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Gimme 5: Best Jazz Releases I Heard in September

Each month I will share my notes on jazz releases that I heard the previous month. In listening to 70+ CDs in September, 2012, these were the real standouts. You can hear these recordings this week on my radio show, The Vinyl Side of Midnight.

***** Fred Hersch Trio – ALIVE AT THE VANGUARD (Palmetto)
The only reason I have this disc is that I bumped into Hersch eating a bagel at the Starbucks in the Marriott during the Detroit Jazz Festival. In the midst of my flattering him and telling him how much I liked his recording with Nancy King, he asked if I had his latest. When I said no, he took my card and said he’d make sure I got a copy. Turns out it’s great. A unique voice on piano, and the trio works the post Evans field of empathically equal voices sharing these compositions.

**** 1/2 Kurt Elling – 1619 BROADWAY (Concord)
Elling’s tribute to the Brill Building school of tunesmithery. Some of the songs are so reconstructed that it is disconcerting. Take “I Only Have Eyes For You”, if the words were changed, you wouldn’t know what song it was, the melody is so altered. For airplay, try #5 (I’m Satisfied), #9 (Pleasant Valley Sunday), the Monkees tune. Though several of these tracks may find their way on air. What’s usual with Elling recordings is that they grow on you as time goes on.

**** Brad Mehldau Trio – WHERE DO YOU START (Nonesuch)
Well, let’s start with track #2 (Holland), Mehldau doing Sufjan Stevens, a cool, melancholic simmer of a meditation. This trio is so well documented yet never disappoints. #4 (Baby Plays Around) is an Elvis Costello tune taken nice and slow. Just when you think the ballads will win the day Mehldau burns through Sonny Rollins’ Airegin (#5), then smolders through Hey Joe (#6). (Half of these tracks were recorded in 2008.)

**** Donny McCaslin – CASTING FOR GRAVITY (Green Leaf)
I searched this CD out in Detroit after catching the end of McCaslin’s set on the Pyramid stage, then decided to see if I already had it. I didn’t, and I was disappointed. Until this arrived in the mail. This quartet has a lot of funk and drive and rawk. And Donny is on fire. #3 (Losing Track Of Daytime) starts off all neo-soul groove and builds and builds to a tough tumble. #9 & #10 show the electronica influence.

**** Wadada Leo Smith & Louis Moholo-Moholo – ANCESTORS (TUM Records)
Smith is the real deal: he has one foot in the heady avant clouds of the AACM and the other in the roots of his Mississippi Delta upbringing. The opening track (Moholo-Moholo/Golden Spirit) is a little masterpiece, the throbbing beat from drummer Louis (who Smith says has invented a new approach to drums) over which Wadada drizzles his language of smears, blues and blurts. The rest of the album is more free form improvs from drums and trumpet.

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