New School, Old School And A Different Kind Of Dance Music: New Jazz Albums
From time to time, I get invited to talk up new jazz releases with Guy Raz, host of weekends on All Things Considered. This go-round, I set out to pick some records which hadn't already been featured as NPR Music First Listens or elsewhere on the website. Luckily, April has been a busy month for new music, and that didn't prove difficult at all.
Here's a small handful of interesting records out now. There's music from the trumpeter of the moment, a band of older hard-boppers who are anything but fogies, a New Orleans brass band nearing its fourth decade and a young "orchestra" from France interpreting idiosyncratic grooves. (They're by no means the only recommendations one could make, so don't hesitate to tell us your own recent discoveries.) Ready?
Here's music from Ambrose Akinmusire, the buzzed-about young trumpet player. More precisely, it's music from his long-running band, a collection of musicians who share his obvious talent level, relative youth (he's nearly 29) and penchant for navigating dark, brooding, minor-key moods. That makes When the Heart Emerges Glistening a very modern and sleek jazz record. If you're looking for a way to slip into this, try paying attention to Akinmusire's trumpet sound. Check out how tight it is, how dialed in, and focused, and fat, and generally "pfffh." When he allows it to smear or blare raggedly, you really feel it.
Trumpeter David Weiss is older than Ambrose Akinmusire by nearly 20 years, but he's the youngest member of The Cookers. In fact, most of its members were born in the '30s and '40s, and made their names as powerhouse musicians in the '60s, '70s and '80s. Weiss is responsible for organizing these veterans into this lineup, but most of the players bring in originals, and all of them are still burning players. The lead-off and title track of Cast the First Stone was written by tenor saxophonist Billy Harper. His serious roar is pretty much what jazz musicians mean when they use the term "heavy."
The Rebirth Brass Band
It's the first weekend of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, and Treme is back on HBO. So here's a band which always plays the fest and stars in the show. The Rebirth Brass Band is creeping up on 30 years now, and still features its founding tuba virtuoso, Phil Frazier. It's his anchor which allows this band to do what it does, whether it's playing jazz standards, spirituals, original R&B and funk tunes or whatever else will get a crowd on its feet. Listen for how the band gradually builds around his bass line in this track from Rebirth of New Orleans.
Orchestre National De Jazz & John Hollenbeck
And now, a different kind of "dance" music. Shut Up and Dance is the new record from France's Orchestre National de Jazz, though it's not a conventional foot-stomping soundtrack. This double-disc set is a program of music by the American composer John Hollenbeck. He's a drummer, too, and a good one, but he doesn't play on this album; he tailors one piece for each of the 10 band members (all in their 20s and 30s). Hollenbeck loves to experiment with odd harmonies, and new textures, and slow builds, and repetition, and repetition, and repetition. But he also loves a good groove. Give it a minute, and you'll find a lot to nod your head to — and maybe more.
(Soundbite of song, "Confessions to My Unborn Daughter")
GUY RAZ, host:
Every once in a while, our jazz blogger Patrick Jarenwattananon sends me something he says I have to hear, including this piece we're listening to right now. Patrick writes for our jazz blog. It's called A Blog Supreme, and he's with me in the studio.
Patrick, great to have you with us again.
PATRICK JARENWATTANANON: Always a pleasure.
RAZ: So tell me what we're listening to right now.
JARENWATTANANON: This is music from the trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire. It's the first track from his new album. The album is called "When the Heart Emerges Glistening." And this track is called "Confessions to My Unborn Daughter," which reminds me, congratulations to you, Guy...
RAZ: Thank you very much.
JARENWATTANANON: ...on the birth of your son, your second son.
RAZ: Yes, indeed. Yes, it is. Thank you. You know, I - Patrick, I was listening to this on my headphones, and at around 49 seconds into it, I heard this kind of Miles Davis' "Kind of Blue" noir jazz thing going.
RAZ: Just humor me. Listen to what I mean.
(Soundbite of song, "Confessions to My Unborn Daughter")
JARENWATTANANON: Yeah. I like the word noir. I think you're right in picking that up. A lot of the music on this album is this dark, minor key, kind of brooding stuff.
RAZ: "Black and White Paris," right?
JARENWATTANANON: Yeah, totally, but with this modern kick to it.
JARENWATTANANON: So a lot of busy drums.
JARENWATTANANON: It feels sort of sleek and...
RAZ: "Black and White Paris" in HD video.
JARENWATTANANON: There you go. That can be kind of hard to deal with for some people, you know, that very urbane edge to it. So maybe you want to start by just listening to Ambrose's trumpet. It's really tightly dialed in, really focused, sort of pointed. There's a lot of fatness and noise to it. So it's, you know, sometimes you hear these trumpeters, they sort of splay all over the place.
JARENWATTANANON: But you know, Ambrose's sound is very directed. So whenever he lets some of these other sounds into this stream, sort of smearing noises or blaring noises, you really feel it.
(Soundbite of song, "Confession to My Unborn Daughter")
RAZ: I really like this track. And I'm really interested in hearing the rest of this stuff. That is music from the trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire. And it's from his new album. It's called "When the Heart Emerges Glistening."
Patrick, what's next?
JARENWATTANANON: Well, here's a band organized by another trumpeter. His name is David Weiss. David Weiss is the youngest member of this group, but he's older than Ambrose by nearly 20 years.
(Soundbite of song, "Cast the First Song")
JARENWATTANANON: The band is called The Cookers. I mentioned the age of David Weiss because most of its members were actually born in the '30s and '40s. They made their names largely as musicians in the '60s, '70s, '80s.
