Dr. Lonnie Smith Breathe (Blue Note)

The stylistic parameters of “organ jazz” are so cemented at this late date, it’s easy to believe that gritty grooves and churchy exclamations are the sole elements of a B-3 outfit’s presentation. The 78-year-old Hammond maestro’s esthetic includes those essentials of course, and has from the get-go: check the offhand fervor of his spin on Little Walter’s “My Babe” from his 1967 debut, ‘Finger Lickin’ Good Soul Organ.’ But Smith usually has something up his sleeve when it comes to enhancing the predictable approach of greasy vamps and swinging funk, and this live album has a handful of gambits to further the hopped-up soul strut we’ve come to expect from the form.

Recorded at New York’s Jazz Standard in 2017, a bandstand immediacy courses through the performance. The shows were part of a 75th birthday bash, and wisely the good doctor surrounded himself with a feisty horn section. The expanded palette widens the music’s scope. Frenetic blasts of punctuation, like those that adorn “Track 9,” are so fierce it’s easy to forget this is an organ record. John Ellis, one of our most expressive saxophonists, tears it up on tenor and then Sean Jones and Jason Marshall throw gasoline on his fire. For nine minutes it sounds like Tower of Power at the Plugged Nickel.  

The set’s ballad is “World Weeps.” While managing to wax both ominous and vulnerable, it delivers opportunities for guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg and the leader himself to develop valuable thoughts in a rather short time frame. The precision of the band’s interplay shines here, and both solos build incrementally, calibrating drama with an expert touch. The act of patiently unpacking an idea just might be Smith’s superpower. Dynamics rule, mere titillation is banished. 

That doesn’t mean the music isn’t fiery. “Bright Eyes” and “Too Damn Hot” can be both buoyant and boisterous  – refinement is central to the equation, especially when drummer Jonathan Blake nurtures a series of syncopation tacks on “Epistrophy”(he in fact burns throughout the program), and even the hymn by vocalist Alicia Olatuja is sparked by an enviable ardor. 

The true surprises are the disc’s bookends, two studio features by Iggy Pop that finds the rock icon trading his “TV Eye” yelp for a plush bari murmur. Timmy Thomas’ “Why Can’t We Live Together” is as slinky as you’d hope, and Donovan’s “Sunshine Superman,” in the organist’s book since a 1969 live album recorded in Atlantic City, delivers the shrugged-off savvy that’s long been key to Pop’s persona. Oddly, they integrate nicely with the live tracks. “Everybody’s hustlin’ just to have a little scene,” purrs Ig. Dr. Smith has definitely found his.  

DownBeat

Dr. Lonnie Smith

Blue Note Records

TURNPIKE DIARIES, Field Recordings From Jersey

Taking a shortcut home from a Manhattan gig proved to be a stroke of luck for Tony Malaby. A few years ago, returning to his Jersey City neighborhood, he and drummer Billy Mintz were scooting through a stretch of turnpike underpass that was reasonably private and oddly homey. Skaters were using it to practice board tricks; lovers were using it for making-out; cops were using it for donut breaks. A nice enclave for anyone on the hunt for a bit of privacy. Longtime buds Malaby and Mintz pulled over, set up their instruments, and got cracking. The vibe was right, pleasure ensued and they went along their way.

Cut to last year, and Covid’s blockade of indoor socializing. Brainstorming a safe place to play, Malaby recalled the graffiti-walled section of underpass and headed back with Mintz. It was a perfect haven, and ever since, he’s helmed a squad of improvisers joining ranks with the cops, kids and kissers. Weekly street and sidewalk sessions through the summer and fall established Malaby’s always-expanding cohort as part of the spot’s shareholders. Early on, bassist John Hébert joined his mates with regularity; united, they called themselves The Turnpike Trio, and began investigating just how pliable any given piece of music can be. As the months passed, more improvisers participated, the musicians began recording themselves, and photographer and videographer pals lent their skills to the cause. Malaby’s Facebook wall started filling up with some of the hippest sessions he’s ever done. And that’s saying a lot. 

