There is always an overwhelming amount of new jazz released each year and while I don’t get to hear even a quarter of everything, it’s nice when one comes through. Saxophonist Jessika Smith has created an album with her big band ans released Tricks Of Light (PJCE), which sounds like the kind of huge production you’d expect to hear on albums from the 60’s or 70’s. What I hear is nice arrangements and musicianship from everyone involved, which reminds me of work by Duke Ellington, Sten Kenton, or Sonny Rollins. Most of the compositions were done by Smith herself and while she does a bit of saxophone work throughout, the band has a battalion of musicians that help tell the stories in their own way, to the point where you just want to sit back, relax and find out where they’ll take you. Smith co-produced this entire project with Lance Miller and it’s hard to spot any bad moments on this, as I don’t hear it, or at least I’m not specifically looking or listening for it. I allowed this to carry me to the end and Tricks Of Light could have easily been titled Tricks Of Sound but that light is very much a delight as well.
If you’ve read any of my album reviews, you’ll know that not only am I a fan of good jazz, but a sucker for big band jazz, despite me having had no previous experience in a big band myself. Call it horn section envy, I don’t know, but when I hear it, I like it, and I definitely like Introducing The Eyal Vilner Big Band (Gut String), as I hear a group of musicians who understand the power of presenting music as a performance, and knowing how to titillate stimulate, educate, and then make it all worth while in the end for a burst of energy that will make you want to look for a towel or two. It’s a soaker.
Vilner plays the alto sax and clarinet, and also composed four of the ten songs on this album, so what you’re hearing is someone who not only knows what and how to play, but understands what the listener likes to hear, be it from him or music in general. “Tonk” definitely has a bluesy honky tonk vibe, “Un Poco Loco” moves from Bud Powell‘s original recording in a trio setting into something that blares, biffs, and boof baf’s everywhere with a big band, and Powell fans will definitely eat this up. By the time the album ends with “Epilogue”, you feel it, you hang on to all of the good points in each of the ten songs, and know that in the future, you’ll want to revisit this many times over, as you should.
Jazz comes in all forms, and sometimes when I want to hear a bit of big band jazz, it’s hard to figure out who to listen to. If you want to hear a big band in the tradition of some of Duke Ellington‘s or Stan Kenton‘s best, pick up The Aggregation‘s Groove’s Mood (DBCD).
Under the drection of Eddie Allen, Groove’s Mood is simply the kind of music you’d like to hear in your last 90 minutes of life, but you know life is for the living and you want to hear this forever and ever. This is top-notch jazz without any regrets, whether it’s the bossa nova groove of “Brasilia” or the gospel touches of “Wade In The Water”. They all play like masters, and if you’re a musician you’ll want to play your instrument immediately, or stop what you’re doing and go on tour with them. If you’re not a musician, you’ll want to learn. One of my favorite songs on the album is the four-part suite “The Black Coming”, a concept piece that interprets the struggle of African-Americans from being “Kidnapped” from their homes to having to serve their masters (“Servitude”) to the joy that comes from freedom (“Jubiliation”) only to lead to living in lower-than-low social and economical conditions (“Enslaved”). The song begins almost in a tribal manner before it storms in with the sound of jazz circa 1930 or 1950 before going into various directions. You are hearing time and progress, or lack of it as the case may be, and Allen shows he is fully capable of putting together more weighty compositions with ease.
16 musicians, a guest singer (LaTonya Hall, who performs a cover of Stevie Wonder‘s “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life”), and a bandleader. It’s more a jazz army than anything, but these guys come equipped with ammunition, ready to strike when necessary.