Tag Archives: jazz

Fred Hersch & Esparanza Spalding – Alive at the Village Vanguard

15 Jan

Alive at the Village Vanguard does exactly what you would want; it places you right in the middle of the club. This is a recording of a live show at Village Vanguard and it manages to hold all of the energy of a live performance just to drop it on unsuspecting listeners. More importantly, it delivers the abundant charm of the two performers.

In particular, “Girl Talk” expertly recontextualizes an old, chauvinistic standard, refutes the original and reclaims the space with tremendous intelligence and humor. Spalding’s conversations with the crowd are both confident and fun and she interacts with the crowd throughout to great effect. In particular, they add a lot of charm to the already fun “Little Suede Shoes”

It’s not the most challenging album, however. Neither Spalding nor Hersch does much to complicate the music and the piano solos tend to move too slowly. Spalding does some great tonal work through the album though and Hersch plays excellent counter-point to her there.

It’s also just much more fun than your typical jazz release and much more approachable as well. If you’re looking for a pleasant evening with a couple of very talented, very likable performers, it’s hard to find something better than this.

Makaya McCraven -In These Times

15 Oct

I want to start this by talking about the magnificent “So Ubuji.” The track takes from so many inspirations to meld together something that remains delicate while layered and intricate. There’s beautiful, rain-like percussion flowing through the whole thing and a very nice, tripping cadence to the whole piece.

This mix of tastes surfaces again and again through the album. “High Fives” gets a very nice funk line running through some world music themes and a nice space-jazz screech every now and again. “In These Times” puts in a solid sax solo, but the later “The Knew Untitled” is essentially a rock guitar solo that is as unexpected as it is competent.

Possibly due to the mix, the album has very strong fragments, but ends up a little too smooth for my taste. There’s too much that doesn’t really demand attention and only has so much to offer when given it. However, when an album is unobjectionable at its worst and unmissable at its best, that’s more than enough to recommend it.

Harish Raghavan – In Tense

28 Aug

It’s always nice when an album starts with its best foot forward. “AMA” is In Tense at its strongest. There’s a great bass solo right at the beginning and the backing adds an arboreal element. It’s a verdant and lush sound as the bass puts in energetic work and a very clean vibraphone follows suit.

That vibraphone later finds an excellent groove in “In Tense” and has another excellent solo in “Eight-Thirteen.” This is a very pleasantly concise album and it takes the effort to say what it wants to say well. “Prayer” adds in a great tenor solo and “s2020” trips over itself delightfully.

However, there’s just not enough to provoke thought in this album. The songs are all very well done but tend to very predictable resolutions. Even “Circus Music,” the most complex of the tracks, could really have done with some of the whimsy of the title. It keeps a lot of balls in the air and watching the patterns they make as they cross each other is fascinating, but a little more of the unexpected would have brought in a much-needed lift.

However, In Tense gets too much right to worry about the little it gets wrong. This is an album put together with skill and care. It is clear about what it has to say and always well worth listening to.

Immanuel Wilkins – The 7th Hand

8 May

There’s a lot to like about The 7th Hand. The music is immaculate. There is obscene skill behind the whole thing. There are moments of transcendence. For all of its strengths though, it is just short enough of challenge to mire the whole album.

It oscillates quite sharply between pleasant and aggressive throughout and in the opener “Emanation” you have some very energetic sax work followed by a relaxing piano solo. They both end up flat however. The sax starts strong and is played very well, but it lacks challenge and ends up going nowhere you wanted to visit. The piano solo is a little off-kilter but needed to be fully askew. It’s the same story in “Lift.” There’s a lot of sound and fury, but it’s ends up signifying nothing.

Sometimes, the album takes a turn more towards the pleasant, such as in “Fugitive Ritual, Selah” and it does it well. It may have done better with stronger focus on that side, but that does nothing to help the lack of challenge.

The 7th Hand has moments though. The opening of “Witness” evokes a deep, verdant, arboreal scene and thread some ominousness through it to great effect. These moments just are not enough to lift an album that can never quite escape falling flat.

Nala Sinephro – Space 1.8

1 Nov

Jazz certainly loves outer space. Something about the vast expanse of the night sky above speaks to jazz musicians from John Coltrane to Sun Ra and now to Nala Sinephro.