For the last few weeks I’ve been repeatedly playing Turnpike Diaries, Volume 1 at a formidable volume. This first outing in a series of releases that Malaby plans on continuing was created by a quintet of drummer Ches Smith, bassists Mark Helias and Michael Formanek, and Tim Berne uniting his alto sax with Malaby’s tenor and soprano. I crank it because there are earthshaking elements of the music that erupt even more forcefully when enjoying a dominant space in the room. The fetching abstraction that’s the result of the band’s collective choices has plenty of architectural smarts. The aggressive horn exchanges gracefully bob ‘n’ weave. The double bump of oomph from the bassists arrives with a provocative lyricism. Smith provides just as much orchestral color as he does swing (watch out for those press rolls, though).

The 57-year-old Malaby is a lost-in-the-moment player whose eloquence often arrives when his expressionism begins. He’s searching for a head space where he can shut his eyes and let the music flow. And when the cast of characters surrounding him are on the same wavelength, he usually finds it. He’s said that the members of this line-up have all mentored him in various ways. Hence the title of one piece, “Los Jefes,” the bosses.

There’s a wise balance to their uproar. Everyone’s well heard, solo ruminations have their say, and the spirit of polyphony that began in New Orleans a century ago manages to once again reveal its power under the Jersey Turnpike. The tension of the squall, the ease of the muted passages, the camaraderie of the endeavor – they all add up to a moment being seized, a goal being fulfilled. Malaby has deemed these performances, “field recordings.” Can’t wait for the next edition.

Buy Turnpike Diaries, Volume 1 on BandCamp

Mark Helias

Tim Berne

Michael Formanek

Ches Smith

THE FUTURE: Don’t miss the upcoming release by the Monder/Malaby/Rainey trio. This ongoing ensemble with guitarist Ben Monder and drummer Tom Rainey have been refining their rapport for years, and on Live At The 55 Bar (Sunnyside), they stay on brand by delivering three suites of collective improv that moves from cloudy and chill to piercing and scorching. I was at the gig where it was recorded, and one thing’s certain: the trio captivated the room with every twist and turn. Release date is Feb 26.

21st Annual Country Music Critics’ Poll

The results of the 21st Country Music Critics Poll published in the Nashville Scene are in, and albums by Ashley McBryde, Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell, Brandy Clark, and Margo Price made the Top 5 in the ALBUMS category. Mickey Guyton, Stapleton, McBryde, The Chicks and John Prine were the Top 5 artists ranking in the SINGLES realm. Thanks as usual to Geoffrey Himes for organizing.

Here are the full results

Here’s Geoffrey Himes’ overview essay of the results

Here’s a variety of comments from the voters

Below is my ballot and some comments

ALBUMS


1.    Ashley McBride    Never Will

Dollars to donuts says ‘Never Will’ ain’t gonna grab that ‘Best Country Album’ Grammy it nominated for, so let’s sing its praises right here. The volition of Ashley McBryde’s voice is matched by the clever songwriting of “One Night Standards.” It found a spot in the top 5 of our SINGLES poll last year, but also made a sizable impact in 2020, and still gave me goosebumps as recently as last weekend. I would’ve loved to have been in the room when someone uttered the phrase “how it goes is/bar closes,” an aha moment that springboards the whole track into a blend of singer-songwriter poesy and hook-heavy power twang that, on a more level playing field, would tickle a mainstream audience and chart a bit stronger than its high of 21. A modern gem. In our house, the album unwrapped its storytelling gifts throughout the year. From throwing grandma’s ashes off the roof to responding to treachery with a murderous glee, McBryde has upped her artistic confidence, and the music soars in kind.

2.    Charley Crockett  Welcome To The Hard Times

3.    Mike & the Moonpies  The Lost Songs of Gary Stewart  

You don’t have to follow wehatepopcountry to know honky-tonk will forever be working its magic in the shadows of the mainstream, but in 2020 the proof of gin-mill twang’s value came via Mike and the Moonpies’ romp through Gary Stewart’s leftover songs. ‘Touch of You’ is a big-hearted reclamation initiative by a bar band with so-so songwriting skills – a cagey move from an outfit that could always use a few diamonds to polish. But it’s also an entertainment excursion for old-school country fiends who dig watching the bubbles in their beer while clacking boots on a hardwood floor. And even if their hearts tell ‘em successful country modernists are selling four chords and a fib, these updates by the Moonpies don’t come off as indictment against contempo chart action, just an escape route to a place where history lessons can deliver as much pleasure as Grammy nods.