RAZ: Studio musicians.
JARENWATTANANON: Sure. But also, you know, live jazz musicians.
JARENWATTANANON: So it's really the hardcore jazz fans who know these guys now. And David Weiss who is, quote, unquote, "only nearing 50," he took it upon himself to organize and to tour together and make a few records. We're listening to the title track from their second album. It's called "Cast the First Stone."
(Soundbite of song, "Cast the First Stone")
RAZ: This sax man, he is going at it. So he's - I mean, you're saying these guys were born in the '30s, '40s. He must be in the 60s or 70s, right, whoever this saxophonist is.
JARENWATTANANON: Right. That's Billy Harper. He's 68. He wrote this piece. He's got this enormous, honking, heavy sound on the tenor sax, really loud and swing and unapologetic about it. That's heavy.
RAZ: The band is called The Cookers. The album, Patrick, is called "Cast the First Stone."
I'm here with Patrick Jarenwattananon. He's with NPR's jazz blog, A Blog Supreme. And Patrick comes on the program now and again to talk about some of the great jazz releases.
Patrick, what do you got next for us?
JARENWATTANANON: Well, since we are currently in the middle of the first weekend of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and...
RAZ: That's right. Yes. Wish we were there.
JARENWATTANANON: So do I. And the program "Treme" is back on HBO. Here's something from the Rebirth Brass Band. Their new album is called "Rebirth of New Orleans." And you might recognize this tune, it's the first track on the album, as the standard "Exactly Like You."
(Soundbite of song, "Exactly Like You")
RAZ: You also have to kind of dance to this or walk down a street with lots of people around you swinging to the left and right when you hear this. I love this stuff. These guys have been around a pretty long time, right?
JARENWATTANANON: Yep. Nearly 30 years. Phil Frazier, he's the tuba player here. He also cofounded the band. He's still with them too. And it's really his ability to play really fast and really solid on such a big instrument, which is why this band can do what it does. So listen for his bass line and then how the band builds up around it on this other track. This is called "I Like it Like That."
(Soundbite of song, "I Like It Like That")
RAZ: I love this stuff, has so much energy and especially here, as you say, this, like a bass sound kind of building up around that tuba right in the center. It's like a Hershey's kiss with caramel right in the middle.
JARENWATTANANON: How's that for a metaphor?
RAZ: That's the Rebirth Brass Band. Their new album is called "Rebirth of New Orleans."
Patrick, we have time for just one more pick, unfortunately. What you got?
JARENWATTANANON: Well, let's go out with a different kind of dance music. Here's the composer I like a lot. He's named John Hollenbeck. Here's a bit of a piece called "Priya Dance."
(Soundbite of song, "Priya Dance")
RAZ: I put my faith in you, Patrick. You help me pick good jazz music. You call this dance music, all right? I'm hearing, like Steve Reich or a Philip Glass thing going, not that that's a bad thing, but sounds more minimalist than, you know, danceable jazz.
JARENWATTANANON: You know, I hear a lot of minimalism in John Hollenbeck's music. It's a little bit difficult to excerpt sometimes because you just kind of have to let it breathe and sort of grow and develop.
JARENWATTANANON: But there's always a lot of groove to what he does too. And not only groove but some strange harmonies, which are really interesting, and a lot of funny noises. He likes to put objects into piano strings or bang PVC tubes on the ground or, you know, electronically process flute noises.
But there's always a groove thing. Maybe we should try a different track.
RAZ: Okay. All right.
JARENWATTANANON: This one's called "Falling Men."
(Soundbite of song, "Falling Men")
JARENWATTANANON: So John Hollenbeck is a drummer, and he's a really good drummer if you've ever seen him. But this isn't him, actually.
RAZ: He's not playing the drums here. He composed this for the French National Jazz Orchestra, right?
JARENWATTANANON: Right. And he went with the orchestra to the studio. The studio's actually in a 19th century mansion in the South of France. And they put this record down. It's called "Shut Up and Dance."
RAZ: But, Patrick, it's still hard for me to think of this as dance music, you know?
JARENWATTANANON: Not necessarily in the conventional sense, I guess.
JARENWATTANANON: But there is a certain groove thing, I think, that really comes through. And, you know, at moments in this record I really start nodding my head kind of uncontrollably.
RAZ: All right. That's a start. It's a little dancy.
JARENWATTANANON: You know, it's almost like they're trying to make electronic music for acoustic band. You know, you hear a lot of layers which morph into different textures and you can really feel the humanity in it, though, because, you know, you've got these musicians who are highly trained and sort of blowing their guts out, sort of pouring themselves out to you.
RAZ: That's music composed by John Hollenbeck for the French National Jazz Orchestra. It's called "Shut Up and Dance," one of Patrick Jarenwattananon's picks. He comes on to this program every couple of weeks to update us on what's going on in the world of jazz. You can read more from Patrick at NPR Music's A Blog Supreme. That's at npr.org/ablogsupreme.
Patrick, thanks so much again.
JARENWATTANANON: Thank you, Guy.
(Soundbite of song, "Shut Up and Dance")
RAZ: And for Saturday, that's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz. Remember, you can hear the best of this program on our podcast. We take the best elements from Saturday's show, the best from Sunday's show, we put it into a podcast. You can subscribe or listen at iTunes or at npr.org/weekendatc. We post a new episode every Sunday night. We are back with a whole new hour of radio tomorrow. Until then, thanks for listening and have a great night. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.