Jazz comes in many shapes and sizes, particularly in the 21st century, now that the classic art form has embraced the timbres and rhythms of modern music. So it’s equally interesting to hear modern artists embrace more traditional styles, with the occasional surprise.
Korean-raised pianist Jihee Heo possesses a deft touch not unlike Herbie Hancock. The compositions on Are You Ready (OA2 Records) reflect her music education, which took place in Amsterdam and New York City. Traditional jazz sounds that occasionally embrace elements of hip-hop keep listeners just a bit off-balance, which is the best place to find art. The rhythm section of Marty Kenny (bass) and Rodney Green (drums) swing with the best of them, giving Heo more than enough space to establish and cement her voice. The album ends in such a way that one can tell there is much more to come.
Bassist David Friesen has been a part of the jazz scene for more than 50 years. Clearly, he has nothing to prove. Testimony (Origin Records) feels almost like a work of classical music, regardless of whether he’s working with a quartet or an orchestra. The music is deep and intimate, rarely shouting louder than a whisper. It has the sound of the veteran musician baring his soul for all to hear. We are fortunate to be able to accompany Friesen on his journey.
Big Band jazz has felt like a lost art form. But it is making its way back to the fore, thanks to musicians like trumpeter Derrick Gardner, whose Big dig! Band recently released Still I Rise (Impact Jazz). It is a remarkable combination of style, grace, swing, soul, and precision from all involved. Gardner’s clear as a bell tone leads the way through gorgeous compositions like “Push Come to Shove” and “Soulful Brother Gelispie,” but he does not hog the spotlight. Soloists Mark Gross (sax), Kasey Kurtz (guitar), and Curtis Nowosad (drums) make the most of their moments as well. Their playing is muscular and groovy while the rest of the band swings gloriously in the spirit of Ellington and Basie. The music is best described as a modern-day throwback. And the album’s closer “Heavens to Murgatroyd!” is the perfect foil for the album’s somber tone.
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