Take Five: Hear From an Array of Artists Setting the Global Stage For International Jazz Day

Apr 27, 2019

International Jazz Day celebrates the idea of music as a universal language.

The center of activity this year is Melbourne, Australia, where an All-Star Global Concert will be held on Tuesday, April 30.

The concert, which will be webcast starting at 11 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, has two artistic co-directors: Herbie Hancock, who surely needs no introduction, and renowed Australian trumpeter James Morrison.

As in past years, the musical director is pianist John Beasley, who made sure to enlist a truly cosmopolitan lineup — not just notable American artists like Jane Monheit and Brian Blade, but also musicians from a range of cultural locales. Here are five that you may not know, but should.

Mat Jodrell, “Insurgent”

James Morrison plays a central role in this International Jazz Day, but he isn’t the only trumpeter from Australia making an impact today. Mat Jodrell has logged substantial time in New York City, working with some prominent jazz artists and teaching at the Juilliard School.

For his keenly contemporary new album, Insurgent, he made a concerted effort to showcase the talent of his home country. That means guitarist James Muller, based in Adelaide; drummer Ben Vanderwal, who lives in Perth; and bassist Sam Anning, who like Jodrell is a resident of Melbourne. Only saxophonist Will Vinson, an Englishman in New York, hails from beyond Australian shores.

Jodrell composed all of the music for this ensemble, keeping a streamlined shape in mind. The title track, which has its premiere here, sets the tone: after a swirling prelude, Jodrell and Vinson enter with a gestural melody that seems to float on its own pulse. The rhythm locks into place about two minutes in, before a trumpet solo that’s informed by the bebop lexicon but reaching toward a freer ideal. Vinson picks up on Jodrell’s last phrase and plunges into his own solo, setting up a series of back-and-forth exchanges between the horns.

Insurgent will be released on Tuesday on Nicholas Records. Preorder here.

Somi, “Black Enough”

The singer-songwriter Somi is African-American in the most literal sense of the term, as a daughter of immigrants from Uganda and Rwanda. She has long been a fixture in New York, where her melding of soul, jazz, and African folk and pop meets with a vibrant constituency. And she often works with top-shelf jazz musicians — as on her most recent album, Petite Afrique, released on OKeh Records in 2017. 

Among others, the album features guitarist Liberty Ellman, pianist Toru Dodo, bassist Michael Olatuja and drummer Nate Smith. An elite horn section — trumpeter Etienne Charles, alto saxophonist Jaleel Shaw and tenor saxophonist Marcus Strickland — turns up on a few tracks, including this one, “Black Enough.” The lyrics probe the idea of blackness as identity, and occasionally as a standard of judgment. It’s a tension that Somi can speak to firsthand; “It don’t matter how you see me,” she sings at one point, as if to suggest that an uneasy communion is a communion nonetheless.

Tarek Yamani, “Indisar”

Pianist and composer Tarek Yamani is another adopted New Yorker, though in his case, born and raised in Beirut. Since releasing his first album seven years ago, he has been an articulate advocate for a Lebanese jazz hybrid, and for the broader cause of Arabic inflections in improvised music. Yamani is a scholar of global polyrhythm — one of his books bears the unwieldy yet helpful title Duple vs Triple: A Melodic Approach to Mastering Polyrhythms in Jazz and other Groove-Based Music in 56 Steps — and some of his recent compositions have reflected that focus.

Peninsular was created on a commission from the Abu Dhabi Jazz Festival, as a jazz exploration of rhythms from the Arabic peninsula. The album’s invocation is a piece called “Indisar,” which puts Yamani’s instruction about two-against-three polyrhythms into vivid relief. The bassist is Elie Afif, and the drummer is Khaled Yassine; they’re working with two percussionists, Wahid Mubarak and Ahmad Abdel Rahim. As for the pianism, Yamani favors a crisply percussive attack that equally calls to mind Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock and Horace Silver.

Peninsular is available now.

Tineke Postma, “Canção de Amor (Suite I Na Floresta do Amazonas)”

A Dutch saxophonist with more than a casual foothold in the United States, Tineke Postma has a sweet, fluttery sound that she anchors with smart design. Her writing and bandleading have become first-rate, as she showed on her most recent album, a joint effort with the American alto heavyweight Greg Osby. Here is a track from the album prior, a 2011 Challenge Records release titled The Dawn of Light.

“Canção de Amor” is a love song by Heitor Villa-Lobos, composed in the Brazilian seresta tradition for a Hollywood production. (The film was Green Mansions, an Audrey Hepburn/Anthony Perkins vehicle released 60 years ago.) It’s an inspired choice for Postma, who gives the song both a ballad treatment and a more fast-flowing interpretation, with Hancock-ian flourishes by pianist Marc van Roon.

Postma’s next album, due out this fall, will feature Americans like trumpeter Ralph Alessi and piansit Kris Davis. The Dawn of Light can be purchased here.

Eljiro Nakagawa, “Moment’s Notice”

Finally, a familiar sound from a potentially unfamiliar source. Eljiro Nakagawa is a leading jazz and classical trombonist in Tokyo, where he was born and raised. He’s partial to the swinging mainstream, expressing the influence of American precursors like J.J. Johnson, Carl Fontana — and Curtis Fuller, who played on the original version of “Moment’s Notice,” from John Coltrane’s Blue Train.

For this revisitation of the tune, from Nakagawa’s 1994 album Babe, the band features Abraham Burton on alto saxophone, Anthony Wonsey on piano, Reuben Rogers on bass and Carl Allen on drums — a strong American contingent, much like the one that has converged in Melbourne this week. But it’s the seamless interplay with artists like Nakagawa, and everyone listed above, that makes International Jazz Day worthy of the name.

Watch the All-Star Global Concert webcast, beginning on Tuesday at 11 a.m. Eastern Standard Time — and stay tuned for my recap of the event, from on the ground in Melbourne.