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Recent jazz albums

Recent jazz albums

Church and State

Matt Cappy

Perhaps Cappy, a trumpeter with lengthy and impressive sideman credits, should’ve simply titled this album State. Not that his “church” cuts are duds. The jazzy rhythms enlivening his arrangement of Gounod’s “Ave Maria” temper the requisite reverence with just the right amount of informality, and, if you can listen past Marsha Ambrosius’ superfluous vocals, his “Amazing Grace” does too. But it’s the funky Cappy-composed place-name instrumentals—and a “Nessun dorma” that’s neither church nor state—on which he and his various ensembles sound most at home.

An Intimate Piano Session

Duke Ellington

The addition of three anachronous, small-combo live performances and the occasional overripe contributions of two of his singers sully what’s otherwise an as-intimate-as-advertised first official release of solo recordings made by America’s greatest composer 45 years ago. For the most part, however, Ellington’s exploration of these melodies—which he composed, co-composed, or commissioned—has a winning directness. Or, as he himself puts it at the conclusion of “A Blue Mural from Two Perspectives”: “This piano’s too honest. It shows all of my flaws.”

William Bolcom: Piano Rags

Spencer Myer

If Bolcom’s large-scale works are comparable to epics, his rags are comparable to sonnets. Formally proscribed yet motifically flexible, they avail themselves of moods ranging from the playfully bawdy to the elegiacally reflective. And the depths and the heights that his rags don’t explore they nevertheless suggest. Thirty years separate the oldest of these (1967) from the newest (1998), yet nothing in any of them connotes their vintages. And Myer, who’s equally comfortable with Mozart and Gershwin, is just the pianist to honor their timelessness.

Charlie Watts Meets the Danish Radio Big Band

The Danish Radio Big Band, Charlie Watts

Unsurprisingly given the drummer who gets top billing, the linchpins of this 52-minute 2010 performance are three Rolling Stones classics, each of which not only survives its transformation into a big-band number but also sounds pretty good as one. But Watts swings the hardest on Woody Herman’s “Molasses” and plays the hardest on “Elvin Suite Pt. 2,” which he co-wrote with Jim Keltner and which sounds, believe it or not, like a cross between ELP’s “Tank” and the coda of the Doors’ “Touch Me.”


Brian Marsella (Handout)


John Zorn’s Tzadik Records remains a fecund source of experimentally inclined jazz in general and Zorn’s own experimentally inclined jazz in particular. And none of Tzadik’s 2017 releases showcase the diverse array of styles in which its founder and CEO composes more clearly than the Brian Marsella Trio’s Buer: The Book of Angels Volume 31, Gyan Riley and Julian Lage’s Midsummer Moons, and the founder and CEO’s There Is No More Firmament.

Listen to Marsella’s trio, and you’ll conclude that Zorn specializes in bending Hebraic-sounding melodies to the demands of bebop, both slow (“Palalael,” “Camael”) and breakneck (“Tsirya,” “Petahel”). Listen to the acoustic guitarists Riley and Lage, and you’ll conclude that Zorn is a New Age folky intent on defining loveliness up without losing listeners accustomed to dumbed-down alternatives. Listen to both versions of “Merlin” on There Is No More Firmament, and you’ll conclude that Zorn has a wild sense of humor. And in all three cases, you’d be right. —A.O.