A couple of new releases from the always-expanding ECM Records universe have been occupying a lot of space in my mind as of late. Both are contemplative and utilize the space between the notes to calming effect.
Tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano has made a name for himself as an outgoing trailblazer on his instrument, so it’s nice to hear him take the introspective route on “Garden of Expression,” his second outing with his Trio Tapestry project. It’s a collection of ballads reaching for something more profound than sentimentality, and ace collaborators Marilyn Crispell (known for more avant-garde work) and drummer Carmen Castaldi meet Lovano every step of the way. It’s a hauntingly beautiful collection of originals coming from the vantage point of adults who have experienced the profundities of life and want to share them with an audience.
If Lovano’s trio is making autumnal music, guitarist Jakob Bro’s is downright wintry. “Uma Elmo” (out Feb. 12) sounds like it was created to be the soundtrack for the heart of the season. Bro, who is from Denmark, plays his electric instrument in a subdued style, allowing for sustained notes that often move at a glacial pace. The accents from Jorge Rossy (drums) and Arve Henriksen never intrude; the three operate as an organism of slow-moving solace. And Henriksen, a prolific Norwegian artist, pulls a sound out of his horn that is similar to a human cry. I’ve never heard a trumpeter quite like him. “Uma Elmo” is an ideal contemporary example of the fabled, clear “ECM Sound.”
Something noisier and no less accomplished is a long-obscured recording from guitarist Michael Gregory Jackson that has just surfaced. “Frequency Equilibrium Koan” (self-released, available on Bandcamp) is nothing less than 40 minutes of prime interaction between four distinct improviser-leaders circa 1977. Jackson, who has been a figure on the fringes of mainstream appreciation for far too long, takes part in luminous abstract instrumental conversations with drummer Pheeroan Ak Laff, cellist Abdul Wadud and alto saxophonist Julius Hemphill. This tape overflows with adventure, and it seems like a small miracle that this documentation has come to light.
As for Hemphill, who often sounds a bit like his relative Ornette Coleman here, there’s a new box set of previously unreleased recordings under his leadership that has also just been released, and it will take me weeks to absorb the whole thing. I have a lot of listening to do, thankfully.
The pianist Junior Mance, a towering figure in the music, passed away in January at the age of 92. His style, which combined dexterity with irresistible soul, was apparent for multiple decades. While he wasn’t a Colorado resident, the New Yorker had an affection for Colorado in his later years, even playing live shows in conjunction with Denver’s jazz radio station, KUVO-FM. Luckily, there are multiple albums available to experience the bliss he put forth on so many record dates.
Meanwhile, live music has returned to Denver clubs with social distancing and limited seating. Annie Booth is presenting “Songs of Hope and Abundance” at Nocturne every Friday in February, and the club has gigs lined up almost every Friday through Sunday. … At [email protected]’s, acclaimed trumpeter Hugh Ragin is performing on Feb. 7 in person and via livestream. Stafford Hunter, Sheryl Renee and others are slated to perform at Dazzle in February as well. Singer Kurt Elling will perform love songs virtually via Dazzle for Valentine’s Day Weekend on Feb. 13. Is streaming the future of live music? It’s certainly looking like a component, even post-COVID.
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