The lovely Louise (Munich-based ACT Music & Vision) contains nine tracks (three being the epic “Memento” suite) by France’s greatest living soprano saxophonist Emile Parisien. His sextet is an all-star aggregation of the highest order as it features hotshot American trumpeter—and a leader in his own right—Theo Croker (grandson of legendary trumpet man Doc Cheatham [1905-1997]), as well as New York City in-demand drummer Nasheet Waits. Now add Paris-based keyboardist Roberto Negro, French guitarist Manu Codjia and American bassist Joe Martin. The result is a totally swinging statement of international proportions, a complex-yet accessible post-bop adventure with so many enticing nooks and crannies that it would take dozens of listens to actually hear everything they’re laying down.
When you talk hard bop, you’ve got to mention Canada’s Bernie Senensky, 78, a piano-pounding monster who has tickled the ivories for Chet Baker, Elvin Jones and Pharoah Sanders. Active for over half a century, this guy can play! Really play. You’d think he has 13 fingers. On Don’t Look Back (Cellar 20 Music Group), he splits his time between a quartet and a quintet with a front-line of alto sax and trumpet. His originals move: alternately skittish, disarming, syncopated and surprising. His covers of Gershwin’s 1940 “Who Cares” and Hank Mobley’s 1976 “The Latest” are disarmingly coquettish.
From The Astral (Multiple Chord Music), the debut of Canadian trio Oli Astral, is a meeting of the minds between modern jazz guitar and digital music technology. This trio simultaneously looks back and looks forward. The leader of the band is guitarist Olivier Grenier Bedard, 32, whose touch is fleeting. By the time you hear the note, he’s already played three more. (He’s also in the similarly adventurous band Leaf whose self-titled debut is worth checking out.) Sticking to him like a second skin is double-bassist Frederic Alarie and drummer William Regnier. They take risks but always meet back up right on time. One can go into the mystic here by using this as a companion volume to Van Morrison’s 1968 Astral Weeks! It almost has the same vibe.
When pianist/composer/educator Pete Malinverni met the legendary composer-conductor-arranger Leonard Bernstein [1918-1990], he was playing piano at a swanky uptown nightspot when the maestro walked in. He knew it too. So he began playing Bernstein’s “Lucky To Be Me.” The two wound up hanging around the piano most of the night. On The Town: Pete Malinverni Plays Leonard Bernstein (Planet Arts Recordings) is Malinverni’s tribute, nine Bernstein compositions, ending with an original. Bassist Ugonna Okegwo and drummer Jeff Hamilton add their own spins on songs that all share a love of New York City.
St. Louis guitarist/composer/educator Scott T. Jones, despite struggling with nerve issues in his hands, has realized his life-goal: Fictional Characters (Autumn Hill Records) is a dizzying kind of jazz-rock fusion that reaches “a level of complexity unplayable by all but the most virtuoso of players.” So he rounded up the best of the best for this progressive masterpiece. Keyboardist Steve Hunt played with Stanley Clarke. Bassist Romain Labaye and drummer Archibald Ligonniere are one big-time major-league rhythm section. Jones, for his part, is heavily influenced by Allan Holdsworth [1946-2017], the British six-string genius. What else is there to know? This is state-of-the-art jazz-rock fusion.