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Hot Wax – December 2018

Jazzed Magazine • Hot WaxNovember/December 2018 • December 20, 2018

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Dean Sorenson Sextet

Colors of the Soul (Dean Sorenson Music)

  • Dean Sorenson – trombone
  • Steve Kenny – trumpet
  • David Milne –tenor sax
  • Chris Lomheim – piano
  • Tom Lewis – bass
  • Phil Hey – drums

In an era when many, if not most, musicians are pushing the music ahead in a variety of ways, it’s downright refreshing and a pleasure to hear no frills, hard-hitting, straight-ahead jazz.

That’s what we get here from obviously long-time first-call Minneapolis-St. Paul players. Recorded in the Twin Cities in 2015, Sorenson – director of the jazz studies program at the University of Minnesota – also is very much in charge here. He composed and arranged all 11 tunes on the playlist, which runs a generous 70-ish minutes. In that span, you get to hear a lot from each of the players, as well as the group.

A sextet produces a special sound with its three horns and four soloists, and they all play with skill and gusto, probably at the top of their game.

Sorenson doesn’t shy from the ‘bone’s big, blustery sound, although on a tune or two, he’ll soften it a tad. Milne covers a range from alto-ish to rich tenor. Kenny plays the heck out of his horn, and Lomheim is high-energy with a strong left and fleet-fingered right that he frequently takes upscale to tinkle land. Lewis and Hey are right there where and when they need to be.

Most tunes are up-tempo, including a couple burners. A waltz, one ballad, and a mildly funky tune offer a change of pace. Sorenson delivers some catchy tunes that challenge the players and should really please listeners.

As an ensemble and soloists, these guys fill just about every minute with high quality playing and an energy that makes you feel they don’t want to waste a minute of this studio opportunity. (Bob Protzman)

Jerome Sabbagh & Greg Tuohey

No Filter (Sunnyside)

  • Jerome Sabbagh – tenor saxophone
  • Greg Tuohey – guitar
  • Joe Martin – bass
  • Keith Abaday – drums

At the risk of being corny, this album is an international production: Saxophonist Jerome Sabbagh is French, guitarist Greg Tuohey is a New Zealander, and this set was recorded in New York live to two-track tape, hence its lively, vibrant ambiance and presence. They’ve been sharpening their pencils with peers Mark Turner, Ari Hoenig, and Ben Monder, with leaders including Paul Motian, Daniel Humair, and Marta Sanchez.

Stylistically No Filter is autumnal-moody but mostly swinging post-bop with dashes of fusion and free. The program is all originals written by either Sabbagh or Tuohey. “Vicious” is a slinky, blues-flavored number with an advancing-type groove driven by the bass and drums, not unlike Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir.” Then Sabbagh’s tenor cuts loose with some hard bopping, with a steely tone slightly recalling Sonny Rollins. Tuohey’s guitar has a burred sound with a tart sting to it, sounding he learned a thing or two from Pat Martino and Jim Hall. He and Sabbagh do some nifty (elegant n’ stirring) swinging interactions herein. The appropriately titled “Chaos Reigns” is a semi-free piece with a measured pace and a pensive vibe – Tuohey’s chords ring distantly and Sabbagh testifies to That Tomorrow That’s Waiting (for us all), Joe Martin makes his bass throb and moan, Keith Abaday’s drums clatter with an ebb and flow – what makes this “semi”-free is the theme-like unison melody by Sabbagh and Tuohey near the conclusion and the whole combo sound on the same page, mood-wise.

To close things out, a couple of ballads: “Cotton” – Sabbagh gets in touch with his inner Michael Brecker and Wayne Shorter, in that his playing is attractive and sensitive, but not overtly “romantic” or sentimental. (For that, check out Flip Phillips and Ben Webster, two old masters of Le Ballad Romantique.) “You Are On My Mind” is where Sabbagh gets his balladeer coat on – here there are faint echoes of John Coltrane (circa 1960) and Stan Getz (circa anytime). Abaday and Martin lay down a gentle, chilled-out groove and Tuohey’s bluesy picking has the some of the never-ending ripples of Grant Green’s soulful sound.

What gives No Filter its distinctiveness is the harmonious though slightly bittersweet unison sound of Sabbagh and Tuohey while Martin and Abaday give subdued yet sturdy rhythmic support. (Mark Keresman)

Ingrid Jensen and Steve Treseler

Invisible Sounds: For Kenny Wheeler (Whirlwind Recordings)

  • Ingrid Jensen – trumpet and effects
  • Steve Treseler – tenor sax, clarinet/bass clarinet
  • Geoffrey Keezer – piano 
  • Martin Wind – double bass
  • Jon Wikan – drums
  • Christine Jensen – soprano sax
  • Katie Jacobson – voice

To label the late Kenny Wheeler a musician’s musician may land close to the mark, but ultimately does him a disservice. If he never became a household name for the wider jazz audience Wheeler was nonetheless a near-revered figure among fellow artists as a distinctive trumpeter and flugelhorn player, a masterful composer and arranger, and a respected educator. His consistently excellent work with such figures as Dave Holland and Anthony Braxton, as well as the celebrated recordings he made under his own leadership or shared with others, established him one of the most intriguing figures of the post-bop era.

