Jazz CD Preview and Survey: Years of Utter Beauty, Part 1
By Steve Elman
Each happy marriage is happy in its own way, at least when the partners are jazz and poetic text.
I’m tempted to generalize, but I won’t. Maybe it’s just coincidence that 2018 saw the release of four ambitious and powerful jazz releases driven by poetic texts, with two others in the same spirit in 2017, and three more in the two years before that.
A trend? Hardly. But when the artists taking on this challenge range from English poet — singer Norma Winstone to bassist William Parker, from drummer Matt Wilson to poet laureate Robert Pinsky, from German pianist Florian Ross to saxophonists Jane Ira Bloom and David Murray — and when four notable projects plowing similar ground are being performed live in our area in the coming months — attention must be paid, in both senses of that phrase.
But who, exactly, is paying attention?
I don’t know if any of these diverse and provocative efforts are finding an audience. I only know that each of them deserves some sympathetic ears, so I’m going to do my best to lead you to the recordings in question, beginning with those that are primarily driven by musical considerations.
In a second post, I’ll have a look at another set, where poetry is in the driver’s seat.
Before we get to music on disc, let me point you to a live performance, which (let’s face it) will provide you with a superior experience to something on CD. If your interest is piqued by the survey below and in the next post, I can recommend that you visit the Berklee Performance Center for Kevin Harris’s “Contemporary Octet Expedition through the Expressions of James Baldwin” on February 5 at 8 p.m.
Pianist Harris has been writing music for more than a decade, making CDs since 2007 and working extensively with his “Kevin Harris Project” ensembles all around the globe (Panama, Peru, China, Italy, and Poland in 2018 alone) and occasionally in local venues. It’s always unfair to pigeonhole an artist, but it’s safe to say that if you like modernist / modal post-hard-bop like that offered on Blue Note CDs of the early 1970s, you ought to come to grips with what Harris is doing. Even if you don’t know his earlier stuff, this “Expedition” concert is going to be worthy of your attention, because it represents a bold step forward in the pianist’s composing career, and it promises to be a wide-ranging sonic experience.
The music for his Baldwin project is through-composed, with a bit more formality than Harris has adopted previously, although there will plenty of variety — tech effects, including tape loops and samples influenced by black gospel; unusual meters inspired by Afro-Cuban music; passages of free improvisation; and even some foot percussion. In fact, the composed aspects are so important to Harris that he is giving the piano role to another player. Harris will concentrate on coordinating the performance and directing the production. The “contemporary octet” for this evening consists of eight wind instruments (two trumpets, two trombones, French horn, flute, alto sax and tenor sax) plus a rhythm section of piano, bass, and drums. Notable players on the gig include trumpeter Jason Palmer, alto player Jonathan Suazo, and pianist Nikolai Mishchenko, who are all well along in building their individual reps.
The words inspiring the music come from James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time. To read and sing the texts, Harris is incorporating a kaleidoscope of recorded voices, sometimes altered and filtered using EDI. To sing “It’s Gonna Rain,” the spiritual about Noah and the ark that Baldwin quotes in the book, he will employ a recording of Kentucky vocalist — preacher Rev. Charlotte Cox.
When I spoke to Harris about the performance, he said that he considers Baldwin’s textual voice to be “another instrument” in the group, and he ranks Calvin Limuel, who will be responsible for the EDI transformations, as another equal partner with the musicians. As he put it, “I wanted to give [The Fire Next Time] to someone else to interpret” using the tools of modern technology.
It promises to be well worth hearing. This YouTube video, from another BPC performance, will give you a taste of Harris’s composing and the quality of his group. It includes some beautiful trumpet work by Harris’s frequent stablemate Jason Palmer and strong tenor from Hery Paz, along with Eric Jackson’s narration of William Ernest Henley’s poem, “Invictus.” For something completely different, here are his piano-bass-drums takes on Thelonious Monk’s “Evidence” and the standard “I’ll Remember April,” recorded in Beijing. For more sampling, four of his CDs are hearable via Spotify; search for “Kevin Harris Project” to avoid confusion with other artists of the same name.
But Harris’s Baldwin Expedition is just one way that music and text can be blended, and recent releases show that that there are almost as many approaches to this process as there are examples to cite.