Over 8 songs, Nala Sinephro and her band construct detailed soundscapes. Interstellar space is never as exciting as when jazz musicians get to draw it in. It’s mostly very gentle music. From the opener “Space 1,” there’s a lot of ambient music in here. It has some wonderful tones that are given complete room to breathe and ripples that evoke nature.

It goes into some very classic gentle jazz in “Space 2.” It’s never smooth, but it’s relaxing. “Space 4” works the same way. There’s very good sax work in both. It’s the aggressive saxophone and fuzz in “Space 6” that’s really interesting though. This is a very relaxing album, but there’s more than enough challenge in here to keep you engaged.

This is really an album that does it all and does it well. It’s a relaxing soundscape that you can submerge yourself and an excellent space jazz album and, of course above all, absolutely wonderful music.

Emma-Jean Thackray – Yellow

29 Aug

There are some really interesting pieces in Yellow. The chorus of “Third Eye” is a very interesting progression. The haunting in “Spectre” is also very well done. Unfortunately though, the whole doesn’t add up to anything quite so interesting itself. The genre-spanning music here has a lot going for it. There’s plenty of technical skill and some really clever moments, but there’s just not enough to grab attention or really reward it.

“Yellow,” for instance, would fit well on an Erykah Badu album, but not as one of the stronger cuts. The voice is a little weaker than it should be and the music doesn’t do enough. Overall, it’s just not interesting enough. It fades too easily into the background. It’s also not helped by the bog-standard spirituality either. The Hinduism in particular feels like a shallow reading.

Yellow still ends up a pretty decent album though. As it turns out, good jazz is good jazz and this is definitely good jazz.

New Artist Roundup: Jul. 2021

3 Aug

Over the past few weeks, we’ve had tens of submissions from aspiring young artists from all over the world – thank you! It was a monumental task to pick these out, but here are our top tracks from New Artists for July 2021.

Interested in getting featured in our next New Artist Roundup? Don’t forget to email us your music at artists.tfr@gmail.com!

“The Absence of You” by The Islas

The Islas are a young band from Norwich whose sound is characterized somewhere between the Killers and the Smiths. Their most recent single “The Absence of You” features a gentle, lilting guitar melody that supports Nathan Baverstock’s slightly-nasal vocals quite well, and the song takes an even more Coldplay turn in the upbeat, high-energy chorus. “The single is not really a love-sick song about wanting someone back, just the sensation of feeling empty and realizing that that chapter of your life has gone,” says the band – a feeling to which any young person can relate, no matter their age. “The Absence of You” is the first single from the band’s upcoming 6-song EP Oblivion. Be sure to keep an eye out for that if you liked this track!

Links | Press

“Generations” by Gede

As eagle-eyed readers may realize, Gede has already been on our radar since our March 2021 edition of the New Artist Roundup, where we loved his electric blues meets rap meets jazz track “Sinners” from 2021 album Forward. The Washington DC-based artist cites a wide array of musical references from Gary Clark Jr. to Tame Impala. He’s now out with another EP, the two-song Generations. The title track from this EP starts off with Latin trap beats that bring to mind a sunny Miami summer, and the rapper’s almost grime-style verses are perfectly produced to sync with the music. “Generations” is a vibrant, catchy song that lies somewhere between Stormzy and Bad Bunny – a tough bridge to connect, but Gede somehow pulls it off.

Links

“Mercy” by KiNG MALA

KiNG MALA (born Areli Castro) is an up-and-coming singer-songwriter from Los Angeles, California who’s just on the verge of a break-out hit. Spotify listener counts, which often precede mainstream fame, confirm our thesis: this young artist that you may never have heard of has over 350,000 monthly listeners. Her stage name, KiNG MALA, is actually carefully chosen: “Both [her] music and visuals experiment with masculine tropes.. and these masculine threads weave throughout everything [she] does, hence King rather than Queen and ‘MALA’ which roughly translates to ‘bad bitch’ in Spanish,” she said.

A lot of her Internet fame came through her TikTok hit 90s-vibe pop hit “she calls me daddy”, but new track “Mercy” proves that she’s no one hit wonder. This is a lushly produced track that belies her relatively-underground status, with her soft melancholic vocals reminding the listener of Billie Eilish. The song itself is about her mental health struggles with the darker side of herself. “I have said things I will regret forever and every day I search for the good within me and search for the proof that those things are not who I really am. Sometimes all you can do is forgive yourself and look for the good… that’s what this song means to me.”

