Harriet Tubman, the trio of guitarist Brandon Ross, bassist Melvin Gibbs and drummer J.T. Lewis, have been weird for twenty years now. Their free jazz essence is certainly an acquired taste, however it's also a free jazz rooted in soul that makes their music so memorable. In the latest album, Araminta, out this Friday on Sunnyside, the band brings along trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith for a raucous collection of songs full of fiery energy, even when the burners are on low. Really, Araminta is truly great.
A piano trio, a good one, can come from anywhere. The cleverness, the connecting, the perfect sense of anchoring, the snappiness that makes the piano-bass-drums trio such a classic sound even when it moves forward, it all comes from signature, and there are signatures everywhere. New Orleans signature sounds have a ragtag sense to them, rough around the edges from centuries of lovingly performing the act of loving. That kind of signature can make for a pretty good piano-bass-drums trio. Extended -- Oscar Rossignoli on piano, Matt Booth on bass, and Brad Webb on drums -- have all the attributes of a clever New Orleans piano-bass-drums trio. (And it's part of my signature that I'm a sucker for those.)
Mandolinist Chris Thile and pianist Brad Mehldau have been playing together for a little while now. I got to see them play together in Austin back in 2013 and was certainly impressed, wondering why this hadn't happened before. To steal from my exposition of almost four years ago, "The master piano player, known worldwide as a game changer in the jazz genre, seemed the perfect fit for the man recognized by the nebulous MacArthur Foundation [in 2012] for stretching the boundaries of bluegrass music. Thile always had a jazz sound to his frenetic, mellifluous style of plucking and Mehldau always had a little bit of everything else." This same rationale still applies now with the release of their double album out now on Nonesuch.
A few weeks ago, numerous people on Facebook and I revealed our favorite albums from our high school years. In my corner of the internet, I felt a little alone having Al Jarreau's 1977 Grammy award-winning album, Look to the Rainbow: Live in Europe on my list, but I've often felt alone because of my personality and choices. This just seemed like part of it. Al Jarreau is of a particular taste and of a particular time, but he was one of the greats. Jarreau -- dead this morning, February 12, 2017, shortly after announcing his retirement -- has had a life that stood out on its own as a talent and ability worth marveling. He epitomized the voice as instrument.
Every year, trumpeter Jeremy Pelt releases a new album on the High Note label and I look forward to it each year, almost more than I do Christmas. Like any artist, he tweaks the formula each time, finding new ways to make music and express logistically his ideas, seeing what he can make with different tools. Sometimes it'll be through electric instruments; sometimes through two drummers in different audio channels; sometimes it'll be through not using a saxophonist in the group, leaving him to bring the only horn to the group. This time out, he went with the latter, along with the lovely textured addition of Jacquelene Acevedo's percussion to make his 2017 entry, Make Noise!, yet another fine addition to Jeremy Pelt's body of work.