One of the most ambitious of these efforts is William Parker’s Voices Fall from the Sky, released last year, which in itself boasts at least four different ways to put poetry to music — pure through-composed art song, recitation with musical accompaniment, jazz singing with improvisation, and song interpretation with jazz inflections.
This range of this three-disc set turns it into an artistic autobiography for a highly respected but still under-appreciated bassist-composer, who has been active in New York since the free-jazz days of the late ’60s and early ’70s. His body of work is enormous — ballet scores, film scores, straight-ahead playing, unstructured improv, formal composition, and the voice-and-music combinations which are featured here. Two of the box’s CDs are drawn from recent sessions in 2017 and 2018, and a third CD comes from material recorded in the ’90s, some previously issued.
In addition to all his musical accomplishments, Parker is a poet, although his poetic skills should not be compared with those of writers whose work stands naked on the page. His texts were mostly designed to be integrated with music, so they are by their nature incomplete as mere words. He is by turns declamatory, meditative, prolix, terse, didactic, and prayerful and, as you might expect when you attempt to appreciate more than three hours of material, you will find some of the pieces more immediately approachable than others. Nonetheless, this is a massive effort, and hearing it through will leave you with a full understanding of Parker the man and Parker the musician.
There is a persistent feeling of homage throughout, with pieces dedicated to Parker’s friends, predecessors, and heroes — Don Byas, Duke Ellington, Fannie Lou Hamer, Borah Bergman, Andrew Hill, James Baldwin, June Jordan, Billy Bang, Julius Eastman, and the pantheon of jazz gods (why no goddesses, Mr. Parker?) cited in “Band in the Sky.” The choices of dedicatees and the things Parker chooses to say about them illuminate his own personality — his spirituality, passion, dedication to justice, and faith in the future.
The musical focus here is almost always on the seventeen (!) solo singers, and Parker has chosen an impressive array of singing / speaking talent across a big spectrum, from classical mezzo AnnMarie Sandy to Ernie Odoom, who can stretch his voice beyond conventional singing to grunts, squeals, and high falsetto. I was particularly struck by the soulful Leena Conquest, whom Parker calls on for a gospel-ly “Prayer,” and “Sweet Breeze,” a reminiscence of his youth in the South Bronx. I should also single out Lisa Sokolov, who sings two of the best pieces in the set, “Aborigine Song” and “Morning Moon,” where she employs a lot of extended vocal technique. Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay is another notable talent, featured in ‘Lights of Lake George,” the set’s most unusual piece, where she sings wordlessly in the improvisatory style of south India. And I wanted to hear more from Morley Shanti Kamen, an expressive contralto with beautiful pitch and vibrato control, who makes the most of her one feature, “A Tree Called Poem.”
Parker has a strong, agreeable sound on bass, which he plays on a third of the pieces. Usually his role is strictly in support of the singers, except for a striking duet with drummer Hamid Drake on “Deep Flower,” and an effective spot on a kora-like instrument called the donso ngoni on “A Tree Called Poem.”
All of the set is hearable on Spotify, but the CD package, designed by Steven Joerg and featuring paintings by Lois Eby, is worth owning as an artwork in itself.
A 2015 release drawn from a 2004 concert at the Institute of Contemporary Art reminds us of another underappreciated master, saxophonist Steve Lacy. Lacy’s Last Tour deserves to be part of this survey because five of its eight pieces include Lacy’s settings of poetic texts. I’ve already written extensively about his unprecedented approach to selecting material and writing for voice, but suffice it to say here that this performance, one of his last, is definitive. Another delight: before each of the poem-songs, Lacy reads the text in his sly and ironic baritone, which tunes up the listener for the completely different singing style of his wife, Irene Aebi. Especially worth mentioning are “Train Going By,” on a text by Robert Creeley, which suggests train rhythms without ever being hokey, and “In the Pocket,” on a text celebrating jazz by Ann Waldman and Andrew Schelling. That poem includes what could be a valediction for Lacy’s own life: “oh America / your music we could love you.”
The instrumental support here is on a par with that of Lacy’s other groups, which is to say, perfect. His long-time rhythm section, bassist Jean-Jacques Avenel (gone now as well, sad to say) and drummer John Betsch, lived and breathed his music, and they play it magnificently. The presence of trombonist George Lewis, a virtuoso individualist who shares Lacy’s dedication to following his own muse, is yet another reason to own this CD. Lewis occasionally performed with Lacy’s groups, always to great effect, and he shows again in this set what a distinctive and consummate artist he is. Beyond the words, the music still speaks: one of the pieces is “Baghdad,” the last in Lacy’s series of war-protest songs.
