David Virelles Conjures the Ancients and John McLaughlin Summons the Spirits, in Take Five

Sep 17, 2017

David Virelles, “Fitití Ñongo”

Mystery is a great abiding constant in the music of the Cuban pianist David Virelles. Gnosis, his new album on ECM, literalizes that idea: its title alludes to spiritual knowledge of the sort that belongs to the ancients.

Stretches of the album feature compositions he has arranged for the Nosotros Ensemble, a lissome array of woodwinds, percussion and strings. But as with some other recent efforts by Virelles, the album’s true fulcrum is his bond with the master hand drummer and vocalist Román Díaz — nowhere clearer than on “Fitití Ñongo,” in a polyrhythmic thrum evoking the secret societies of the Abakuá.

Makaya McCraven, “Above and Beyond”

There hasn’t been a better recent synthesis of jazz improv and head-bobbing groove than In the Moment, an album released two years ago by the Chicago drummer Makaya McCraven. His new release, Highly Rare, is quite literally a mixtape — released on cassette, in a single run of 222 copies — recorded last fall at a beloved Wicker Park dive called Danny’s Tavern.

“Above and Beyond” captures the low-fi energy well, with a funky bass loop by Junius Paul, an alto saxophone wail courtesy of Nick Mazzarella and a beat that bashes as well as it sizzles.

John McLaughlin & the 4th Dimension, “Meeting of the Spirits”

John McLaughlin has been a North Star for incandescent jazz-rock guitar since the late-‘60s, when he was a member of the Tony Williams Lifetime and a crucial catalyst in the music of Miles Davis. McLaughlin is best known, still, for his mighty Mahavishnu Orchestra — a legacy he intends to revisit on his final U.S. tour this fall. 

Live at Ronnie Scott’s is a recent dispatch from his working band, the 4th Dimension, which features trusted partners like the keyboardist and drummer Gary Husband. “Meeting of the Spirits,” an ecstatic pocket epic, might as well be the band’s anthem: in any case, it lends a title to the Meeting of the Spirits Tour with guitarist Jimmy Herring, which kicks off in Buffalo, N.Y. on Nov. 1.

Mara Rosenbloom, “There Will Never Be Another You”

Pianist and composer Mara Rosenbloom has been working within jazz’s outer regions for more than a decade, but she found new levels of recognition last fall, with the arrival of an album called Prairie Burn. Featuring a trio with Sean Conly on bass and Chad Taylor on drums, it put Rosenbloom’s rolling, resonant style into clear focus, eliciting steep critical acclaim

Much of the focus on the album falls on Rosenbloom’s compositions, as it should — but it’s worth pointing out her personal take on a tune like “There Will Never Be Another You,” played here in a solo format. This Thursday at IBeam Brooklyn, she’ll lead her trio on a double bill with the Sean Conly Trio. And on Friday she performs on the fall season opener for the Sound It Out series at Greenwich House Music School, opposite the multi-instrumentalist Cooper-Moore and the cellist Nioka Workman. 

Alex Hahn, “Long Ago”

Emerging is an apt album title for the alto saxophonist Alex Hahn, who’s in his mid-20s, and currently a student at the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance. But the album is also a marker: Hahn has an extraordinary amount of information and prowess at his command, and he know how to put it all together. (He didn’t come out of nowhere; a few years back he was a standout soloist in the prestigious One O’Clock Lab Band at the University of North Texas.) 

Listen for how he arranges the logical build in “Long Ago,” starting with a tango-like piano ostinato and billowing out like a banner, with room for a strong statement on marimba from Simon Moullier, along with a thoughtful alto solo.