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Mary Halvorson - 'Code Girl'

Brian Kiwanuka
Contributing Writer
bkiwanuka91@gmail.com

If there is one word that cannot be used to describe Mary Halvorson, it's stagnant. In the past decade, the unconventional guitarist has been consistently expanding the range of her creativity, appearing on a staggering amount of recordings while developing a strikingly singular compositional approach. Code Girl, the name of Halvorson's latest record and band, stands adjacent from the progression that began in 2008 on Dragon's Head. Instead of adding another musician to the original trio with Ches Smith (drums) and John Hébert (bass), which has slowly grown into an extraordinary Octet, Halvorson looks to Thumbscrew, a collaborative band with Tomas Fujiwara (drums) and Michael Formanek (bass), and makes two exciting additions, Ambrose Akinmusire (trumpet) and Amirtha Kidambi (vocals).

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Quin Kirchner - 'The Other Side of Time'

Brian Kiwanuka
Contributing Writer
bkiwanuka91@gmail.com

When speaking of jazz cities, New York and New Orleans are the ones that immediately come to mind, however, Chicago also deserves a shout. The city is no stranger to jazz creativity, being the home of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians and having a scene which honed the chops of talented modern jazz names such as Tomeka Reid, Jaimie Branch and Matana Roberts. Drummer Quin Kirchner, a Chi-Town native, proves to be another quality example of the Chicago scene in his debut record, The Other Side of Time. The bandleader is an integral part of his skillful quintet made up of Nick Broste (trombone), Nate Lepine (tenor saxophone, flute), Jason Stein (bass clarinet) and Matt Ulery (bass).

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Esperanza Spalding - 'Exposure'

Brian Kiwanuka
Contributing Writer
bkiwanuka91@gmail.com

Lately Esperanza Spalding seems to be in the business of doing things her fans don't expect. Considering the music of the more R&B-influenced Radio Music Society, her last album, Emily's D+Evolution, was a sharp left turn. Spalding had returned with a fantastic record that lies somewhere in whatever one would call an amalgamation of rock, pop and jazz fusion elements. The abrupt change in style may have caught some fans by surprise, but D+Evolution, contains some of the musicians best songs. With the epic "One", pop-sized fusion of "Judas" and Joni Mitchell-esque tracks like "Noble Nobles", it is arguably the best record of her discography.

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Cat Toren's Human Kind - 's/t'

Brian Kiwanuka
Contributing Writer
bkiwanuka91@gmail.com

In the liner notes of Cat Toren's Human Kind, the pianist looks to the past to address the present. Even without the notes, it does not take much analysis to come to the conclusion that this record is political. The fact that it was released on the day of the presidential inauguration, the images of protestors, the Washington monument and song titles like "Regression" and "Sanctuary City", should be enough clues for any American. The pianist points out that in the past, jazz artists such as Nina Simone held benefit concerts for civil rights organizations like the Congress of Racial Equality and by donating the proceeds of this record to the American Civil Liberties Union, she addresses the present by honoring this past tradition. With the help of Xavier Del Castillo (Saxophone), Yoshie Fruchter (Oud/Guitar), Jake Leckie (Bass) and Matt Honor (Drums), Toren's compositions shine throughout Human Kind.

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Jaimie Branch - 'Fly or Die'

Brian Kiwanuka
Contributing Writer
bkiwanuka91@gmail.com

Although Jaimie Branch has been playing music for a while now, having been part of the Chicago jazz scene before her recent move to Brooklyn, Fly or Die is her debut as a bandleader. The trumpeter's band is made up of Jason Ajemian (bass), Chad Taylor (drums) and notably cellist Tomeka Reid, whose quartet had a standout release in 2015. The main quartet is occasionally joined by Matt Schneider (guitar) and two cornetists, Ben Lamar Gay and Josh Berman. Debut albums in jazz can be a tricky business. In the case of a musician like Branch, who has been a side-woman in past studio recordings, the goal should be to firmly plant a compelling and distinct compositional voice on the recording, and that is exactly what she has done in Fly or Die.