Time Out Take Five: Masabumi Kikuchi, Dan Blake, Steve Slagle & More

Time Out Take Five is a regular column comprised of pithy takes on recent jazz releases, spotlighting titles deserving attention that might otherwise go unnoticed.

 

Masabumi Kikuchi/ HanamichiThe Final Studio Recording: The relative speed at which this album’s forty-minute playing time seems to pass reaffirms the unassuming air pervading this solo piano set. Much more takes place in these recorded performances from 2013 than might first appear, including two versions of “My Favorite Things” that stand as a testament to the bountiful imagination of the late Japanese musician.

Eleven-plus minutes of the comparable standard “Summertime” would seem to overkill too if the playing weren’t so replete with a delicate joy that befits the season it references. Written testimonials inside the twelve-page booklet—boasting the same austere black & white color scheme of the cover—might also smack of ‘gilding the lily’ if the prose did not glow with a passionate admiration comparable to that which the late pianist affords his song selections, including “Little Abi,” the sole original,  fittingly inspired by his daughter.

 

Dan Blake/Da Fe: Completely in keeping with its socially conscious orientation/conception, this is one of those records where the satisfaction derived from hearing it lies in direct proportion to how challenging it can be to listen. Material such as “Prologue-The New Normal” is no more conventional than the musicianship is predictable: all four accompanists, including the brilliant pianist Carmen Staaf, sound as fully invested in their own playing as the leader, who sets the tone for assertive reciprocal interactions within the ensemble; on cuts like “Cry Of The East,” Blake’s soprano and tenor saxes nurture the dialogue(s) between the individuals, even as he engages in mutually enlightening ones himself. Its nine cuts alternating between the dream-like “Pain” and the insistent “Epilogue: It Heals Itself,” Da Fe (meaning ‘of faith’) could end up on more than one ‘Best of 2021’ list (and most deservedly so).

 

Steve Slagle/Nascentia: Musicianship as lithe as it is tuneful suggests the potent complexity at work on Nascentia. Nevertheless, the accessible nature of the music itself is a direct corollary to its ambition, especially as the five-part namesake suite (its title taken from a word meaning ‘birth’) finds the group moving smoothly and forcefully in unison, not unlike a practiced big(ger) band in motion. The interludes of bass and drums work exactly as the frontman/composer/hornman intended, not only acting as links between the segments but also adding a greater air of spontaneity(s), not unlike that of a brisk and well-paced live performance. Still, as fully integrated as are the arrangements, the individual players still project their respective personalities, most notably pianist Bruce Barth; on this title cut, for instance, his playing lays a firm foundation upon which the sextet builds the rest of its instrumental activity. 

Yelena Eckemoff/Adventures of the Wildflower:  Like the photos of lovely gardens on the cover, the music on these two CDs invites quiet contemplation. The ensemble itself, in fact, may seem as entranced in their playing as listeners will become in hearing it, but the musicianship never loses its sense of purpose and direction. And there’s no lack of contrast either, as guitars, saxophones, and vibes add a variety of colors to tracks like “Germination.” To further ensure that the title suits the cut, new ideas abound throughout too: this sextet radiates an implicit but abiding sense of mutual trust in their shared imagination. No doubt that faith is based in large measure on the way bassist Antti Lotjonen on bass and drummer Olavi Louhivuori supplies a reliable sense of rhythm, no matter how subliminal it might sometimes be. Eighteen tracks here, ranging in length from around five minutes to nine plus, blend into a perfectly cohesive whole. 

Noah Haidu/Slowly: Song For Keith Jarrett: Daunting as it might be to conjure a suitable homage to the jazz icon referenced in this LP’s title, precocious pianist/composer Noah Haidu proves himself more than up to the task in the company of Buster Williams on bass and Billy Hart on drums. Only a single tune composed by the legendary subject appears in the nine-song program, but alongside standards like “Georgia” as well as “What A Difference A Day Makes,” “Rainbow” is also a piece with the bandleader/producer’s own title song. Likewise, the original compositions from this redoubtable rhythm section, “Air Dancing,” “Duchess” and “Lorca” are equally nuanced: as was the case with Jarrett’s legendary Standards Trio, space and patience are the hallmarks of this threesome’s interactions. Their collective delicacy of touch belies the depth of melodic and rhythmic subtlety they explore during the seventy-some minutes. 

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