Jazz Springs Eternal Edition: Yelena Eckemoff, Scot Ray Quartet, Jim Black Trio, Jeremy Cunningham & Lakecia Benjamin

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Yelena Eckemoff: Nocturnal Animals

I feel like good jazz music somehow is capturing my mood during these self-isolated times. Something about an ensemble working together at close sonic range, maybe. Check these great new jazz releases and let me know what you think. First up is Russian pianist Yelena Eckemoff, who put together a stellar band for her latest in a string of must-hear releases. Nocturnal Animals is a tribute to just that: creatures of the night, each track taking a different beast-after-dark and capturing some part of its essence. I think many of us have become a bit nocturnal these days, so this might just fit you just right.


Scot Ray Quartet: Scot Ray Quartet

Next up is the self-titled debut from the Scot Ray Quartet. This is a super-interesting group featuring Ray on lap steel guitar, Bill Barrett on chromatic harmonica, Steuart Liebig on bass and Alex Cline on drums. The mix of lap steel and chromatic harmonica creates an incredibly unique sound palette. Of course, that only gets you so far, but the music takes full advantage of the possibilities, compositions that are both eerie and hopeful, sometimes light and lovely, others with just enough edge. Check it out, I think you’ll dig!

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Jim Black Trio: Reckon

One of my favorite too-under-the-radar drummers is Jim Black, he’s the kind of player that draws you in to his playing no matter what the band or setting, as a sideman or leading the charge. Over the winter he released another Jim Black Trio record featuring Elias Stemeseder on piano and Thomas Morgan on bass. The album is called Reckon and, unsurprisingly, it’s another gem, a standout in the piano trio genre. The music phases in and out from a more “standard” piano trio sound to more exciting and exploratory passages. Likewise, Black seems to drift easily from the background to the forefront, an impressive feat for a drummer. The trio is in fine form, one of the best jazz releases of the first quarter of the year. Enjoy!

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Jeremy Cunningham: The Weather Up There

Speaking of best-of-year jazz records put out by drummers, you must, must check out The Weather Up There from Chicago drummer Jeremy Cunningham. This one is a tour de force, a record that wraps its arms around the important stuff – you know, life and death, family and friends – and embraces it all with a honest-to-goodness piece of art. The music was written in response to the loss of his brother, killed in a home invasion, and you can feel all the emotions bubbling up throughout. He’s helped by his friends, a who’s-who from the Chicago jazz scene, to create a document of hurt and love. This is a special one and the music, transcending genre, is fantastic.

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Lakecia Benjamin: Pursuance: The Coltranes

So much great jazz music and “jazz” music as well. I’ll wrap it up with one more, but may have to drop another set on you in the near future (maybe next week?). For now, I’ll leave you with Lakecia Benjamin, a keep-your-eye-out young saxophone player from New York City. Benjamin is a speeding bullet of energy and brings that spirit to one of the all-time greats. Her newest is Pursuance and it’s a bit of a career retrospective and loving tribute to John Coltrane. With her own band and a mighty fine guestlist, Benjamin does the Coltrane catalog her way, looking back, looking forward, looking within. It’s a winner and a must for any Coltrane fan, big or small. A love supreme, indeed. Until next time!

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