It’s always a good time to check out new music from jazz artists stretching their creativity. Even after all these years, I still marvel over what’s available from month to month.
Recently I discovered new music from drummer Brian Blade, drummer Louis Hayes, and saxophonist Eric Alexander.
Blade, who is one of the best drummers of his generation, is set to release “King’s Highway” on July 7 from his own label Stoner Hill Records. “People’s Park” is the first single from the forthcoming album.
Blade’s band The Fellowship includes guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, pianist Jon Cowherd, bassist Christopher, and saxophonists Myron Walden (alto) and Melvin Butler (tenor). This cohesive unit sounds like they’ve been playing together forever. Visit brianblade.com/kinghighway to order or stream.
HighNote and Savant Records have consistently released quality albums and have done so once again with albums by Hayes and Alexander. “Exactly Right” from Savant Records highlights bandleader and 2023 NEA Jazz Master Hayes in rare form. His dexterity is still very much intact at 85 years old.
The band features Abraham Burton on tenor saxophone, Steve Nelson on vibraphone, David Hazeltine on piano, and Dezron Douglas on bass. The album’s title fits.
The music includes two Cedar Walton tunes, “Hand in Glove,” and “Ugetsu.” Also, there’s an unusual rendition of Wayne Shorter’s “Nefertiti.” It just hits differently with Nelson on vibes. Other standout songs are “Is That So” and “Mellow D,” a composition by pianist Horace Silver.
On so many of the tracks I found myself more and more impressed by Hazeltine’s modern jazz playing— it is sparkling and refreshing. Such is the case on “Carmine’s Bridge,” a Hazeltine original composition.
On Alexander’s latest, “A New Beginning-Alto Saxophone with Strings,” he trades his signature tenor saxophone playing for an alto saxophone that would make even Cannonball Adderley smile.
This new release also features pianist David Hazeltine, who is joined by familiar bandmates John Webber on bass and Joe Farnsworth on drums, both of whom have played and recorded with Alexander for years.
The album kicks off with “Blues for Diane,” one of two originals from Alexander. “Anita” is the other. Both songs show off his strong songwriting abilities.
Hazeltine shines on “All My Tomorrows,” but it’s the sheer lushness of “Embraceable You” that really reveals the band’s telepathic chemistry. “She Was Too Good to Me” and “Maybe September” are two additional tracks that help round out a Grammy-worthy outing by a real band.
As with new music month after month, there comes a time for celebration. Duke Ellington’s birthday was on April 29. The jazz pianist, composer and bandleader led perhaps the world’s greatest jazz orchestra starting in 1923 and through the rest of his life. My favorite Ellington song is “Reflections in D.”
Also celebrating recent birthdays are the late vocalist Shirley Horn on May 1 and bassist Ron Carter and drummer Gerald Cleaver on May 4. Horn’s album, “Here’s to Life” is a masterpiece.
Carter, at 86, just gets better with time. He’s the most recorded jazz bassist in history. Cleaver is 60 years old and from Detroit, Michigan. If you’ve heard him play with pianist Craig Taborn, then you know that you’ve heard a bit of greatness at work.
When you’re not listening to the latest music by today’s jazz artists, why not support the local scene by checking out a live performance? Jazz fans will get their chance with upcoming gigs at the Dakota.
Pianist Hiromi is scheduled to perform on May 17-18. Rapper, singer, and record producer Terrace Martin performs on May 26. Multi-instrumentalist, singer and songwriter Meshell Ndegeocello takes the stage on June 13-14.
Hiromi is a virtuosic player and Dakota regular; Martin is well-known for his collaboration work with Kendrick Lamar; Ndegeocello just signed to the Blue Note Records label and debuts with the album, “The Omnichord Real Book.” Visit dakotacooks.com for ticket information.
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