Florian Ross, a German pianist previously unknown to me, joins this illustrious company with Swallows & Swans, the most recent of the releases in this survey. He has a generous and lyrical approach to the piano, perhaps most akin to that of Fred Hersch. In this new CD six of the twelve tunes are built on poetic material. He is not a slave to text, and that’s all to the good; three of the poems he sets are edited and/or adapted from originals by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Sir Samuel Ferguson to make them appropriate to his singer, Kristin Berardi, or to make them read more to his purpose. All three of these adaptations are thoroughly successful artistically. I especially liked the timepiece qualities of “The Horloge of Eternity,” adapted from two stanzas of Longfellow’s “The Old Clock on the Stairs.”
The Australian-born Berardi contributed two texts. “Looking Inward,” which is addressed to a man who cannot come to terms with himself, is particularly worth hearing. But the place for the first-time listener to start on this CD is “The Silver Swan,” an Orlando Gibbons madrigal from which the whole CD takes its title. The last two lines resonate long after the song is done, despite the fact that the words were written by Gibbons in the 1600s: “More Geese than Swannes now live, more fooles than wise.” Ross interprets it with great reverence but perfect modernity, and it serves as a showcase for Berardi’s clear, pure voice and her excellent pitch.
The instrumentals, some of which have Berardi contributing wordless vocals, offer two more highlights: “Trip to the Watercooler,” in a hip time signature, with a fine tenor solo by Matthew Halpin, and “Solid Air,” a tune cleverly built on an insistent ostinato. Some of Ross’s other CDs are hearable on Spotify, but as of this writing, Swallows & Swans has to be purchased to be heard in its entirety. However, a sampler of excerpts from the CD is available on YouTube:
Was Miles Davis a poet? Not in any conventional sense, but his guru-like pronouncements to sidemen have taken on legendary status. For example, percussionist Airto Moreira is fond of describing his first months with Davis’s group, when the leader kept telling him, “Don’t beat, just play.” Moreira eventually understood, and began to use his instruments for color and atmosphere rather than simply for rhythm.
An extended example of Miles’s coaching leads off Robert Glasper’s Everything’s Beautiful, a tribute to Davis and an update of his music. Glasper is a keyboard artist who works many sides of many streets (for a comprehensive listen to him as a player, check out Double Booked [Blue Note, 2009]), and he acts here as producer, providing a bit of atmospheric keyboard work on a couple of the tracks, and just one piano solo, on “Milestones.”
All of the music in the set is based (loosely) on samples from Davis’s recordings, and each of the tracks features a different team of artists. Glasper presides over the proceedings like a genial ringmaster; from his notes: “I wanted this to be full of samples, using the multi-tracks and other bands doing their thing.” He gives Georgia Anne Muldrow, Ledisi, Erykah Badu, Laura Mvula, KING, and others full rein to select and transform the basic material.
Davis’s voice appears twice, beginning with “Talking Shit,” from the 1969 Jack Johnson sessions, consisting of instructions to drummer Joe Chambers about the kind of beat Davis wants, and gruff encouragement to the other players to get into the groove. It serves as a kind of splash of cold water in the face of the listener and a reminder of Who’s In Charge, and it echoes throughout the tracks that follow. The Voice comes back in the second-last track, in a “Wait a minute” sample used in Ledisi’s “I’m Leaving You.”
Glasper has sequenced the material into an effective gallery of tributes — not always directly evoking Davis and not exactly unified into a whole, but with a collective effect that strengthens as the CD moves along, peaking in the final track, DJ Spinna’s “Right On Brotha,” built on a sample from Davis’s “Right Off,” which includes a sparkling harmonica solo by Stevie Wonder that hiply quotes Wayne Shorter’s “Nefertiti.” I also liked KING’s “Song for Selim,” where the vocal harmonies of this trio of women add a lovely texture. The full CD is hearable on Spotify.
Despite the listenability and the overall success of Everything’s Beautiful, Glasper isn’t exactly a pro at this sort of thing. For that, we have to go back to 1992 for Hal Willner’s Weird Nightmare: Meditations on Mingus. The more I’ve heard this CD, the better I think it is. It simply must be included here because, with the perspective of time, it represents a landmark recording in the marrying of spoken word and jazz.