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“Brand New” by TARYN

TARYN is an Atlanta-based singer-songwriter whose music is influenced by old soul and modern pop, in her own words. “Brand New” is a beautiful track from the clear-voiced singer, beginning with striking finger snaps that transition into lushly produced, warm vocals. TARYN grew up in a music-loving household. Her parents “filled the house with the sounds of artistic greats like Norah Jones, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, and Cat Stevens,” and it’s easy to see those influences in her ethereal, timeless yet radio-friendly music. TARYN wrote “Brand New” while driving on the freeway and worked with producer Joey Burcham to turn it into a fully-formed track – and honestly, it’s the perfect feel-good summertime drive song.

Links | Press

“Headlights” by Sgmaniak

Sgmaniak (pronounced S. G. Maniak) is a hip young artist from New York whose music lies somewhere in the summery sounds of neo-soul jazz. The lovely “Headlights” is the diary of a budding, summertime romance. “We met a club downtown last week… got out at the curb then we got between the sheets,” he describes about their meet-cute. “Laying on the roof under the blood-red skies, I know we just met but I think we might just last…” Ah, young love. “Headlights” is a summery, light track that really showcases Sgmaniak’s lyrical prowess and storytelling ability. This track comes off the artist’s recent nine-song album The Global Heart Awakens.

Links | Press

Interested in getting featured in our next New Artist Roundup? Don’t forget to email us your music at artists.tfr@gmail.com!

Jihye Lee Orchestra – Daring Mind

11 Jul

This album does a lot to recommend itself. It’s got substantial pieces of good, strong, aggressive jazz. “Dissatisfied Mind” is fun and energetic and delivers on the chaos promised by the title. “Relentless Mind” has some great moments that grab attention and complex, rewarding subthemes behind it. There are some interesting thoughts made more interesting for their interweaving, but they suffer a little from slightly predictable conclusions. It’s a very fun piece though and that does a lot for it.

Even where the album is not as strong, such as in “Suji” which is overlong and a little shallow, it’s just such lovely music that my complaints are minor. Similarly, although “Unshakeable Mind” is too placid and doesn’t do anything of interest, it doesn’t really need to for it to still be a pleasant listen. I may have preferred an album that did more to stand out, but this is an album that left me with a smile after every play. I’m glad I picked this one up.

Vijay Iyer, Linda May Han Oh, Tyshawn Sorey – Uneasy

22 Jun

Uneasy certainly delivers on the title. This is jazz that is very good at putting you off your ease. It’s always got something to surprise you with. It’s very skilled jazz and very listenable for all the sharpness. It doesn’t thrust itself on you, but it always has something interesting to say and when you pay attention to it, it’s very good at sweeping you away. You’re just compelled to follow it from point to point and see what comes next.

There’s a wonderful loudness in “Touba.” It makes you sit up straight and enervates you. “Drummer’s Song” holds a single pattern for an unsettlingly long time while threading lots of different things around it. It’s a startling and captivating effect. There’s great chemistry too. There’s a wonderful bass solo by Linda Oh in “Night and Day” that transitions smoothly a piano solo that moves smoothly into a drum solo that stretches into an excellent play with the piano and some very understated bass work. It lets everything settle for a moment and then picks things back up with excellent energy and finally ends beautifully.

Uneasy takes this intelligence and sharpness and it’s ability to disorient the listener and uses it for meaning. The political statements running through this album are powerful and reinforced by the shock of the music. It elevates the album and takes it from merely an excellent jazz album to essential listening for anyone at all interested in jazz.

Rubén Blades with Roberto Delgado and Orquesta – Salswing

21 May

I don’t think I’ve ever come across anything like SALSWING! The album takes Latin Jazz and Big Band standards, places them side-by-side and calls it a day. You’ve got standards like “Pennies From Heaven” and then it’s immediately followed by the Tito Puente classic “Mambo Gil” and both are done very well. There’s naturally tremendous similarity between the two styles and between that and the band’s clear competence, it only makes sense how comfortable they are in both styles.

It’s a fun album both ways too. “Contrabundo” in particular is a highlight. It is bright and sharp and has great Latin percussion and an excellent piano solo. Meanwhile, “The Way You Look Tonight” is a classic rendering of a standard.

If you’re looking for either some Latin Jazz or some Jazz standards, this is good and if you’re open to both, this is great. There’s nothing particularly surprising in it and there’s no interesting intersection of the two styles, but as a collection of top quality music from both, there are no complaints to be had.

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