4.    Sturgill Simpson   Cuttin Grass Vol 2 (Cowboy Arms Sessions)

5.    Waxahatchee  Saint Cloud   

6.    Bob Dylan  Rough and Rowdy Ways

7.    Ruston Kelly   Shape & Destroy

8.    Colter Wall   Western Swing & Waltzes and Other Punchy Songs

9.    Lori McKenna  The Balladeer

10. Tyler Childers   Long Violent History

The other eye-opening country protest song of 2020 is Tyler Childers’ “Long Violent History,” which accrues additional impact by following a parade of old-timey fiddle tunes on one of the year’s most unique albums. It’s as if TC is gently surveying a timeline of pernicious racism in America’s rural pathways before dropping the full citation on the album’s final track. With the loss of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor (and others, of course) in the air, this self-acknowledged “white boy from Hickman” reaches his breaking point and queries his own race on how it would feel if they were getting offed on the reg. A video statement made to accompany the album explained the essence of his argument, referencing the “inability to empathize in another individual or group’s plight” helps create America’s horrifying racial fissures, but on the tune itself, the plaint of his voice mixed with drones of a rosined bow and the clang of banjo strings give his perspective an even greater emotional thrust.

SINGLES

1.    Iris Dement – Going Down To Sing In Texas

The most piercing indictments are often driven by snarls and vehemence, but by the time the 9:21 of “Going Down to Sing in Texas” ebbs away, Iris Dement sounds like she’s just ended a chat with a neighbor over the backyard fence – no big deal. And THERE is the piece’s power. The 60-year-old Arkansas native whose songbook boasts a tune called “Easy’s Gettin’ Harder Every Day” serves up her political opinions on everything from insane gun laws to murderous cops to AOC and her courageous Squad mates while riding a blithe piano figure and lining the lyrics with a measured temperament. The informal decorum of her statement is chilling.

2.    Ashley McBride – One Night Standards

3.    Maren Morris – Better Than We Left It

4.    Mickey Guyton – Black Like Me

5.    Hailey Whitters – Janice At The Hotel Bar

6.    Bob Dylan – Murder Most Foul

7.    Tyler Childers – Long Violent History

8.    Kaley Hammack – Small Town Hypocrite

9.    Maddie & Tae – Die From a Broken Heart

10. Swampdogg, John Prine – Please Let Me Round Again

REISSUES

1. Various Artists – The Harry Smith B-Sides (Dust To Digital)

2. Various Artists – Garland Records – Pacific Northwest Snuff Box (Sundazed)

3. Neil Young – Homegrown

4. Elvis Presley – From Elvis in Nashville

5. Bobby Bare – Bobby Bare Sings Shel Silverstein Plus (Bear Family)

Slice of Life

E-V-I-L

From Way Up The Slide Track

Sinton Does Hemphill

Time to know more about Josh Sinton

The Beauty of Frank Kimbrough’s Music

As the news of Frank’s passing sinks in, it’s becoming more disturbing for me. Gone in a flash. No more laughs with FK. Fuck. I’m gonna play an hour’s worth of his music on WRIU.org TONIGHT (Weds, Jan 6) during a jazz radio show that focuses on some of my fave records of 2020. It goes from 9 pm – midnight. FK will take up the final hour. Please tune in and invite any and all Frank fans. Here’s a few Voice Choices that I wrote about the maestro and his various ensembles through the years.

 Frank Kimbrough Trio @ Smalls  

I love the fact that the pianist is pro prance. Those right-hand runs usually arrive with esprit intact, spilling with the kind of joy that invariably buoys those expressionistic gambits. In trio settings Kimbrough has a way of floating as well. The post-bop savvy he’s developed from studies of Andrew Hill and others gives way to a singular sense of momentum that has a magical side.