Willner is a master of the machines, the first audio producer I can think of who deserves the designation of artist. As good as the work of other producers may be, they rarely stamp material with such a distinctive imprint and, when he has complete freedom to create, Willner builds worlds of sound that are sui generis. Meditations on Mingus is the only one of his jazz-oriented projects that includes spoken word, although he has put the speaking voice front and center on a monumental and indispensable collection of Lenny Bruce material called Let the Buyer Beware (Shout! Factory, 2004), and a vinyl-only release of William S. Burroughs reading excerpts from Naked Lunch, illustrated with music from Willner’s frequent partner Bill Frisell and other musicians (Let Me Hang You, Ernest Jenning Record Company, 2016).
Weird Nightmare is a tribute to bassist-composer Charles Mingus, but it is well beyond anything that “tribute” implies. It takes its title from one of Mingus’s early and eerie tunes, and “weirdness” informs its esthetic, but not in a way that works against the excellent selection of Mingus compositions.
Unlike Willner’s other tribute anthologies, this one builds on what he refers to as a “house band,” anchored by guitarist Frisell, bassist Greg Cohen, and percussionist Don Alias. He selected a cast of remarkable guest artists to work with when arranging and playing the music — saxophonist Henry Threadgill, guitarists Marc Ribot and Gary Lucas, pianist Geri Allen, clarinetist Don Byron, percussionist Bobby Previte, and Keith Richards and Charlie Watts from The Rolling Stones. To this, he added the sounds of instruments created by another sui generis musician, composer Harry Partch, played by Partch scholar Francis Thumm and some of the guest artists. Finally, Willner selected passages of Mingus’s prose poetry, mostly from published and unpublished parts of the composer’s autobiographical fantasy, Beneath the Underdog, and invited Robbie Robertson, Elvis Costello, Henry Rollins, Leonard Cohen, and Dr. John to read them (By the way, how does Willner get so many people like these to sign on to one of his projects?).
No other person could make these disparate elements work together, but Willner does it, and the recording is a personal triumph. It deserves to be savored in its entirety, listened to with both ears and without distraction. The effect of such a full listening is transformative, not only in terms of rediscovering the greatness of Mingus’s music and words, but in the savoring of an esthetic environment created exclusively for this purpose. If you must begin with an excerpt, I advise hearing “Gunslinging Bird,” on which Willner grafts Mingus’s description of the 1942 fire at Boston’s Cocoanut Grove nightclub, read / rapped by Chuck D. The CD is not hearable via Spotify, so do yourself a favor and buy it.
Historical notes: Mingus himself tried his hand at text and music, notably in “The Chill of Death,” which he recites, from Let My Children Hear Music (Columbia, 1972), and Oh Yeah, where he sings (Atlantic, 1962). In Meditations for Mingus, Willner re-set “Chill of Death” and resurrected “Oh Lord Don’t Let Them Drop that Atomic Bomb on Me” from Oh Yeah, but it’s hardly a surprise that the originals are preferable.
So much for notable projects where music has the primary role. When poetry is the first order of business, an even richer garden of possibilities comes into flower. For that, look for my follow-up post and consult the list below.
Notable upcoming performances in our area of works marrying text and music:
Matt Wilson (comp / dm / vo), brings his Carl Sandburg tribute to Scullers on February 7, with shows at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. The touring “Salt and Honey Band” is Dawn Thomson (g, vo), Jeff Lederer (reeds / vo), Nadje Noordhuis (tp), and Martin Wind (b), almost the same lineup as that on Wilson’s current CD. You can sample the CD via Spotify.
Fred Hersch (comp / p) presents Leaves of Grass, his song cycle on poems of Walt Whitman, with musicians from the original recording [Kurt Elling (vo), Kate McGarry (vo), Bruce Williamson (cl / as / bcl), Tony Malaby (ts), John Hollenbeck (dm)] and Nadje Noordhuis (tp / flug), Alan Ferber (tb), Jody Redhage Ferber (cel), and John Hebert (b) – on March 23 at 8 p.m. at the Berklee Performance Center, sponsored by World Music / Crash Arts. (May 31, 2019 will mark Whitman’s 200th birthday.)
