Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness … of which fruitfulness there’s a fine crop of Autumn jazz releases – across every flavour… here’s a selection of some of the best …
CARL ALLEN and RODNEY WHITAKER; Work To Do (Mack Avenue)
‘Work To Do’ is drummer Carl Allen and bassist Rodney Whitaker’s second collaborative album and as with the first (2007’s ‘Get Ready) this new one redefines the soul-jazz idiom. The pair – augmented by stellar sidemen – stamp their own mark on pop and soul classics like ‘Eleanor Rigby’, ‘With You I’m Born Again’ and ‘A Time For Love’ while also managing to capture that same classic spirit on their own material like ‘For Garrison (Both)’. Standouts include the Isley Brothers’ title cut, an inspirational version of Marvin’s ‘What’s Going On’ and an emotive reading of Donnie McClurkin’s ‘Speak To My Heart’. Kirk Whalum’s sax work on all three is outstanding.
RICK BRAUN; All It Takes (Artistry)
Since his solo debut in 1993 with ‘Intimate’, Rick Braun has become a doyen of smooth jazz and his distinctive muted horn sound has become a mainstay of the genre. This new album offers nothing new though the collaborations with French keyboardist Philippe Saisse bring an obvious continental feel to tunes like ‘Tijuana Dancer’ and the cinematic ‘Christiane’. All the tunes are originals and there are no vocals – save for the scat on the Tania Maria-flavoured ‘Puerto Allegre Jam’ (scat courtesy of Vanessa Falabella). The album also includes a heartfelt tribute to Braun’s key influence – Freddie Hubbard, ‘Freddie Was Here’.
WILLIE NELSON; American Classic (Blue Note)
Country icon Willie Nelson’s no jazz singer but on this new long player there’s plenty of jazz input – most notably from Joe Sample and Christian McBride. There are also guest vocals from Diana Krall and Norah Jones who enhance versions of ‘If I Had You’ and ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’ respectively. Those titles – and indeed the album’s tag – let’s you know that Nelson here pays another visit to the Great American Songbook and with Tommy LiPuma in the producer’s chair you know what to expect.
KARL DENSON’S TINY UNIVERSE; Brother’s Keeper (Shanachie)
Vocalist/saxman Karl Denson cites his influences as Herbie Hancock, the Rolling Stones and Wayne Shorter. He’s worked with Michael Franti, the Allman Brothers, Fred Wesley and Lenny Kravitz and in the 90s he recorded with Dave Holland, Lonnie Smith, Roy Hargrove and Jack DeJohnette; all that diversity’s evident in this new set which features a cameo from Meshell Ndegeocello and input from Lenny Kravitz’s road band and members of the Dap Kings. The music’s a mixture of rock, soul and jazz – (I believe it was called ‘fusion’ back in the day) – best summed up by ‘Shake It Up’ and the loose ‘Just Got Paid’.
CLAIRE MARTIN; A Modern Art (Linn Records)
Where ever-dependable Claire Martin’s last album was a tribute to Shirley Horn, this new set is an intriguing mix of brand new material, carefully chosen covers and an eclectic dip into the great American Songbook. The two from that last source are Cy Coleman’s ‘Everybody Today Is Turning On’ and Rodgers and Hart’s ‘Everything I’ve Got Belongs To You’ while of the other covers perhaps the most interesting is a take on Steely Dan’s ‘Things I Miss The Most’ while a version of Esbjorn Svensson’s ‘Love Is Real’ has an outstanding soul quality. Of Claire’s original material ‘Edgeways’ is a Latin delight , rivalled by the album’s title cut which takes a much-needed swipe at celebrity culture and the dumbing-down of popular music… naturally, no dumbing-down here though.