It’s June, COVID is still with us, and many of you are still home. Here are ten great new albums you can check out. Best listened to on Spotify or your streaming service of choice.
Little Big II–Dreams of a Mechanical Man–Aaron Parks (Invisible Cinema Music),
I’m always looking for new sounds, and I found them with Aaron Parks and his great project Little Big. His interplay with his band is synergistic and organic, creating what one critic has called a new aesthetic and a unique sound. Joined by Greg Tuohey on guitar, David Ginyard on bass, and Tommy Crane on drums, it’s a cerebral album that is best listened to rather than background music. Discover for yourself how these guys bring together a variety of viewpoints and genres in a way nobody else can.
Swallow Tales–John Scofield (ECM) In the 70s and 80s, a whole generation of jazz players considered composer and bassist Steve Swallow their go-to collaborator. Guitarist John Scofield considered Swallow a mentor during and after his time at Berklee School of Music, and he played several early projects with Swallow. This new ECM release is Scofield’s tribute to Swallow, recorded in a single session with Swallow on bass and the very talented Bill Stewart on drums. The set reflects Swallow’s melodic expressions, while still allowing Scofield’s complex and sometimes percussive playing style to mix it up with Stewart.
Underneath-Code Orange (Roadrunner) Sometimes, you have to go a little nuts, and this brilliantly disturbing piece of hardcore metal rock may be just your ticket. Coming out of Pittsburgh, Code Orange mixes all that is loud, strident, and outrageous– a dark musical stew that is brilliantly executed and super fresh. The Guardian’s review says it best: “ There are glitches, freakily distorted screams, sudden bursts of static and weird repetitions, making the songs seem attacked by malware. Shifts in time signature create further instability…” Prepare yourself, and play it loud.
Americana– Gregoire Maret (ACT) This new album by the great harmonica virtuoso Maret is a soothing tonic to the Code Orange experience. Based in NYC, Maret is joined by Berklee graduate Romain Collin on piano and the superb Bill Frisell on guitar. The trio’s set brings listeners a set of songs that bring up visions of home and community, both urban and rural. This is where Frisell’s guitar atmospherics perform best, and Maret and Collin’s interplay brings every tune together for nostalgic reflection.
Warna–Joey Alexander (Verve) When Herbie Hancock met the eight-year-old prodigy jazz pianist Joey Alexander in Jakarta, the word was out. In 2014, Wynton Marsalis invited the ten-year-old Alexander to play at Lincoln Center, and the acclaim was tremendous. He considers his playing a: “gift from God,” and he is probably right, having become a formidable force in jazz piano at eleven years old with his first album, My Favorite Things. His latest album has 18-year-old Alexander playing trio music with some of the best sidemen in the business– a surprising set of extraordinary jazz. Great dinner music.
The Unraveling–Drive-By Truckers (ATO) This band has been around for some time, bringing southern rock and Americana together in a neat and powerful musical package. Founded in 1996 by Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley in Athens, Georgia, the band has had a number of incarnations over the years as they have stayed consistently popular. Their constant is a strong alternative rock sound with lyrics that are a window on our times. This latest album is a no holds barred look at what the country has become since 2016. Make no mistake; the band was angry as they recorded this one– it shows in the lyrics and some of the best playing they have ever done.
From This Place–Pat Metheny (Nonesuch) It’s been a while since we heard from Metheny, so this new album is a welcome addition to 2020. Like the Drive-by Truckers, Metheny seems motivated in this set to question the state of things in the country. The first tune America Undefined was written the day after the 2016 election. Metheny is joined by drummer Antonio Sanchez, bassist Linda May Oh, and the great young British pianist Gwilym Simcock, who toured with Metheny the past few years. This is a lush and complex recording, with vocal lyrics, a rare thing on a Metheny release. Simcock’s melodic style and complex harmonies remind us at times of the late Lyle Mays. This one grows on you; I hear something new every time I listen.
Sigma Oasis–Phish (JEMP) With all of the live material available from Phish, you can easily forget that they have made some great studio releases. Sigma Oasis is one of those albums, a tonic for our souls in these difficult days. With a new producer and Trey Anastasio taking the songwriting helm, this is a funky, complex, and good-natured romp that gives listeners a lot to listen to without diversions into noodling jams that only the hardcore can appreciate. A record you can play again and again.
Is That So?–John McLaughlin (Abstract Logix) The great guitarist McLaughlin has an affinity for Indian music. In this landmark release, he takes the Indian musical aesthetic and structure. He combines in with Western harmonies, resulting in a new sound that is the next evolutionary step from his work with his earlier band, Shakti, in the seventies. Vocalist Shankar Mahadevan’s exceptional voice anchors the songs, blended with Indian percussion and McLaughlin’s acoustic and synthesized electric guitars. The result is an amazing musical journey that is accessible to the Western ear.
Modes of Communication: Letters from the Underworlds– Nduduzo Makhathini (Blue Note) In his debut on Blue Note, the great South African pianist, and bandleader Makhathini brings us an intriguing synthesis of South African and American Jazz that is reminiscent of Kamasi Washington’s recent work. It’s a fusion of Coltrane’s historical styles, Saunders, Shorter, and McCoy Tyner, fused with a 21rst century jazz aesthetics from two continents. This album cooks.
Steve Chase is playing new tunes in the village of Unison.