EnCore, as its title suggests, is the second outing by Fred Fried and Core. Listening to this record, one can see why Fred Fried wished to work with this group for a second time—the band, comprised of Fried on eight string guitar, Michael Lavoie on bass and Miki Matsuki on drums, interacts with natural ease and their individual styles are matched well.
Psychedelic pranksters M'lumbo return with the amusingly titled Celestial Ghetto. The title of the album is quite fitting as M'lumbo draw from many sources, and can alternate seamlessly between the gritty and the ethereal. With M'lumbo, there is no distinction between high and low art where refined soloing is juxtaposed against a sense of nutty humor. This might be irritating to some (why obscure a perfectly good solo with seemingly random samples?) but this recording is refreshingly free from intellectual pretenses.
After 75 Years is an ambitious work. Macy Chen has created a concept album of sorts about the parallel lives of herself and her grandfather. Both Chen and her grandfather, Chin-Chang Liu, had left their homes in Taiwan to pursue jazz music, against the practical wisdom of their friends and family. Though she never met her grandfather, Macy Chen always felt a connection with him through jazz music.
The recording is dedicated Mr. Yoshitaka Sugaya, a personal friend of the group who was lost in the tsunami disaster in March, 2011. This lends a personal and tragic feel to this often raw recording. Free Jazz fans will likely find a lot to interest them here.
Zaz is the impressive debut album by the French jazz-pop artist of the same name. Zaz takes a fresh and open-minded approach to her music. Gypsy jazz rhythms, pop hooks and Mills Brothers-esque vocal solos collide in a cohesive and fully realized musical vision. The blend of styles never seems awkward, pretentious or contrived. At its best, this album contains legitimately great pop music. Even at its worst, these songs still tower above their Top 40 pop peers.
Rick Stone's Fractals is an excellent hard bop recording. For this release, the guitarist is joined by his live band featuring Marco Panascia on bass and Tom Pollard on drums. The warm sensitivity these players show each other, undoubtedly perfected through countless hours of playing together, provides the perfect context for Stone's fluid solos. The guitarist's tone is truly gorgeous. It is rich, full and despite its well-rounded low end, always clear. Stone's tone and articulation are so inviting that even the most complex harmonic ideas never alienate the listener. The phrasing is sometimes reminiscent of Jim Hall (a compliment for any guitarist), but Rick Stone has his own sound as well.
John Colianni is a gifted pianist with a strong interest in swing and early bebop. Jazz is a very historically conscious genre, even as it is always moving forward. Still, even among the most historically minded contingent of modern jazz, Colianni sounds positively old-fashioned. The pianist keeps one foot squarely in a 1940s swing aesthetic, and, by the sheer joy of his playing, he obviously deeply loves the music he is drawing from. That said, one is not likely to confuse this recording with a swing recording from the 1940s. Colianni has a modern flair that is apparent both in his harmonically complex solos and his occasionally involved compositions. Even at its most complicated though, this music is always swinging, and swinging easy at that.