Daniel Wohl, Corps Exquis (New Amsterdam)
New Music and EDM remain objects apart no matter how many nice things each side allows about the other, except in rare cases like this debut full-length from a French-born NYC multimedia composer. Fronting his own five-musician ensemble TRANSIT in the tradition of Steve Reich, he integrates like-minded types So Percussion, Aaron Roche, and Julia Holter inside his dreamily gorgeous and creepy sequential group compositions. Holter’s turn sighing alongside rising strings has received outsized attention, but lovely as that closing number as, I strongly prefer the stuttering Debussy minimalism of “Limbs,” the chopped-and-screwed hurdy-gurdy faux-medievalism of “Fluctuations,” the VU cello scrape foregrounding bassoon and chimes on “Plus ou moins,” the pulsing fuzz of “Insext” building into a distortion-flecked throb as woodwinds bob alongside. Unshowy electro-acoustic music allowed to progress in organic rather than linear fashion, the album may well peak with “single” “323,” a string-guided clatter-and-hum workout that Wohl claims was equally inspired by Xenakis and the Beach Boys. I do hear Xenakis. Don’t forget the headphones.
Barbara Morrison, A Sunday Kind of Love (Savant)
Few surprises to be found on this new album from seldom documented, Ypsilanti-born, LA-based jazz club fixture Morrison, unless “I Cover The Waterfront” and “On The Sunny Side Of The Street” are your idea of little-heard nuggets. But here’s a jazz singer who fully encapsulates that oft abused descriptor ‘sassy’ - in the Helen Hume / Count Basie style, she can be husky, she can be sweet, she can scat a little. As befits somebody who got her start under the tutelage of the great Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, she’s as comfortable slipping into the blues and r&b as she is upholding the jazz vocal tradition, up to and very much including the Al Green closer. And in redoubtable tenor man Houston Person, she has a worthy foil for a smoldering take on Duke Ellington’s “I’m Just A Lucky So And So” or a lovely exploration of “Good Morning Heartache”. For his part, Person sounds overjoyed to be chasing Morrison’s vocals with his bright tenor. Given his past history doing the same for/with Etta Jones (not James), you know the man recognizes quality when he hears it.
David Murray Infinity Quartet, Be My Monster Love(Motéma Music)
There are better David Murray albums out there, dozens undoubtedly, maybe even dozens in the last decade. And perhaps the Macy Gray and Gregory Porter vocal turns which disrupt half of these eight tunes can be explained via our leading tenor man’s newest band iteration, with the Infinity Quartet harkening explicitly back by name to Murray’s ‘70s days with ex-friend Stanley Crouch. Many a free-wheeling mixture of poetry and noise went down in their Infinity loft, and so it is here with Marc Carey’s excellent piano / organ making room for a lyric sheet penned by ex-East Village Other scribe Ishmael Reed and ex-Last Poet Abiodun Oyewole. Gray sexily acquits herself despite the overwrought vampire imagery of the title tune, Porter strains earnestly on a tribute to gospel greats (“Army Of The Faithful”) and the especially maudlin overtones of Oyewole’s “About The Children” (“We need time to play! / Time to take a nap!”). So just like in the days of Muhal Richard Abrams and Pharaoh Sanders, wait for the bad poetry to move along and you’ll be rewarded - the forward plunge of “Stressology” breaking only for drummer Nasheet Waits’ calming solo, the double-time sax/organ conclusion of the gospel number, the showcasing of Murray’s too-rarely heard Pomona compadre Bobby Bradford for a jaunty blues entitled “The Graduate”. And as always, our man consistently locates the sweet spot between avant-screech and Ben Webster balladry, the latter most notably via a long midtempo “Sorrow Song”.
John Scofield, Überjam Deux (Emarcy)
Ornette Coleman and James Blood Ulmer will ruin you for jazz funk, even jazz funk of this caliber. Skronk-sympathetic, avant-leaning, noise-symp and bluesy and suitably enamored with the Hi Rhythm Section, Scofield the iconoclast tosses a bone to team jam-band, including a tame foray into “dub” and several nods towards afro-pop’s gentle percolations (“Camelus” and “Snake Dance”). His tributes to Al Green and Curtis Mayfield are as heartfelt as they are paint-by-numbers. But he’s rarely played the blues so unapologetically, and when he contorts his funk forms (“Torero,” “Cracked Ice”), he practically smokes. A bit too polite for us Ornette fans. But I’ll bet this crew stretches out real nice live.
George Duke, DreamWeaver(Universal / Heads Up)
Despite the cheesy cover and equally cheesy opening 1.27 of synthesizer twaddle, this might well be Duke’s strongest jazz offering in decades - with Stanley Clarke and Christian McBride onboard, the Cannonball Adderly-nodding “Stones Of Orion” and the 15 minutes of Prophet 5/ Minimoog fusion that is “Burnt Sausage Jam” sound no worse than most of Duke’s 1970s output. And the late Teena Marie’s slow ballad “Ball & Chain” suggests her planned collaboration with Duke might have come to something. But then there’s the half-baked hey nineteen knock-off “Round The Way Girl,” which is Duke’s own, not LL Cool J’s (“she’s got a temper / with a lot of sass”) and the ludicrously overwrought “Change The World,” which finds BeBe Winans, Freddie Jackson, and Lalah Hathaway crooning “USA to Africa / Mexico to Indonesia / Imagine what we could be / If we opened up our eyes to see”.