9 +10:30 pm 212-252-5091 $20 Smalls, 183 West 10th MACNIE

Frank Kimbrough @ Smalls

The pianist is one of the few improvisers can make a string of delicate gestures feel like series of slippery declarations. The new *Rumors* reminds that his music keeps everything in motion. Ballads float and flutter simultaneously. Uptempo pieces act skittish while waxing focused. This solo date might reflect some of the animated poise that fueled 2007’s aptly titled *Air.*  The songbook stretches from Monk to Motian.

Thursday, April 15 –  7:30 pm 212-252-5091 $20 Smalls, 183 West 10th MACNIE

Frank Kimbrough Trio

The new *Air* is a solo outing that shows how much grace can be brought to bear on a program of luminescent melodies. But the pianist adores passing the ball around, and his groups always have a deep curiosity to them – they always investigating some aspect of the music in play.

Kitano. Friday, 25 – Saturday, 26 MACNIE

Frank Kimbrough

The pianist operates in the novel space where forward motion allows room for a dalliance or three. Meaning he shows the advantages of being momentarily sidetracked. A master of mood (see “Waiting in Santander” from *Play*), he’s got a special rapport with drummer Paul Motian, so expect tonight’s accents and impulses to be novel, too.   

Jazz Standard. Wednesday, 26  MACNIE

Jazz Composers Collective Festival

Moving into its 12 year, the JCC is our definitive musician-run jazz org. Its members flesh out each others’ ideas, sharing time on both the brainstorming and bandstanding fronts. Its 4th Annual Fest is six-night bash where they share the stage and feed each other’s fire. The instrumentation of Ted Nash’s Odeon is symbolic of its music’s scope: trombone, violin and accordion join the leader’s reeds. The forthcoming *Subtextures* should explain how trumpeter Ron Horton has turned freebop into one of jazz’s most lithe lingoes. Saxophonist Michael Blake leads a longstanding trio and new quintet; both will illustrate just how keenly he’s integrated North African melodies into his work. Pianist Frank Kimbrough’s gorgeous pieces can be kaleidoscopic and alluring; his *Lullabluebye* hits in April. Bassist Ben Allison’s Peace Pipe ensemble knows about our “far and away” concept; it’s not every jazz ensemble that’s built around an African kora; Mali native Balla Tounkara handles the string instrument, and the bandleader composes tunes that puts its earthy glimmer front and center. Somewhere in between all the self-composed tunes, the JCC manages to interpret the suave blues bop of overlooked hero Lucky Thompson. MACNIE

April 13 – 18 Jazz Standard 116 East 27th Street. 212-756-2232

Years ago I asked a handful of musicians to choose an Andrew Hill piece that close to their hearts. I included FK, off course. Hill was one of his primary influences. Here’s Frank’s response:

“Domani” (“tomorrow” in Italian) comes from Andrew Hill’s “Shades” on Soul Note.  Recorded July 3 and 4, 1986 in Milano, it features Clifford Jordan on tenor saxophone, Rufus Reid on bass, and Ben Riley on drums. The tune is in 2 sections, 14 bars, then 18 bars, rather than the expected 16 and 16.   It’s taken at a very fast tempo, but the rhythm section changes it up by going into a 12/8 loping feel from time to time.  Clifford’s solo is electrifying, and the slippery time feel makes it all feel very risky indeed.  This album is part quartet and part trio – my favorite trio tune from this date is “Ball Square.”

ARTISTS REMEMBERANCES FROM ALL ABOUT JAZZ

NATE CHINEN’S FAREWELL FROM WBGO

From Maria Schneider:

Dear friends,Many of you know how deeply Frank Kimbrough loved his students. And now, “The Frank Kimbrough Jazz Scholarship” is being instated at Juilliard. Frank would be profoundly moved by this tribute that continues his work to benefit and advocate for the next generation of artists. You may give a tax-deductible gift to the scholarship fund by any method below. And, please share the word.1. Online contributions: Go to https://giving.juilliard.edu. Select designation ‘Juilliard Scholarship Fund’ and make sure to note in the comments, “Frank Kimbrough Jazz Scholarship.” 2. Credit card contributions by phone, call: 917-834-4552.3. Mail a check: Make payable to The Juilliard School (“Frank Kimbrough Jazz Scholarship” written in the memo). Send to: The Juilliard School Attn: Mary Yeatts, Associate Director of Major Gifts 60 Lincoln Center Plaza New York NY 100234. Contributions by bank transfer (securities and wire transfers) Contact: Mary Yeatts, Associate Director of Major Gifts, Development Department: Email: myeatts@juilliard.edu Phone: 917-834-45525. For any questions at all, contact Mary Yeatts, myeatts@juilliard.edu. Make sure your gift is earmarked to the Frank Kimbrough Jazz Scholarship.

