Jazz, June 2023

hfnalbum.pngWalter Smith III
Return To Casual
Blue Note 4886621; LP: 4886622 (two discs)

Saxophonist Walter Smith III has brought his own warmth and humanity to many others' projects, while also co-leading the In Common series with guitarist Matthew Stevens. Here he reconvenes the band of his 2014 Still Casual – Stevens, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, pianist Taylor Eigsti, bassist Harish Raghavan and drummer Kendrick Scott. Smith's writing ranges from the rapid-fire opener 'Contra', based on the computer game, to his beautiful arrangement of Kate Bush's 'Mother Stands For Comfort'. 'K8 + BYUS' refers right back to 'Kate Song' from Casually Introducing (2006), and 'Byus' from III (2010), guest James Francies joining Eigsti for the piano/Rhodes battle. It's a truly rewarding album, and great sound too. SH


Christian Mcbride's New Jawn
Brother Mister/Mack Avenue BRO4004; LP: BRO4004LP (two discs)

Having conquered other genres, the master bassist returned to straight-ahead jazz in 2009 with his Inside Straight quintet. But in 2018 came McBride's New Jawn piano-less quartet, with the self-titled album that's followed up here. If McBride looks leaner and less avuncular than usual on the cover, maybe that reflects what's inside. He grooves tightly with drummer Nasheet Waits, trumpeter Josh Evans, and saxophonist Marcus Strickland, who switches sonorously to bass clarinet. By the end of this album you feel that McBride has done everything that can be done on the bass, and yet his flights are matched by the others in this brilliant collective effort. SH


Alex Sipiagin
Mel's Vision
Criss Cross Jazz CRISS 1414

Russian-born trumpet virtuoso Alex Sipiagin moved to New York in 1990, since when he's made a dozen albums for Criss Cross, most recently last year's Swing On This with Seamus Blake in their Opus 5 quintet. This time he's joined by saxophonist Chris Potter, bassist Matt Brewer and drummer Johnathan Blake, but the pianist is once again the distinctive David Kikoski, heard to especially great effect on the wistful Don Friedman tune 'Summer's End'. The band romps on themes by McCoy Tyner ('Four By Five') and Charles Mingus ('Peggy's Blue Skylight') but the standouts are two takes on Ornette Coleman's 'Bird Food'. And there's a Ukrainian folk song too... SH


Enzo Zirilli's Zirobop
Ten Past Never
Ubuntu Music UBU0128

Launching his ZiroBop quartet ten years ago, the genial UK-based, Italian-born drummer recruited guitarist Rob Luft and bassist Mischa Mullov-Abbado when (as he points out) these two stars-to-be were aged 16 and 18 respectively. As with ZiroBop (2014) and Ten To Late (2018), the quartet is completed by Torino-based Alessandro Chiappetta, and it's the combination of two virtuoso guitarists that makes it sound special. Duetting vigorously and comping for each other's solo flights, they zip through a bunch of jazz standards but also dip into rockier territory, while Chiappetta contributes a beautiful ballad, 'Magnolia'. A happy, engaging and enjoyable album. SH