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By Mike Greenblatt
Epistle (Three Pines Records), by Jacob Chung, has the Toronto tenor sax man leading a skin-tight quintet. With a tenor/trumpet front-line and a piano/bass/drum rhythm section, the 22-year old leader swings ferociously for six tracks in 45 minutes, making sure to hit all the post-bop stops along the way. It’s a thrill ride. Original, complex, entertaining. The old man of the band, bassist Thomas Hainbuch, is all of 24. These boys have learned their lessons well and you can almost pick out what’s in their personal record collections. Highly recommended.
The self-released high-wire act of trombonist/composer/bandleader/producer John Yao’s Triceratops has no net because this quintet has no chords. If it seems a little Off-Kilter, it is, thus the name. For the follow-up to his promising 2019 How We Do debut, Yao has sax men Billy Drewes and Jon Irabagon play hard with bassist Robert Sabin and drummer Mark Ferber. Take that classic Blue Note bebop wherein the cats in question challenge each other on to great heights of individual brilliance yet coalesce in a spiraling symmetry. Now add the modern sheen of an anything-goes mentality. This algorithm will give you gems like “Labyrinth” which sounds like its title, complete with abrupt shape-shifting. Even on ballad “Quietly,” nothing is as it seems. Highlight? “Crosstalk,” another title that actually describes the funky action. Wild stuff!
Just when I was in the process of almost giving up on piano-bass-drums trios due to its singular aesthetic, along comes an album like Mesmerism (Yeros7 Music) by the Tyshawn Sorey Trio. Drummer/Composer Sorey—with pianist Aaron Diehl and bassist Matt Brewer—has crafted a mesmerizing program that accentuates improvisation yet unerringly has all three master musicians maintaining a unity despite having never performed onstage together and with a minimum of rehearsal. That was Sorey’s plan. He wanted a departure from his meticulously produced projects of complex charts and rigorous adherence to notation. It works. Horace Silver’s 1959 “Enchantment” is, indeed, enchanting. “Two Over One,” the 1976 Muhal Richard Abrams stunner, gets worked over but good. Pianist Diehl is a monster. Duke Ellington’s 1962 “REM Blues” has a reverent feel, almost classical, beautiful, melodic, adhering to the storied Ellingtonia tradition, a track to swoon over. They’re less inclined to evoke the past on Paul Motian’s “From Time To Time,” which they turn inside-out and upside-down. And their arrangement of Bill Evans’ 1965 “Detour Ahead” seems to constantly change keys.
There’s plenty of varied sound on Tiger Tail, the self-released gem by sax man Evan Drybread. His quintet consistently and constantly comes up with left-turns and genre permutations. Leading off with the hard-bop of “Blackball,” it morphs into “High Priestess” (based on Sam Rivers’ 1964 “Beatrice”) wherein pianist Christopher Pitts switches to Fender Rhodes (giving it a jazz-rock fusion feel). “The Queen Of Cups” is a mystery wrapped in an enigma. I’ve listened to it a number of times and it never fails to surprise and delight. Drybread’s Coltrane fascination comes through on the title track and his New Orleans fixation shines bright on “Woodruff Place Town Hall.” It all ends with a nod to Chick Corea on “Waltse.” Mark Buselli’s trumpet and flugelhorn is an integral part of four tracks. Kenny Phelps switches between his drum set and assorted percussion and bassist Scott Pazera goes both electric and acoustic. Bravo!