Robert Pinsky (vo) reads his work with jazz accompaniment by Stan Strickland (ts / fl), Hankus Netsky (kb), Catherine Brent (cel), Yedidyah Syd Smart (per) – City Winery (80 Beverly Street, at Canal Street), Boston, MA on April 14 at noon.
A selected discography of projects marrying poetic texts and jazz, chronological by recording date. Releases in bold are highlighted in the survey above:
Jack Kerouac (vo): Blues and Haikus, with texts by Kerouac, w. Al Cohn (ts / p), Zoot Sims (ts) (Recorded spring 1958, released on Hanover, 1959; reissued on CD by Rhino, 1990). Hearable via Spotify.
George Russell (comp / arr / chromatic drums): New York, N. Y., with texts by Jon Hendricks, w. Hendricks (vo), John Coltrane (ts), Bob Brookmeyer (vtb), Bill Evans (p), Max Roach (dm), et al. (Recorded November 1958 – March 1959; released on Decca, 1960; reissued on CD by Impulse, 1998). Hearable via Spotify.
Max Roach (comp / dm): We Insist! / Freedom Now Suite, on texts by Oscar Brown, Jr., w. Abbey Lincoln (vo), Coleman Hawkins (ts), Booker Little (tp), Julian Priester (tb), James Schenk (b), Michael Olatunji (per), et al. (Recorded August – September 1960; released on Candid, 1961), Hearable via a Spotify playlist created by James Edwards Leland, where, for no discernible reason, it is followed by Wilson Pickett’s The Wicked Pickett.
Charles Mingus (comp / p / vo): Oh Yeah, on texts by Mingus, w. [Rahsaan] Roland Kirk (fl / ts/ manzello / stritch), Booker Ervin (ts), Jimmy Knepper (tb), Doug Watkins (b), Dannie Richmond (dm) (Recorded November 1961; released on Atlantic, 1962; reissued on CD by Atlantic, 1988, with additional tracks from the same session, on which Mingus plays bass and does not sing, originally released in Tonight at Noon, and a live recording of “Ecclusiastics”). Hearable via Spotify.
Amiri Baraka [as LeRoi Jones] (vo): “Black Dada Nihilismus” (text by Baraka), w. Lewis Worrell (b), Milford Graves (dm), from New York Art Quartet (Recorded November 1964; released on ESP-Disk, 1965) [The New York Art Quartet also included Roswell Rudd (tb) and John Tchicai (as), but they lay out on “Black Dada Nihilismus.”] Hearable via Spotify.
Archie Shepp (vo): “Scag,” on text by Shepp, w. Bobby Hutcherson (vib), et al., from New Thing at Newport (Recorded July 1965; released on Impulse, 1966). Hearable via Spotify.
Charles Mingus (comp / vo): “The Chill of Death” (text by Mingus), with small orchestra, from Let My Children Hear Music (Recorded 1971; released on Columbia, 1972). Hearable via Spotify.
Gil Scott-Heron (vo / p) & Brian Jackson (kb): Winter in America, on texts by Scott-Heron (Recorded September – October 1973; released on Strata-East, 1974). [Scott-Heron had an extensive recording career, including Small Talk at 125th and Lenox (Flying Dutchman, 1970), Pieces of a Man (Flying Dutchman, 1971), The First Minute of a New Day (Arista, 1975) From South Africa to South Carolina (Arista, 1975), and I’m New Here (XL / Young Turks, 2011). He died in 2011.] The Flying Dutchman and XL releases are hearable via Spotify.
Steve Lacy (ss): Futurities, Part I and Futurities, Part II, on texts by Robert Creeley, w. Irene Aebi (vo), Steve Potts (as / ss), George Lewis (tb), Jean-Jacques Avenel (b), Oliver Johnson (dm), et al. (Recorded 1984; released on Hat Hut, 1989 [Part I] & 1990 [Part II]), Hearable via Spotify.
