Still Warm: An Inkless Jazz iMix

A few days ago I wrote about the death of Dennis Irwin, the fine American jazz bassist. I noted that this corner has carried too many jazz obituaries over the last several months. You might start to think there’s nobody left with their boots on playing good jazz.

So as promised, to dispel any notion that all the good musicians are gone, here’s an iMix featuring good jazz recorded by musicians who are still among us. Most of it was recorded within the past few years, although I have a few pieces reaching further back into history, just because they’re so good. And while most of the musicians here are relatively young, there are a few elder statesmen too, just because they still have a lot to contribute.

If you have iTunes, click here and the playlist should come up in the iTunes window. You can hear sound clips of each tune and buy whichever appeal, or the whole playlist. As always, I should say that Inkless has no commercial relationship with Apple at all, and that iTunes is simply a handy way to get tunes out to a lot of people at relatively low cost.

The lineup:

1. Steve Amirault, Breath: From the wonderful Montreal pianist, a short overture, like a prayer or meditation to set a mood.
2. Jerry Weldon, Two Bass Hit: Jerry Weldon is one of two tenor saxophonists in Harry Connick’s band, and the other guy gets most of the solos. But Weldon is a ferocious bebop saxophonist, a true adherent to the old ways: he swings hard, he never relents, he’s funny and agile. This is high-tempo, meat-and-potato jazz, sloppy and fun.
3. Guillermo Klein, Espejo: Argentine pianist-composer leads the New York big band he used a decade ago to build his reputation as an unusually fresh and thoughtful composer and orchestrator. This tune’s overlapping, relentlessly repeated short motives give it complexity and rhythmic variety; the strong young band gives it a lot of heart.
4. Ted Nash, Palace: The tenor saxophonist Ted Nash has other bands with odder instrumentation — one has a string quartet built in, another uses tuba and accordion — but here he transforms the standard jazz-quintet geometry, two horns and rhythm section, into something haunting and unique. Almost alone among the musicians in the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Nash has a musical personality that rivals that of the orchestra’s founder, Wynton Marsalis, in its depth and breadth.
5. Stefon Harris, Thanks For the Beautiful Land on the Delta: On marimba instead of his usual instrument, the vibraphone, the young percussionist plays a rich, deep-bottomed tribute to Duke Ellington with this churning, passionate but not over-the-top performance.
6. Joshua Redman, East of the Sun (and West of the Moon): The celebrated young tenor saxophonist has made some superficial, emotionally shallow albums, but last year he returned to form with Back East, a recording of standards with bass and drum accompaniment that seemed designed to re-establish Redman’s credentials as a thoughtful, highly melodic soloist. This festive, tuneful performance from that CD is one of Redman’s best in recent years.
7. Kurt Elling, Esperanto: The next three tracks feature singers. This one is from Elling, a Chicago hipster and faux-beatnik whose cooler-than-thou posture can make him a somewhat comic figure, but every once in a while — like here — he produces a lyric so deft and original it’s almost breathtakingly smart. And pretty. And, yes, a little comic.
8. Claudia Acuna, My Romance: This is just a knockout performance of an old jazz standard by a young Chilean singer who deserves more attention. Plenty of passion, a clever arrangement, and the great Jeff “Tain” Watts on drums belting the whole affair smartly forward.
9. Abbey Lincoln, The World Is Falling Down: The great singer’s half-century career has gone through many transformations, from willowy ingenue to ’60s civil-rights protester to late-career renaissance at the end of the 1980s. Here, on her latest recording, she leads a kind of Delta-blues band through one of her many fine original compositions, her voice naked, honest and compelling.
10. Gerald Wilson Orchestra, Dorian (Diminished Triangle): The elder statesman of Los Angeles big-band arranging has lately been recording with all-star New York groups. Here he presents a hip, roaring up-tempo tune with clever ensemble writing and strong soloing, especially from the ferocious young trumpeter Sean Jones.
11. Kenny Barron, Passion Dance: This is from 1982, which makes it the oldest track on this mix, but it captures the awesome instrumental command of Kenny Barron, one of the finest pianists of the last 40 years. Playing solo, he picks a fiery McCoy Tyner tune, sets a booting tempo, and never lets it flag through chorus after chorus of demented invention.
12. Joe Temperley, Single Petal of a Rose: The fine old Scottish baritone saxophonist, fast closing on 80 years old, turns in a solo performance of a classic Duke Ellington ballad on bass clarinet. There’s no excess of solemnity in this performance, which to me is part of what makes it so lovely.
13. Mike Stern, Jean Pierre: The guitarist takes a Miles Davis tune that was barely more than a bass vamp, throws out the vamp, and somehow still preserves the tune’s personality. Nothing epic here, just a couple minutes of immensely hip guitar noodling to close things out.

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