This Year, Those Albums – 2020 Jazz You Should Hear

Turned in the ballot to the Francis Davis / Tom Hull NPR party, but 10 ain’t ever enough, and a wider pic is always helpful, so…

UPDATE: here’s the results of the NPR Jazz Critics Poll 2021

Gregg August Dialogues On Race (Gregg August)

Ambrose Akinmusire on the tender spot of every calloused moment (Blue Note)

Eric Revis Slipknots Through a Looking Glass (Pyroclastic)

Michael Moore’s Fragile Quartet Cretan Dialogues (Ramboy)

James Brandon Lewis / Chad Taylor Live in Willisau (Intakt)

Rudresh Mahanthappa Hero Trio (Whirlwind)

Angelica Sanchez & Marilyn Crispell How To Turn The Moon (Pyroclastic)

Matthew Shipp Trio The Undefinable (ESP-Disk)

Pavogüchi III (Aklovap)

Susan Alcorn Pedernal (Relative Pitch)

Micah Thomas Tide (Micah Thomas)

Tim Berne & Nasheet Waits The Coandă Effect (9 Donkeys)

Raf Vertessen Quartet LOI (El Negocito)

Rob Mazurek Exploding Star Orchestra Dimensional Stardust (International Anthem / Nonesuch)

The NDR Big Band with Michael Moore Sanctuary (Ramboy)

Fay Victor’s SoundNoiseFunk We’ve Had Enough (ESP-Disk)

Adam Kolker Lost (Sunnyside)

Webber/Morris Big Band Both Are True (Greenleaf Music)

Rich Halley The Shape of Things (Pine Eagle)

Sara Schoenbeck & Wayne Horvitz Cell Walk (Songlines)

Luciana Souza Storytellers (Sunnyside)

Ingrid Laubrock & Tom Rainey Stir Crazy 1-45

James Carney Sextet Pure Heart (Sunnyside)

Dayna Stephens Trio Liberty (Contagious Music)

Matt Wilson Quartet HUG! (Palmetto)

Chad Taylor The Daily Biological (Cuneiform)

BEST LIVE SHOWS

Ben Monder solo at the Vanguard

Jon Irabagon Quintet at Smalls

Orrin Evans Quartet at Smoke

NPR JAZZ CRITIC’S BALLOT

NEW RELEASES

  1. Eric Revis, Slipknots Through a Looking Glass (Pyroclastic)
  2. Michael Moore’s Fragile Quartet, Cretan Dialogues (Ramboy)
  3. Ambrose Akinmusire, On the Tender Spot of Every Calloused Moment (Blue Note)
  4. Matthew Shipp Trio, The Unidentifiable (ESP-Disk)
  5. Rob Mazurek Exploding Star Orchestra, Dimensional Stardust (International Anthem)
  6. Susan Alcorn Quintet, Pedernal (Relative Pitch)
  7. The NDR Bigband With Michael Moore, Sanctuary (Ramboy)
  8. Raf Vertessen Quartet, LOI (El Negocito)
  9. Pavogüchi, III (Aklovap)
  10. Webber/Morris Big Band, Both Are True (Greenleaf Music)

REISSUES/HISTORICAL

  1. Thelonious Monk, Palo Alto (1968, Impulse)
  2. Milford Graves & Don Pullen, The Complete Yale Concert, 1966 (Corbett vs Dempsey)
  3. Sonny Rollins, Rollins in Holland (1967, Resonance)

VOCAL

  • Fay Victor’s SoundNoiseFunk, We’ve Had Enough! (ESP-Disk)

DEBUT

  • Micah Thomas, Tide (self-released)

LATIN

  • Arturo O’Farrill/The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, Four Questions (Zoho)

Wouldn’t Mind Hearing Some Joy Bells