full. Consider it an appetizer, until Lagos Pepper Soup is served (by Whirlwind Recordings) on June 12; preorder here.