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Recent jazz releases stun and thrill, from Ches Smith to Pepper Adams

Jazzology column highlights how drummer Ches Smith leads an all-star band with brilliant guitarist Bill Frisell, viola master Mat Maneri and thrilling pianist Craig Taborn. Drummer Keith Hall stuns with trio, duo and solo tracks. The legendary baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams comes alive on recently discovered tapes from 1972.
Ches Smith

Drummer/Vibraphonist/Composer Ches Smith makes sure to Intepret It Well on his new Pyroclastic Records release with guitarist Bill Frisell, viola master Mat Maneri and pianist Craig Taborn. His haunting originals fill this disc with drama, mystery and complexity. His stunning World-Class cast makes it a possible entry for this year’s Top 10. The New York City-based bandleader chose a work-of-art by Raymond Pettibone as the cover. It’s a landscape drawing that can be interpreted many ways. Is that a tornado off in the distance? The music herein can also be digested in many ways. Smith wrote it with a skeletal framework so his esteemed mates can add layers of their own souls to the mix. Starting with “Trapped” and ending with “Deppart” (“Trapped” spelled and played backwards), Smith has all sorts of peekaboo moments, especially on the 13:39 title track and the epic 16:26 of “Mixed Metaphor” wherein bassist Maneri’s bowing matches the forlorn guitar intro before an amazing drums/viola duet brings it home. There’s all sorts of magical moments here, especially on the 15:29 “Clear Major” suite in three distinct parts that gets rather forceful. Smith has studied Haitian Vodou drums and has performed in religious and folkloric contexts in New York and Haiti. 

Keith Hall

Drummer/Composer Keith Hall spent nine years in New York City providing the beat for a glittering array of artists before returning to his beloved Midwest to create his Made in Kalamazoo (Trios and Duos) debut as leader (Zoom Out Records). About a hundred miles east of Lake Michigan, his hometown of Kalamazoo has provided enough inspiration to garner his fellow Western Michigan University Jazz Studies Professor Andrew Rathbun to add oh-so-delectable wisps of tenor sax, soprano sax, bass clarinet and efx. Now add University of Michigan Professor Robert Hurst III on bass and the stew starts boiling. Hall calls Hurst “one of the most significant bass players of the last 30 years," having provided the bottom for Wynton Marsalis, Branford Marsalis, Paul McCartney and Willie Nelson. Here, he's positively elastic, moving and grooving with a pop not heard since who knows when. The tracks are sublime: three solo drum pieces, seven trio gems and 10 duets of spontaneous composition. There’s funk, jamband synth, swing, post-bop, avant-garde and even what sounds like soundtrack music for a movie that doesn’t exist.

Keith Hall courtesy Matt Merewitz

Keith Hall courtesy Matt Merewitz

Pepper Adams - Cover

Why isn’t Pepper Adams hailed as one of the true pioneering innovators of the baritone sax? This recently excavated treasure might go a long way in preserving his legacy and correcting that. Pepper Adams with The Tommy Banks Trio: Live at the Top (Cellar Music Group/Reel to Real) is an archival masterpiece from 9/25/72 at the University of Alberta. The two-disc set is overflowing with riffs galore in a jam-band environment. Opener “Three and One” clocks in at a hefty 17:54. “Civilization and Its Discontents” meanders meaningfully for 17:41. The first disc ends with the 19:11 “Patrice.” Pianist Tommy Banks, electric bassist Bobby Cairns and drummer Tom Doran provide able accompaniment and add their own heft and creativity to the mix. Adams [1930-1986], mostly known for his work with Coltrane, Mingus, Donald Byrd and the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra, recorded 18 albums in 28 years as a leader, wrote 42 compositions and played on over 600 sessions. A lifelong heavy smoker, he died of lung cancer in Brooklyn at 55. The set ends with the 1944 “Stella By Starlight.” Originally a movie song from The Uninvited, it has since become a jazz standard due to versions by Harry James, Sinatra, Charlie Parker, Stan Getz, Chet Baker, Bud Powell and Miles Davis. 


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