Reportedly the last large ensemble work Wheeler composed, “Suite for Hard Rubber Orchestra” was written in 2013, a year before he passed, for the Vancouver-based jazz orchestra. (Wheeler himself doesn’t contribute to the present album which was recorded in 2016.) The suite’s five movements can be played in any order; here, the HRO intersperse the score with three brief and companionable improvisations that feature trumpeter Brad Turner. Under the direction of orchestra leader John Korsud, the 19-piece orchestra turns in a vibrant reading of an absorbing and characteristic work that speaks in Wheeler’s unmistakable melodic and harmonic language. Stocked with fine soloists including alto saxophonist Campbell Ryga, trumpeter Mike Herriott, and tenor saxophonist Eli Bennett, the HRO gains even more luster with the addition of Norma Winstone, the acclaimed British singer and longtime Wheeler collaborator. One of Wheeler’s trademark gestures as an arranger was his use of wordless vocalizing to enhance a chart; the still staunch Winstone (who first appeared with Wheeler on his 1973 album, Song for Someone, and then the later ECM recordings as part of the collective Azimuth trio, and the 1990 Wheeler gem, Music For Large and Small Ensembles), stamps the piece as an inimitable Wheeler creation.

Trumpeter Ingrid Jensen (a former Wheeler student) and tenor saxophonist and clarinetist Steve Treseler are also devoted Wheeler fans. On their co-led tribute album, Invisible Sounds they and a small ensemble including pianist Geoff Keezer, bassist Martin Wind – and, in a crafty move, the singer Katie Jacobson – make a strong case for the enduring quality of Wheeler’s compositions. Wheeler’s small group albums (which advanced in instrumental size from duos onwards) are chock full of memorable tunes (sample, for instance, the exceptional Angel Song) – here Jensen and Treseler select some choice material, including “Foxy Trot” “Where Do We Go From Here” “Kind Folk,” and the near-standard “Everybody’s Song But My Own.” Each well-crafted piece elicits bracing improvisations from the adept soloists and brawny ensemble work. Invisible Sounds successfully argues for the continued use of Wheeler’s compositions. As Treseler states in reference to the project, “If more people discover Kenny Wheeler as a result, that’s all good with us.” True enough – as any devotee of this still undervalued master knows, there’s a lifetime of great listening from Wheeler recordings awaiting novices. And when it comes to exploitable tunes for curious players and bandleaders, there’s nothing less than a gold mine waiting to be plundered. (Steve Futterman)

Yuhan Su

City Animals (Sunnyside)

  • Yuhan Su – vibraphone
  • Matt Holman – trumpet, flugelhorn
  • Alex LoRe – alto saxophone
  • Petros Klampanis – bass
  • Nathan Ellman-Bell – drums

The third album from Taiwanese vibraphonist Yuhan Su taps creature commutation for creative juice: By drawing inspiration from a documentary about migratory patterns and comparing said discoveries to her own experiences living in New York since 2012, Su creates a fascinating tapestry of story and song concerned about life moving with – and around – the flocks and herds. It’s a collection that’s uniquely her own, analogous to said film, no doubt, in ways that we can never fully comprehend. But it also speaks to many of the daily struggles everybody faces in the wilds of existence. It’s a jungle out there for sure, and Yuhan Su reminds us that we are, in some small part, the creatures keeping the ecosystem thriving.

There’s a freedom of thought in Su’s work that’s connected to an embrace of open landscape principles – she’s the harmonic gatekeeper here, as there’s no pianist or guitarist to fence things in – and a love of structural oddities. Her compositions practically overflow with unexpected harmonic implications, shifts of character, rhythmic trap doors, and combinatorial play. And curiosity is one of her greatest strengths, manifesting in a willingness to try different things at the drop of a hat – or mallet. On album opener “Y El Coche Se Murió,” which relives the harrowing tale of a tour vehicle breaking down between cities in Spain, a solo vibraphone introduction paints an uncertain picture for a solid minute before a measured sense of anxiety sets in. Fortunately, Alex LoRe’s alto saxophone and Su’s vibes are there to spin the wheels of thought and work through the worries in succession. “Viaje,” capturing the complex emotions surrounding a move and providing airspace to admire the tangled tangents of LoRe and trumpeter Matt Holman, essentially chronicles Su’s stateside story. At times it’s fraught with uncertainty, but in essence it’s an expression of a woman’s triumph over fear. Yuhan Su slays the beasts of doubt and the unknown with nary a problem.

As City Animals develops, a deeper picture of Su’s passions and humanity emerges. On “Feet Dance,” this crew magically conjures thoughts of an asymmetrical elegance offered on the dance floor; with the title track, a charged atmosphere comes to serve as a parallel for the Big Apple’s aura; during “Tutu & D,” a balladic purity is held aloft as an ideal representation of happiness itself; and through closer “Party 2AM,” the band turns into a feral beast set free by all that New York’s nightlife has to offer. Amidst these varied wonders of Su’s imagination, which also produces the charmingly buoyant “Poncho Song,” rests an even higher indication of ambition in the form of the three-part Kuafu Suite. Tapping into Chinese mythology to explore the perils of overestimating oneself, the vibraphonist ironically shows us that she may not be capable of falling prey to that problem. Su sets the bar high, be it with upward ideals on the suite’s opening, a shimmering mandate in the middle, or a driving course at its end, but she and her bandmates vault right over it with aplomb. While Yuhan Su may have arrived in New York as a different animal, she’s now clearly part of the pack that makes the city’s scene so vital. (Dan Bilawsky)

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