Hal Willner (prod / elecs): Weird Nightmare: Meditations on Mingus, incorporating texts by Charles Mingus, w. Robbie Robertson (vo), Elvis Costello (vo), Chuck D [Carlton Douglas Ridenhour] (vo), Henry Rollins (vo), Keith Richards (vo), Diamanda Galás (vo), Leonard Cohen (vo), Dr. John [Mac Rebennack] (vo), et al., arranged by Michael Blair, Henry Threadgill, Greg Cohen, Vernon Reid, Bill Frisell, The Uptown Horns, Bobby Previte, Art Baron (Recorded 1991 – 1992; released on Columbia, 1992)
Steve Lacy (comp / ss): Vespers, on texts by Blaga Dimitrova, w. Irene Aebi (vo), Steve Potts (as / ss), Ricky Ford (ts), Tom Varner (Frh), Jean-Jacques Avenel (b), John Betsch (dm), (Recorded July 1993; released on Soul Note, 1993), Hearable via Spotify. Arts Fuse review, with comparison to the December 2011 Jordan Hall recreation.
Norma Winstone (vo): Like Song, Like Weather, w. John Taylor (p). Includes Winstone’s texts on Dave Brubeck’s “Strange Meadowlark,” Kenny Wheeler’s “Everybody’s Song but My Own,” Steve Swallow’s “Ladies in Mercedes,” and Carla Bley’s “Sing Me Softly of the Blues.” (Recorded March 1996; released on Enodoc, 1997; reissued on Sunnyside, 2017). Hearable via Spotify.
Norma Winstone (vo): Songs & Lullabies, w. Fred Hersch (p), Gary Burton (vib). Includes Winstone’s texts on eleven songs by Hersch (Recorded July 2002; released on Sunnyside, 2003). Hearable via Spotify
Norma Winstone (vo): Dance Without Answer, w. Glauco Venier (p), Klaus Gesing (ss / bcl) Includes Winstone’s texts on compositions by Gesing, Ralph Towner, and Tomas Mendez, plus tunes by Nick Drake, Tom Waits, Fred Neil and others. Hearable via Spotify. (Recorded December 2012; released on ECM, 2013)
Steve Lacy (comp / ss / vo): Last Tour, w. Irene Aebi (vo), George Lewis (tb), Jean-Jacques Avenel (b), John Betsch (dm). Includes pieces based on texts by Bob Kaufman, William Burroughs, Robert Creeley, Ann Waldman and Andrew Schelling (Recorded at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, March 2004; released on Emanem, 2015)
John Hollenbeck (comp / arr / dm): Joys & Desires, w. Theo Bleckmann (vo, elecs), Jazz Bigband Graz. Includes “The Bird with the Coppery Keen Claws,” on a text by Wallace Stevens; “The Garden of Love,” on a text by William Blake, and “Maxfield” [inspired by Maxfield Parrish], on a text by Hollenbeck. (Recorded April 2004; released on Intuition, 2005). Hearable via Spotify.
Fred Hersch (comp / p): Leaves of Grass, on texts by Walt Whitman, w. Kurt Elling (vo), Kate McGarry (vo), Ralph Alessi (tp / flug), Mike Christianson (tb), Bruce Williamson (cl / as / bcl), Tony Malaby (ts), Erik Friedlander (cel), Drew Gress (b), John Hollenbeck (dm), (Recorded October 2004; released on Palmetto, 2005). Hearable via Spotify.
Steve Swallow (comp / e-b): So There, on texts by Robert Creeley, w. Creeley (vo), Steve Kuhn (p), Cikada String Quartet, (Recorded March 2005; released on ECM, 2006). [Creeley died during the recording sessions. Swallow had a long relationship with the poet, setting his texts on three previous recordings (Home, with Sheila Jordan (vo) [ECM, 1980]; Have We Told You All You’d Thought to Know? with Creeley (vo) and Forever Sharp & Vivid [Cuneiform, 2001]; and The Way Out is Via the Door with Creeley (vo) [462 Music, 2002]).] The ECM releases are hearable via Spotify.
Robert Pinsky (vo) & Laurence Hobgood (p): Poemjazz, on texts by Pinsky and Ben Jonson (Circumstantial, 2012), via Spotify. [Pinsky and Hobgood did a followup CD, House Hour (Circumstantial, 2015), and live shows at the Regattabar in Cambridge, on February 24, 2012 and November 13, 2015.] Poemjazz is hearable via Spotify.
David Murray (comp / ts): Blues for Memo, on texts by Williams and Ishmael Reed, w. Saul Williams (vo), Pervis Evans (vo), Craig Harris (tb), Orrin Evans (p), Jason Moran (e-p), Mingus Murray (g), Jaribu Shahid (b), Nasheet Waits (dm), Aytac Dogan (kanun), in memory of Mehmet Uluğ and Butch Morris (Recorded 2015; released on Motéma, 2018). Hearable via Spotify.
