Swing Time Edition: Meridian Trio, Chris Speed Trio, Portico Quartet, Kenosha Kid

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Meridian Trio: Triangulum

Have a serious backlog of superb jazz releases from the past few months that may not have made it onto your radar. Let’s see how much swing I can squeeze into this week’s column. First up is Meridian Trio and their debut LP Triangulum. The album title refers, naturally, to the three sides of this Chicago-based trio: bandleader on alto sax Nick Mazzarella, bassist Matt Ullery and drummer Jeremy Cunningham. Like all standout threesomes, each contributes to the set of original music equally, bringing three perspectives to the same pieces, creating simultaneous tension and synergy. In many ways this feels like classic old school sax-trio stuff, but also forward-looking and fresh.


Chris Speed Trio: Platinum On Tap

While I’m recommending excellent new saxophone trio records to you, I definitely would be remiss if I didn’t mention the new one from the Chris Speed Trio. The NYC-scene mainstay has recruited some top notch talent for this one, with Dave King on drums and Chris Tordini on bass. On paper with these three, you might expect something that’s pushing the boundaries of what “jazz” is, but instead, the material is actually unmistakably, straight-up jazz. In a way, that seems to free up the musicians, who take this foundation and twist and turn from within. Everyone is in top form throughout. Speed’s playing obviously is the centerpiece, but I must say, the drumming of King is really phenomenal on this record, which is worth listening to this just to hear his playing.

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Portico Quartet: Art In The Age Of Automation

For something that’s a little more on the boundaries, take a listen to the newest record from Portico Quartet. The London four-piece came out with Art In The Age Of Automation toward the end of the summer and has been a source of many pleasant surprises for me upon repeated listens. Here the jazz is part of a blend of electronic, classical and ambient, creating a sound that is beyond straightforward categorization. The album is a minimalist delight, brain grooves and short sonic journeys. This is the good stuff.

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Kenosha Kid: Outside Choices

Several years ago Athens, Georgia-based band Kenosha Kid made a RecommNeds appearance with their album Inside Voices. This fall they followed up with the worthy companion Outside Choices. The new one finds the group in fine form, smashing together influences from far and wide to create a freewheeling, improvisational record. A three-piece horn section winds around and within itself while going back and forth with guitar/bass/drums for a versatile sound. Sometimes they feel big and powerful, other times quiet and pensive. Regardless, their melodies are unique and entrancing. If you like a somewhat jammy and exploratory jazz, this one’s for you.

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The NJE: Afloat

While the list keeps on going, I’ll finish off here with one more must-here in the may-or-may-not-be-jazz realm. The band is called The NJE which is an abbreviation for the tongue-in-cheek “near jazz experience.” They are a U.K. trio, although their debut album Afloat is of the “there must be more than three guys” variety. Their sound is equal parts rock and funk and jazz, sprawling and free. The record is at least partially recorded live and feels it, fully spontaneous, the energy of a room filled with sound is palpable. There are both long suites that unfold over time and short in-your-face blasts with plenty in-between and even a totally deconstructed Hendrix cover. Check it out, I think you’ll dig!

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