Beauty and Urgency Combined, in New Music by Ron Miles, Brian Blade, Vincent Herring, More

Nov 6, 2017

Ron Miles, “I Am A Man”

There is always some big sky in the music of cornetist Ron Miles. That’s true as ever on his stunning new album, I Am A Man, due out on the Yellowbird label this Friday. You’ll also encounter a firm resolve, and a calm undercurrent of protest, in this album, which Miles named with the civil rights slogan in mind. He was thinking in part about “Condition Report,” a related piece by the contemporary artist Glenn Ligon, whose annotative scrawl is reprinted as a poem in the CD booklet.

Glenn Ligon's "Condition Report," 2000.
Credit Christies

Miles has enlisted a brilliant set of partners here, beginning with the members of his working trio: drummer Brian Blade and guitarist Bill Frisell. Joining them are Jason Moran on piano and Thomas Morgan on bass, each perfectly suited to the task at hand. Listen to how the initial tick-tock of the theme opens up and breathes, with a bluesy pull that also feels, at any given moment, like the essential byproduct of an egoless creative accord. 

Brian Blade & The Fellowship Band, “Within Everything”

Brian Blade has a fine new album of his own out this week: Body and Shadow, the latest from his Fellowship Band. A slender helping of new songs composed either by Blade or by pianist and founding band member Jon Cowherd, it’s an album of golden hue and contemplative mood, designed with an ultimate uplift in mind. (It hardly seems an accident that the only non-original is the gospel hymn “Have Thine Own Way, Lord,” in an arrangement by Cowherd.) The opening track, “Within Everything,” is a Blade original that assigns its slow melody mainly to tenor saxophonist Melvin Butler, and features ringing chords by the newest member of the fold, guitarist Dave Devine. The album is out on Blue Note this Friday, and the Fellowship Band will perform that evening at Scullers Jazz Club in Boston. They’ll be at Jazz Standard in New York Nov. 14 through 19. 

Vincent Herring, “Amsterdam After Dark”

Hard Times is hardly an arbitrary choice of title for alto saxophonist Vincent Herring. The album, just out on Smoke Sessions, is partly his response our cultural moment, though its message isn’t political so much as humanistic. From the David “Fathead” Newman tune that lends the album its title to the John Handy shuffle “Hard Work,” Herring is exploring the interplay of struggle and resilience. Both can be found, in a less obvious fashion, in this version of George Coleman’s “Amsterdam After Dark,” featuring guest trombonist Steve Turre alongside Herring and his ace rhythm section, with pianist Cyrus Chestnut, bassist Yasushi Nakamura and drummer Carl Allen.

Vinnie Sperrazza, “Valentinus”

Vinnie Sperrazza has proven his salt not only as a free-thinking postbop drummer but also a resourceful composer-bandleader, notably on his debut album Apocryphal, released on Loyal Label in 2014. His new album, Hide Ye Idols, features the same personnel — saxophonist Loren Stillman, guitarist Brandon Seabrook and bassist Eivind Opsvik — in a working unit that has adopted Apocryphal as a name. The album ranges widely, often hinting at open-form discovery; its opening salvo is titled “Sun Ra.” But the final track is a watery, easygoing swinger, “Valentinus,” that gives Stillman room to air out his beautiful alto sound, before a restrained yet otherworldly Seabrook solo.

Sandcatchers, “Washed and Wild”

You’ll find What We Found Along the Way, the spirited new album by a group called Sandcatchers, under a “World” classification, which is accurate only up to a point. Perhaps there’s no other genre better suited to embrace this blend of lap steel, oud and cello, along with bass and drums.  

Sandcatchers: Myk Freedman, Tim Keiper, Yoshie Fruchter, Michael Bates
Credit Reuben Radding

The album, just out on Chant Records, moves in and out of an Americana orbit, but it’s just as much a product of global fusions, with a Middle Eastern influence forward in the mix. “Washed and Wild” is an emblematic track in this regard: it bounces along in what seems a Turkish-inspired 11/8 meter, but its showpiece solo belongs to the lap steel player, Myk Freedman, who has probably heard his share of Daniel Lanois. The other members of the band are Yoshie Fruchter (oud), Erik Friedlander (cello), Michael Bates (bass) and Tim Keiper (drums). The band just completed a run of shows, but it will probably go back on the road before long; keep up at sandcatchers.com.