Who remembers Snagglepuss? This pink cougar debuted in 1959 and by 1962 had his own cartoon show. He used to say, “Heavens To Murgatroyd!” all the time. That quote is also the name of the 13:43 closer off the stunning Still I Rise by Derrick Gardner & The Big Dig Band. So while the band pumps out the muscle, cartoon sounds fill in the cracks. The whole album is an action-packed big-band soiree of pulsating proportions. Gardner, 55, the Chicago trumpeter/composer/arranger, a veteran from the bands of Harry Connick, Jr., Count Basie and the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, spectacularly conducts a fusillade of alto sax (2), soprano sax, tenor sax (2), baritone sax, trumpet (5), trombone (3), bass trombone, piano, bass, guitar and drums into a kaleidoscopic assemblage of constant dizzying charts. The blues, post-bop and swing will blow your mind. Period. It doesn’t let up. And to end it with the sounds of whiz-bang special effects that pop, crackle, snap, slide, pulse and shriek is added incentive to be the first on your block to crank this sucker up because you just know your neighbors will want to hear it.
Following up The Satie Project, wherein Dan Willis and Velvet Gentlemen jazz up the French classical composer Erik Satie [1866-1925], comes The Monk Project (Belle Avenue Records), wherein these Gentlemen spruce up Thelonious Sphere Monk [1917-1982] on eight iconoclastic tracks of pure adrenaline, sweat, creativity, blood, adventurism, tears and goosebump-inducing flights of daring. Dan Willis, 52, is the man! Dude plays tenor sax, soprano sax, bari sax, EWI (electronic wind instrument), duduk (an ancient Asian double-reed woodwind) and zurna (a folkloric North African woodwind). With guitarist Pete McCann, keyboardist Ron Oswanski, two drummers and two bassists, Willis weaves a web of wild intrigue, ferreting out the inherent funk that maybe even Monk himself didn’t know existed in his “Eronel” and “Criss Cross.” Other tracks get earthy and organic, New Orleans- and Mississippi Delta-style. As Willis says, “our aim became to get a lot more lowdown and dirty to fully capture the blues aspect of this music.”
The Hard Bop (Ropeadope) of the Eric Binder Trio—despite no chords—goes down smooth like a fine bourbon. Dr. Binder, out of Chicago, is a college professor, musicologist, drummer, author and composer. Yet this ain't that awful "smooth jazz." This is adventurous bop, sticking to the playbook of Diz and Bird. His trio, with tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III and bass ace Petro Klampanis, is a delight. Not one note is wasted on this six-track beauty. Sax man Smith takes his cue from John Coltrane (the festivities even open with “Trane Ride”). Throughout, their chemistry has them taking deliciously circuitous routes within succinct statements. Don’t blink or you might miss something. The notes fly by in a cascade of tumultuous anxiety.
The John Fedchock NY Sextet is Into The Shadows on its new Summit Records release. It’s the trombonist’s tenth album as a leader, chockful of five originals juxtaposed with fascinating reworkings of three chestnuts roasted to perfection. Ballad “I Should Care,” originally from the 1944 film Thrill Of A Romance (recorded by Sinatra, Dizzy and Monk, among many others), is now an uptempo doozy. “Nature Boy,” the 1948 Nat King Cole hit, rambles on for over eight Afro-Latin minutes. “Star Eyes,” from the 1943 film I Dood It, was made into a jazz standard by Bird in 1951.
But it’s his originals that spark this project where the exciting front-line of trombone/tenor sax/trumpet really goes to town in a free-for-all post-bop experimental wildness that goes out on a limb as these six consistently, unerringly, stay within orbit of each other to plummet back down to Earth in perfect synchronicity, stopping on a dime before running amok again in an entertaining, provocative display of soloing and ensemble mastery.
Dave Glasser positively nails the plight of us Americans living in what he calls a Hypocrisy Democracy (Here Tiz Music) as he blows loud and strong on alto sax, soprano sax and flute while writing angry odes of rebellion. From “Freedom” to “Justice,” it’s what one would expect from the son of the Executive Director of the ACLU for 20 years. Glasser has a long history playing in the bands of Count Basie, Clark Terry, Illinois Jacquet, Barry Harris and Dizzy Gillespie. His brand of post-bop and major league swing has this native New Yorker touching all the bases and utilizing his piano/bass/drums side men to create a Monk-influenced alternative reality where we’re all free and healthy. He wrote 10 of 11. The sole cover (“It’s A Small World”) comes from Disney. “Despite window-dressed words of inspiration and hope, the struggle between anarchy and hierarchy seems never ending,” says Glasser. Right on, brother. Power to the people!
Sukyung Kim. Remember that name. She’s a pianist/composer/producer from South Korea based in Brooklyn who has self-released her absolutely gorgeous Lilac Hill debut with alto saxophonist Ethan Helm, guitarist Paul JuBong Lee, bassist Luca Alemanno and drummer Jongkuk Kim. Her fingers flow effortlessly, her touch is light and meandering like a bumblebee circling a nectar-filled flower. Her compositions tend to take delightfully meandering routes to get to the point but getting there is all the fun. She uses complex time signatures like 5/8 for the fast title tune. She swings yet she comfortably fits into post-bop mode. Influenced mostly by Keith Jarrett, she switches to Rhodes electric for the 5/4 “Summer Days.” Her creativity knows no boundaries. This short succinct statement leaves the listener panting for a follow-up.
Jesse Fischer knows it takes Resilience to live in a broken America. His new album has the pianist/producer/composer/arranger stretching out gorgeously with trumpet, soprano sax, alto sax, tenor sax, EWI (electronic wind instrument), drums/percussion, guitar and bass in an octet of pandemic proportions. It’s a post-bop amalgam with African and Middle Eastern roots that swings (and sings on two of nine). Call it music to heal by. There’s enough action to keep even the most ADD-afflicted listener totally enraptured, reeling with the feeling, and satiated when silence ultimately ensues. Easy cure for the silence, though, is to play it again. And again. It gets better—and there are great moments that make themselves more evident—only after repeated listening.
Freedom may be an abstract ideal these days but it’s also the name of Javier Nero’s terrific new CD on Outside In Music. It’s his first and, from the almighty grooves within, there should be much more to come from this trombonist/composer/arranger/educator. Only 21, he’s emerged from the Pacific Northwest to be one of the new shining lights of jazz, putting other genres into the mix seamlessly and thrillingly, be it R’n’B, Fusion or Pop (the kind that’s like irresistible ear candy). His sterling cast includes drums/percussion, acoustic/electric bass, two pianos, four saxophones, flute, two trumpets, two flugelhorns, electric/acoustic guitar, vibes and vocals. It’s a post-bop fest that swings and zings the ear with contrapuntal surprises and a fervent ardor for all things positive. We need this guy!