Jazz, February 2022

hfnalbum.pngJohnathan Blake
Homeward Bound
Blue Note 3843190

Philadelphia-born drummer and composer Blake's credentials include a stint of 15 years in Kenny Barron's trio and many recordings as a key sideman. He's recorded as a leader on lesser labels, but this album is a striking debut for Blake and his Pentad quintet. It's pretty much an all-star lineup, as saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins and vibraphonist Joel Ross have already broken through with their own Blue Note albums, and they're joined by pianist David Virelles and bassist Dezron Douglas. They start brilliantly with the stunning, life-affirming 'Ana Grace', named for the young daughter of saxophonist Jimmy Greene who perished in the Sandy Hook school shooting, and follow through with great playing right to the end. SH


Joey Defrancesco
More Music
Mack Avenue MAC1186; LP: MAC1186LP

The undisputed king of the Hammond has often displayed his talents as a singer and trumpeter too. But with this new trio album we discover that DeFrancesco also plays tenor sax, having learned and first performed tentatively 25 years ago, on an instrument that had been his grandfather's. To get both hands free, he delegates some of the keyboard duties to the multitalented Lucas Brown, returning to the Hammond while Brown reels off his sparkling guitar solos. Then, on Mario Romano's ballad 'And If You Please', DeFrancesco kicks off with the sax before offering the album's only vocal. Propelled by the great drumming of Michael Ode, this is a trio and a half. SH


Harvey/O'higgins Project
That's The Way To Live!
Ubuntu Music UBU0094

Pianist Graham Harvey and saxophonist Dave O'Higgins have been collaborating for decades, their current quartet lineup completed by bassist Jeremy Brown and drummer Josh Morrison. With Judith O'Higgins added, they managed to record the husband-and-wife album His'n'Hers' just two days before the March '20 lockdown. But by Sept '20, the quartet were able to record again and came up with this album of straight-ahead swingers, their many lively originals including for example 'That's What You're Going To Get', with a nod to Dizzy Gillespie's 'Ooh Bop Sh'Bam'. As Graham Harvey puts it, 'neither innovative nor fashion led', but all very enjoyable. SH


Silver Lining Suite
Concord 7228067; LP: 7228603

When Hiromi's US tour was cut short by the pandemic in March 2020, she returned to Japan. After a series of live stream solo concerts, she came up with the idea of a classical piano quintet. She asked violinist Tatsuo Nishie, concertmaster of the New Japan Philharmonic, to recruit three more string players and started writing music for them. The Suite is a journey through the emotions of the pandemic, from 'Isolation' and 'The Unknown' to 'Fortitude', while 'Uncertainty' reflects the re-imposition of restrictions in early 2021. It's amazing music, the virtuoso string players perfectly realising Hiromi's vision and allowing her to fly more freely than ever. SH