Trumpeter, bandleader and composer Dave Douglas has never been more lyrical or inspirational in his solos and playing than on his latest release “Be Still.” Part of that’s due to the nature of the material and occasion. He chose a recording menu that featured hymns, primarily to commemorate his mother’s passing after a three-year battle with ovarian cancer. The session also introduced a new quintet lineup and occurred as he prepared for his 50th birthday. With poignant vocalist Aoife O’Donovan from the bluegrass band Crooked Still on hand for “Be Still My Soul” and “High On A Mountain” (among others) the music has a tender, sentimental quality. Tenor saxophonist Jon Irabagon brings some balancing fire, while pianist Matt Mitchell, bassist Linda Oh and drummer Rudy Royston provide the final touches in terms of colors and textures. This is a passionate, sometimes reflective, but always substantive work that pays tribute, but never becomes overly maudlin or melancholy.
Ron Miles: “Quiver,”(Enja)
Trumpeter/bandleader/composer Ron Miles latest disc is a trio date that relies on nimble and inventive guitarist Bill Frisell as the second lead voice rather than a saxophonist or pianist. Likewise, drummer Brian Blade serves as the entire rhythm section in the absence of a bassist. As a result, roles blur, with Miles just as often establishing contrasts as melodic leads, Frisell shifting between backing and soloing, and Blade setting the rhythmic pace with dynamic foundations. Miles composed all but three selections. Two are exacting, lengthy (10 minutes plus) renditions of Henry Mancini’s “Days of Wine and Roses” and Fred Fisher’s “There Ain’t No Sweet Man that’s Worth the Salt of My Tears.” The other is a shorter, invigorating version of Duke Ellington’s “Doin’ the Voom Voom.” The finest Miles’ tunes include the opener “Bruise,” “Mr. Kevin” and “Rudy-Go Round.” But the entire session is expertly performed by a trio that will hopefully do at least one more, and perhaps multiple additional releases.
David Virelles: “Continuum,” (PI)
Multi-instrumentalist/composer/bandleader David Virelles and a first-rate rhythm section delve into the Afro-Cuban realm on “Continuum.” Virelles’s approach ranges from percussive to soothing on piano, harmonium, and both pump and Wurlitizer organ. Andrew Cyrille’s a forceful and magnetic percussionist, but he’s also able to vary and modify his support when necessary. He and bassist Ben Street bring rhythmic heat, while Roman Diaz contributes to the bombastic foundations on congas and African percussion, and on other occasions adds edgy vocals. “Our Birthright” is the lone piece with horns, and the tandem of trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson, alto/tenor saxophonist Roman Filiu and tenor saxophonist/bass clarinetist Mark Turner supply ample fury and bravado as a special guest section. Virelles and company nicely adhere to the Afro-Cuban rhythmic ethic, but also include plenty of personal ingredients, creating a nice mix of vintage and contemporary elements.
Sam Rivers/Dave Holland/Barry Altschul: “Reunion: Live In New York,” (PI)
Sam Rivers was a beloved figure throughout the jazz world, but he operated on the fringes most of his career. A tremendous multi-instrumentalist (tenor and soprano saxes, flute, piano) Rivers was a mentor to many jazz greats in their youth (notably Tony Williams and Larry Young, a.k.a. Khalid Yasin), and once played briefly in Miles Davis’ quintet. But he enjoyed his greatest impact as founder and proprietor of Studio Rivbea, a New York residence where many of the finest “loft jazz” sessions of the ’70s occurred. That setting also led to the formation of his best small unit, a trio with bassist Dave Holland and drummer Barry Altschul. They were never a big commercial smash during six years together (1972-78), but were a marvelous band. One of Rivers’ finest gigs before his passing Dec. 26, 2011 was a reunion trio date at Columbia University in 2007. The two disc “Reunion: Live In New York” chronicles that set, with a host of fierce, blistering solos by Rivers and the equally impressive accompaniment (and often secondary solos) provided by the Holland/Altschul team. Though he was a “free” player, Rivers never embraced either atonality or gimmicks. His solos had soul, stature, and were always creative and cohesive, no matter how long or how far he went in stretching and extending melody and tempo. Even though they hadn’t played together in 25 years prior to the set, the Sam Rivers trio both sounded great and like no one else around.
Music DVD of the week
Various Artists: “A Musicares’ Tribute to Barbra Streisand”
Streisand’s majestic soprano has been triumphant on anthemic renditions of standards and Great American songbooks pieces since the ’60s. This new DVD presents performances from a ceremony honoring her in February 2011 as MusiCares Person of the Year. It also offers performances from singers across the idiomatic plain. The set opens with Diana Krall’s good rendition of “Down With Love,” then moves through 12 more numbers. Some are excellent (the Nikki Yanofsky/Herbie Hancock collaboration on “On A Clear Day (You Can Forever)/Lazy Afternoon, Stevie Wonder and Arturo Sandoval finding common ground on “People’) and some are noble efforts that fall short (Leona Lewis putting a bit too much vocalese into “Somewhere,” Lea Michele doing the same to “My Man,” and Faith Hill struggling gamely with “Send In The Clowns.”) There are others where you hear routine outings (Barry Manilow on “Memory,” Tony Bennett on “Smile”) that are nicely done but add little to the tune’s legacy, or pieces that seem out of place (Kristin Chenoweth and Matthew Morrison doing “One Less Bell To Answer” sandwiched with “A House Is Not A Home”). The final two numbers belong to Streisand, and she soars on “Windmills of Your Mind” and “The Promise (I’ll Never Say Goodbye”). It’s quite appropriate that on a night and DVD dedicated to her, Barbra Streisand emerges as the evening’s most memorable star.