Norbert Stein (ts): Das Karussel, on texts of Rainer Maria Rilke, w. Ingrid Noemi Stein (vo), et al., (Recorded June 2015; released on PATA Music, 2016) Arts Fuse review. Hearable via Spotify.
Robert Glasper (prod / p): Everything’s Beautiful, incorporating texts spoken and inspired by Miles Davis, w. Davis (vo / tp), Bilal [Oliver] (vo). Illa J [John Derek Yancey] (vo), Erykah Badu (vo), Phonte [Coleman] (vo), Nai Palm [Naomi Saalfield] (vo), Laura Mvula (vo), KING [Amber Strother, Anita Bias, Paris Strother] (vo), Georgia Anne Muldrow (vo), Ledisi [Young] (vo), DJ Spinna [Vincent Williams] (vo), et al., (Recorded October 2015; released on Columbia / Blue Note / Legacy, 2016). Hearable via Spotify.
Matt Wilson (comp / dm / vo): Honey and Salt, on texts by Carl Sandburg, w. Dawn Thomson (g, vo), Jeff Lederer (reeds / vo), Ron Miles (cnt), Martin Wind (b), Jack Black (vo), Christian McBride (vo), John Scofield (vo), Carla Bley (vo), Bill Frisell (vo), Joe Lovano (vo), Rufus Reid (vo), (Recorded October 2016; released on Palmetto, 2017). Hearable via Spotify.
Norma Winstone (vo): Descansado: Songs for Films, w. Glauco Venier (p), Klaus Gesing (ss / bcl), et al. Includes Winstone’s texts on five film themes written by Nino Rota, Bernard Herrmann, William Walton, Armando Trovajoli, and Luis Bacalov (Recorded March 2017; released on ECM, 2018). Hearable via Spotify.
Jane Ira Bloom (comp / ss): Wild Lines, on texts of Emily Dickinson, w. Deborah Rush (vo), Dawn Clement (p), Mark Helias (b), Bobby Previte (dm) (Recorded April 2017; released on Outline, 2017) Arts Fuse reviews one and two. Hearable via Spotify.
Edward Simon (p): Sorrows & Triumphs, w. Gretchen Parlato (vo), Imari Winds, on texts by Simon and Parlato (Recorded September 2017; released on Sunnyside, 2018). Hearable via Spotify.
William Parker (comp / b): Voices Fall from the Sky, on texts by Parker, w. Omar Pavano (vo), Raina Sokolov-Gonzalez (p / vo), Andrea Wolper (vo), Bernardo Palombo (vo), Jean Carla Rodea (vo), Kyoko Kitamura (vo), Fay Victor (vo), Amirtha Kidambi (vo), Timna Comedi (vo), Morley Shanti Kamen (vo), Ernie Odoom (vo), Ellen Christi (vo), Lisa Sokolov (vo), Leena Conquest (vo), Mola Sylla (vo), Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay (vo), AnnMarie Sandy (vo), (Recorded from October 1991 to January 2018; released on Centering, 2018). Hearable via Spotify.
Florian Ross (comp / p): Swallows & Swans, w, Kristin Berardi (vo), on texts by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Samuel Ferguson, Kristin Berardi, Orlando Gibbons (Recorded June 2018; released on Deutschlandfunk, 2018). A sampler of excerpts from the CD is available on YouTube [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F1gqiz095Rk].
Disclosures: I received a review copy of Florian Ross’ Swallows & Swans, and I listened to Let Me Hang You via Spotify.
Thanks for the inspirations: Michael Ullman of The Arts Fuse; Pamela Espeland of NPR’s “A Blog Supreme”
Steve Elman’s four decades (and counting) in New England public radio have included ten years as a jazz host in the 1970s, five years as a classical host in the 1980s, a short stint as senior producer of an arts magazine, thirteen years as assistant general manager of WBUR, and currently, on-call status as fill-in classical host on 99.5 WCRB since 2011. He was jazz and popular music editor of The Schwann Record and Tape Guides from 1973 to 1978 and wrote free-lance music and travel pieces for The Boston Globe and The Boston Phoenix from 1988 through 1991.