Jazz: Winter 2023

Monarch Jazz Recommendations

Alive at the Village Vanguard

The pairing of pianist Hersch and vocalist/bassist/songwriter Spalding is relatively new—the two first met in 2013 and have only played a handful of performances—but their collaboration reveals breathtaking chemistry and deep connection. With no defined arrangements or set list, Hersch and Spalding deliver vital, intimate performances that are, as the title denotes, very much alive. Their album also offers a rare opportunity to hear Spalding sing standards, which she does with charm, imagination, and a ferocious talent for scatting. Her interplay with Hersch’s elegant, expressive piano—a towering voice in its own right—is both spontaneous and complex. Alive at the Village Vanguard is a joy and hopefully the first of many to come from this phenomenal duo.

Hyaku: One Hundred Dreams

Few musicians can claim to be as prolific or adventurous as the one-of-a-kind Fujii. For her 100th album as a leader, the Japanese pianist/composer gathers an all-star ensemble featuring Wadada Leo Smith, Ingrid Laubrock, Sara Schoenbeck, Tom Rainey, Brandon Lopez, Chris Corsano, Ikue Mori, and Natsuki Tamura to perform a new composition. The music is expansive and exploratory, embracing a range of styles, including swing and rock, yet never lacking in cohesion or focus. Fujii is a curious, respectful, and generous leader, qualities that open the way for individual and collective improvisations that showcase the players’ remarkable instrumental skills and their capacity for listening, responding, and creating in the moment. Fujii has said she wants to make music no one has heard before, a goal she reaches once again with this remarkable live recording. Hyaku: One Hundred Dreams is a marvel of a piece by a marvel of an artist, a soaring contribution to a vast, utterly original oeuvre.

Close Connection

For his 14th album as a leader, the Hungarian pianist and composer returns to the trio format with his longstanding colleagues, bassist John Lockwood and drummer Yoron Israel. After more than two decades of playing together, they’ve developed an effortless and wholly satisfying rapport that shines through in their performances. Gardony’s new compositions reflect the influence of Central European folk elements and even prog-rock outfits like King Crimson and Deep Purple, which he found himself drawn to growing up in Budapest. Alongside the inventive originals are half a dozen collective improvisations that demonstrate how magnificently the band lives up to the album’s title. Gardony is a pianist and composer with chops and heart to spare, and Close Connection is a stunner of an album, one that earns its place among the very best jazz trio recordings.

Time Bandits

Some musicians have a knack for studying the masters and filtering their influence into music that respects the past while expressing something new. Trumpeter Bailey is such a one. On his exemplary third recording as a leader, he enlists an all-star quartet featuring pianist George Cables, bassist Scott Colley, and drummer Victor Lewis to tackle a diverse stylistic and rhythmic repertoire from all corners of jazz, everything from swing, blues, and Latin to straight ahead and free. The quartet’s joy in music making is evident throughout on terrific tracks like “Ode to Thaddeus” (for Thad Jones), the boisterous “Groove Samba,” Jerome Kern’s “Long Ago and Far Away,” and even a poignant rendition of the Beatles’ “She’s Leaving Home.” With engaging tunes and spot-on performances, Time Bandits revels in the past while landing squarely and brilliantly in the present.

Uptown on Carnival Day

A member of what many acknowledge as the First Family of Jazz, trombonist, composer, and producer Delfeayo continues to uphold and enrich the traditional stylings and spirit of New Orleans jazz, notably with the Uptown Jazz Orchestra, which he formed in 2008. The hard-swinging, jubilant ensemble’s new album celebrates Mardi Gras, and it’s a musical feast to savor again and again. One listen to the mighty big band makes clear that joy and fun are high on its list of priorities but so is serious artistic excellence. Contagious grooves, dynamic riffs, and masterful polyphonic improvisation are woven into powerful performances. Uptown on Carnival Day is an irrepressible, irresistible romp and another triumph for Delfeayo Marsalis and his Uptown Jazz Orchestra.