Will Bernard/Just Like Downtown (Posi-Tone): Will Bernard may never impress with his guitar flash, but in a world overstocked with self-appointed heroes of the instrument, his approach is as much of a blessing as his deceptively sophisticated skill. And it’s in keeping with his skill as much as confidence that he enters to make a statement with his own instrument only after hornman extraordinaire John Ellis and organist Brian Charette have had a chance to assume the spotlight themselves. Of course, this sets Bernard up for a more dramatic entrance and he makes the most of it throughout, selectively secreting himself in the ensemble and its arrangements of original material plus two covers, one of which is Zeppelin’s “Dancing Days.”
Ahmad Jamal/Saturday Morning (Jazzbook Records): The music of this album is as colorful as the strikingly vivid graphics inside and outside the digi-pak. The venerable pianist exhibits an understated sense of abandon in his playing as he moves in and out of the melodies on his ivories, but it’s also the rich percussion of Manolo Badrena that expands and deepens the sounds emanating from the musicianship of the quartet (including Reginald Veal on double bass and Herlin Riley on drums. When the foursome falls into improvisation, the collective interplay is brisk and tasteful. The reprise of the title tune to conclude the eleven tracks reaffirms the continuity of the record and imbues it with a familiarity that further invites repeated (and frequent) hearings.
The New Gary Burton Quartet/Guided Tour (Mack Avenue): The sound of The New Gary Burton Quartet on Guided tour is as authoritative as it is understated, suggesting the dour portrait of the leader on the front cover might well have been transposed with the shot of the entire group on the back. There at least guitarist Julian Lage is grinning with relish, as well he might. He contributes three originals to these proceedings in addition to acting as a pivot point for the instrumental interaction almost as prominently as the veteran vibist himself. Still, the strength of this ensemble, as with any band, is the bond that unites it and everyone here chips in with material and projects their own personalities: drummer Antonio Sanchez, for instance, sounds as muscular as Burton is ethereal.
Dave Holland/Prism (Dare2 Records): What begins as an exercise in formulaic fusion evolves into an artistic statement by the man leading this group, one of contemporary jazz’ most respected bassists. The line between composition and improvisation becomes increasingly blurred as the album plays, illustrating how ideal is the name of this unit: as with the tool that simultaneously unifies and splits light, this group manages to play together and solo in such a way the distinction blurs between those two approaches as well. And the pristine sound of this recording, arguably most evident in its stereo mix, clarifies the group dynamic just as much as the respective contributions of original material from pianist Craig Taborn, guitarist Kevin Eubanks and drummer Eric Harland.
Marnix Bustra/Sync Dreams (Buzz Music): Having acquitted himself so stylishly in collaboration with vibist extraordinaire Mike Mainieri in studio and on stage, Dutch guitarist Marnix Bustra further distinguishes himself with his quartet on this vividly-title album under his own name. Obviously schooled in the roots of jazz guitar, this man plays with a clear and fluid approach that carries all the detail within his original compositions. The tracks on Sync Dreams proceed one to the other, often without interruption, as Bustra’s accompanists sound all too eager (not to mention capable) of continuing his revelation of ideas on their own instruments with comparable energy. All of this takes place within a nigh-on perfect sound that elevates the sublime sensation of the musicianship.