This week we’re storming in with some serious jazz, focusing on great compositions from some the best and brightest band leaders and sidemen around.
Leading off, the title track from Hugh Ragin’s supreme 1999 release, An Afternoon in Harlem. Jazz cats likely know the trumpeter best as the inheritor of David Murray’s hot seat, but this album shows that he is force to be reckoned with all on his own. And this opening tune sets the tone perfectly with varied textures and slick playing — no song is more aptly titled.
Next comes Avishai Cohen’s “Nu Nu” from Continuo, a decidedly Middle Eastern-tinged work from the bass sensation. Again the composition takes precedence here, especially with its stirring coda. The regular trio is augmented with Amos Hoffman on oud, and man, I’m a sucker for an oud solo (I know, if you had a nickel for every time you heard that…). Incidentally, Cohen’s new release As Is…Live at the Blue Note is stellar and includes a DVD of a full set.
Tenor saxophonist Dave Ellis served as Ratdog’s lead voice in the late ’90s, but before that he was the first sax man in the Charlie Hunter Trio, and his real muse lives in hard bop and post bop jazz. “Meltdown” is a fun, lyrical piece, co-written with Ellis’ partner in crime and longtime Ratdog keyboard player, Jeff Chimenti. Despite the pedigree, don’t look for any hippie here, just virtuosity. Finally, taking a step back in time, we have “Juju” from Wayne Shorter’s album of the same name. Now he is a grandfather of jazz, and widely considered to be one of greatest jazz composers ever to grace the Earth, but back in the sixties he was a still a quirky sideman living in Trane’s shadow. Ever the iconoclast, and never one to suffer under anyone else’s pressure, he recorded this entire album with Trane’s rhythm section — Tyner, Garrison and Jones — and it shines.
As a bonus, I included Hugh Ragin’s 15 minute opus “The Moors of Spain,” the tune I first heard while stuck in traffic, the tune that had me hopping out of my seat and howling with excitement. Check out all of An Afternoon in Harlem for the very best jazz has to offer, including an incendiary 18-minute Amiri Baraka spoken word piece, with some help from Murray, entitled “When Sun Ra Gets Blue.”