George Cotsirilos Trio: Past Present (OA2 Records): Musicianship this tasty usually isn’t so substantial, but the fluid Bay area guitarist and his comrades use their economic approach as a means to an end: constructing more complex performances than such simplicity might otherwise lead to. Rather than just blow, they devise arrangements with sufficient intricacy to challenge themselves as they playing them and their listeners as they hear.
Geri Allen: Flying Toward the Sound; w/Timeline: Live (Motema): Geri Allen makes absolutely rapturous sounds on her piano whenever she plays and she approaches an almost mystical plateau during the nine solo piano pieces on Flying. Live, however, is a little less engrossing largely because of the non-sequitur interruption of Maurice Chestnutt’s tap percussion: it disrupts the flow of originals and standards Allen and her simpatico trio had traversed prior to his appearance.
The Norbotten Big Band: The Avatar Sessions (Fuzzy Music): Big bands usually don’t move so nimbly as this one in navigating their arrangements, nor are they so fleet. But then consider the principals of this project, trumpeter Tim Hagans and drummer Peter Erskine, both of whom know the fundamental lesson of great musicians: don’t play when you don’t need to and when you do play, less is (almost) always more. Hagans deserves this homage and he accepts the recognition presented in this form as gracefully as Erskine and the band offer it.
Contact: Five on One (Pirouet): Given the names involved, it stands to reason this is a hard-hitting session. Billy Hart. John Abercrombie and Dave Liebman, as well-rounded as they are as musicianly personalities, they know how to compromise as a means of furthering the cohesion of the band, including pianist Marc Copland and bassist Drew Gress. This music is dense but not overly so, and substantial enough to reward repeated listenings to marvel at the way this quintet coalesces.
Denny Zeitlin: Precipice (Sunnyside): There’s a purity in Zeitlin’s playing here that transcends that usually associated with solo piano work. The abbreviated upbeat tracks (immediately followed by audience response) disrupt the almost religious atmosphere of the more extended pieces as the artist manages to explore deeply cerebral realms without forgetting how to swing. It’s a rare record that’s simultaneously accessible and provocative like this one.